Performance versus Presentation

#webperf #ado You remember the service, not the plating (unless you're a foodie)

One morning, while reading the Internet (yes, the entire Internet), I happened upon a rather snarky (and yes, I liked the tone and appreciated the honesty) blog on the value (or lack thereof) of A/B Testing, "Most of your AB-tests will fail". The blog is really a discussion on the rule of diminishing returns and notes the reality that at some point, the value of moving a button 2 pixels to the right is not worth the effort of going through the testing and analysis.

When you combine the eventual statistical irrelevance of presentation with the very real impact on conversion rates due to performance (both negative and positive, depending on the direction of performance) it becomes evident that at some point it becomes more valuable to focus on performance over presentation.

If you think about it, most people remember service over plating at a restaurant. As long as the meal isn't dumped on a plate in a manner that's completely unappetizing, most people are happy as long as the service was good, i.e. it was delivered within their anticipated time frame. Even those of us who appreciate an aesthetically pleasing plate will amend a description of our dining experience with "but it took f-o-r-e-v-e-r" if the service was too slow. Service - performance - ends up qualifying even our dining experiences.

And really, how many people do you know who go around praising the color and font choices* on a website or application? How many gush over the painstakingly created icons or the layout that took months to decide upon?

Now, how many do you hear complain about the performance? About how s-l-o-w the site was last night, or how lag caused their favorite character in their chosen MMORPG to die?

See what I mean? Performance, not plating, is what users remember and it's what they discuss.

Certainly a well-designed and easy to use (and navigate) application is desirable. A poorly designed application can be as much a turn off as a meal dumped unceremoniously on a plate. But pretty only gets you so far, and eventually performance is going to be more of a hindrance than plating, and you need to be ready for that.

A/B testing (and other devops patterns) is a hot topic right now, especially given new tools and techniques that make it easy to conduct. But the aforementioned blog was correct in that at some point, it's just not worth the effort any more. The math says improving performance, not plating, at that point will impact conversion rates and increase revenue far more than moving a button or changing an image. 

As more and more customers move to mobile means of interacting with applications and web sites, performance is going to become even more critical. Mobile devices come with a wide variety of innate issues that impede performance that cannot be addressed directly. After all, unless it's a corporate or corporate-managed device you don't get to mess with the device. Instead, you'll need to leverage a variety of mobile acceleration techniques including minification, content-inlining, compression, image optimization, and even SPDY support.

A/B testing is important in early stages of design, no doubt about that. Usability is not something to be overlooked. But recognize the inflection point, the point at which tweaking is no longer really returning value when compared to the investment in time. Performance improvements, however, seem to contradict the law of diminishing returns based on study after study, and always brings value to both users and the bottom line alike.

So don't get so wrapped up in how the application looks that you overlook how it performs.


*Except, of course, if you use Comic Sans. If you use Comic Sans you will be mocked, loudly and publicly, across the whole of the Internets no matter how fast your site is. Trust me.


 You can check out your application's performance using F5's FAST.

Published Jul 29, 2013
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