How Internet Speed Impacts the Life of a Designer

While it’s true that a slow internet connection sometimes makes you want to grab your laptop and sling it across the room to watch it shatter against the wall and fall to the floor in emotionally satisfying bits, there are more well-defined reasons (other than momentary blackout rage) for a web designer to want a fast internet connection. How fast? As fast as you can find.

The following discussion will hopefully clarify matters.

Speedy Internet Lets You Find Your Groove

When everything clicks, there is a comfortable ebb and flow to online creative work. Click, page load, make an adjustment, preview, and do it again hundreds of times a day. When an internet connection is slow, though, it messes up your working mojo. Rather than appearing almost instantaneously, a page decides to take ten seconds to appear, leaving you grinding your teeth or, worse, growing distracted and venturing off to check your social media feeds.

In short, slow internet can kill your efficiency and ruin good mojo. Think about it like this. Let’s say you’re working on a project, and for the first hour pages zip around like lightning bugs, loading in two seconds or less. Now let’s say you’re called away to the local coffeehouse for an emergency caffeine injection and the new internet speed isn’t quite up to the challenge. Now your average page load time increases to ten seconds.

Welcome to the world of slowly losing your mind because productivity has been affected by a factor of five in the wrong direction. When your job relies on accomplishing particular tasks online, slow access isn’t funny at all.

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High Performance Program Hang Ups

The typical web designer doesn’t spend their day piddling around with the relatively low bandwidth demands of word processors and spreadsheets. Nope. Joe or Jane Designer are in the ring mixing it up with the big boys. Names like Adobe, PowerPoint, and a host of video and animation software are common editing tools. In the early days of the Internet Age, when programs were installed locally, designers had to worry about available hard drive space and processor speed, but the rise in popularity of Software as a Service (SaaS) and subscription-based access models has changed that to a large extent.

In today’s world, the focus is less on the specifications of your work machine and more on how much bandwidth and speed the local internet provider can deliver to keep those heavy duty design programs running. In today’s urban settings, especially those that have gone the fiber optic route, you should be able to find a service that offers upload/download speeds as fast as 1 Gbps.

This sort of get up and go juice used to be expensive enough that freelancers thought twice before springing for it. Thanks to broader competition, prices for top-notch connection speeds have dropped, in some cases below $100 monthly.

Designing for Users

This idea might be counterintuitive, but there is actually something to be said for not choosing the absolute fastest internet speed package around and that lies in considering your user base. It’s easy for city slickers to forget that the entire world doesn’t run on the kind of superfast connections we’ve been talking about.

Stop for a moment to consider that large swaths of the world still rely on a 56k dial-up modem to go online. Even our tech-friendly American society has vast rural areas where older generation satellite or dial-up connections are still the only viable options.

What this means is that it might not be the worst idea you’ve ever had to downgrade your speed (we’re not suggesting a switch to 56k) enough that you make design choices consistent with providing fast page loads for users across the spectrum of access. Thankfully, the design industry has moved beyond the load-the-site-up with every bit of technology available mindset and has embraced a minimalist approach more often.

Here’s the thing. Look at Facebook, Reddit, and Google. These monstrously busy sites are stripped down to the bare necessities. You don’t have to take minimalism to that extent, but you might want to if your goal is to create an online asset that everyone can access.

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Google Has the Stopwatch Out

Here’s a last speed consideration we’ll throw out to finish our discussion. As long as the global internet has the slow pockets mentioned, you absolutely must design to the slow side. Not only does Google now use page load speed as one of the metrics in SEO search results, but the reality is that the average user won’t wait long for a page to come up. In fact, 40% of desktop users will leave if a site takes more than three seconds to load, That number increases to 53% when you ask mobile users. The bottom line is that you should design for the slowpokes no matter how fast your connection is.

Final Thoughts

You hopefully now have in mind more considerations about internet speed than you did before you sat down to read this. While it is hard to argue against the idea that faster is always better, there is more to the story than that. As you go about your business of designing the internet for present and future generations, keep in mind that speed shouldn’t be considered in a vacuum. It means different things to different people.

One thing to look forward to, especially for young designers, is that you’ll probably live to see the day when true high-speed internet for all becomes a reality, or least much closer to reality than it is right now.

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