We spend a lot of time talking about accessibility on our team, and we like to talk about things that go "beyond the web accessibility checklist". These things can include making sites that are easier for the most stressed-out users in an audience group to use, for example.
Adjacent to this expanded notion of web accessibility are privacy and consent. When you think about how to build sites that are as respectful as possible of their users, then it's easy to see that UX that tricks or manipulates users can be another barrier to access. Worse, intrusive or coercive UX can drive people away from sites they might otherwise want to use, leaving them with a very bad impression of an organization.
Clayton introduced me to the Consentful Tech Project, which provides a framework for applying Planned Parenthood's FRIES definition of consent to applications. Clayton and I played around with extending that framework into the world of web UX, and the result of those thought experiments is our talk, Consentful UX, which we gave in November for Design4Drupal, as well as Greenpeace Tech Camp.
Below, find the video of our talk from Greenpeace Tech Camp on November 17th, 2020. Here's a link to our Consentful UX slides (PDF), as well. As boring as this topic may sound to some of you, I can promise that there's an airhorn in the middle of our presentation, so, hope you enjoy it.
Johanna Bates 0:06
Thank you, Nikos, so much. We really appreciate the chance to be here today. Welcome to Consentful UX. I'm Johanna Bates. I am co-founder of DevCollaborative. And we are a team that builds websites for nonprofits in Drupal and WordPress, with a focus on accessibility and sustainability of content, design and code. And I've been a front end developer for 22 years. And I'm particularly interested in accessibility. And that is kind of how this topic I came to this topic. I came to it from an accessibility lens. And it really informed my interest in this, I'm somebody who has a lifelong diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. And because of that, I'm someone who can get very overwhelmed when there's a lot of intrusive, or unclear UX on a website, or an app. I feel overwhelmed. And I may literally never go back to a site or use an app again, if I get too flooded with intrusive or confusing or obfuscated things. And that's why I'm here. Um, Clayton?
Clayton Dewey 1:34
Hi I'm Clayton Dewey, I'm the product owner at DevCollaborative, I've been in this field I guess like half half the time of Johanna, 11 instead of 22. And focusing mostly on user experience design and information architecture. And I was drawn to this topic, both because of my focus on usability and designing tools that empower people. And also because of my identity as a parent as a queer person, as a polyamorous person. Consent is on my mind and in my practice in my day to day life in a lot of different ways in how I show up in my community and in my family. And, you know, even more so right now with the pandemic and navigating how we create safe spaces with each other and, and respecting each other's boundaries and keeping each other safe. This constantly, you know, the topic of consent is more important than ever before. And also, as we spend more and more time in digital spaces. How we take lessons around consent in the face to face world and how we translate that into the digital world is something that I'm also particularly interested in.
So if we, when we think about user experience design, a good place to start is with a design persona. So design personas are something that were popularized by MailChimp, and in Aaron Walter, that's the former designer there. And so this is an example of a design persona pulled directly from MailChimp. So they put themselves here in this quadrant of friendly and dominant, you know, far away from the unfriendly side of the spectrum. And then they're using this not that framing to describe if their application MailChimp were a person, what would they be like? They'd be fun, but not childish, funny, but not Goofy, powerful, but not complicated. And if we take this design persona activity and apply it to our own websites and apps that we design and build, we come up with something pretty similar, right? Most of us would put ourselves in that same friendly, friendly and dominant quadrant. But unfortunately, oftentimes, the web is not that friendly. Case in point, just doing the research for this webinar, I was curious about notifications as a dark pattern, this concept and so I searched for Duck Duck Go and first result looked really promising, "Are notifications, a dark pattern?". Perfect. So I clicked on that link, and was excited to start learning. And instead of being greeted with this, welcome to the design lab blog, what kind of content are you interested in? Well, I'm interested in the article that I'm trying to read. Okay, so I'm going to close this out. Now it's time to read the article. Wait, what's in this lower right hand corner? They want me to share cookies. Well, I guess they don't really have a choice. I'm going to click this got it button reluctantly. Okay. Now it's time to read this article. Wait, what questions about UX Academy? We've got answers. No, I have no questions about the UX Academy. I just want to read the article. Okay. Here we go on to read the article. Have you ever had a nightmare where you were literally drowning in little red notification badges? Not not personally but I love the love the hook and I'm reading it and now I'm enjoying it. This is actually a really informative article. Wait what? Join 45,000 subscribers us another newsletter call-out. Okay, back to the article. Okay, informing myself. Wait, what's this? Get Your FREE eBook? No, I don't want this I move my cursor to leave the site. And instead and entires the screen is taken over by another prompt for me to try and download this ebook. So frustrating.
Johanna Bates 7:19
Yeah, so for the sake of exploring Consentful UX, we're gonna call some of these very normal patterns that we've all become very used to, to the point where we may not even notice them consciously anymore, coercive UX. They are UX patterns that manipulate users to try to get them to some do something that we want them to do. And we're, you know, we see them every day, they include, not only modals and pop ups, but also dense Terms of Service, tricky copy on buttons, all kinds of cookie notifications that aren't really doing their job. So again, these are starting to see they start to seem very normal to us. But when you look more closely, they're actually manipulative. And I actually want to zoom in just for a couple minutes on specifically pop ups, modals and notifications. Because they are ubiquitous right now. And I they are more than just annoying. And I knew this just from being a user on the internet. But I wanted to dig deeper and understand why they're so ubiquitous right now, and how they degrade user experience. But before I go there, I do want to say that there are some good reasons to use these patterns. The alert dialog is an old concept in software design. And this kind of pattern interrupts the users flow, it forces them to stop what they're doing. And if it's a true modal, where the background window is inactive, and they force a user to acknowledge the message, or take some action before they can go on with whatever they were doing. And when this pattern is helping users by grabbing their attention to let them know that something very serious might happen if they proceed, then that's a great use for them. But when they interrupt the user, often repeatedly to try to get them to take an action they didn't come to a site to do, it's not helpful at all. It's coercive. And as we showed earlier, even researching this topic, we encountered plenty of coercive UX. So for example, I wanted to read about whether or not these patterns work for marketing purposes. And so here's an article I found about how to use popups to increase conversions, and I was just getting to the exciting part, where they tell you how to avoid getting penalized by Google in SEO rankings for using modals, pop ups and interstitials on a mobile site. And I'll talk more about that later. But after about 30 seconds, when my brain was good and focused, this pop up opened, covering my content, I've got two options here, I can put in my email address, which I love to share, and they can "send me everything", which, wow, that's just really appealing, let me tell you, or I can close this pop up with a really difficult to see low contrast X in the upper left corner. This is just when this happens over and over and over again, on the same article or successive articles when you're trying to research something or purchase something or use a service, it's exhausting. I have a limited amount of time to read and to focus every day, getting derailed from my tasks leaves me feeling anxious and stressed. And if it's too excessive, I won't ever go back to the site again, it will leave me with a very bad opinion of the company, or organization. But clearly, some people are signing up for this newsletter to send them everything. I don't know who those people are, but somebody's signing up. Because otherwise, why would these patterns be everywhere? So what does research show about this? Well, Nielsen Norman Group research shows that I'm not alone. Many users hate these patterns. They're among the most hated patterns on the internet. But we use them often, because marketing says they work that they increase conversions. But do they increase conversions?
So in researching, I found many articles about how these intrusive patterns do sometimes appear to work. They often produce bumps in particular kinds of metrics that I'm going to circle back to later in the presentation, that are sometimes called vanity metrics. And they'll often be an increase in your email list size, more petition signatures, higher open rates or an increase in website traffic to particular thing that you're promoting. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with these metrics. And they can be really useful. But they're a little bit more like Robo spam calls. They're they're using a wide end of a funnel, they're trying to capture as many users as possible, in the hopes that some of the conversions that they do get will be meaningful. So again, I'm going to circle back to vanity metrics a little later. But it's important that if you're measuring those things, you're also asking other questions. How many users did you annoy and lose? How many people entered fake email addresses, and how many sales or donations or meaningful actions did this UX pattern actually result in? and maybe over a longer span of time. And, again, I'm going to give you some resources at the end of this presentation for how to craft these kinds of deeper questions in your organization. But back to my point, forcing the redirector redirection of a user's attention is a form of coercion, hijacking, visual or mental focus, as with a modal, obviously, it forces someone's attention away from their intended focus, and may degrade their ability to engage fully with your content, service or program. It wears users down, so they may share their information just to stop being harassed. Again, this is a form of coercion. Another tool that designers use for this is motion. So that's why we see an increasing number of chat bots that like pop up in the corner, and they will often have a red notification badge and for people who can see and see the motion and for people who can see the color red designers and scientists know cognitive scientists, that people are wired biologically to respond to motion and the color red if they can see it. And even if it's in the periphery of our vision, and so that's why we're getting an increase in this pattern. And, you know, when we're doing that, we're actually exploiting a biological process of attention in order to redirect a user to do something that we want them to do. And attention is a limited resource, especially right now. So I got this pop up, when I was about a minute into reading this article about cognitive overload in the pandemic. And let me just a momentary aside. The delayed, timed modal is just, it's particularly one that really makes me frustrated because I have managed to focus on this article. So I'm like, four or five paragraphs in to this article. And this pop up just is like, Hey, don't you want to sign up for our newsletter. And you know, just like a computer, human brains have a limited amount of processing power, when the amount of information coming in exceeds our ability to handle it, we may take longer to understand information, we may miss important details, did you did my audio drop? Clayton do my audio drop?
Clayton Dewey 16:04
I can still hear you.
Johanna Bates 16:08
Oh, sorry, some someone lost audio. I will Sorry about that. Thanks for letting me know. I'm okay. So we if we're interrupted, like I just was, but that was a good reason to interrupt me. I may miss important details, I may take longer to understand information. And I may get overwhelmed and abandon a task entirely, which hopefully will not happen during this presentation. And people come to your website, or your app with different levels of cognitive load already that they're carrying around. So we don't know what users are experiencing when they come to our websites. Maybe they're checking their phone in the bright sun or trying to check their phone, in the rain on at a bus stop. Maybe they're in the waiting room of a doctor's office. And they're really stressed out and they're trying to read something while they're distracting themselves from something. Maybe they're trying to work while watching a baby, which is a global problem right now. And it's not easy. When we erode their ability to focus on what they need to focus on, it can easily cause cognitive overload. And they may just give up and leave your site. And in terms of accessibility, cognitive overload, specifically affects users with mental health challenges, attention deficit and other cognitive issues. People who don't speak the language as their primary language, that your site is written in people who are less comfortable with technology, people with a lot of anxiety and stress. And I don't know many people who aren't experiencing extra anxiety and stress right now. We're just not respecting users, when we use these patterns in excess. And it kind of shows users that we don't trust them to engage with us in meaningful ways, if they do like us, and that's just not a healthy relationship. Coercive UX patterns manipulate users to try to get them to do something that we want them to do. And a great question to ask yourself, is, would you do this with someone in person? The Nielsen Norman group has conducted decades of user research, and they know that people find intrusive patterns frustrating. In a usability study, they observed a user attempting to complete a task. And after encountering multiple pop ups, um, he angrily tossed his bone across a table. And frustrated he abandoned his task and left the website never to return with a very bad impression of the organization.
Clayton Dewey 19:11
[LOUD AIR HORN NOISE] Wow Johanna did you say bad impression? that sounds bad for business, but you know what's good for business? My new newsletter, Clayton's hot biz tips, well, you're gonna sign up be cool like me, are you just a loser? I'm a loser.
Johanna Bates 19:28
I'm a loser, Clayton.
Clayton Dewey 19:30
Oh, come on. Alright, fine. Well, next time you and I hang out. I'm asking you, if you want to sign up for that newsletter. It's great. I won't take no for an answer.
Johanna Bates 19:40
Okay, so you probably get our point. Um, you know, we just act it out UX and a user having a conversation. And, you know, I'm convinced that we can do better than this. And so I'm going to hand this back off to Clayton, who's not going to give you biz tips except really good biz tips about How to use a framework that will make UX more respectful and more consentful.
Clayton Dewey 20:08
Alright, I hope all of you have recovered from that interruption. So, so what is consentful UX, consentful UX comes from the concept of consentful tech, which came out of the consentful tech project. And they have this definition for us. Consentful technologies are digital applications and spaces that are built with consent at their core, and that support the self determination of people who use and are affected by these technologies. So this was designed this was developed by designers and activists and movement organizers who work at the intersection of technology and justice. And I love this definition. And so if consent is at the core of consentful tech, what does that mean? Well, they build off the definition of consent that's been put forth by Planned Parenthood. And Planned Parenthood came up with the FRIES framework, which is freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic and specific. So the consentful tech project mapped each of these principles to digital spaces. So let's take a look at these. The first is freely given. if an interface is designed to mislead people into doing something they normally wouldn't do, the application is not consentful, for example, those pop ups modals interstitial videos that we've harped on so far manipulinks, like the coercive copy that was in my newsletter, modal, autoplaying, video or audio. So let's take a look at a few of these examples in the wild. A really common coercive UX pattern is on is found on a lot of news sites. So here I am, I've come to this new site. There's some important information about COVID-19 in my community that I'm trying to access. And instead, I'm greeted with a newsletter pop up, and the site asking if I want to sign up for notifications, notifications. No, I don't want either of these things. So instead of doing this, I really love what Bitch Media is doing. So this is an article that they published. It's a collection of book reviews. And so here I am, I'm reading this book review about the book making friends with Alice Dyson, I read the review, and I come to the end, and I naturally, I come to a natural end of my reading, and I see this call out to sign up for their newsletter. What I love about this is that it's not, it's not suddenly appearing while I'm in the middle of reading something like Johanna was talking about earlier. Instead, it's coming in at a natural time is not interrupting my attention. But it's still prominent enough that now I know about this newsletter, and I can choose whether or not to engage with it. Another example, of coercive UX. Here again, is me coming to an article, there's a video at the top and I'm not interested in the video. So I scroll down to read the article. But the video then follows me down the page. And on top of that I have the social share icons that are also following me down the page on the left hand side, and then an Amazon ad off to the right. The content I came here for is squished in the middle and it's very difficult for me to to read what it is I came here for. So another example, here's some coercive copy on Etsy, almost gone, there's only three left or on Airbnb 78% of places in New York for your dates and guests already booked. You may want to book soon. You know if this was happening in real life, this would be that pushy salesperson that we hate so much. So in summary, if you have an important call to action you want users to know about put it in the flow of content, or include in the header or footer those are persistent areas that that people can see. or have your call to action appear at the end of the article after they finished reading.
And if you're going to use video or audio, make light use of it make strategic intent, intentional use of it and have a play button that the user initiates themselves and always include a pause button so that they're in full control of Motion. All right on to the next principle, we have reversible. in technology, you should have the right to limit access or entirely removed your data at any time. This is an important part of consent, right? If we say yes to something once that is not a blanket, yes, for all future interactions of that, we always have the chance to change our mind about something. So some coercive patterns around this are no mention of how to how to delete the data that I'm sharing with the service or website or app, an onerous process for deleting that data. And those ever popular unsubscribe links and the teeny tiny font with the low contrast. So one example, we're going to see just how easy it is to unsubscribe from amazon prime.
Robot-generated Voice 26:00
How to cancel your Amazon Prime subscription. Step one, go to the prime central or manage Prime membership page. Do not click on memberships and subscriptions, do not click on your account, just click on your prime membership. Step to look at below. And then scroll on down and click on membership and benefits the least prominent three, keep saying you want to cancel through the three step process. First, click on end my benefits, and then click on continue to cancel click to end button to cancel your prime membership. Your membership has been cancelled and you will see the cancellation confirmed message on screen. Thank you for watching this video. Subscribe to us.
Clayton Dewey 26:53
Johanna Bates 39:26
Yeah, so stakeholders, we have to work with them. It can be really challenging. And when we presented this last week, at a Drupal camp, someone specifically was asking in the QA, hey, you know, like, I believe all that, like I, I'm down with this whole thing, but it's really how do I convince my clients or the board or whomever needs to sign off on the design to get rid of some of these intrusive patterns? It can absolutely be challenging to do this. as practitioners, we often see a better way to do things. And it's really hard when really big giants like Facebook and big box retailers and media sites use these patterns, stakeholders will often assume that they've done all their science, and they've spent tons of money and they know that they work. So they'll just kind of copy them, and they see a bump in metrics. And they're like, great, it's perfect. This is awesome. So here are three things that I use, in order to sort of help move stakeholders along on this issue. The first is SEO. And this is what I go to when I am also trying to get stakeholders more invested in web accessibility, because a more accessible website is often has better SEO rankings. And that's something that will often get their attention. And the next slide, SEO stands for search engine optimization. So thank you so much, someone just asked what that stood for. So search engine optimization is literally like how high in the Google rank? Or if someone searches for your topic, like how far up Do you appear in the list of results. And often, stakeholders will be really singularly focused on optimizing SEO, Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, in order to get their message heard among all of the other messages out there, which is totally understandable. So the next slide, and we'll make these slides available somehow to go with recording as a resource slide. And I link to resources for all of these things that I'm talking about here, so that you can go read about them further. But in 2017, Google announced kind of quietly that they were going to start penalizing mobile sites that had a modal pop up or interstitials on them. So if you have a responsive website, when it's on a narrow screen, you still have a pattern like that, you're going to get your your SEO ranking is going to get dinged and you might appear lower in search results. And so that's usually a pretty, pretty good argument. When stakeholders are really worried about that. The next argument is, you know, trust and respect is good business. What kind of organization? Are you? Are your values expressed? All the way through everything you do? Are they expressed through you, you know, if you go on retreats, or have sort of meetings about your vision, and your mission and your values, are those really making it out to your programs, your content, and your web design? And, you know, this is another great moment to use that sort of in person, skit kind of thing where you're like, if my web if our brand or organization was a person, if our web UX is a person representing our brand, and they're interacting with someone we're trying to talk with on the on the web, what does that interaction like? Is it like Clayton's biz tips? Because if so, you may want to revisit some things.
No offense, Clayton. And, finally, vanity metrics. So I mentioned before, that vanity metrics are sort of Quick, quick bumps in numbers that people tend to watch. And I'm in the next slide, there's a link to a PDF from an organization called Mobilization Lab. And they go into quite a, in my opinion, a really good, more in depth process for how to create deeper questions to to track your metrics and success in your organization. And I highly recommend checking that out if this interests you. But their definition of vanity metrics are, is data that are easily manipulated, are biased toward the short term, often paint a rosy picture of program success. And, or an or do not help campaigners make wise strategic decisions in the long term. So, again, vanity metrics aren't necessarily bad are useless. This is just a frame for how to look at some of these things in a different way. But if you ask deeper questions about UX, and like, Are my values being expressed all the way through my UX, you may find there are better ways to engage your audience, other than by just widening that funnel to capture anyone and everyone in hopes of making conversions. Unfortunately, this is not a quick fix solution. And it's going to be unique to every company or organization, and it will take some time. So, yes, I'm sorry that that is a little bit more work. But again, in the next slide, here are some links, and we'll figure out how to make these available to you. And that about wraps up our presentation. Um, thank you very much for hanging out with us to talk about this. Are there any questions because we have another 12 minutes that we can hang out if people have questions? Oh, my gosh, Susie just said that Mobilization Lab came out of Greenpeace, which I should not know. And they are resting in peace. I'm very sorry to hear that. But I can tell you that their PDF is still alive. And it's really good.
Yeah, it's a great small world moment. So you all are already leaders in this in this area, in many ways. Yeah. And somebody, somebody made an interesting point about the the privacy eye icon, and how it follows. Yeah, it's kind of stays persistent down the page. And maybe there's a better way of, of, of implementing that. And that I mean, that is, that is the world of UX design, right is trying something and then iterating over that. And so I'd be curious to see how it's landing with people right now. And maybe it is. Maybe a more effective pattern would be something where you see it, but then you have the option to close and be like, Yeah, I got it. This is a privacy browsing site. Or maybe people are fine with it. And it's not bothering them because it's slower on the page. But yeah, that's the, that's, that's the fun of it.
I also think that again, like we don't have to never use any of these patterns, but like, how can we make them a little better, like it doesn't move, it doesn't bounce up and down, It's not animated that I've noticed, um, you know, it's, it's, like we are, you know, we're all on the internet, we some of these patterns, sometimes work sometimes we need to use them. You know, making this an all or nothing framework is not necessarily gonna move us forward. Because there are use cases where some of this does make sense, but as I'm sure everyone has experienced when you feel beleaguered at the end of a day of reading a couple articles. Maybe you're kind of, maybe it's time to reflect on what we're doing. I don't know. Oh, I see a q&a just open. Yeah. Yeah. Because I can't open it for some reason.
I can read it. So, yeah, in response to unsubscribe links, I've seen a lot of companies and organizations moving towards a want to hear less option on this unsubscribe page. So it's not so all or nothing. Yeah, and I've seen this work, I've seen this both work well and not work well. So the consentful approach would be, yeah, maybe there is an option there to, to hear less. But there's still that prominent link to just unsubscribe from everything. The coercive pattern is either not having that and just showing the, okay, you can hear less from us, or making that unsubscribe from everything, intentionally less prominent and harder to find. But yeah, I mean, that doing that well, as is following that specific principle that we looked at.
Also, um, I just want to say that I don't know about other people. But I feel like in the last couple years, the notion like I find, I'll purchase something, or I'll sign a petition, or I'll sign up for a list, actually, a purchase something, or I'll sign a petition, and I will literally make sure that that the button that the box that says send me email is unchecked, because I am vigilant about that, I do not want email, and I am auto subscribed every time. It's like I'm a, it's like, when I go to those those automatic hand dryers that don't see me, it's like that, it's like I'm doing a thing. And in a bathroom, when you when you put your hands under and those don't see me, it's like, I don't exist. I feel like I'm like, clicking like, Don't send me an email. And it's like, whether it's Crate and Barrel, or like some kind of like, left wing petition that I've signed. You know, it's like, I got absolutely hammered with texts during this election season in the US, because I live in the US as well. I'm absolutely hammered with emails and texts. And I did not sign up for anything. And I would text stop to every single one. And I would just get another one. And I couldn't even tell sometimes if they were the same one, or a different one. And I supported these issues. And I know that, you know, it's it's really important to some of these issues are really important. And we're just trying to capture people's attention. It's really hard. But when it makes people angry, it's really something or frustrated or feel overwhelmed. It's really worth questioning it. And that's really all we're saying.
Yes, amen. I I'm invisible to those hand dryers and to bartenders, just overlooked all the time. We got a question from Mica, do you think it's okay to test and learn with consent less techniques? And then if they make a big difference to our KPIs? So for example, in terms of petition signers, try to improve them in iterations and make them more and more consensual over time? Hmm. Yeah, I mean, I think I think this is one of those questions that it depends on, on your situation and your users. But I think generally that that's an A good way in Okay, way to go for sure. And so, yeah, I guess my short answer would be Yeah.
I mean, I yeah, I'm just, I'm personally just not a black and white thinker on these things. So and possibly, that's because of my interest in accessibility work. So whenever I talk about making websites more accessible there, you could do that for forever. So, you know, it's, it's been most most successful. When I tell organizations to just like, Okay, take, let's go through your top 20 blog posts and get an intern to add alt tags and headers to like those top 20 blog posts that we know from your Google Analytics are the most read. Or, like, we'll just because that's better than doing nothing. And I think that this is the same thing. Don't let perfect be the enemy of good or better or improving. But that's just sort of my the way that because
Yeah. And when one other thing I would, I would just stress the value of doing the qualitative research around this. It's hard to see the, it can be hard to see the quantitative side of the the impact that these coercive UX patterns have. I mean, as Johanna pointed out, you, you can drive people away from your site, if you have too many aggressive coercive UX patterns. But sometimes that's hard to see in the analytics. And it's really valuable to, to set up a user test, have someone come to your site, have them, you know, come genuinely read an article, read a petition, and see, you know, firsthand what that experience is like. And if it's, if it's empowering, it's, you know, it's really exciting. If you see patterns that are distracting people or frustrating them, then that's a real eye opening experience. And that can be a really great insight to share with those stakeholders who might be skeptical about about paring down the coercive UX patterns.
Um, I think we're almost at time. I don't see any more questions. And Johanna, did you have any final final words to share?
No, just thank you to everyone. And thank you to Greenpeace for giving us the space to present today. Thank you, Nikos.
Yes. Thank you.
Thank you everyone for attending and participating.
Oh, now's the awkward time where I have to get out of zoom.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai