Design and Online Advertising

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As part of our collaborative instructional design project, our group had to choose an app or other program to write instructions for. We had a few suggestions but it came down to a discussion between Spotify and Netflix. I voted for Netflix as it has a much more compartmentalised and clean user interface (UI) than the free version of Spotify on desktop and provided some screenshots to aid my point. Comparing the UI design of both brought the design constraints of including advertising into sharp relief.

Netflix, as a paid for service, can design its UI without having to compromise further space to monetise through advertising. Netflix sell the service to customers, and aside from advertising its own products, can focus on streamlining the user experience. While the Netflix browsing system has its faults, the neatly divided bands of genres and large colourful images and titles make it a reasonably simple task to scan each screen, while the extra UI elements such as direct searching and other menus remain at the top .

Netflix can more easily maintain a clean UI without having to accommodate advertising

The free version of Spotify however needs to accommodate online advertising and must walk the tightrope between advertisements which are effective enough to distract and draw user attention, and visuals which will not frustrate users to the point of abandoning the app.

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Spotify already has a quite complex UI on first look, further complicated by having to include distracting adverts

This harkens back to my usability research with the Cambridge online dictionary. Almost all users cited some frustration with the placement of advertisements but recognised it as a necessary evil of modern web browsing. While some users stated that they could easily block this advertising out, others were confused as to whether some adverts were part of the dictionary UI and even confused actual dictionary content with advertising because of design similarities. The placement of advertisements on mobile devices in particular seemed to cause tension as the advertisements frequently broke users’ line of sight on definitions and caused some of the relevant content to be pushed below the fold of the screen.

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On the Cambridge online dictionary advertising space has almost pushed the word definition below the fold of the screen

When discussing this with a product manager who works on the dictionary it became clear just how difficult it is to include so many UI elements and functionality while still maintaining a healthy degree of monetisation. It really brought home the fact that although we are learning about user-friendly design and accessibility, compromise is sometimes required. As noted by Nielsen and Budiu, ‘often the business model can have greater impact on user experience than anything designers can do’.*

* Nielsen, J. & Budiu, R., (2013) Mobile Usability, California: New Riders Press.

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