Home > Articles

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

Give Feedback; Show Signs of Progress

In conversation, people give each other many verbal and nonverbal cues about their level of attention and understanding of each other's comments. People rely on these cues to adjust their contributions to the conversation, and if the cues are not there, people start focusing on the mechanics of the conversation rather than its content. In the same way, your program should tell people immediately whether it understood their request and provide its status in responding to it. Usually it does so by complying with the request. For example, when the user enters text, each character is displayed on the screen; when the user deletes an item, it disappears. But if the program can't carry out the task instantly or the results are not clearly visible, then it should do something to indicate that it "heard" them, just as a butler would. If it doesn't, they'll ask again, which will only bog down the program further.

One common way to provide "I heard you and here's what I'm up to" feedback is to display a progress bar when a task is going to take a long time. This technique is used frequently for such tasks as copying or transferring information. However, there are more subtle ways to stay in sync with the user. Sometimes people ask your program to draw something that takes a little time. Suppose it's a fancy CAD package drawing the internals of a car. Rather than waiting until the entire drawing is ready before presenting it, you can show the car being drawn. It turns out that people perceive the entire process as faster if they can watch it as it occurs rather than seeing the final result all at once, even if it takes the same amount of time. Since Web pages are slow to appear, it's better to show the text first, since it can be downloaded faster, and then have the images fill in. (The way you design your HTML determines how the browser displays the data, so it's worth learning the optimal approaches.) Another nice example is the way browsers show a low-resolution version of certain pictures first and then gradually increase the resolution as more information arrives.

Any time you know it will take a long time to complete a task, consider allowing users to interrupt. Nothing takes longer than waiting for something you didn't want in the first place! The Stop button on Web browsers feels like a godsend when you're waiting for a long download on a page that you didn't want (or decided isn't worth the time). More sophisticated speech-based systems allow you to interrupt the system's voice instructions with a command, which helps the system seem more human and less clumsy.

Sometimes the program can comply immediately, but there is no inherent feedback to let you know it did. In this case, the program should offer feedback to reassure you that it did what you asked. For example, when you end a call on a cell phone, there is no obvious way to tell that the call has been disconnected [ref 1]. Most phones handle this by beeping and changing the display back to the main screen to show you that they are ready for another call. Some volume controls give feedback not just by moving the level indicator but also by playing a sound at the new volume.

Another good time to give feedback is when you ask people to walk through a multistep process, say going through a checkout procedure or filling out a survey. People need to pace themselves and it's helpful to know how long the process will take and how far along they are. Provide a visual indication of the number of steps and which step they're on. 800.com does this nicely by showing you where you are in the checkout process (see Figure 3.10). From this page, it's clear that you will be asked about payment options next, then you'll have a chance to review the information, and finally you'll get a receipt. Harris Poll does this with a continuous meter (see Figure 3.11), which is less effective because it's hard to tell how much the meter moves with each step. Still, it is better than nothing.

Figure 3.10 800.com shows you the steps of the buying process, indicating where you are in that process. This feedback helps keep people oriented.

Figure 3.11 Harris Poll indicates your progress in a Web-based survey with a continuous progress meter in the upper-right corner. This is helpful, but because it's not clear how much the meter moves with each question, it would be more effective to indicate on each page which question you're on and how many questions there are altogether.

With a speech interface, you can't give visual feedback, but you can use conversational techniques to show your level of understanding. For example, Schwab has a speech recognition system that lets you get stock quotes over the phone. If you ask for the stock price of Sun, it says, "There are seven items that match that name. Either speak the full name of the security at any time, or listen to the following list to help narrow down the security you want," followed by a list of the companies that begin with Sun. (It appears to present them in order of frequency of request, rather than alphabetically, which is a nice touch.) Schwab handles ambiguous references well. Rather than offering the user no help by saying, "Please say the full name of the security," it presents the possible matches, while still letting you interrupt at any time with the full name, either as soon as you hear it or right away if you know what it is. A slight improvement would be to confirm the name it heard, perhaps with, "There are seven items that match Sun."

Design Guideline

Always acknowledge the user's request and, if you can't comply immediately, let them know what you're up to and how much longer it will take.

Design Guideline

If a command can't be carried out quickly, allow users to interrupt.

At a different level, it's helpful to let people know they've successfully pressed a button, especially when you're providing software buttons on a small screen. For example, when you're viewing photos, the Canon Digital Elph camera makes a quick, soft click sound each time it scrolls to the next image, subtly reassuring you that it did move, which is useful if two images in a row are similar. The Palm, too, plays a click sound each time you tap a button. Researchers have found that buttons with audio feedback can be smaller than those without, since the sound lets people know when they've successfully tapped the button.

Sounds can also be used to give other kinds of feedback. We have a Panasonic portable phone that flashes a light and beeps when you place it in the cradle to let you know it made a solid connection for recharging. We mentioned earlier how the Corvette beeps as you walk away from the car to let you know that it locked itself. Sounds are useful because they don't require you to look to get the information. And without realizing it, you quickly get used to hearing these sounds, so when they're missing you notice that there's a problem. It's especially good to combine sounds with visual cues, as the Panasonic phone does, partially to reinforce the information and partially to support users who have either hearing or visual impairments. (Even people with perfect hearing or vision may be in a noisy environment or have their line of sight blocked.)

TiVo makes strong use of sound in its interface. Different buttons make different sounds, and the sounds are quite expressive, giving TiVo a personality. The sounds were chosen to correlate with their meaning. For example, if you try to scroll past the bottom of a list, a low-pitched tympani sound plays, as if you've hit bottom. To fast forward, you can press once to move slowly, twice to move a little faster, and a third time to move quickly. With each press, two rising notes play (ba-boop), and as the speed of fast fowarding increases, so does the pitch of the second note (ba-boop, ba-BOOP, ba-BOOP!), so it sounds as if it's going faster. To reinforce the sounds, the display shows one, two, or three right-facing triangles, and the cursor moves faster each time.

Design Guideline

Sounds are effective for letting people know when something has occurred or that a task is in progress. It is good to combine sounds with visual cues to reinforce the information and to support those with visual or hearing impairments.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020