In the business of web design, we love to talk about users. After all, they are the people for whom we’re building all the websites. We make sure that the websites we build are easy to navigate and informative at the same time. We make websites that are visually appealing to draw in visitors, and we make websites that serve a purpose for our clients.
In the end, design is a marketing tool – it’s trying to sell you something, or make you sign-up for something. In other words, it’s trying to make you “convert”. At the same time, whatever is being marketed should be helpful to a large group of people. Otherwise, you’ve got a real uphill battle of convincing people that they actually need whatever it is you’re selling. So, the real task at hand is to find a balance between “pushing” your products or services and to be helpful.
One of the best ways to tell if you’ve reached that balance and whether some of your tactics might be on the more aggressive side is to simply ask! With this in mind I’ve started asking my site visitors, social media followers, friends, colleagues, anyone who’ll listen to participate in a monthly poll. It’s found right here on my blog’s sidebar (see archives here). In this post we’re going to look at the results of February’s poll.
What’s the most annoying current trend in web design?
With all the marketing and balancing we’re doing to achieve our web design clients’ goals it would be nice to know if certain techniques are clear crowd dis-pleasers. Now, one thing to note is that even when we find something to be annoying that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s ineffective. However, you can choose to focus on the numbers alone (numbers of likes, shares, subscribers etc.) or you can focus on the value you’re providing and the quality of your brand’s experience. I choose to do the latter. I’d rather have 5 extremely loyal fans who find value in what I do and look forward to new content from me, than a thousand fans who won’t read another article I post or newsletter I send, they just clicked a button to make some pop-up go away.
This is why I used the word “annoying” in the poll question. It’s not about effectiveness, it’s about the user experience.
Now let’s take a gander at the results:
What's the most annoying current trend in web design?
- Automatic Video Play (24%, 8 Votes)
- Modal Pop-Ups (18%, 6 Votes)
- Scroll Hijacking (18%, 6 Votes)
- Horizontal Scroll (15%, 5 Votes)
- Burger Icon Menu (on desktop websites) (12%, 4 Votes)
- Infinite Scroll (9%, 3 Votes)
- Parallax (3%, 1 Votes)
- Ghost Buttons (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 8
It should come as no surprise that the top voted items have to do with how the user interacts with a website. The purely aesthetic trends like the use of ghost buttons and parallax scrolling (though some websites use parallax as much more than just pretty pictures moving at different speeds) are at the bottom. These trends don’t necessarily interfere with your experience of using a website. You might not like them, but they don’t annoy you. Fair enough.
I was quite pleased to see that auto-playing videos got the most votes. Now, even though I hate to assume, in this case I wasn’t terribly clear about whether the video is silent. Live and learn. So, I’m going to assume that the thing that’s most annoying about a video that starts playing in your browser completely out of the blue is actually the audio rather than the video aspect of it. You’re sitting in your cubicle and all of a sudden a cat starts meowing at you from your computer screen – everyone knows you’re not working. It’s also interesting to note that Facebook introduced auto-playing videos within the last year. I wonder how many people still have that feature turned on.
Secondly, we’ve got the new breed of pop-ups. Those pesky modal pop-ups that don’t open in a new window or tab but hover right over the content of the page you were reading, asking you to sign-up for a newsletter, or like a Facebook page, or what have you. Supposedly they are extremely effective in drumming up conversions (more on pop-ups: increasing conversions, more conversion data, a showcase of websites using pop-ups). But there is a reason why the original pop-ups aren’t around anymore – they are exceptionally annoying and provide little value. On one hand, it makes perfect sense that they would come back using new technology but again, I’d rather not annoy my website visitors into submission but make meaningful connections and provide real value. My visitors seem to agree.
Following pop-ups is scroll hijacking. First, let’s just clarify what this term actually means:
scroll hijacking – a programmatic alteration of the user’s scroll rate (speed) for marketing purposes (partially adopted from Trent Walton).
Here’s a live example of a website using scroll hijacking: Mac Pro website. Now, if done correctly this technique can be used to create an immersive experience. It can wow the visitor and be a great marketing tool. However, when done incorrectly, or just overused, it can render a website un-scrollable, or at least difficult to enjoy. No surprises here, messing around with how you navigate a website is just as annoying as being barraged by pop-ups.
Horizontal scrolling was voted slightly less annoying than scroll hijacking. Maybe this is due to the strong connotation of the term “hijacking”. Maybe we’ve figured out how to properly implement horizontal scrolling and it’s gotten less annoying. Or maybe it’s gotten to be less popular and therefore less pertinent. It’s a very similar situation as with scroll hijacking – do it right and it won’t offend, do it wrong and it will be cumbersome and unpleasant. I, for one, remember having to drag a horizontal scrollbar with a laptop’s trackpad and deciding to simply move on to the next website.
Here, I’d like to take a moment to, once again, note that all of the top 4 items have everything to do with the experience of using a website and the user interface built around that experience, rather than purely visual design trends. This strongly suggests that users are much more focused on the experience of using a website rather than its aesthetics. Certainly an interesting conclusion to keep in mind for your future web design projects.
The option straddling the divide between usability and aesthetics is the use of burger icons on desktop websites. Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with a burger icon menu. It’s become the standard for displaying menus on responsive or mobile-friendly websites, and very little about its appearance is capable of offending a site visitor. The problem is that some websites concentrate so much on being mobile-friendly that they forget about desktop all together. There is no reason to hide your menu on a desktop website because there you should have plenty of space for a full menu. Nor is there an issue of making large enough touch targets for links because we’re using pointing devices rather than our sausage fingers. Really, you’re just adding an extra click for your users before they can navigate your website. I’m glad to hear that this annoys some of you as well.
Following the misuse of burger icons is infinite scrolling. It’s meant to make your life easier by reducing the number of clicks it takes to look through a lengthy catalog of products or blog post archives. The problem is that it doesn’t make it easier to find a specific post or navigate to a specific area of an archive since there are no separate pages showing a set number of items. If you happen to have helpful information in the footer then the annoyance factor gets kicked up a few notches since your site users won’t get to see that information until all of your content has been loaded. Not many of you found this annoying, yet a few did. Point taken.
Next on the list with 1 vote is parallax scrolling. It’s safe to say that even though this technique is being used with and without any good reason, it’s largely innocuous. Though I would argue that just like scroll hijacking, if implemented in such a way that it interferes with your ability to quickly and easily scan through a website, it could be quite annoying.
And lastly, ghost buttons got zero votes as the least annoying current web design trend. Simply put, they are extremely minimal buttons that are hugely popular at the moment. I threw in this option as a way to test my original hypothesis that purely aesthetic trends have much less of an impact on the user experience than trends having to do with the way a user interacts with a website (and a website interacts with the user).
Though the poll didn’t result in a huge sample size, a clear conclusion can be made: aesthetics have less of an impact on a website’s user experience than the interactive aspects of that website. This might make some web designers feel a little uncomfortable. However, I’m not saying that aesthetics are worthless. It’s just that the modern website user has come to expect a website that not only looks great but is also a pleasure to use.