The Uglier Side of Online Consumer Experiences
The Internet has become a creepy, pushy salesperson, and as a society of shoppers, bloggers, e-socialites and subscribers, I think we could do better.
I was checking out the American Institute of Graphic Arts blog recently, as I’m wont to do, and I saw that they posted a particularly interesting article about the “dark side of design.” It was an insightful little read about deceitful design practices which unfortunately are injected into our daily lives, planted to mislead and baffle users into doing things they probably didn’t want to do without one lick of consideration for the user’s enjoyment of his or her experience.
There are many different practices applied today that are highly questionable, as well as immensely frustrating for the average online consumer. I won’t go on and on about each and every one, though if you’re interested in learning more, you should check out Dark Patterns. UX designer Harry Brignull, who has a Ph.D. in cognitive science, created this website to help highlight these disasters and discourage others from using them.
To me, marrying marketing and design together should be a copacetic and cooperative arrangement. If an offer has qualities that make it better than what the competitors offer, well, great! Tell me about it, so I can make an informed decision. Give me flexible options to buy and learn more, give me access to newsletters, coupons, discounts, loyalty rewards and all that awesome stuff I might appreciate. Make it straightforward and fluid when I want to sign up, sign in, sign out, check out, get help, navigate and compare so I can shop and share my positive experiences with others.
All of this sounds totally like common sense stuff, I know. But sadly, it’s not always what I’m seeing. I mean, seriously, things shouldn’t be as painfully convoluted as they sometimes are. Quite frankly, if someone felt it was necessary to sneak things into my shopping cart, clutter up my screen with calls to action or try to shame me into opting in, that offer probably wasn’t very good to begin with.
Shady design practices are not isolated to the sketchy “make money now from home like Sally, this mom of five” types of businesses either.
Take Pinterest, for example. Anyone who has ever performed a Google image search has probably experienced the “Pinterest fail” effect, where you click on a link that takes you to Pinterest, and it teasingly loads …
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… but as soon as you start to scroll down the page …
The really irritating thing is that Pinterest results show up so often that it sometimes turns what should be a routine five-minute image search into a registration screen-riddled nightmare.
Pinterest didn’t always do this and it’s not a welcome change. People have created hacks explicitly to get around the browse-blocking overlay and angry blogs have been written openly bashing the move. It’s a prime example of those aforementioned “dark design” practices that appear to be geared solely to drive revenue at the expense of user sanity.
I have yet to reactivate my Pinterest account despite the bullying since I refuse to go through the trouble just to follow a search link. I’m almost offended that they expect me to waste my time. Forcing users to register after baiting them in and letting them scroll down just a little before putting the brakes on doesn’t strike me as a particularly good way to ask people if they want to join your community.
Another thing that really gets to me is when sites use an opt-out process instead of an opt-in process for email notifications and newsletters. It’s an increasingly common practice, and the odds are that anyone reading this probably has an inbox somewhere filled with this sort of junk mail at this very moment.
The reason I think using an opt-out process sucks is that it forces users to hunt down the opt-out option after they discover that their inboxes are filling up or that their names are being attached to emails they didn’t want to send. Then you sometimes have to wait for at least a week for the opt-out to take effect, or maybe even longer!
Just so you know, LinkedIn suffered a pretty hefty lawsuit to the tune of $13 million for this variety of “social spam,” which plaintiffs argued was intrusive and reputation-damaging. Yeah, seriously, it’s not cool.
It’s even worse when sites do this in a sneaky way that you’re unlikely to notice, such as burying a pre-checked box at the bottom of a long legal disclaimer or by using convoluted language you’d have to read twice to realize what you’re actually agreeing to.
Also, while we’re on the topic of opt-outs, have you ever encountered opt-outs like these?
No, I don’t want your damn newsletter, and if I wanted some passive-aggressive attitude, I’d call up my old college roommate, thank you very much. (Source: http://cruelestoptouts.tumblr.com)
These are purely and truly awful. If this were a real person talking to me, I would be avoiding them all the time. There is a hilarious Tumblr collection of snide newsletter forms if you want to browse these. I bet you’ll get a chuckle from at least one or two. I realize that sometimes it’s designed to be funny, but when you’re being serious, I mean, come on. Just stop.
The long and short of this little rant is that good design shouldn’t be leaving the average user deeply sighing while he or she is trying to navigate.
If you want me to subscribe to your newsletter, make it worthwhile and give me clear opportunities. If you expect me to register for something, let me poke around a little so I can make that choice myself, instead of hastily agreeing just to get it over with and then forgetting about it immediately. If you can’t figure out how to accomplish these things without resorting to spam, forceful coercion or deceitful design techniques, then hire someone who can.
The Internet would be a better experience if only we started putting the user first when we plan our websites’ infrastructure, and I’d be willing to bet that the companies that eschew trickery will end up with the loyal customer base they deserve.