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In the pioneering times of digital communication, before the 2001 DotCom Crash, the concept of user experience design (UXD) was brand new and exciting. It was a time of experimentation and learning; trying new things and seeing what worked well for users. One of the first obsessions to hit website design at this time was splash pages.

Splash pages, pop-up pages that sat in front of a homepage, were intended to give a quick message or positioning statement about the organisation, brand or site before the user clicked to the home page.

However, it quickly became apparent that users did not appreciate them. They were interruptive; barriers that stopping them from getting straight to the content they were looking for. This insight meant splash pages were quickly discarded in UX best practice.

Fast forward fifteen years and exploring the web can now be an uncertain experience, with nasty surprises lying in wait.

You probably know this story:

As you click on an innocent looking link, with high expectations of the content you are about to experience…Bang! Like the acid-blooded terrors from the Ridley Scott franchise, the pop-up leaps out at you to reveal its (most likely) irrelevant or ill-timed message.

Advertising on media sites, requests for newsletters on company pages, you name it, there’s a pop-up for it – despite 70% of users stating they would have a lower opinion of companies whose sites use them. So why are they now being used so widely?

Partly, technology has developed to circumvent the pop-up blockers built into browsers – although this is an ever changing battle. However there are a couple of other possible reasons.

Firstly, in the modern tap and swipe environment, the speed at which a user can close a pop-up is considerably quicker than the tech of the early noughties would allow – so the level of annoyance felt now is probably less. Secondly, some marketers have actually found they have been successful in gaining new registrations – and it’s the knowledge of this success that is no doubt fuelling the boom.

Almost universally, the successful examples of pop-up usage demonstrate a contextual intervention that enhances, not hinders, the user experience. For example, this post gives some successful B2B examples – although see if you can spot the irony!

Nevertheless pop-ups are still closed by most people – ad blocking rose 30% in 2016 alone – which means they can be waste of time and resources for the organisations making them. Yes, every organisation wants more prospects that they can content-market to – but is creating a barrier to the content this valuable user is expecting to find the right way to do it?

If the last five years have taught us anything, it’s that customers and users have the control, not brands. Pop-ups feel to me like this is being ignored; a desperate attempt to reclaim the initiative.

The other danger is that this could be a precedent for the slow creep of other bad UXD habits. There might be a new generation of designers and developers oblivious to this early learning, or the sheer volume of new content appearing on the web means pop-ups have become commonplace and, potentially, tolerated – although the latest data disputes this. What other experience best practices might next be sacrificed? We might not know until it’s too late.

And that’s where we, the marketing industry, can make a difference. UXD is not a new concept – yet it is sadly often neglected in the interest of timings, project budgets or the relentless hunt for quantity of leads over quality.

Because it’s more of a silent negative indicator than, say site conversions or social shares, it is often de-prioritised, particularly on smaller digital projects. However, as brands strive to turn customers into advocates, the key differentiator for the successful might just be the ones that make their digital experiences totally user-centric.