Our clients aren’t web designers. That’s why they hire us.
When we sign clients for web design services, they’re often redesigning their sites for the first time in several years. While clients know they need updated designs, they probably aren’t up-to-date on best UX practices.
Occasionally, I have clients make requests for design features that are either outdated or unnecessary for their users’ needs. In some cases, it’s up to the designer to educate the client on the way modern users really interact with digital interfaces and how the design choices you’re making align with those behaviors.
Here are six of the top client requests I receive that are outdated or unnecessary for a positive user experience:
When I begin working on a site, one of my first steps is to work with the account manager, SEO strategist, and client to develop the site map. The client almost always wants to list the ‘home’ button as the first item in the menu.
The primary menu presents users with a series of choices on how to navigate the site. Because users read from left to right, top to bottom, it should be ordered by importance, so the focus should be on the company’s products or services. When the first link is a home button, it creates a visual obstacle that prevents the user from continuing to explore the site.
That’s not to say that the ability to revert to the homepage from anywhere on the site isn’t a user expectation. In modern web design, the most familiar alternative is a clickable logo (usually in the top left of the menu) that serves as a permanent home button.
Some of the most frequented sites on the web have done away with home buttons in the main navigation: apple.com, microsoft.com, amazon.com. It’s highly unlikely that that was an oversight for these major players.
Scroll to see more button
While giving feedback on a site design, I recently had a client comment, “There’s nothing that indicates ‘scroll down to see more.’ Is that intentional?”
Yes. All computer users know how to scroll. It’s the most basic user interaction; we’ve been doing it since the beginning of
time the Internet. By instructing users to scroll, you’re reiterating a behavior that’s already natural to them.
Huge’s research provides insight into how cues to scroll impact user behavior. In the study, almost all users scrolled, regardless of whether or not they were prompted to do so.
Everything above the fold
While we’re on the subject of scrolling, a common client request I get is to place more content above the fold.
“Above the fold” is an old adage from the newspaper industry that refers to the practice of placing important stories and photos on the top half of the front page, above the fold. The phrase persists in web design as a term for the content that users see when they first land on the page.
However, the phrase increasingly doesn’t translate to web. Today’s devices are all different sizes and resolutions, and modern design responds to those devices. Now that larger monitors are the norm, and mobile and tablet users are accustomed to scrolling, users scroll and scan for what is most useful to them.
While the space above the fold is still your first opportunity to capture attention, it’s the writer’s and designer’s jobs to engage user interest and encourage further exploration. Compelling content—not clutter—drives scrolling.
Trying to cram everything above the fold is like putting up a billboard with four headlines, three phone numbers, and two URLs. It’s bad for user experience and horrible for calls to action.
Busy backgrounds and skeuomorphism
Common feedback I hear from clients is that they don’t like flat—especially white—backgrounds. If I’m working with an architectural client, they invariably want a blueprint background pattern. If I’m working with an auto client, I get requests for tread mark background patterns.
Texture is integral to design. Background textures and patterns are a simple and effective way to add depth to a website, guide the eye, and separate content into logical divisions. But balance is also integral to design. Overdoing background textures simply because the client doesn’t like white backgrounds can be extremely distracting.
As for the request to reference familiar elements from the physical world (like blueprints and tread marks), the flat design vs. skeuomorphism debate rages on. However, users have adapted to the screen. The need to specify similarities to the physical world to help users identify online elements has diminished and may date your site.
Sidebars have long been a staple of design and layout. In web design, they allow designers to feature relevant or complementary content that doesn’t belong in the navigation and isn’t the main focus of the page.
Sidebars can be really useful and appropriate for highlighting a call-to-action or for allowing users to navigate archived content like on a blog. But when misused, sidebars just create noise and distract from the end goal. Users should be focusing on your core content and not have their attention drawn to a bundle of links and a contact form crammed into 300 pixels on the side.
The key to successful sidebars is that the content should be useful. Keep in mind that sidebars don’t translate well on mobile, so if you do use them, you’ll need to have an alternative mobile location for that content.
7,922 lines of code, 482 cups of coffee, 53 finished projects…
525,600 agency websites with arbitrary counters.
This one may be more of a matter of personal taste, but I find animated counters wildly unnecessary. They may look flashy to a client, and scroll-triggered animations can help guide users down a page, but a random counter for the sake of filling homepage space is not useful.
I’m willing to wager your users don’t care to know the (probably inaccurate) number of cups of coffee your employees have consumed.
Web design trends come and go quickly. While it’s our job as designers to set and keep up with trends, we can’t expect our clients to do the same. We need to make sure we’re educating our clients on any outdated practices that they may be requesting, and above all, making decisions that make sense for their brand, site, and users.