UX Achilles’ Heel

A new, exciting year in design has just begun with countless challenges awaiting the design community.  According to many, 2016 will be the year  user experience takes command — the once esoteric term that has recently become vaguely fashionable on anyone’s bio, CV or job title. The user experience of a website is becoming a focal point for every serious design studio, commercial business or digital venture. And rightly so. More informed user research and user architecture are enabling ever more delightful web experiences.

If it is so that user experience is currently at the forefront of design thinking and practice, why is it that users surfing the web have to systematically battle with an army of digital persecutions, namely modal windows automatically popping up prompting users to sign up for yet another newsletter?

UX achilles' heel

A cancer for UX

Automatic pop-up modal windows are a cancer for the user experience. This swarm of vicious digital demons, often triggered by a page load event handler or a scroll event handler, disintegrate the user experience of a website. This is for a number of reasons:

  • They are intrusive as the user never actually asked for or initiated them.
  • They are invasive as they take over the entire screen, concealing content the user actually cares about.
  • They are impositions as they require a forced acceptance from the user.
  • They are frustrating and irritating as they interrupt the user flow and require extra cognitive load to process the gratuitous new visual elements.
  • They are poor in terms of usability and accessibility as rightly pointed out in this Smashing Magazine article.
  • They are superfluous as the user should, if the website is designed appropriately, be able to sign up to a newsletter ( if he/she wants ).
  • They are ubiquitous, perpetuating user adaptation to a mediocre experience.

As you start noticing this user experience plague you will find it everywhere.Corporate websitesmagazine websitetech websites,NGO websites,travel websitesdesign websitesfashion websitesopen-source websitesinspiration websites (absolute champion), learning platforms, personal websites and, believe it or not, user experience dedicated websites. Don’t get me wrong, I greatly esteem some of the above companies from a design and user experience stance, but including a pop-up window makes me doubtful.

On the other hand, truly outstanding digital ventures with top class UX understand the pernicious nature of automatic pop-ups and avoid using them altogether. Examples like  Treehouse Slack and  Apple provide pop-up-free heavens.

An outright tyranny

This overused design feature is an outright tyranny on the user, adding to the abyss of digital  frustration and  anxiety our hyper-connected society has to suffer. This approach should either end today or at least we, the design community, should stop chattering about 2016 being the golden age of user experience.

I understand that often the decision to implement an automatic pop-up window might come as a result of pressure from clients and marketers concerned with numbers of subscribers or the company’s social reach. However, it is the duty of every designer that advocates a satisfying and enjoyable user experience to persuade the client away from this form of visual cognitive glitch. We owe it to our users as much as to our clients. Mortifying users with the insistent use of annoying pop-ups will eventually put a website and, consequentially, the business in a bad light.

Automatic pop-ups feel like the wrong solution to a common problem that has become mainstream out of the design community’s complacency over a mediocre approach. Whether this is out of laziness or an alleged higher conversion rate, it is not acceptable. What about trying to figure out alternative visual strategies or methods to increase subscription rates or conversions rather than using design as a form of technological imposition?

Hopefully, 2016 will be the year of user experience and will result in a more sober use of automatic pop-ups from the design community.

You can tweet me your view or comment on the above thoughts.

Mattia (Proofread by Max Jeffrey)

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About the author

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This post is written by Mattia, Designer & Writer & Maker trying to make the web a bit more human. Founder of Who Said That, he is responsible for TAH live reportage from design conferences, festivals & exhibitions around the world.

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