The obsession with pointless web artifacts

User Experience.

The modern web experience could be drowning (again) under the weight of pointless artifacts. Parallax scrolling, spinning icons and other pointless animations are taking over the web. Yuk!

Albert Einstein stated “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler” and for a while at the end of the last decade this looked like it was being adopted by digital engineers and designers.

We had started to see the end of “Complex Design”, firstly as Adobe’s Flash framework was consigned to the bin and then again when outstandingly simple web frameworks such as the WordPress framework used by and Twitter, to name two.

In many ways, the rise of Apple (simple) and death of Microsoft (complex) personified this shift in thinking.

Clarity and simplicity is good and this reached into all areas of UX design including Smartphones with only a handful of buttons, decluttered car dashboards, web-page readers and the growth of context-based navigation on every single application (think “right click”).

The basis of this design methodlogy was to cut out anything superfluous to the needs of the user (we like to call them visitors). And the benefits were huge, folks didn’t need user manuals (learning) and many applications became de-skilled (knowledge democratisation).

Or maybe not

It seems, sadly, that the pendulum might be swinging the other way. Driven by percieved organisational demand, many web-sites have got markedly more complex over the last few years.

Flash might be dead, but it’s been replaced by something as evil, a programming language called Javascript, to make objects move, flash, scroll and generally distract from the user experience.

WordPress is unfortunately and indirectly complicit in their rise. It takes 2 mins to install a “funky” plugin to create a pointless effect but the wow-factor is sometimes too much to ignore. In same way the horrible (blink) and (marquee) tags and background music were simple to add in the mid-90s (They too died a death).

Undoubtably the best (i.e. worst) example of this is the hateful “Parallax Scrolling” you see overused on so many web-sites. There are even articles listing the best sites, yet no explanation of why it’s good – because it’s not, and often detracts from the content itself.

(Ed: Maybe that’s why it’s used, to cover up the absence of quality content?)

In fact, it’s rarely good unless it enhances the experience. The same can be said of daft meters that “rev”, spinning icons and wierd floating effects.

These “transition devices” claim to “bring a page to life” and whilst they were a great novelty item 5 years ago, their over-use today is a waste of resource, visitor-time, battery-life and bandwidth.

And, like most fashion items, will need replacing in a year or two as the next big funky thing comes along. I suppose we should call them trendy … in the same way a hipster beard was a badge of difference last decade and now a mainstream, meaningless accoutrement that will haunt us all on photographs for decades to come.

Are all transitions bad?

No, not at all. If it enhances the experience, or illustrates a point then they add, not substract from the experience. However, in most cases they are used simply “because we can” or “because it was requested”.

As a WordPress Agency, we’re also guilty of using them pointlessly – organisations often have strong views of how their brand should be represented and confuse “fancy effects” for a “fancy brand”. Although it does gall us to use them and we advise great caution.

If you are going to use them (sparingly) then take care to ensure they don’t make the content unreadable, or secondary to the blockbuster special effects they poorly emulate.


If you are communicating a message, or guiding a visitor on a journey then the purpose should be to simplify the experience as much as possible.

That means we need to use words, images, video and a whole host of media types but we don’t need a 1990-style PowerPoint presentation, do we?

Lets move forward to a simpler, cleaner, more readable and valuable web and consign animated artifacts to the “Look shiny things” drawer.

Martin Dower