7 Mistakes of Modern Web Design

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Once upon a time, in the glory days of Geocities, Angelfire, Tripod et al, we were in a race to the bottom, proudly outdoing each other with animated gifs, scrolling marquees, under construction signs, and midi files. Some of us never left.

It was okay at the time - 20 years ago, the Internet was stretching its legs and testing the edges. A few million people, with incredibly ugly websites, sharing whatever was on their minds. But it got annoying pretty quickly.

While most of the problems disappeared over time, new ones arose to replace them. Today there are well over a billion sites, and the name of the game now is attention... do anything you can to grab it and keep it.

But those aren't the only problems.. here's my top 7.

Autoplay Videos

Imagine doing a search, opening a website that looks interesting, and they've put together a really great video. You want to hear that video, loud and proud, right away. But then you have to go through the extra work of clicking "play". ๐Ÿ™„

Do your visitors a favor. Don't make your videos autoplay. They're sitting at work, in the library, a quiet coffee shop, and your site blasting a video through their speakers unexpectedly isn't just annoying - it's freaking embarrassing, and they'll be gone instantaneously and possibly for good. It's an attention-grabber, but it's not the attention you want.

Worse yet, videos can take awhile to load, so your visitors also get a near heart-attack as they rapidly play whack-a-tab trying to find which one is playing audio. They intentionally came to your site - let them intentionally start the media too, on their terms.

If you've taken the time to put together a newsletter, write a whitepaper, or create a survey, a signup box in the sidebar is a good place to start. It makes sense - they intentionally came to your site seeking something, so offer them more of that same something.

But it usually snowballs from there. A small slide-out box in the lower-right corner isn't horrible. Then there's the larger slide-outs from one side of the page or the other, or even huge banners on the front page. A request to push notifications slides out from the top.

Oh, and don't forget the full screen popup as you try to leave the page or you're midway down the page trying to read. Nothing is more attractive than a desperate "Hey where are you going? Huh HUH? Guys? Guys?!? Come baaaaaaack! ๐Ÿ˜ญ"

Abusing Notification Icons

We're primed to recognize red as an alert or notification.

Some sites use indicators to notify registered users of unread messages, and then (ab)use them to remind unregistered visitors that they don't yet have an account. I've fallen for it, unconsciously clicked on an icon, and I can tell you now the number of times I've registered on a site for that reason is between 1 and... -1.

Infinite scrolling is a clever way to engage visitors, but it's awful when the footer is the place where links offering help, a contact page, site map, etc live. I love getting just the briefest of glimpse of what I need at the bottom of the site, but then before I can click on it, new posts load and everything is pushed out of reach again.

Almost... there...

What's a Mobile Device? (or pinch & zoom ftw)

More people than ever are browsing with mobile devices, yet some sites still don't optimize for them, such as using a "responsive" design. I don't know the intricacies of mobile design, but most themes for WordPress, Ghost, et al will do that for you. If you decide to go your own way and build a custom theme, it shouldn't force mobile users to pinch & zoom their way across your site. ๐Ÿคฎ

Disabling Comments After xx Weeks

This is a weird one, but I've run it across it quite a few times. Maybe it's the default for some blogging engine and most bloggers forget to change it?

The Internet was intended as a place of collaboration and interaction, yet some sites disable comments after a few weeks (before the page is even discovered by anyone) or worse yet include no comments at all. If you're present elsewhere on the web, like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, don't bet on your visitors engaging you there. I don't even have an account on any of those.

I don't particularly love comments on most sites, especially news sites, but I enjoy leaving comments on posts when I find something helpful.

I hadn't really noticed this one until I started writing this post, but here's one we've seemed to unlearn over time, which is a little weird I think. Years ago it was common for links to be blue, visited links to turn purple, and active (links you've clicked on or are hovering over) to turn red.

I realized the theme on my own site shows links in black, so I changed it to use navy and purple (and red on hover). It's a striking difference, and makes hyperlinks really stand out... something we used to know but seemed to have forgotten. ๐Ÿ˜•

Poking around the web a bit, there seem to be a lot of sites that don't change color on visited, or use bold instead of underlining, which just gets confusing when unlinked text is also bold-faced or underlined. We should get back to making sure hyperlinks are visually (and consistently) separate from the rest of the content.


Grant Winney

I write when I've got something to share - a personal project, a solution to a difficult problem, or just an idea. We learn by doing and sharing. We've all got something to contribute.

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