There are two UX trends that have been bothering me lately. One is the overuse of modal subscription requests. The other, videos that autoplay–with sound. For a time, there was tacit agreement that this poor practice was reserved for only the crappiest of sites. Now, it is common practice on sites considered far from crap. For example, the New York Times does this on some articles.

This is annoying enough people for browser developers to take notice. Firefox announced that it will add functionality to show which tabs are making noise and allow one to mute them. Chrome has shown noisy tabs for a while, and there is an experimental feature that allows one to quickly mute those tabs. I hope other browser developer will follow Chrome and Firefox’s lead (I’m looking at you, Apple).

How to mute tabs in Chrome

  1. Copy and paste chrome://flags/#enable-tab-audio-muting into Chrome’s address bar.
  2. Click Enable to activate the feature
  3. Restart the browser.

A small icon will indicate which tab is playing audio, clicking on that icon will mute only that tab.

Chrome Mute Tab

Thanks to Gizmodo for the instructions on how to enable this!

Has this ever happened to you? You’re studying the menu on restaurant’s site, and just as you are reading the description for the Moroccan lentil salad, you are shown an annoying lightbox. Did you just win a free salad? No, someone wants to “connect”:

Ellary's Greens Lightbox

Sorry, Ellary’s Greens, I’m going to use your site as an example, even though this is happening on far too many sites right now. I assume that the waitstaff at Ellary’s doesn’t make a habit of grabbing customer’s menus while they are reading them only to ask if they’d like to receive emails about news, recipes and special events. Why should website visitors be treated any differently? This isn’t just a bad user experience, it’s user hostile.

At least the Ellary’s site gave me a few seconds before throwing a lightbox in my face. Many sites obscure their content immediately with a lightbox asking for something, usually an email address. Make magazine immediately comes to mind, but there are too many offending sites to list.

So, what is a designer charged with bolstering the email subscription list to do? Find another place to put your email subscription, don’t put it in a lightbox. Sure the ham-fisted lightbox may get more subscriptions, but how many of those are bogus emails like “micky@mouse.com” and “noway@dude.net”. Remember, those additional subscriptions come at the cost of your users, which you will have interrupted and annoyed.

If my argument isn’t convincing enough, read Please stop french-kissing your site visitors.

Turbo Tax Deceptive Email Subject
I received an email at the beginning of April with the subject “Your Tax Refund Information is Enclosed”. It certainly caught my attention, but then I realized it was from Turbotax, which I don’t use. Before writing it off as a lame phishing attempt, I opened it just to see just how lame of an attempt it was.

Turbo Tax Marketing Email

I wasn’t entirely surprised to see that it was a marketing email from the folks at Intuit. Obviously, someone had read up on crafting their email subject lines for maximum open rates. It probably eked out more than a few sales of Turbotax, but it just seems so spammy, especially after receiving a few more of these emails before April 15th.

I used to think of Intuit as an upstanding outfit, but this and Intuit’s campaign against simplified tax returns (via ma.tt) will make me think twice before using one of their products at home or at work.

Spotify Cancel 3Spotify Cancelation Screenshot 2A while back, I pointed out a Dark Pattern in Spotify’s subscription cancellation. Today, I noticed that they made some small changes that make the experience slightly less frustrating. The user flow is the same, but if you compare the two images here, you’ll see a minor change. Now, they give equal prominence to the “Stay Premium” and “Cancel my subscription” links. Compare this to the giant, green “Stay Premium” button that was used before. This is a wonderful example of how seemingly insignificant design changes can have an impact on user behavior.

Poor UX and dark patterns are not limited to the web and mobile apps. If you’ve found yourself in a chain restaurant recently, you may have seen a little Ziosk device on the tables. Customers can use Ziosk to order food or pay their tab. According to Businessweek, some restaurants also offer games, for a price:

Chili’s offers unlimited games on the tablets for $0.99, and the chain shares this revenue with Ziosk. The restaurant says about customers at one in 10 tables pay to play during the meal…

There’s nothing wrong with charging for services, but do customers need to be tricked into parting with their money? Apparently Chili’s and Ziosk think so. Here’s the the screen the user is presented with after answering a random trivia question:

Ziosk Trickery

Look at it quickly. Did the user answer the trivia question correctly? Which button would you choose in this context? Would you choose the massive, bright green button? How many Chili’s customers knowingly spend 99¢ and how many are duped by this dark pattern?