At times, a big part of my job is telling the client (and the Red team, I'm an equal opportunist) that they can't have candy. Total buzzkill, I know.

And it's not because I hate all things fun, it's because I don't want the client (and their work) to suffer cavities. More often than not, the candy is something the client wants that appeals to them rather than their audience. After all, marketing is about making those hard decisions that prioritize the user experience over perceived preferences.

By far, the most common example of this arises around web design when a client asks for two things: pop-ups and drop-down menus. Let's talk about why these are almost never the right solution.


First off, no one likes them. I came here for content, not to be bombarded by sign up sheets and your latest news. Marketers love pop ups because they beg — no — demand the user's attention. That's an easy, fool-proof way to get a message across, right? Well, for a user, it's more like dodging a punch. It's disruptive to their experience, and they just want to get the heck out of there and on their way. Unless your business model depends giving away discounts, avoid those pop ups. 

Your content should already appeal to your user's needs and interests without resorting to brute force. Compelling messaging and elegant, streamlined site organization are much smarter and more beautiful solutions to user engagement. And if it isn't, you need a web audit. 

Drop-down menus

The reasoning against drop-downs is a little less obvious to some. While, yes, drop-downs can be elegant, they are not accessible. Users with mobility issues who can't use a mouse and rely only on a keyboard have difficulties with navigating drop-downs, if they can navigate them at all. Users with ADHD and other neurodevelopmental conditions sometimes have trouble focusing on key elements of the site with the overwhelming amount of options drop-down menus offer. This actually points to a second problem.

Unless you're offering an encyclopedic amount of information or sell everything under the sun like Amazon, the need for drop-down menus means you have a problem with content organization. Drop-down menus overcomplicate things and ignore the harder, yet crucial conversation about your site's material and how it should be organized.

What's absolutely necessary? What's redundant? What can be consolidated? How can the user experience be as clear, seamless, and direct as possible?

Think of your site like a food truck. Everyone loves food trucks. Why? Because they specialize in a few things and you know no matter what you ordered, you made the right choice. You look at the menu, browse the few options, and bam — you're devouring a delicious bánh mì in no time. Then you're on your way to the rest of your day.

It's a busy, brutal world out there. The last thing users want is to be harassed by pop-ups before navigating a maze of content.

Keep it simple. Keep it engaging. Keep it direct. The need for tricks like pop-ups and drop-downs points to larger, rooted problems that can be solved much more effectively when you focus on content organization and creation.

If this sounds like something you could use help with, let us know.