Numbers over people

A lot of the “bullshit” I talked about in my Time and Attention post comes down to folks trying to make money online and build their “brand” (I have no idea why any human being would want to be equated with this word), over doing what’s right for their readers and in some cases what’s right for their business. It’s a fine balance, for sure.

I can relate to both sides of this, having recently transitioned from 12+ years of web marketing (where conversions and click-thru rates are the end-all, be-all in most cases) to a role where I primarily write web functionality requirements and do UX/UI design. I feel like I’ve always had the “customer hat” on though, having spent many of those years fighting against adding pop-ups to our sites, sending out more email campaigns to our majority opt-out email lists, and other borderline spammy tactics that were either “hot” at the time or recommended by consultants.

Andy Beaumont, creator of the site TD;DR (Tab Closed; Didn’t Read), had a nice article on Medium where he touched on this topic in more detail. TC;DR documents the growing (and horrible) trend of overlays and modals that appear by default over the top of pages, encouraging you to like them, sign up for their newsletter, etc. (YUCK.)

Here’s a key quote on focusing on metrics versus what actual people want from a website:

I have tested this design pattern with real people, and a significant portion of them believe that they must do what the box is begging them for in order to close the overlay. These people (remember, they’re people, not “conversions”), are signing up to a newsletter they don’t want. They’re then going to be irritated by it for several months until they work out how to unsubscribe from it. The analytics guru you brought in is walking away with a chunk of your money, in exchange for having pissed off a whole bunch of existing and potential customers.

The bottom line is I think people appreciate when the purpose of the page they are visiting aligns with their needs AND the needs of the site owner. Finding that fine line is a challenge. In many cases it seems like short-term thinking wins out, since it’s easier to implement and easiest to quantify. However, the bullshit just makes it more frustrating for the visitor and in the process sets you and the web back a tiny bit each time.

As Brad Frost said in the CreativeMornings talk I linked up in my previous post, “people’s capacity for this bullshit is rapidly diminishing” – there are so many tools these days to “circumvent the bullshit.” These tactics have a limited lifespan anyway, but the choices we make each day to respect our time and attention can help speed it up even more. Do your part!