How ads can break the user experience

It seemed like a simple thing: follow a link from Facebook about promising research related to Alzheimer’s. The destination: NewScientist.

I was greeted by a warning at the top of the page about cookies, a warning that I did not read before I x’ed it out.

And then I tried to scroll to read the article.

Nothing happened. Nada. No movement. Narrow and the widen the browser width. No change in the fixed nature of the page.

The article was unreadable.

Frozen page in Chrome
A news story at NewScientist, Chrome Mac. The page was fixed in place; no ability to scroll to read the story.

So I copied the link and opened the page in Safari.

I was greeted with the same cookie policy that I again x’ed out without reading. And in less than a blink, all I saw was part of an ad:

Ad dominates NewScientist
The news story at NewScientist, Safari Mac.


The only way I might be able to read the story seemed to be by enabling Flash to view or close the ad. Which I did not do.

Two desktop browsers, two strike-outs.

What about mobile?

I opened the page in Safari/iPhone5, and it loaded promptly (there’s that cookies policy alert visible at the top) but the page is not mobile-friendly and is, thus, basically unreadable. It is, however, scrollable.

New Scientist screen capture
The news story, iPhone5/Safari view

(We can talk at another time about how the visual information hierarchy is broken in the mobile view: check out the size of the headline compared to the timestamp.)


Acting like a terrier with a bone, I felt the need to check out the page on Windows. Using Chrome/Win, I found that page scrolled properly. You can see the cookies alert (which I ignored again) as well as the scroll bars in this screen capture:

Chrome PC screen cap
The news story, Chrome/Windows


Once I refreshed the browsers on my Mac, however, both now scrolled. But Safari served up yet another interruptive ad, one that you can see in a smaller, non-interruptive, version in the mobile screen capture.

Safari ad screen capture
After browser refresh, Safari serves up another interruptive ad.

Apple’s invisible-until-you-activate-them scroll bars still annoy me like many hidden UI elements do.


What are the take-aways?

Someone on the design team needs to meet with the advertising team to spec what is acceptable for ads, from pixel dimensions to interactivity.

And then the web team needs to test ads before they go into widespread production. Unfortunately, that is unlikely  to happen when ads are served from a third party vendor and , from the design team’s perspective, appear at random.

All in all, this was a much-less-than-optimal experience at a news site that has rich content. That’s a shame, because if it happened to me, it’s happened to others.

And I’m now unwilling to share this (or any other) link or buy a subscription or even question keeping NewScientist on my remember-to-look-at-regularly list.

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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