Web design is a trend-laden field, and one notorious for designers copying – I mean gathering inspiration from 😉 – each other. Often, design techniques have a way of showing up in a multitude of sites in a short period of time. This can be a good thing; methods that make for a more pleasant user experience should be embraced and utilized. However, not every web design trend, including some popular ones, benefit the user. Here are a few that, in my opinion, should be abandoned and attributed to human error, never to be spoken of again.
1. Hamburger menus for everyone
The triple-line menu icon (often referred to as the “hamburger”) rose to prominence along with the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, where screen space is at a premium. Hamburger menus look very slick and fit in well, from an aesthetic perspective, with clean site designs, so they’ve become common on sites at all widths as well. In other words, phone, tablet, and desktop users all get the hamburger icon versus being able to see the menu items prior to clicking.
The problem with this approach is that it hurts user engagement; users don’t immediately know what menu items are available to them, and may not bother to click the hamburger icon to find out. An interesting study from the Nielsen Norman Group found that users were about twice as likely to use navigation that wasn’t hidden behind a hamburger icon.
2. Gigantic Sticky Navigation
Sticky navigation, where the main navigation bar is permanently attached to an edge–most commonly the top–of the window, can be a very effective method to make navigating a website easier and faster. After all, the technique reduces the amount of scrolling necessary, as well as reminds the user of the available navigation options at all times. The downside to sticky navigation is that it does reduce the available vertical space available for content, so the web designer must be careful to avoid tall sticky navs, particularly for users with small viewport, such as tablet users.
The screenshot about is taken from an iPad Air 2 in horizontal orientation. The sticky navigation bar takes up approximately 120 pixels of vertical space, leaving just 607 for content. The navigation equates to about 1/6 of the total vertical space available in the device’s browser, a number that could have been reduced by using a smaller logo, less vertical padding, and a smaller font size.
3. Full screen banner with no scroll indication
There’s a web design term, borrowed from newspapers, known as “the fold”. It refers to content that appears in the first “screen” of a website – i.e. the content that is visible prior to scrolling. Banners which cover the full viewable area of a browser window can be incredibly impactful. However, without some visual indication, the user may believe there is no other content “below the fold”, whether or not this is the case. A down arrow or the word “scroll” placed at the bottom of the banner can serve as a visual clue that there’s more to see, and encourage the user to explore the page.
4. Auto-starting Live Chat
Live chat can be an very powerful tool for companies to provide service to, and interact with, their audiences; it’s often a very handy way for users to get quick answers. However, not every user wants to interact in this way, so automatically forcing live chat sessions down everyone’s throat is intrusive and unnecessary. Additionally, it’s insincere. How many other users browsing the site at the same time were told that Claudia was chatting with them? If I’d responded in the chat box, how long would I need to wait to actually talk to a representative?
5. Email Popups
I’ve saved the most offensive website design trend for last – the infamous email popup. Email marketing is a great tool for companies to interact with their audiences, but the audience must be willing and engaged. The theory behind this particular technique is to make the email list signup as apparent as possible, and it’s successful in that aim, however it’s at the cost of user happiness. In another interesting study by the Nielsen Norman Group, 95% of users reported having a “negative or very negative” response to advertising popups covering the window.
Web design trends will continue to come and go; some will uncover new ways to improve the user experience and make the web a friendly. Others, well…less so. Although the dreaded email popup is probably here to stay, one can only hope the majority of future trends focus on user experience, rather than short-sighted options which put user happiness behind purely aesthetic or analytic considerations.