Design trends we hate right now

We have a saying here. It’s that working in UX ruins the internet for people. Although we’re mostly joking, there is an element of truth to it because a large part of our job involves looking at, reviewing and redesigning websites. And that means that when we’re online outside of office hours, we’re almost always nit-picking on the usability of this and the downright irritating design of that.

We also see great stuff of course, and we often share these things on twitter but we rarely share the ones we didn’t like so last week I sat down with some of the team to collect examples of the design trends we hate right now.

Here’s what they came up with:

Video Backgrounds

Adi, UX consultant

While there seems to be a decline in the number of sites using video backgrounds, they still remain a popular choice for many websites trying to stand out from the crowd. I’m not denying that video backgrounds are captivating but you can only enjoy them if you manage to get past the looooooong loading times they can cause and the lag that often follows afterwards. And at times they can be too captivating - while they look pretty, they distract from the actual content of the website.

So please don’t sacrifice UX AND bandwidth for something superficial. Simplicity can be equally beautiful - John Lewis makes great use of white space without impacting on the user experience. And, if you want more examples of how to do it right, this article is worth a read.

The iPad section of the apple website

Intrusive advertising

David, UX Manager

I know that this isn’t a new complaint but it is something which seems to be getting worse.  I understand the need (and appropriateness) for advertising on some sites but frankly, it's become ridiculous. Forcing users to watch minute long videos before your content loads, or answer surveys before you can read an article is frustrating at best and it’s clear that the commercials have been prioritised over the user’s experience.

When this happens, 9/10 times I will refresh the page or think “screw it” and leave. Your website is very unlikely to offer something so unique that people won’t go elsewhere if you continue to irritate them and waste their time this way.

The Bristol Post website is almost 50% adverts to 50% content. Most of the adverts appear to be clickbait and I wouldn’t be surprised if the one with Mr Martin Lewis on it is completely fake. Slap bang in the centre of the screen, there is a huge advertising video which you can’t skip for the main content which incidentally, is virtually invisible at first glance.

There are too many  adverts on the Bristol Post website

Hamburger menus

Kenton, UX Consultant

When you’re on a website, it's the job of the navigation to tell you where you are and where else you can go during your visit. And while it might be very tempting to put all your navigation under what seems like one elegant symbol you do so at the expense of usability.

Spotify recently removed their hamburger style menu and found that users with the tab bar ended up clicking 9% more in general and 30% more on actual menu items. They found that the hamburger menu was actually decreasing discoverability. As the architecture of the site is ultimately hidden from the user until they tap the menu.

The Neilsen Group agree, stating that discoverability is cut almost in half by hiding a website’s main navigation. Also, task time is longer and perceived task difficulty increases.

Quote saying 'Hamburger menus and hidden navigation hurt UX metrics' from

I feel navigation should be as transparent and accessible as possible. It is after all how your users get around your site and access your services and content. Hiding it away in the to left of your screen discourages people’s natural inclination to explore.

Dark Patterns

Adam, Managing Director

This is something we’ve discussed before but for me, dark patterns are still a problem. Specifically retention journeys using “stay” as the primary action.

When cancelling an account on a SAAS product recently (a minefield in itself, with a lot of pages and copy to get through), I went to a lot of trouble to write a detailed explanation as to why we weren’t renewing. I did this because I wanted to help the people who designed it make things better.

Unfortunately their designers had taken the decision to make “Never mind” the primary action. Without really reading the button, I clicked it, as I’m sure many other users would do.

An example of dark patterns when cancelling membership online

The design of forms with a clear primary and secondary action helps users click the right button to progress in the journey to avoid destroying their progress. In the old days, there’d often be a “Submit” and “Clear” button on a web form with equal prominence which resulted in plenty of wasted time.

I couldn’t be bothered to write the detailed feedback again, so left them some feedback on the cancellation process instead.

Pop ups right, left and centre

Dave, Product Designer

The nineties are back! We had a pretty good run of it but the looming threat of a popup jumping in-front of whatever it was you’re trying to read is back. In the old days — when modems made a noise, “surfing the web” was an activity you had to actively engage with, and AOL wasn’t just a weird mistype of aioli —  you couldn’t log on to a Usenet, chat room, Space Jam homepage or whatever without five or six extra little windows popping up over and around your Netscape browser, advertising fake antivirus programs, free DVDs, penis enlargement pills or whatever else your britpop loving heart could desire.

An example of how the website used to look like in the early 2000's.

Everyone hated them. Even Ethan Zuckerman, the guy who invented their first incarnation, has since apologised for what he had wrought.  Infact, they were so universally hated that browsers started to block them, first Opera, then Firefox, Safari and eventually Internet Explorer. All of this was before Chrome.

Now though, we’re experiencing their return in a few different ways:

Cookie Warnings

The most common for most web surfers circa 2019 is the omnipresent cookies warning. These popped up (so to speak) back in 2011 when the EU Cookie Law came into effect. Every site that ran even basic single-site tracking cookies started to require the user to at least be notified that cookies were used on the site, generally manifested as a narrow bar running along the bottom of the page with some info, a link to a basic policy doc, and a close button.

A typical privacy and cookie message often seen online

Since the introduction of GDPR in May 2018 however, users are now required to  give active consent to every cookie used. I suspect that the majority of us are just hitting ‘accept’ even if we’d previously have taken time to opt out. Why? Because it’s massively time consuming!  Even worse, these cookie warnings are frequently replete with dark patterns and obfuscatory language.

A typical cookie policy often seen when browsing the internet
A screen shot from your chickens magazine

Push notifications

What psychopath thought that anyone would ever want push notifications from websites put into their macOS Notification Centre? Next.

A push notification from the Wriggle app seen on Mac computers.

Popup ads 2.0

While popup ads can’t now create a whole new window, they can take your active window, put an obstructive translucent layer over it and smash a few distracting ads right in-front of what you’re trying to read. It’s the worst.

Looking for UX services but not sure where to start?

Download it free

We've created a free guide to buying UX services. Quickly get up to speed with the tools, techniques and terminology used on digital product design and research projects.