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The progress bar and how it mitigates our fear of death

4 min read
Kristin Hillery  •  Apr 10, 2018
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In 1985, Brad A. Myers found that the accuracy of a percent-done indicator didn’t matter—just seeing a progress bar made people feel better.

And in TED’s latest Small Thing Big Idea video, journalist Daniel Engber dives deep into the design of the progress bar. Engber explains, “It turns the experience of waiting into this exciting narrative that you’re seeing unfold in front of you… But once you start thinking about the progress bar as something that’s more about dulling the pain of waiting, well then you can start fiddling around with the psychology.”

He goes on to say that a progress bar that moves at a constant rate—even if it’s accurate—will make people feel like things are slowing down. Making it move faster in the beginning, and then slowing it down, makes the experience less painful and less frustrating.

“The progress bar at least gives you the vision of a beginning and an end, and you’re working towards a goal. I think in some ways it mitigates the fear of death,” says Engber. “Too much?”

Not at all, Mr. Engber. Watch the fascinating TED video below, and maybe it’ll convince you to finally click Restart instead of Remind Me Tomorrow for the 900th time: