Culture

Designers unite; the internet we must fix

Nov 2017

5
min read

Poor user experiences are all too common on the internet today. Let’s get back to basics and put people first.

By Simon McCade
Nov 2017

5
min read

The internet is frustrating me more than ever these days.  

We are seeing a lot more user-centric, mobile-first experiences out there, but we are also seeing a lot of sites that seem to be moving in the opposite direction.

New rules and regulations around the likes of cookies and data protection (GDPR) tend to send shockwaves down to the design departments of companies everywhere, but legal teams needn’t influence design teams in such cases.

Designers should always be led by design and user experience (UX). Sadly, that’s not always the case, as far as my recent activity on the internet has made clear.

Here are a few of my gripes that we, as designers, can avoid and should be aware of when designing user experiences:

Let me see the content

Ads are packed into interfaces of Gumtree, CNN Tech and Telegraph. Take a look at the images below. These are actual screenshots from my iPhone - all of which obscure content in one way or another.

Gumtree, CNN Tech and Telegraph User Interface

There’s nothing more off-putting than being overwhelmed with adverts when all you want to do is browse content.

Let me choose when to play something

Facebook has been experimenting with auto-play video content recently and it’s pretty annoying, if you ask me. Whether you’re on the bus, in a shop or generally just somewhere quiet, the last thing you want when you’re scrolling through your feed is LADBible’s latest viral video blasting out of your speaker.

Yes, these settings can be turned off in certain apps, but why remove the amount of control someone has over their own content consumption? It adds negatively to the experience and makes me less inclined to use the apps.

A nicely designed call-to-action (CTA) to invite me to play would be much more appropriate.

Wait, what am I signing up for again?

Honestly, I’ve lost count of the number of sites that have urged me to sign up to their newsletters or product alerts before I’ve even seen what they do.

It’s the equivalent of being pounced upon by a campaigner demanding your signature on the high street. Please. Stop it. Let me explore at my own leisure and if I like your content enough, I’ll sign up to receive more of it.

Yes, a prominent CTA to sign up is OK, but don’t force it down my throat.

Stop holding me back from my content

Many marketers are obviously judged by the number of leads they obtain via their content, so naturally, they’ll do whatever they can to get them. Unfortunately, this has led to an abundance of gated content.

The content might be good, but surely I should be the judge of that before I surrender my details to see it.

Another thing that grinds my gears is forcing quotes and ads upon me before giving me what I’ve visited for, such as on Forbes as per the screenshot below:

Gumtree, CNN Tech and Telegraph User Interface

People are impatient these days, more so than ever, so it’s crucial that we give them what they want and quickly. Don’t frustrate them or they’ll go elsewhere before your page has even loaded.

I know I need to accept cookies; do you need to take up half the screen to tell me?

The EU cookie law made a few people panic about how to communicate compliance on their websites, which led to a lot of cumbersome and downright ugly popups and messages across the web.

A small, discreet message will do. In 2017, this really shouldn’t be affecting the consumption of your online content. Don’t make people work harder to engage with you.

How can we get around these subpar experiences?

Ad blockers: They’ve been a valuable part of my online setup for a while and there are plenty of them, but a lot of sites are getting wise to them now, mainly those that rely on advertising for revenue. It’s not often you have to turn them off before continuing to content, but unfortunately there’s nothing we can do yet except put up with it or get out of there.

RSS feeds: From a designer’s perspective, these tend to provide a better experience when I’m browsing content because they put content first, front and centre.

Safari’s reader view: If you’re a Mac user, this is a godsend. The reader mode has to be enabled manually (View > Show Reader or press Shift-Command-R) in OS X High-Sierra. Essentially, it strips the experience right back by doing away with ads, animations and unwanted videos so you can concentrate on what you’re there to see.

CookiesOK: If you use Chrome, this extension can save you the hassle of manually accepting cookies when you land on any given website. Granted, it doesn’t take too much time to do it anyway, but it is a small thorn in the side of pretty much every user out there.

Conclusion

It’s crazy that we’re still talking about terrible user experiences these days – the internet has been around for long enough for us to get it right – but here we are.

I don’t think I’m alone in wanting a nice, pleasant experience when I’m looking for a new tablet, reading the news or researching a job.

Reliability and trust are huge factors for me and I think they absolutely matter when it comes to designing positive experiences for people.

If we are to protect and grow a brand’s reputation and presence, we must always strive to find the balance between the necessary and the nice-to-haves in online content.

Once a busy, impatient internet user gets frustrated, they go elsewhere and there’s often no going back. We need to get it right. Our clients’ futures depend on it.

Is a good (UX) user experience too much to ask?

The good stuff

The not-so-good stuff

This article represents the opinion of experience design consultant, Simon McCade, who has no association or affiliation with the company or the app in question.

Are you experiencing similar issues with your app?

I can help you enhance user engagement, reduce friction with customers and develop your digital products in a user-centric way. Get in touch today.

By Simon McCade
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