The past years have been remarkable for web technologies. Our code has become modular, clean and well-defined. Our tooling for build processes and audits and testing and maintenance has never been so powerful. Our design process is systematic and efficient. Our interfaces are smooth and responsive, with a sprinkle of beautiful transitions and animations here and there. And after so many years, accessibility and performance have finally become established, well-recognized pillars of user experience.
It’s a truly wonderful time to be designing and building for the web, and I couldn’t be more excited and honored to be a part of these developments. However, there’s still something that seems to be too often forgotten or ignored or even dismissed for the sake of business goals. It’s respect, a genuine, authentic feeling of respect towards our customers and our visitors.
That’s Why Content Blockers Matter
We’ve all faced a flashy pop-up over here, an annoying notification nagger over there, a third-party email blast every other month. There are so many shady practices and dirty little tricks that scream to keep customers’ attention or drive them to decisions that they don’t want to make. Even though we’re good at protecting ourselves against some of them with content blockers (and rightfully so!), there still isn’t much one can do beyond that.
It’s not OK when a service manipulates its customers, abusing their psychology, so that they would please-oh-please waste more time with it. It’s not OK when it’s painfully difficult to delete an account. It’s not OK when a service plays mind games by placing buttons at seemingly random places to trick customers into upgrades. It’s not OK when a service abuses customer’s privacy and happily shares data with third-parties to use for email blasts.
While I sincerely appreciate and applaud the efforts that go into the work around making the web faster and more engaging and more visually pleasing, I’d love to see us pushing stronger towards respect in 2018 — towards care about customer’s data, privacy, inclusivity, transparency, authenticity, and ethics. All of these things might not sound particularly enticing, and yes, they are difficult to sell, but they are refreshingly different and humane compared to noisy and heartless messages sent through endless streams of scheduled notifications and screaming pop-ups.
I strongly believe that it’s the humanity of our interfaces that produces a value that people can connect to; it’s also a value that people want to connect to in the first place. I’d rather see a service with a little bit of quirky personality than a service desperately trying to please everybody, ambitiously trying to “make the world a better place.” In fact, personally, I’d rather have people deeply loving or deeply disliking Smashing Magazine, rather than not caring about it at all.
Do These Shades Of Blue Really Matter?
Now, many of us have been in the web industry for quite some time. We’ve been crafting interfaces and testing all the different shades of buttons and various layouts just to find that one particular optimal solution that performs best. But perhaps while doing so in endless ongoing A/B tests, we are losing the big picture, the initial idea, the initial cause of why we are doing something. Every single A/B test will show an increase in conversion with a shiny pop-up, but it will not show the loss of trust, or an annoyance by people who choose to spend their time on our sites.
Now, what if we tried something else? Here’s a start-up idea: If you want to “disrupt” anything, bring the focus to privacy, inclusivity, and ethics of your product. Design your principles, stick to them and make them noticeable. Don’t try to outperform with features. Outperform by being authentic in your small niche, and have values that people can genuinely relate to. Think about offboarding and the data you collect. Write meaningful, respectful copy instead of testing 20 shades of a button. Think about third-party scripts, and contain them.
But Where Would We Even Start?
We could start where it matters the most. Think about your values first, and think about the personality that your interface should embed. It’s not necessarily about picking a cute mascot or designing a funky animation though, e.g. think about copywriting that accurately reflects people crafting the product.
While working on the new Smashing Magazine, we had to rediscover our signature: one tiny little thing in the UI that is unique and is used consistently. It could be a bouncy animation, or a shape of a button, or a link underline, or a quirky typeface, or images rotated by 11 degrees. Not everybody might love it, but it will be distinctive for you.
Think about the messaging and all the negative experiences your customers could potentially have. How can you turn that negative experience into a positive experience, perhaps even making someone smile along the way? Think about copywriting for error messages and blank states and broken states and invalid inputs, and perhaps radiate the visual experience from there.
But most importantly, define your values and publicize them. Explain what you believe in and what you want to achieve. Perhaps, in the end, it’s not about figuring out the perfect wording for a CTA-button, but figuring out how to elicit trust and connection before people even encounter that button. Everything else will just follow naturally.
We’d Love To Hear Your Stories!
Perhaps I’m totally wrong and naive about all of this. Maybe the world is slightly different and much more complex, and it couldn’t all possibly work as I think it could. But I deeply believe that if we show a bit more kindness, sincerety, humanity and respect to people using our interfaces, we can gain much more than we are likely to lose.
I would love to see more case studies demonstrating the impact of ethics and privacy on user experience metrics and business metrics (like WPO Stats does). So share. Please share what you’ve learned. Share case studies on how this focus has helped your company get better — we’d be happy to publish your stories on Smashing Magazine, or promote them through our channels.
It’s about time to take a strong stand against all the shady and dark practices that have found their way into our interfaces over the years — at least that’s the mission we’re strongly committed to here at Smashing Magazine.