Remember what a pain using a website used to be? Leaving aside the time it took for a page to load, which was often sufficiently long to allow a quick city break, it wasn’t unusual to find the navigation wrongly linked, or the image files so large they crashed the browser. It’s a wonder the whole internet thing ever caught on.
Of course that’s all changed now. Ever-changing content, self-updating feeds, embedded social media, video content – calling up a site nowadays is nothing but a whizz-bang thrill party. Very exciting – and all thanks to super-fast broadband and something called ‘user experience’ (or if you’re really hip, UX.)
“Why are so many leading sites providing a thoroughly annoying and frustrating user experience?”
Ah yes! UX is where the action is. In fact, as you may have noticed, there’s a whole industry based on it. A quick Google search reveals hundreds of agencies offering to design you a UX. The actual site may be built elsewhere, these people will simply focus on creating the most satisfying ‘journey’ for those who visit your glorious destination.
Which is why it’s so puzzling to find so many sites providing a thoroughly annoying and frustrating ‘user experience’. Particularly sites which might reasonably be expected to have consulted with these happening UX types.
Only this morning an acquaintance sent me a link to a piece he’d written about a TV show, for a well-known website. Being an obliging sort of chap, I clicked over to take a look. Initially the page opened much as I was expecting; but before I could read a word, the screen filled with one of those transparent black filters, in the middle of which was an advertisement. Sighing, I closed this barrier and started to read the article. Or at least I tried to. Under the main heading there was nothing more than a panel of rotating ads. Next to this was a button asking whether I wanted to ‘continue reading’. As that is all I wanted to do in the first place, I clicked it. This took me to the first section of the piece, which I read. A further button, this time marked ‘2’ invited me to move on. Unfortunately, clicking that triggered the blackout again, sporting a different advertisement. And that was the point I gave up.
Because I don’t want to attract hassle from the site, nor disappoint my writing pal, I won’t name the it – but, believe me, it’s fairly well-known, popular and not at all dodgy or amateur. So what on earth is going on? Well, I assume revenue is going on. It is notoriously hard to derive an income from a website, but once an advertising clientele has been secured, it must be very tempting to smother the whole thing with ads. Ads that pop-out, ads that play videos, ads that drop down and ads that mask the whole blooming shooting match. Whoopee. Money galore. Only where does that leave the reader? You know, the person who attracted the advertisers in the first place? Feeling as though they’re watching a very bad version of American television, where advertising interrupts everything without warning, that’s where.
Of course, I’m delighted a site has cracked the online business model and is (presumably) turning a buck and (presumably) employing people. That said, it seems incredible the owners would be happy to disrupt the thing’s functionality to such an extent they’ve rendered it unusable. And this isn’t an isolated incident; one leading financial website will not permit access until a video advertisement is watched. Another insists you reveal your location before proceeding.
If modern web design is all about UX, and this is the result, I think we may be better off with those slow-loading, but readable pages we had all those years ago.
Magnus Shaw is a blogger, copywriter and consultant