If you’re serious about user experience in your design projects, you’ll know how easy it can be to get bogged down in the finer details. Moving that call-to-action button backwards and forwards a few pixels probably won’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things – but at least you’re thinking about the user with everything you do.
Give yourself a pat on the back for that too, because you’re still in the vast minority of designers/developers that put user experience first. Some of the biggest name brands online are among the worst offenders when it comes to UX mistakes. Some are plain arrogant, others perhaps don’t know any better and I’m pretty sure many simply underestimate the importance of user experience. Let the shaming begin!
Forbes – the best example of how not to do everything
Oh boy, where do I begin with the (lack of) user experience over at Forbes? This could well be my most disliked website from any of the established names and it all starts with that ridiculous welcome page.
Those things have been winding me up since Forbes first decided it was okay to obstruct my browsing with a quote of the day every time I landed on its site. Yeah, thanks for that Forbes – I like nothing better than being patronised for a few seconds before you decide to redirect me to the article I clicked on in the first place.
Things got even better this year too when the Forbes people starting forcing users to disable ad blockers before they could access the site. Ads are where Forbes generates revenue from page views you see, and now no ads mean no views for you. The problem is Forbes litters its pages with precisely the kind of ads that drive people to use blockers in the first place – so maybe it should look a little closer to home for the fix.
Once you get the privilege of seeing a page on Forbes website you’ll come across few additional UX gems. Splitting articles across multiple pages is another favourite trick of mine and Forbes doesn’t disappoint.
If you’re wondering why the hell you should have to click yet another button to be directed to yet another page at this point, I’m with you on that one. After all, what’s wrong with scrolling? Nothing. You can fit the whole article on a single page without asking people to click through onto another. Better yet, Forbes even uses infinite scrolling to load the next article before you get to read the second page – it’s an absolute mess.
We could dish more dirt on Forbes’ UX blunders, but let’s give the guys a break and moan about someone else for a moment.
Instagram – possibly the most pointless website imaginable
Instagram is an incredibly popular social media platform and a powerful marketing tool – well done. But it’s also the owner of possibly the most pointless website imaginable.
At a first glance nothing looks particularly wrong over at Instagram.com – all you have to do is log in to enjoy the wonders of visual social media. But wait, what if you don’t have an account? You’d probably like to browse as a visitor and check the place out before you commit to signing up. But that won’t work, because you can’t browse the Instagram website without an account.
And that’s not even the best part. You can’t even sign up to an account on the website either – for that you have to pull out your phone, download the app and sign up on your smartphone, before you can sign in and access the site on your laptop. Genius.
New York Magazine – because your fingers were made for clicking
Everyone loves a good 14 Ways to Wear a Head Wrap This Summer list. But the likes of New York Magazine and countless other publications insist on turning them into pesky slideshows, meaning you have to click between every image and wait for the next page to load.
If you’re really lucky, you’ll be bombarded by ads between every few slides while you’re at it. And most sites don’t offer up an option to view the slideshow as a single list – but New York Magazine, on this occasion, at least gives you that option.
The Wall Street Journal – doing popups no favours at all
I’m not going to get into the debate on websites using popups, but there’s a way to go about it if you choose to use them – and this isn’t it. Blocking the user’s view with a full-page popup when they’re halfway through scanning your content is plain silly.
There are so many less intrusive alternatives to full-page popups if you decide you need one. WSJ certainly doesn’t need to be blocking the ENTIRE user experience a few seconds after people land on their homepage. There are far smoother ways to get signups, but there aren’t many quicker ways to annoy first-time visitors. It’s pretty pointless too, considering you can’t read a single story on the site without subscribing anyway – so why not let people see what content you have to offer before interrupting their session?
McDonalds – using popups for the sake of it
I can’t help but chuckle that the best minds of McDonalds think signing up to their email list is the action users crave most, should they ever visit the site.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to put a McAnything in my mouth anytime soon, but I imagine people searching for the brand would be more interested in finding their nearest ‘restaurant’ or perhaps ordering online. But instead you get the prospect of signing up to an email list so you can keep up with Ronald McDonald’s latest makeup tips or whatever they’re offering (I’m not signing up to find out).
Sky Sports – tarnishing its reputation with promoted stories
We can’t criticise the fact that publications need to monetize their content – after all, producing it doesn’t come free. But it’s amazing how many established news sources resort to using promoted stories to generate revenue. Sky Sports isn’t even close to the worst offenders in truth, but we haven’t had a sports entry yet so it seems like a fair nomination.
Just look at those headlines (the ones that aren’t clipped short) and, if they’re not hilarious enough for you, then soak up some of those images. Pretty epic. Except for anyone unfortunate enough to click one of these ads and seeing the ‘content’ waiting for them at the other end.
Worse than the website, though, is the Sky Sports app which shoves promoted stories at you as soon as you scroll back up. This is in addition to the promoted stories already waiting for you at the bottom of the page too. To be fair, Sky Sports isn’t even nearly the only culprit – these buggers are all over the web.
The Independent – pointless menus, spammy content, dodgy scrolling and the usual ad overload
If there’s one thing I love more than a 14 Ways to Wear a Head Wrap This Summer list, it’s got to be a 10 best candlestick holders article. The Independent’s strict policy on quality content aside, this is essentially the kind of spammy, promotional crap Google was supposed to wipe out with the likes of its Panda and Penguin algorithms.
The Independent also sports one of my favourite UX tricks of using a hidden navigation menu. This also features on desktop too, for absolutely no reason. But the site already has a typical navigation menu in the header section.
Makes you wonder why it needs that hidden menu at all – especially when it’s the exact same menu, down to every category and link.
And, if dodgy content or inexplicable navigation isn’t enough to make you fall in love with the Independent online, you also get some dodgy scrolling and the usual ad overload for good measure. Look out Forbes, because the Independent seems to be doing everything it can to steal that UX wooden spoon off you.
A note on advertising
At this point, I feel like I should defend the use of advertising, because many of these sites need to monetize their content somehow. This is especially true for news publications, where content is essentially their only asset. The trouble is how they go about employing advertising and that’s proven by the fact so many people use ad blockers.
They are some of the top sites on the web and their policy on advertising is pretty laughable. Online ads don’t need to be intrusive and you don’t have to choose between advertising or user experience. You can have both and it’s your responsibility as a web designer to make sure your clients can monetize their websites without compromising on user experience.
You owe it to yourself too, because you’ve been slaving away to create that seamless experience and you don’t want your clients to plaster ads all over the place once you’re finished.
One the plus side
On the plus side, after you look at how many big names make a hash of user experience you see how low the bar is still set. Sure, the finer details in UX design can be incredibly complex and require constant testing to fine-tune. But the examples today are pretty glaring errors and they cause users problems on a daily basis – the kind that shouldn’t really be made in the first place.