The Intersectionality of web performance

Clearleft
3 min readJun 15, 2023

Web performance is an unalloyed good. No one has ever complained that a website is too fast.

So the benefit is pretty obvious. Users like fast websites. But there are other benefits to web performance. And they don’t all get equal airtime.

Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash

Business

A lot of good web performance practices come down to the first half of Postel’s Law: be conservative in what send. Images, fonts, JavaScript …remove what you don’t need and optimise the hell out of what’s left.

That can translate to savings. If you’re paying for the bandwidth every time a hefty file is downloaded, your monthly bill could get pretty big.

So apart from the indirect business benefits of happy users converting to happy customers, there can be a real nuts’n’bolts bottom-line saving to be made by having a snappy website.

Sustainability

This is related to the cost-saving benefit. If you’re shipping less stuff down the wire, and you’re optimising what you do send, then there’s less energy required.

Whether less energy directly translates to a smaller carbon footprint depends on how the energy is being generated. If your servers are running on 100% renewable energy sources, then reducing the output of your responses won’t reduce your carbon footprint.

But there’s an energy cost at the other end too. Think of all the devices making requests to your server. If you’re making those devices work hard — by downloading, parsing, and executing lots of JavaScript, for example — then you’re draining battery life. And you can’t guarantee that the battery will be replenished from renewable energy sources.

That’s why sites like the website carbon calculator have so much crossover with web performance:

From data centres to transmission networks to the billions of connected devices that we hold in our hands, it is all consuming electricity, and in turn producing carbon emissions equal to or greater than the global aviation industry. Yikes!

Inclusivity

There comes a point when a slow website isn’t just inconvenient, it’s inaccessible.

I’ve always liked the German phrase for accessible: barrierefrei — free of barriers. With every file you add to a website’s dependencies, you’re adding one more barrier. Eventually, the barrier is insurmountable for people with older devices or slower internet connections. If they can no longer access your website, your website is quite literally inaccessible. Making the case

I’ve noticed that when it comes to making the argument in favour of better web performance, people often default to the business benefits.

I get it. We’re always being told to speak the language of business. The psychology seems pretty straightforward; if you think that the people you’re trying to convince are mostly concerned with the bottom line, use the language of commerce to change their minds.

But that’s always felt reductive to me.

Sure, those people almost certainly do care about the business. Who doesn’t? But they’re also humans. I feel like if really want to convince them, speak to their hearts. Show them the bigger picture.

Eliel Saarinen said:

Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context; a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.

I think the same could apply to making the case for web performance. Don’t stop at the obvious benefits. Go wider. Show the big-picture implications.

This was originally posted on my own site.

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Clearleft

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