Displaying indeterminate progress indicator

Displaying Indeterminate Progress Indicators

Canva show random progress bar to represent the progress. The finish time and what happen currently is unknown. This is a basic pattern to reduce the user's anxiety if the process takes a long time.


When talk to ChatGPT on mobile device, ChatGPT does not show the progress, they use an animation instead to relax the user. The user can see the AI is working on the task. This is a good pattern to reduce the user's anxiety.


Problem: Users may become frustrated or lose trust in the system when faced with AI operations that have unpredictable completion times, especially if left without updates or context.

Example: A user submits a request for a complex data analysis task. Without any indication of progress, they might assume the system has stalled or failed.

Usage: This pattern is crucial in scenarios where AI tasks involve deep learning models, extensive data analysis, or other processes whose duration cannot be precisely predicted.


Effectively communicating indeterminate progress involves strategies that keep the user informed and engaged throughout the operation, despite the lack of a specific timeframe. Key approaches include:

  • Estimation Ranges: Providing a broad time range for completion based on historical data can set realistic expectations, even if the exact duration is unknown.
  • Incremental Feedback: Using visual cues or messages to indicate that the system is actively processing the request, such as spinning icons or progress bars that fill up in an indefinite loop.
  • Engagement Hooks: Offering content or activities that users can engage with while waiting. This could include tips on how to use the system more effectively, related articles, or interactive elements related to the task.
  • Transparent Communication: Regularly updating users on the status of their request, even if it’s to say that the operation is still processing. This might involve simple notifications or more detailed explanations of what the AI is currently doing.


The rationale behind effectively managing indeterminate progress in AI UX design is to maintain user trust and satisfaction during longer or unpredictable processing times:

  • Setting Expectations: Providing users with even a rough estimate of completion time helps manage their expectations and reduces frustration.
  • Maintaining Engagement: Keeping users engaged during the wait time prevents them from feeling abandoned and increases the likelihood of task completion.
  • Building Trust: Transparent and continuous communication throughout the process reassures users that the system is working as intended, fostering trust in the AI application.
  • Enhancing User Experience: Thoughtful design strategies that inform and occupy users during these waits can significantly improve the overall user experience, turning potential points of friction into opportunities for engagement.

Managing indeterminate progress is about balancing transparency, engagement, and communication to ensure users remain informed and patient throughout the AI processing time. By implementing these strategies, designers can create a more positive and trusting relationship between the user and the AI system, even in the face of uncertainty.

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