Two Perspectives on Site Speed

Well, first off, because of Google. When they talk about something, especially tech, then we all end up talking about it. But besides that, site speed is everywhere because of the surge in the use of mobile devices. We’re increasingly using mobile devices for everything from browsing to purchasing, and site speed is one of the main reasons people leave a site. We’ve had a chat with Frontend Developer Mads Thines, and UX Designer Elin Linding on their take on site speed – what it is, and the do’s and don’ts.

Site speed is part of the user experience

“As a frontend developer, and a little bit of a perfectionist, it’s not just delivering the average experience. I really care about making different experiences and experiences that people remember. And site speed is often one of the obstacles that we see a lot. So it's an important thing, if you want to build a great website.” Mads Thines, Frontend Developer

And why is that? How did it get to site speed being such an essential thing compared to all the other components that make a site? It’s not that a fast site equals a good site, but site speed is part of the user experience of the site today more than ever. We’ve gotten used to technology as a fast-paced thing, and the user expectations are getting higher by the day. Technology has moved from a product to a service, or medium. 

“Growing up, I experienced technology as a product I could interact with. Now it's more like a service or a medium for interactions. The focus is not a product in itself, it's more on how it creates value for the user.

As I see it, site speed is not just a technical thing, it's also an experience. We need to talk about site speed as an experience. Because when you enter a site the user doesn't think about site speed as loading time or how many seconds it takes to go from one page to another, it's more of a feeling – an experience.” Elin Linding, UX Designer

The Tech and the Experience

Site speed is, like many of the components that makes a website, straddling the metaphorical fence between technology and User Experience. Which is why we’ve united both angles here – which is, coincidentally, also how we actually work. 

Site speed is, like many of the components that makes a website, straddling the metaphorical fence between technology and User Experience.

“Looking at it very black and white, site speed is basically how fast a site loads. So, how fast you start seeing content, how fast you can start to view images.

One of the technical aspects of site speed could be how big the DOM size is. The DOM is the Document Object Model, which is basically how big your website is in megabytes. When you view a website you have to download it to see it. One of the things we do to decrease this, is compress the images. Often people use lots of images on their websites, and having a lot of images can make your website slow, because it requires a large amount of requests, but also using big images is one of the biggest problems we see.”  Mads Thines, Frontend Developer

And while there’s a bunch of things you can do, from a technical perspective, to reduce load time, and thus increase site speed, you should focus on how the user experiences this. We can’t get around the fact that there’s going to be load time – at least not yet – and loading time means waiting time for the user. But that’s a point where we’ve looked to the real world for inspiration – there are several ways to approach waiting-time. 

“When we talk about site speed and UX, we talk about active vs. passive waiting time. You need to make the user busy while waiting. 

A good example would be in an airport. When you get off the plane, you have to go through a shopping area and some other stuff before you end up at the baggage claim. And here you actually make the user wait in an active way, you make them walk while they're waiting, so they don't have to wait at the baggage claim for their baggage. So site speed is also about perceived site speed.” Elin Linding, UX Designer

So, to sum it all up, site speed is important because we use our mobile phones more, but we need to think about the bigger perspective, we need to think about the UX. The fact that Google has been focusing on website speed for a long time is really, really good! We've seen a recent trend in people using their mobile phones over desktops, and while we’re finding more and more ways to increase site speed, it’s just one of the things needed for a successful platform – an important thing, but one thing just the same.