The Internet just got slightly easier to use the other day. We persuaded a new client to remove their Flash intro page from their home page since it had accomplished little beyond frustrating their site's visitors. In an interesting twist, when we proposed removing the page the client quickly acceded, adding that they knew the additional wait their users had to go through was likely to be frustrating.
Bad Design Techniques Die Hard
So why do we continue to try design techniques that have consistently been smacked down by users? I have a hunch that it has to do with our everlasting optimism in our own ability to retrain how users interact with web sites. We think that sure, that's a bad idea on their site, but on mine it'll be different. Well, sorry, but no. It's not going to be different. Users are trained to use web sites on their own. And they use thousands of web sites in the training process. Throughout their journey they pick up conventions that they expect when they come to your site. The better you can meet their expectations, the more likely they'll accomplish the desired action.
Can Past Bad Techniques Ever Be Used Successfully?
It turns out that it's extremely difficult to shake users of their distaste for bad design techniques. In a recent article by usability guru Jakob Nielson, he states: "Unfortunately, even good uses of bad design techniques are usually doomed. Users hate these designs so much that they can't overcome their negative first impressions in the fraction of a second they allocate to stuff they think they don't need." Nielsen cites a few examples of this, including a splash page on a hotel site that technically addresses a question a specific user of that site had - whether the hotel's location was close to the user's meeting. It turns out that the splash page actually provides the answer (the splash image shows how close the hotel is to their meeting location) but because the user's detestation of splash pages was so ingrained, they ignored the useful content in the splash page and quickly searched for a separate location page on the site to provide the answer.
Employing User Conventions Does Not Mean All Sites Should Be the Same
Avoiding bad design techniques should not result in every new web site having the same look and feel. Your site should reflect your business's brand and culture, and that should never look like your competitor's. If it does, you probably need to take another look at what sets your company apart. Your site should have many elements that are shared with your competitors - such as the location of the navigation, the location of the site search and the location of the site ID, just to name a few - and that's OK. Because that's what your users are expecting. And if you offer bad design techniques like a flash intro page? Well, let's just say your competitors will love the results.