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The UX of waiting

How we try to keep ourselves occupied and avoid boredom.

Photo by Eddi Aguirre on Unsplash

How we perceive time

How much time of your day do you feel is spent on waiting? And how much of that time is spent waiting for technology? Ankit Passi wrote a great article about waiting where they state the following: “As the internet speed is getting faster and faster each day, technology is getting more complex as well. Waiting is inevitable.”

We could argue that technology in general is becoming more efficient, thus reducing waiting times and eventually improving our everyday lives but our perception of time is subjective, and we may feel that an hour has passed when in fact it has only been a few minutes. Time perception is contextual; while performing a task, time seems to run faster, but if we are waiting for something, it can feel like time has stopped. What are the things that make these few seconds (God forbids, minutes) of waiting so unbearable?

What makes a traffic jam so frustrating is the lack of knowledge on how long it will take to clear and how long we will have to wait sitting in our cars. Some countries have screens on the side of the highways with traffic information to let drivers know how much time it will take to reach the nearest city. Although not as ideal a solution as teleporting, it provides drivers with an estimated time of arrival, reducing the anxiety and frustration of waiting in the car.

Chris Kiess talks about waiting time and occupied time. We tend to occupy our wait with a task and try to find a distraction while we wait.For example, waiting time would be the time we sit in the car, while turning on the radio or fiddling with our phone to get distracted and not get bored is the occupied time.

Time perception is contextual; while performing a task, time seems to run faster, but if we are waiting for something, it can feel like time has stopped.

All right, the wait is inevitable and it doesn’t matter how short it is, is not pleasant for our users. Now, how can we reduce the anxiety of waiting and improve overall experience in the products we design?

Gamify the wait

A few years ago, I worked as a customer service agent at a call center. One day, the entire floor lost internet connection, and while we were waiting for it to be reestablished, a few of us began playing the T-Rex game from Chrome’s offline mode. Soon, we were competing against each other to see who could get the farthest in the game. When the connection was eventually restored and we went back to work, what seemed like a very short gaming session of a few minutes had actually been an hour and a half. Waiting time turned into occupied time by a pleasant experience, well done Google.

Source: Chrome Browser

Cabify has another good example of how to turn waiting time into occupied time. The average waiting time for a cab can be between 3 and 5 minutes. While the app is finding a driver for you, it lets you play a simple game in which you tap the screen to avoid a character on a scooter from crashing into trees.

Source: Dribble

In 2014, a city in northern Germany introduced “Street Pong” to “curb boredom while waiting for the green light at pedestrian crossings”. The device, attached to lamp posts, allowed pedestrians on both sides of the crossing to play with each other while waiting for the light to turn green.

Source: Youtube


The advancement of technology has significantly reduced waiting times to the point where they are often perceived as insignificant. As a result, we have lost the habit of waiting and how to deal with it, at least for those who grew up in a more analog world. Our tolerance for waiting has decreased, and we now expect everything to be available immediately. However, initiatives such as street pong in Germany don’t only help us manage anxiety but also have a positive impact by bringing people in a community together.


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