It’s hard to believe that we still need to have these conversations – you know, the ones about how not to annoy your website readers the minute they hit your site. We’ve been doing this website stuff for over a decade now, and you’d think that everyone “in the biz” knows that Flash pages, “Skip Intro” home page design, forced tours that include auto-play music, and “mystery meat” navigation from the home page are considered by users to be nasty tricks, barely a step up from snake-oil peddlers.
When the DUO Consulting newsletter hit my inbox today, and I read Sonny Cohen’s post entitled “Site Loading? Skip Intro? You’re Kidding? I’m Outta Here,” I found myself nodding my head in sad agreement. However, a couple of the comments on the blog got me riled up enough to elaborate on the topic here.
To Flash or not to Flash
I have seen Flash intros well executed, but in very rarely and in very specific contexts. Most of the time, it’s an annoyance or worse, a complete block.I used to be able to successfully aruge with developers by reminding them that Flash undoes their SEO (search engine optimization) efforts. Recently, a developer proudly countered that because Google can now index Flash files, he sees no reason not to revert to Flash. This raised the stakes for me, as the need to “prove” that Flash is counter-productive just became a more laborious task. Here are a couple of user experiences you can try for yourself:
To Flash or Not to Flash
Your task: Find the address of the Moxie’s in Vancouver’s West End.
The test: Does the Flash interfere with getting information?(For a uniquely frustrating experience, repeat the test on your mobile device.)
The site: Moxie’s Classic Grill
Results: I did this exactly once, and only under duress. Each page takes ages to load. The logical “Contact Us” and “About Us” don’t yield any useful information, and the restaurant locator is less than useless. With each page load, I became so resentful of wasting my time (and having my lunch date waiting on the other end of the phone while I went through this exercise), that I now have a slight hate-on for Moxie’s. In other words, the site damaged the brand. It’s not like their menu is so unique that I have to go there to experience a particular type of food.
Conclusion: Nobody likes a flasher, especially when they think that forcing their jiggly bits onto you is cool.
Your task: Go through a testimonial, and find the corresponding site in their showcase.
The test: Can you turn off the sound of the “hostess” to listen to the testimonial? (For a uniquely frustrating experience, try this on a wide-screen laptop, where the lack of screen height affects the ability to navigate.) How long does it take you to match up the testimonial to the showcase piece? Most importantly, was it worth the work?
The site: Darvak
Results: Observe user behaviour as they wildly start moving the mouse across the page, trying to find the “mute” button. To determine if anyone actually listened to the message, answer these questions:
- What does the organization believe is the key in [sic] graphic design, marketing, and advertising?
- What is the name of the hostess?
- Did they accidentally open the pool game in their desperation to turn off the sound?
Conclusion: Maybe it’s because I spend too much time on airplanes with crying babies that don’t come with mute buttons, but this brings to mind the phrase “Children should be seen and not heard.” Kewl, maybe. Useful? Not so much.
Who Gets It?
The site: Vision Critical
They have a Flash option, which allows users to engage or bypass this. On their products page, the embedded video has controls to allow users to pause and continue, mute, or end the video. Also, users can scan the page while the video loads. And finally, the content in the video is useful. It is an extension of the page content.
The site: Jaguar
The site has a Flash presentation which doesn’t interfere with getting to the information. When I bypass the Flash, I don’t feel like I’m actually bypassing it; I’m simply getting to the information I want. If I want their Flash experience, I can return to it at any time.
The video didn’t really do anything for me, but let’s assume that their market research has shown that the video creates emotional impact. They let you move anywhere in the Flash presentation by moving along the preview bar (Want to see that leather interior again? Click along the bar and return to it.) There is, again, control. I didn’t like the music, so I turned it off.
The site: Adobe AIR
The Flash on the Adobe AIR site is actually useful – it demonstrates what the product does. Their execution is such that I don’t need to take any steps to browse the content on the site or to go about whatever task I set out to do. The lack of interference with other navigation and content elements means that the first time I come to the site (when I’m more likely to view the Flash), I can investigate it when I’m ready to, and on subsequent visits, I can ignore it (because I don’t need to be educated in that way again).
These samples have been chosen at random, from the frustration and appreciation of my personal experience. I used to think I was less tolerant than many users because of my industry experience, but having spent time with some younger users lately, I realize that my tolerance level is quite high, compared to theirs. They expect sites to “just work” and there is about a 2-second window before they go elsewhere in search of content (note: in search of content, not more barriers).
The conclusion isn’t anything startling. It’s nothing that hasn’t been said over the past ten years. Let users stay in control of their experience. Let them complete their tasks without friction. Don’t assume what users want to do on your site; do your due diligence in user-centered design to be sure you’re getting it right. When in doubt, do some user testing. And as a content strategist, I’m obligated to add: start with a strategy, then build to fulfill that strategy.
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