7 web practices that make our souls ache

There’s no shortage of aggravating web practices — here are seven that keep hurting our hearts.

Jeff Cardello
March 28, 2018
Web design

The web should be free from irritation. Pages should load quickly and be effortless to navigate. So why is there so much that makes us want to take a sledgehammer to our digital devices? Isn't this mortal existence difficult enough without the internet adding to our struggles? Here are seven ways web design inflicts unnecessary hurt.

1. Getting punched by popups

Forbes blog post with a video popup on top of another popup. Written diagonally across the photo in mint green lettering is "POPUPS ON TOP OF POPUPS!!!"

One of a web designer’s core values is usability. They take great time in making sure a design is easy to navigate and organized in a logical way They care about a user’s experience. So what evil lurks in their hearts that they continue to hit us with popups?

Web designers definitely share the blame, but they’re only secondary players. Who else do we blame for popups? Yes, clients, we're looking at you. You love asking designers to make things "pop.” And pop up.

We know: we blame you for so much. And most of the time, it's not your fault. But popups? It’s time we put an end to this painful practice.

Our attention spans are short enough as is without popups impeding our focus. Popups inflict their punishment with ads that won't vanish unless you close them. They torture us with the autoplay of annoying videos and audio. And they taunt us into paying for that newspaper content after we've run out of free articles. But it really does look like you’re enjoying their journalism. So maybe quit being a cheapskate and subscribe.

2. Crushed by confusing color schemes

A closeup of hands on a keyboard. The photo has a minty green treatment and bright orange-red text reads "WELCOME TO A WORLD OF PAIN."

If you’re new to design, it's easy to accidentally pick problematic color schemes. What you may think is eye-popping, may actually be heartbreaking to anyone unlucky enough to have to make their way through your color palette of chaos. Learning a little about color theory will go a long way toward reducing eye strain and fist shakes. Quit throwing darts at the color wheel and instead plan what colors you’re going to use.

The early days of web design were known for their garish, unappealing color combinations. But we’ve come a long way from the web’s clunky, poorly designed roots. If other designers have recently referred to your work as “very Geocities,” you’ve got a problem. Unless you’re being ironic? In that case — I tip my trucker hat to you.

Overusing contrasting colors is one way to make your users miserable — they make for an overwhelming, dizzying, fatiguing experience. Used sparingly, dramatically contrasting colors can be eye-catching and highlight key elements. But used in excess, they become a rainbow of pain.

Overly bright color combos are another kind of unfriendly color scheme. Or pairing colors like yellow and green. Yes — yellow and green. Even John Deere, the farming equipment giant whose brand identity is based on this color combo, doesn’t flood their design with the pair. They may be buddies on the color wheel, but they’re no friends to someone navigating a yellow-green-heavy design.

And then there’s black and red. Unless your client is a death metal band, a horror movie production, or a vampire ... avoid the devil’s color combination.

3. Juddered by jittery background videos

Some may argue that all background videos are annoying. That there’s nothing that makes us want to fling our laptops off a tall structure more than pointless video clips. In small doses, they can be valuable — they add movement to a static page and give a fuller representation of a topic. If the video has quality and a purpose, it can help communicate a brand’s story.

So if you are going to have a background video, make sure it doesn’t look like an outtake from the Blair Witch Project — stabilize it. And who’s that standing in the corner of your video? Is it Josh?!? JOSH!

Make sure the person who shoots your video knows how to set the white balance, choose the right exposure, and lays off the quadruple Americanos if they’re shooting without a tripod.

‍Unless your a skydiving company, you have no excuse for having shaky footage as your background video.

4. Socked with boring stock images

Let me be the first to admit that I've used some pretty boring, cliche stock images in the past. Can I use the excuse of ignorance?

That stock image of someone standing on a mountain signifying triumph? Guilty.

The photo of a carefully arranged desk with the Moleskine notebook, glasses, and coffee cup to symbolize the life of a freelancer? Also guilty.

Stock images can be a quick fix. Do a search on your favorite royalty-free image site and pick whatever comes up first. Bam. Done. But what seems like an easy solution can be a head-first dive into Snoresville.

Stock images bludgeon us with their blandness. Nondescript office workers with facial gestures as natural as saccharine. Phony boardrooms and staged handshakes. Immaculate workspaces free from coffee stains, Kleenex, and candy wrappers. They represent an idealized version of reality, not unlike the display rooms at IKEA. Shiny surfaces sans substance.

All stock images aren’t necessarily a bad choice, but their overuse lessens the impact. When choosing a stock photo, ask how it makes you feel. If the answer is that the photo fills you with a hollow, existential dread, you can probably do better.

5. Trampled by terrible typography

‍Ultra-light body copy? Pro move, Adobe Business Catalyst.

How do you differentiate your blocks of content? You could go the conventional route and use header tags and different font sizes. Or, you could be a rebel and use a bunch of different font types. I mean, everyone loves a good buffet — why not fill your design with a smorgasbord of font faces?

Most designers live by the golden rule of no more than two fonts in any given design. Don’t be a typography terrorist and throw every typeface you can get your hands on into a design. Too many fonts is a rookie mistake. But the more you learn about font types and the right applications, the better designer you’ll be.

And the more you know, the more you can endear yourself to other snooty designers with inside jokes. You think your quip about Comic Sans will win them over? That’s just low-hanging fruit. Like a comedian telling a joke about Nickelback at an open mic. We’ve all heard it before.

And besides, any free-thinking designer will tell you that Comic Sans does have practical applications. But it takes a true typography afficanado to make jokes at the expense of Papyrus, Calibri, or Times New Roman. But what about Helvetica? You may be wondering. Can this classic font also be a topic of ridicule?

Oh, you still have so much to learn.

6. Nagged by newsletter sign ups

‍McDonald’s may have over billions served. But why serve us with a demand to sign up the moment we land on the page?

Websites shouldn’t shove a newsletter signup form at you immediately. It's like showing up for a first date and getting asked about Valentine’s plans before you can sit down. Mind if we get to know each other a little before I commit to your newsletter or a high-pressure Hallmark holiday?

We know, we know — you’ve got analytics that show signup requests are effective. They’re still annoying.

7. Jacked by scroll jacking

Why let someone navigate in a familiar way when you could create a unique, frustrating experience? Imagine you walk into an elevator, and instead of an array of familiar circular buttons, there's just a weird dude who makes you solve a riddle before you can choose your floor. Most of us would opt for the stairs. Don’t make the navigation on your site a puzzle.

Maybe you think scroll bars were made to be broken. So sure, go ahead and inactivate yours. Let’s see that novel approach to navigation, you scroll-jacking sicko.

Some designers get creative without destroying a person’s will to live. But most scroll jackers are like mad scientists, messing with the natural laws of a browser’s nature. Unleashing a monster upon those of us not ready to deal with a navigation nightmare.

‍Not all scroll jacking is a crime against humanity. Huge Inc. pulls it off with a smooth interface.

Deep breaths

There are many web practices out there that grate our nerves. So when those popups keep ... popping up, when you’re inflicted with a background video as shaky as the first Cloverfield movie, and when you’re looking at a website whose color palette constitutes torture, just remember there’s only so much in this world we can control.

Relax, drink some chamomile tea, and reflect on everything good. And the rage you feel at the sound of your coworker chomping on carrot sticks? You might want to work on that, too.

Namaste.

Jeff Cardello

Writer, improviser, and reformed music snob. Check me out @JCardello.

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