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5 Annoying Ways Websites Hijack User Experience (And Lose Users)

By Nathan Moore
June 24, 2008

Some web developers tend to believe that the more control they maintain over the user’s experience on a website, the better the experience will be. On the other hand, sometimes, it is the client that insists on certain gimmicky “features” in order to make what, in their minds, is a better website. The more control, the better - right? Ugh.

Websites should gently guide the user experience. It is the job of the web developer to keep the experience from being hijacked and explain these reasons to the client. It is the job of the client to understand why it is essential to guide the user experience instead of commandeering it. Here are 5 annoying ways that websites spit in the face of this mentality by hijacking the user experience:

1. Automatically Resizing the Browser

This is one of the most annoying ways to hijack the user experience. Anytime I visit a site and find that my browser has been resized by some sort of Javascript code, I immediately leave that site. Usually, this “feature” is requested by clients that want their users to be engulfed by the entire site - usually clients that are too proud of their work. The problem today is that users normally have several sites open in tabs and by hijacking the browser and resizing it to what you think is best, it screams that you are more important than anything else on their computer. Leave the browser size alone.

2. Automatically Playing Music

Nothing is worse than enjoying the new Coldplay album in iTunes and then visiting a website that automatically starts playing music that you never asked for. Now I have Coldplay and some cheesy trance music mixed together, polluting the musical atmosphere. I equate this to pulling up next to someone at a stop light that has music blaring, windows down, with no regard to anyone else in earshot. Unless you are a band or a record label (in which case I would still not recommend it, but at least it makes sense), do not automatically play any music even if you have a way for the user to stop it. A nice opt-in music player is the way to go. Let the user choose what comes through their speakers.

3. Automatically Playing Video

This goes hand-in-hand with automatically playing music. Unless the user expects to see a video that automatically plays, do not hijack the experience. For example, if the user clicks a link reading, “See a funny video,” and this link takes them to another page with the video, it would be okay to autoplay the video. Other than that, allow the user to choose when to play the video.

4. Making Links Open in New Windows

This is one hijacking technique that can be debatable. Users are very familiar with the back button on the browser - Heck, even Firefox  now has an enlarged back button to signify hierarchy over the other buttons in the top interface. However, many times, clients feel that if a user clicks on a link to another site, they have essentially lost that user. Solution? Open all external links in a new window. However, this usually does more harm than good. More advanced users know how to use a back button, so if they wish to go back to the site, they can simply use this knowledge and hit the back button. Similarly, these users are also accustomed to having links open in new windows. Therefore, they know how to close a window to get back to the site if the link opened in that fashion. On the other hand, a user without much experience may not realize that a new window has opened when a link is clicked. Thus, when they want to go back to the original site, they may click on the disabled back button - becoming frustrated with this unexpected turn of events. Play it safe. Just allow links to work the way links were meant to work. Don’t force a link to open in a new window.

 5.  Popover Ads

These are becoming more and more popular. I am sure that most users are familiar with them - they are the ads that pop over the rest of the content on the page until you click the (often hidden) close button/link. Again, this is hijacking the user experience because the user expects one thing and receives another. When clicking to read an article, users want to read the article (novel concept, I know). Users don’t want to play the “betcha can’t figure out how to close this ad” game in order to get to the content. Banner ads are bad enough - don’t cover the content with annoying popover ads.

All in all, just be mindful of and respect your users. Keep away from things that force an experience. Always give the user a choice and strategically guide them through an experience. Your website will be better for it and your users will stick around longer.

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Information Architecture: Evaluate, Decipher, and Organize

June 17, 2008

There are many times in our lives that we look around and find ourselves overwhelmed. Occasionally those moments for me are when I am confronted with a lot of information at once. When these moments happen I tend to be reading directions or filling out forms.

Businesses spend so much of their focus on getting people to purchase their products but drop the ball when it comes to helping those customers use their products. Directions seems to be only an afterthought or at the most, minimally considered. There has to be a meeting of minds between businesses and designers about who needs to structure this information. While business should always keep their bottom line in mind, it benefits them to know their limitations. A good designer should be able to evaluate information given to them and decipher how to organize it so that users can follow it with ease.

We, as designers, need to remember that while creating posters and cd covers may be more fun than designing forms and directions, we have an opportunity to change tasks as frustrating as filling out forms and assembling furniture into an easy experience that people can walk away from with a smile. The tasks of a designer are expanding now more than ever. There needs to be an emphasis of the fact that the most successful designs are created with the smallest details in mind and to accomplish that you need a designer.