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I experienced a few issues this morning while browsing around on the web. I’m still amazed by some of the issues I chance upon in an average day, often on mainstream media websites.
As such I’ve compiled, in about an hour and a half, a list of 50 things that annoy me. Some of these things are plain bad design, while others are strategically dubious. One or two are to be avoided like a bad smell.
This is a braindump and as such I haven’t fiddled about with the ordering, nor categorised these issues (advertising, content, design, e-commerce, etc). Maybe I’ll turn this into a poll so you can rate each one of these bastardly acts out of 10, and we’ll have a definitive list of what not to do.
It’s worth pointing out that we have been as guilty as anybody else in a few of these areas, but that normally this is accident rather than design. Still, as a checklist for what to avoid, I hope this proves helpful, rather than a simplistic bitchlist / rant. All the answers are out there...
So, in no particular order:
- Auto-play. Auto audio ads / video / random. I dislike auto-play on ads and video. But I absolutely loathe stupid websites that have theme tunes. Unless you’re going to play Initials B.B. or something equally classy then please don’t bother. In fact, just don't bother. Boutique hotel websites are among the very worst offenders.
- Interstitials. Nothing tells me to leave a website like a full-page ad, in place of what I was expecting (content). Forbes, CNET, InformationWeek… you people know who you are. I’d love to see your before and after bounce rates. Online advertising is broken if advertisers think this sort of thing is good for the brand.
- Death by Adsense. Publishers need to make money, but there are limits to how much Adsense I’m prepared to look at, at any given time. The top left of your page is where Google wants it, but that’s where I want to start reading the content!
- Death by banners. If I have to scroll down below the jump to read the first sentence of a story, then the chances are that you’ve overdone the display ads...
- Pop-ups. Hateful things. Semantics aside, those swinish Flash overlays that float across the page are also pop-ups in the eyes of most right-spined people. Purveyors of ad technology that enables rich media ads will tell you differently of course, for entirely obvious reasons.
- Rollovers that rollover navigation, and / or will not close, or that keeps on rolling over.
- White space that is in fact an ad, and generates a click for the lucky advertiser.
- Articles broken up into various pages (which suck so badly that I feel only pity, followed by rage). If this article was featured on Forbes it would be split across 50 pages, with about 10 interstitials scattered within. 60 page impressions for the price of one. The cheapest of cheapo tricks. Media planners should take note since page impressions and engagement metrics (such as 'time on site') can both be gamed.
- Survey pop-ups. "You have been invited to take part in a survey." Lovely, unless, as always, it happens just as I start reading a story (and normally on mainstream publishing sites). Funny how I am never interested.
- Underlined links that are in-house or third party ads. Often totally irrelevant. Does Bloomberg need to show me the ticker for Microsoft five times in one article? Isn't one time enough? I'd link to show you but Bloomberg runs interstitials, and I wouldn't want to annoy you...
- Form fields and search boxes that are too small to display what I have written / the search query. Allow for plenty of characters, please.
- Let’s play ‘Find the log in / log out area’. It should be super-visible. Often it isn’t. Paypal is one site that I use multiple times every month yet continue to struggle with. Why? Because it visually promotes ‘Sign up’ better than ‘Log in’ (either that or I'm a dumbass who has conditioned himself to avoid this link).
- Captchas that don’t work. We’ve been through a number of Captcha tools and still you complain! I hear your voices at night, and feel your pain. Maybe a question along the lines of ‘What colour is the sky?’ will work better.
- Search results that cannot be filtered. This is especially silly when it happens on e-commerce websites. More so, given the current market climate.
- Disabled ‘Back’ buttons. Oh, you want me to stick around a little bit longer do you? This kind of user bondage does nothing for the soul. It makes me try to remember never to return.
- Flash required! I know it can do whizzy things but I’ve never been a fan of Flash, mainly because it was adopted by some agencies that should have known better. Advising Nike to use Flash so comprehensively did not endear me to its brand, and I bet I wasn’t alone. And have you SEEN the way Google Chrome deals with Flash and Shockwave? Using chunks of Flash is all very well, even if it doesn't work for some browsers, but opting for a Flash-powered website is about as smart as building a house out of Skittles.
- No links please, we’re mainstream. It’s still staggering how many mainstream media sites fail to link out within articles. What are you all scared of?
- Fiddly dropdowns. Although dropdowns can be a great way to display navigation, they also run the risks of failing users. Common issues involve multi-pane dropdowns which can work well but occasionally call for Olympian levels of dexterity with the mouse. Also, iPhones and dropdowns do not mix easily.
- Slow loading pages. The longer you have used the web for, the more likely your tolerance for slow load times will have dropped below the three second mark. Do any hosting companies actively sell packages aimed at preventing sites like Digg from breaking servers?
- Trouble reading text. Illegible text can occur as a result of tiny fonts, poor contrast, bad colour choices, and italics. We still use italics for quotes. There must be another way.
- Paragraphs that go on and on and on. As a rule of thumb I try to aim for no more than four lines per paragraph. I like single-idea sentences too. And I like highlighting key words and phrases (not the SEO variety) to help anchor the eye. This is the web, so let’s make it skim-friendly, rather than reading like Balzac.
- Unclear or missing thank you pages. Did I just buy that product, or not? Absolute confirmation on the website is necessary, after you purchase something. I want a thank you page, frankly, just as I expect a ‘thank you’ when I hand my money over in a shop (although that is happening less and less these days).
- Do you actually possess a telephone? Hiding phone numbers might work for some low-margin e-commerce heavyweights, but it doesn’t always work for me. Let me know that I can choose my channel, should I need to get in touch.
- Five-step unsubscribe processes. "We’re sorry to hear that you want to stop paying us a monthly fee for a service you do not use. Are you sure you want to leave? Are you quite sure? How about if we charge you less? Or if beg you some more?" It’s all a bit Mrs Doyle. Just let me out, dammit. And no, I don’t require a cup of tea.
- Ill-conceived forms. We know that form design isn’t sexy, but most forms are so badly designed that you actually feel a sense of warmth and goodwill whenever you complete one without experiencing any hassle. A form that complies to the path-of-least-resistance rule is going to help improve your conversion rates / reduce abandonment.
- Links that aren’t blue. Call me old fashioned but I associate blue text with links, and vice versa. Why reinvent the wheel? The biggest websites in the world use blue, and so should you. [cue outrage]
- Links that aren’t maroon (after being clicked). Or some other obvious ‘this link has been clicked’ colour. Not needed within navigation, of course.
- Right- or left-aligned websites. Position the website centrally, or run the risk of looking a bit, you know, amateurish. Don’t ask me why. Feng shui, probably.
- PDFs. They’re better nowadays than ever before, but often they’re used for a press release or some other text-heavy document that doesn’t call for a PDF to be used. So why bother? And I always hate myself whenever I fail to flag up a PDF to users… it’s good manners to let them know what’s coming (PDF).
- Product pages with rubbish pictures. A high quality selection of pictures will tell me plenty about the product. Retailers should be exploring the range of image tools available to help them sell sell sell. Video too.
- Product pages devoid of key information. Why make me visit the checkout area to figure out delivery options and costs? If I don’t like them then you have a false impression of checkout abandonment.
- Logos that do not act as a link to the homepage. What is this, kindergarten?
- Images that take you to a page displaying only that image, once clicked on. Sort of pointless, in itself. Some content management systems seem to do this by default.
- Typos. I’m setting myself up for a fall here, but typos do not convey trust, or credibility.
- Bullshit straplines and associated guff. Just tell me what you do. I don’t care about de-PRifying your company’s positioning statements.
- Bad 404 pages. Have some fun with your 404, whether you messed up or the user did. It shouldn’t be game over at this point.
- White text on black backgrounds… sometimes. I actually quite like this sort of thing, but not for text-heavy websites. I don’t think it’s much good for blogs or any other frequently updated article-driven websites.
- Times New Roman. A personal opinion, but I’d sooner read comic sans. Or catch a cold.
- Clutter. The best websites have great typography, and a real sense of balance between colours, content, and white space.
- Registration prior to the checkout. I’m not sure that this is the best way of doing things. It makes more sense on some websites than on others, but you don’t always need to create a user profile in order to buy something.
- Out of stock… or is it? If something isn’t in stock then please don’t allow me to try to buy it. And wouldn’t it be a good idea to give me the option of a notification email or a text message to tell me when it’s available again?
- Choose a password, any password, but not that one. If you want me to insert some numbers or make my password at least six digits long, then please advise in advance.
- Verified by VISA. I know that banks and retailers want this, but - I’m sorry - it just annoys me. It’s another step in the purchase process.
- Billing vs delivery address options. I always want to know that I can, at some point, tell the retailer to send me the goods to my office. If I don’t know that I can do that then I’m likely to hesitate, and back out of the purchase.
- Unorthodox navigation. Again, why reinvent the wheel? I’m all for innovation but not when it involves Flash, a spinning circle of navigation options, some unknown zoom commands, and no clue on how to go forwards or backwards.
- All the colours of the rainbow, and then some. It’s best to limit your colour choices, especially when you factor in the images (and possibly advertisements) that will appear on your website. As a rule of thumb, the fewer colours the better.
- What do you mean, I can’t comment? I know Seth Godin doesn’t allow readers to leave comments, but arguably that’s because he’s very smart and wants people to talk about him on other websites. Personally, I think a little interaction goes a long way. I’m sure you won’t totally agree with this braindump, and I don’t mind you telling me as much.
- Where is my comment? It’s one thing allowing comments, as most of the mainstream publishers have done, but unless you’re going to publish them then what’s the point? I’ve long stopped commenting on The Times website because they rarely appear. And I don’t believe that the BBC has enough manpower to read every comment it receives.
- Bookmark overkill. Thanks, but I don’t want to bookmark or share your website via every social media site under the sun. Try using ShareThis or AddThis, or something similar, to avoid an unholy mess.
- Uncharitable timeouts. Halfway through completing a form you need to go and find some piece of required information. You spend five minutes looking for it, in your Gmail account or under your bed or wherever, and lo, the form has timed out. There must be some margin for delay factored in.
So that’s my 50. What did I miss? And what do you disagree with? Let me know…