When Websites Attack

When Websites Attack
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Has this happened to you? You go to a website and it refuses to give you what you want. It is trying so hard to steer your thought processes, that it won’t let you decide for yourself that you want to buy.

I was looking for information the other day on a specific home electronic system. I looked up information on the topic and a specific technology was mentioned a few times.

The technology sounded like what I was looking for, but I wasn’t sure. I clicked on a site devoted to the technology, hoping to learn a bit more and maybe find what I was looking for. No such luck … I was attacked, I was assaulted, I was swarmed.

Your saying “C’mon, it’s just a website, how bad could it be?”

Now remember, I’m motivated to find out some information and find what I’m looking for, so I’m trying a little harder than I would on a news or entertainment site. In the first few seconds, before I’ve had a chance to absorb the navigation buttons and flashing titles, a survey request box floats over the page dimming the page behind it. It’s moving pretty fast back and forth and the tiny “no thanks” X is really hard to hit.  Little did I know I’d just started a game of whack-a-mole with this site, and I had to kill this first mole. My task was made harder by the fact that clicking the underlined “no thanks” didn’t do anything, only clicking the actual X killed this window.

I keep a running tally in my head of irony in the world around me. My personal catch phrase, if I had one, might be “god loves irony”. This survey request box was asking me if I wanted to take a survey about the new design of this site. Cue the laugh track.

Now I see the home page in all its glory.

Every square inch is competing with every other square inch for my attention, and doing so with a desperation that makes me feel like a crowd of third world children won’t eat if I don’t look each one in the eye and plumb the depths of their little souls.

It’s like a sci-fi movie future where advertising has gotten out of control and animated ads are yelling personal things about me trying to get my attention, all moving and changing in real time like the newspapers in Harry Potter.  Who am I kidding? This is the future we’ve been warning ourselves against … It’s here, and it is just as ugly as we predicted.

The designers of this site—and there have to be several because no one person could come up with all of the different fonts and font colors I’m seeing—seem to have made it their personal mission to refute the old saying “less is more”.  “More is more” doesn’t begin to cover it. “Too much is not enough” almost gets there, but that implies a conscious stick-it-to-those-uptight-design-elitists attitude that this gif swarm doesn’t even rise to.

With an effort, I tear my eyeballs away from the animations and look for a navigation. Above the main feature window, which is changing every three seconds, far too fast to absorb half of the info crammed onto each panel,  is a line of 9 ordinary text section headings, each with a little picture next to it in case I can’t read. This is the only text on the page that doesn’t seem to want my attention.

I find a category that sounds like what I’m looking for and I get a roll over drop down with 13 subcategories and the last one says “and More…”. ‘This isn’t so bad’ I think, the first four have a bold red “NEW!” in front of the title. Okay they’re new categories. I think about how much work and skill it took to code in the different font and color for one word on the drop down and not have the javascript break. Too much effort for the result, but I’ll cut them some slack on this one. I click on a subcategory.

HA! I’d been lulled into a false comfort.

We’re back to whack-a-mole, with a new pop-up to chase down and kill. This pop-up is colored like a Raid can, bright green and yellow with gradations and drop shadows and exclamation points and all caps statements to get me to go sign up for … email. I think to myself, I’m trying to buy something now, which will give them my email. Why send me away from this page to sign up for email where I might then buy something in the future? Why are they even interrupting me?

I’m reminded of a recent trip to a clothing store where I had my hands in the belts trying to find one I liked, and the sales person interrupted me to ask if they could help me find anything.

“Um, do you see I’m looking at belts right now?”

Okay, I was a bit of an ass, but you get my point.  The store had set up the belts so they were in the right sizes and colors and I just had to look at them and decide if I wanted any of them.

The psychology of a buyer, and I may be different than most, is that I want to decide to buy something, I don’t want to be manipulated or talked into buying something. I hate to be “sold”. I want just enough information and just enough reason to make my decision and then I decide, and I then self-support my decision. I congratulate myself on making a good decision and a good buy.  If the product lives up to my expectations, I further congratulate myself. I may even tell friends. I go back to the store or site and buy more if the experience is good. I’ve decided I like the brand and the brand experience … but I digress.

After killing pop-up #2, I’m on the subcategory page where I might find the information, and hopefully the product, I’m looking for.  The visual assault has resumed. There is no further navigation to the page, it is just deals and products crammed on a long scroll going down as far as it takes to get everything on this one page. The scroll slider is a small horizontal shape instead of a long vertical, that’s how long the page is.

Maybe I could use a sales person here, because this page isn’t organized in a way that I can understand … but I don’t know what I’m looking for exactly, so all of these “AMAZING DEALS GOING FAST!!” don’t really mean anything to me.

Filling in any area on the page that isn’t flashing is this grey stuff, that looking closer, I see is text, set small and so close together it blurs. I think I may get some information if I read it. Wrong! It seems to be a transcript of beat poetry snippets of infomercials.  Every sentence ends in an exclamation mark! Or Two!! Actual sample quotes: “You may think it’s magic!” and “And that’s not all, there’s more!!”, and “Order today and get this $410.93 value for ONLY $69.99!”

I want to remind these people that I came to their website on purpose, it’s not 3AM and I didn’t click their channel by accident with a TV remote.

Just to complete the picture, let’s check off the list of no-nos  on this page that should not have, like smallpox, appeared on any website after 1999:

  • Flashing gifs – check
  • A ticker tape scroll – check
  • Over use of montages and logos – check
  • Logo-izing and trademarking  every feature – check
  • Excessive fonts and colors – check
  • Excessive use of bold, italics, and all caps – check
  • Use of “Word Art” gradation, warping, embossing, and drop shadows, all on the same piece of type – check
  • Multiple pop-ups – check

Pop-up number #3: Do I want to talk to an expert?

“Hello, I’m Greg, how can I help you today?”

I have to think about this one. By now, I’ve forgotten what I was looking for and why. I decide to bust some chops, because I’ve been defeated by this site, and I can’t resist being a childish ass. I could run away like a little girl chased by bees, but why not have a little fun by lighting a fuse before running away?

I type “OMG GREG, MY EYES ARE BLEEDING!!! …”

Barton Stabler

Barton Stabler

Barton Stabler is Director of Brand Strategy, Design, and User Experience at Ultimate Office, and Executive Creative Director at Best Visual Identity. In the world of illustration and design, Barton has made a mark and loved doing it. He's worked with major magazines and Fortune 500 corporations, winning awards, and exploring visual challenges. He specializes in the projects clients don’t know what to do with. He’s happiest exploring uncharted territory and coming out with visuals that work. Barton’s never been afraid of exploring the new and different. As a Creative Director, he still enjoys catching, conceiving, sharing, and driving home a vision. Vision is more than just what you see in your head; it’s what you can get others to see. And it’s what he’s been doing throughout his career.
Barton Stabler
Barton Stabler

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