Search anything:

Doherty Threshold in UX design

Binary Tree book by OpenGenus

Open-Source Internship opportunity by OpenGenus for programmers. Apply now.

Key Takeaways: (Doherty Threshold in UX design)

  • Doherty Threshold is a UX design concept named after Walter J. Doherty, an IBM researcher.
  • Doherty Threshold points to the instant at which a system is able to give the user quick responses so the feeling that it is responding to them in real time is achieved.
  • Doherty's Threshold states that when a user is using a computer or any interface, the user must be kept engaged at all times.
  • The maximum limit is 400 milliseconds, if it goes beyond this response timeframe then the interface is considered to be slow and not user friendly.


UX (User Experience) Design is the complete process of collecting, usability, integration, design, branding, and function of the product. The laws of UX are a collection of best practices that are to be used for creating user interfaces by UX designers.There are many laws (21 in total) of UX design, some of these are Hick's Law, Fitt's Law, Law of Proximity, etc. The laws are split within 4 categories - gestalt, heuristic, cognitive bias, and principle. Doherty Threshold is one of the many laws of UX design, named after Walter J. Doherty, an IBM researcher.


  1. History
  2. Explanation
  3. Examples
  4. Design Principles
  5. Testing
  6. Conclusions


Walter J. Doherty, the IBM researcher who founded the Doherty Threshold, published his research for this concept in the 1982's IBM Systems Journal. His study improved the computer response time's requirement from 2000 milliseconds to 400 milliseconds. A late 1970's study showed that users eventually got disinterested, if the time for getting the response crossed the 400 millisecond margin. From the time of it founding, the Doherty's Threshold has been an important concept for designing engaging and responsive interfaces.

The idea of the conecpt is to maintain the user's attention by giving them the feeling of control over their interaction with an interface. When a user can see the response to each of their clicks spontaneoulsy, their more likely to continue using the interface as they get the feeling of control over the interaction.


Doherty Threshold is a law of UX design that points to the instant at which a system is able to give the user quick responses so the feeling that it is responding to them in real time is achieved. A UX designer can create a better user experience by optimizing the system's responsiveness, which in-turn improves the likelihood of the user continuing to use the services of that system.

Doherty's Threshold states that when a user is using a computer or any interface, the user must be kept engaged at all times. In other words, when the computer's response time for a user's input is below 400ms the productivity increases. If it goes beyond that timeframe, the user gets disinterested.


The use of this concept with regards to UX design can be seen in the following examples,

  1. Web page and app loading time optimization. It is expected of apps and websites to provide users quick loading apps and web pages. Working on the speed to a certain threshold can improve the user experience but additional focus for further optimization of loading time is not neccesary, as it might not improve user expereince but rather divert time for implementing and designing other crucial aspects of UX design.
  2. Interactive element's response time. Elements such as buttons, links, or even menu items, when clicked are expected to provide an instantaneous response. To provide and ensure such response time, it is done with the help Doherty's threshold value as the benchmark.
  3. The responsiveness of actions and controls in video games and other simulations are critical for enabling a user to have an immersive experience. Using the Doherty Threshold as limit of the response time for controls and actions will ensure that the user expereinces a responsive and engaging gameplay.

Design Principles:

Lets look into some of the design principles that a UX designer can follow to design a responsive system for users,

  1. By reducing the server response time, i.e., the time taken by a server to reply to a HTTP request can have an affect on the response time, so it can be optimized by reducing the response time.
  2. Through the use of 'skeleton screens', i.e., blank screens that get displayed while the site is still loading. The blank screen makes the user feel as if the content is being loaded quickly eventhough it took some time.
  3. By optimizing large images, i.e., large images slow down the performance of a system, and by optimizing it, the response time can be reduced.
  4. By reducing the quantity of HTTP requests, UX designers can reduce the time taken by the system to respond.
  5. Animations are used to show that a system in running in the background.
  6. The storage access time can be reduced to access the user's device data frequently.
    In short, by optimizing the response time of the system, a UX designer can make a better user experience and chance of the system continuing to be used.


In order to see if the designs are respnosive and user frinedly, we need to test them through various methods. Below are some of these methods of testing used by UX designers for their designs,

  1. A/B Testing - This method requires the UX designer to test two versions of the design, compare the response time results and see which is more quick.
  2. User Testing - Here, the feedback of users and response times of the design are taken into consideration. Based on the results the required optimization if any is carried out.
  3. Analytics - Through thorough analysis of the response time of the design, the areas of improvement are identified and improved.
  4. Prototyping - Instead of two versions of a single design, multiple prototypes will be created and tested to see response time.


To sum up, Doherty threshold in UX design is a concept that refers to the real time at which the user feels that their system is responding in real time. To optimize the system's responsiveness further, there are several design principles that can be used such as skeleton screens, minimizing HTTP requests, etc.

Doherty Threshold in UX design
Share this