Ways to Horrify Website Designers

Ways to Horrify Website Designers

Most people love a good scare. That moment where you almost jump out of your skin can pump you full of adrenaline and get your senses heightened.

Unfortunately, while zooming through a theme park ride at epic speeds or watching Michael Myers chase Jamie Lee Curtis with a knife will give us a "fun" type of scare, the web — whether by design or sadism — tends to be full of the kind of scary traps that would make the Jigsaw Killer’s creepy puppet giggle with glee.

Horrors on the Web

As you may have guessed, I’m a fan of horror movies. I could happily spend a few hours watching Sadako from The Ring franchise scare people to death. However, as we all know, the real world can be just as terrifying (or more so) than the world of movies.

While I love the medium of the web, and the awesome things we can do with it, a few things about it chill me to the bone.

Horrors on the WebInternet Explorer 6 or Michael Myers: both shorten your lifespan!

Much of the web’s horrors usually arises through no fault of the site designer and are often misguided attempts at solving a particular requirement for a site. In many cases, people implement such spooky site features to draw the attention of site visitors or to add something that the site owner thinks is cool.

Let’s take a look at some scary things the web has to offer.

Automatically Playing Music

Of the web’s many horrors, automatically playing music has to be high on the list of terrifying web crimes.

Imagine that you’re sitting in the office and have forgotten that your speakers were cranked up from showing co-workers a funny YouTube video.

A few hours later, you wonder onto a site you’ve never visited before. Suddenly, Bohemian Rhapsody blasts through your ears, nearly shattering your eardrums. That incident might have sent coffee into your keyboard or given you a heart attack.

Horrors on the WebOne, two, Freddy’s coming for you, three, four better… <insert MIDI sound file here>.

Automatically playing music has been popular for many years but it’s still not a very good idea. Even with an "off" button provided, it won’t resolve the initial scare of the noise pollution.

Flashing Content

While scaring people with audio is effective, an equally annoying method to creep people out is by using rapidly flashing content.

Have you ever been on a site where tons of things start occurring on the page all at once and your eyes are forced to bounce around the browser to get a handle on it? Yes, this isn’t something that’ll make you jump, but it’s still a worthy horror!

Horrors on the WebLike the twins in The Shining, we really don’t want random things jumping in front of us.

Animated GIFs have mainly been ostracized for their ability to turn your professional-looking site into a kid’s TV show on acid (with dancing hamsters and Homer Simpson avatars). It’s scary stuff to see in modern sites.

Hideous Source Code

Our next horror is dedicated to designers and developers who deeply care about quality and best practices. Yes people, there’s nothing like seeing a website that seems OK on the surface only to look under the hood and be reduced to tears at the sight of the source code.

Obtrusive JavaScript smeared everywhere, copy/paste scripts, divitis, table-based layouts, deprecated code — a site appearing to be resurrected from the 90s.

If you’ve seen the mummy, he’s not so pretty once you’ve taken off the wrapping!

Beyond the issues of not following web standards and best practices, the scale of the terror is most felt when you realize that the site owner of the unfortunate site probably paid good money for it.

With the next generation of web designers being more aware of how important quality code is, this horror should eventually be reduced to obscurity.

But for the moment, the shock of seeing some gnarly, bloated code is enough to freak a web designer out.

Sudden Client Deadlines

Here’s another way to terrify a designer and, in this case, it’s the result of something our clients do rather than what we do to ourselves or each other.

You’ve got a contract in place, and you have a friendly client who’s a bit lacking in clarity on the project. Suddenly, from nowhere, you receive an email in which the individual says they need to push the deadline up to tomorrow!

As you don’t want to lose your client, you work through the night to finish the work. Scary thought, right?

Working with clients can quickly become like an Alien vs. Predator movie.

Communication is important in any project but, unfortunately, it’s something that seems to degrade regularly between designers and clients.

While contracts can avoid scope creep and while project planning can help limit these types of problems, it’s both sad and frightening to hear the stories of those who have suffered at the hands of their client’s needs (some clients may be the most terrifying creatures in existence).

Outdated Technology

Our next horror has given many designers and developers nightmares. Outmoded IT can be scary: anyone who still fights against the tide in developing for Internet Exploder 6 will testify to the torture that can ensue from watching your beautiful design be reduced into a hideous Frankenstein-like creature.

In addition, the memory of Microsoft FrontPage code sends a shiver through our spines.

Vampires have a habit of living for long periods of time, just like Internet Explorer 6.

It goes without saying that like a Stephen King style horror novel, the ravages of the web’s aging leave us being forced to endure the problems of compatibility in a manner we cannot easily escape.

Just like Freddy Krueger, IE6 keeps returning to stalk us even though we’ve tried to kill it off more times than Rasputin.

Continuing to test for compatibility and ensuring that our code is built using standards and best practices is part of the job. For the sake of our site users, we need to be pragmatic and embrace this terror!

Obnoxious Scripts

Nobody likes feeling as if they’ve lost all control of a situation. Obnoxious scripts that automatically resizes a window or disables right-click functionality is just plain horrific. Obnoxious scripts are among the most inflictive terrors online.

Werewolves lose control at the full moon. Internet users suffer it on a regular basis.

It’s only natural that site owners may want to protect their assets from being stolen; but this should never be done at the user’s expense. Crippling the right-click functionality, for example, may seem like you’re preserving your content, but it’s also going to hurt the visitor who isn’t there to do bad things. In addition, unscrupulous individuals that do want to steal content already have workarounds to these things anyways.

Exploitative Site Activities

Beyond losing control of your browser (thanks to some ugly JavaScript abuse), there’s some other scripts which are worthy of inclusion within this horror gallery, most notably the redirects and sudden popup windows that occur without permission.

Nothing surprises your visitors more than unexpected navigational events, and I am sure that after the 90s, many of us fear the unexpected redirect on the premise that we may end up in some malware-infested site.

Don’t be like Jigsaw, avoid trapping your visitors into situations they don’t want!

If that wasn’t enough horror to contend with, the levels of malware seems to regularly be on the rise, privacy has become a serious issue and there’s always the questionable use of redirection and page refreshes. As a site designer, we need to tackle these many adversities in order to gain our visitor’s trust.

Get The Oxygen, Nurse!

As you think about the web’s many problems, it may seem like a never-ending battle between good and evil (and unfortunately, it’s one that may never end).

From the outright scary (that will literally startle you and make you jump) to the factually scary (which could make you feel a little depressed), the web is filled with monsters and creatures that keep us on our toes. Sometimes it’s comical, sometimes it’s quite annoying, many times it’s genuinely wrong — but like with any good horror film it’s full of twists.

As we become more digitally dominated — as our lives increasingly revolve around the internet — the need to fight off these horrors is in our best interests because horror really isn’t much fun when it directly affects us and our users.

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About the Author

Alexander Dawson is a freelance web designer, author and recreational software developer specializing in web standards, accessibility and UX design. As well as running a business called HiTechy and writing, he spends time on Twitter, SitePoint’s forums and other places, helping those in need.

This was published on Oct 31, 2010


candra Oct 31 2010

I love the article….very nice, the Author is yonger than me…but article is very profesional

amit mojumder Oct 31 2010

lolz…..funny….thanks for sharing

Aidan Oct 31 2010

Interesting article. Really loves how you relate those horror flicks to the designer’s fear.

Michael Tuck Oct 31 2010

Too funny. Who would have thought that you could tie Halloween into a strong design article? You’re a creative guy, Alex.

Gabriele Maidecchi Oct 31 2010

Oh wow some of those look so familiar to me. In the years I worked in my previous company, a webdesign agency, I experienced customers specifically asking for a song to start playing as soon as one visited their newly created website. What. A. Nightmare.

pacelegal Oct 31 2010

Some websites look like attractions you’d see in an amusement park complete with it’s own jukebox. Poor navigation and design and horrible pop up animated gifs and flash with psychedelic colors that make you feel like your’e on LSD. Never understood the desire for music. I guess sometimes the customer requests that.

Fandy Oct 31 2010

lol… Interesting and very funny

Martin Oxby Oct 31 2010

Thanks so much for this, great perspective. I’m not a Hallowe’en person, but I like the links made. Very clever.

Natalie Starnes Oct 31 2010

Automatically playing music… thank you. I’m so glad somebody said it!! This was an amusing yet professional and informative article. Of course, I will admit my artist site has some retro code under the hood, but that’s only because I didn’t have the funds or software to do otherwise. Please forgive me. :)

Stacy Oct 31 2010


Thank you for an entertaining and accurate portrayal of some website frights.

Great article, totally agree with you on the music and flashing icons.. :D

Hunter Oct 31 2010

Great post for Halloween. Thanks for sharing.

Lucia Oct 31 2010

Very funny! really enjoyed it.

I enjoy reading this Halloween related post. It’s quite inventive and the pictures seemed to work well with the idea you want us to understand. What you have mentioned in here are indeed terrifying. At least i don’t want to land on Jigsaw’s death-like design.

Alexander Filatov Oct 31 2010

Thanks for the great read, Alex! I wish that IE6 would finally end just like the Saw movies and that the rest of the browsers would be rendering our pages exactly the same way. On the other hand – what would I do with all of the spare time that would give me?
You have a creative way of writing your articles. Keep them coming!

Rupnarayan Bhattacharya Oct 31 2010

A new way of presenting a tough topic. I like it very much.

Alexander Dawson Oct 31 2010

Thanks for the comments everyone! Glad you enjoyed my Halloween article.

I’m a big fan of this time of year so it made sense to connect the web’s horrors with those of the movie monsters! They are both equally present in their relevant formats!

As for the Saw movies, I can’t help but enjoy them. ;)

Timbothecat Oct 31 2010

Alex, you’ve come a long way from the young fella that popped up on the sitepoint forums a few years ago. I love reading your articles mate, keep up the good work!

Cindy Auligny Nov 01 2010

I’ve visited a site with a suddenly sound. It’s scaring me to dead. And you know, during this Halloween, I’m not dare to follow any links sent by my friends. Honestly, I’m not really interested in these stuffs.

sanji Nov 01 2010

nice post alex! you really nailed the horrors of the web, hopefully we can get rid of IE6, hope everyone switch to mozilla or chrome. it’s hard to create a design and make it compatible to IE6, man!
keep it up alex!

Heinrich Nov 01 2010

Lol very nice article, congrats :)

I enjoyed this article a lot. It’s a silly, entertaining way of addressing some “haunting” issues!

tom16i Nov 01 2010

Everyone seems to be jumping on the Halloween bandwagon and I usually hate it, but really enjoyed this article, good work.

Scott Nov 01 2010

Agree completely about websites playing music or sounds be their selfs, horrible!

what about boo! :D ?

*blink-tag ;)

Dustin Dyer Nov 01 2010

great post. i’m glad im not the only one who agrees with the sudden burst of music or dialogue when first arriving on a site. and yes… ie6 needs to die. Hopefully that will happen in the next couple of years.

Jasmine Nov 01 2010

Haha, I had a good laugh looking through the list. I have to agree with you on the Automatically Playing Music, it’s the most annoying of all!

Julian Nov 02 2010

Love the pictures and speech bubbles!

I actually love seeing sites with the generated by Microsoft FrontPage meta tag. The owner is without a doubt in need of my services. $$$ :D

Karen Nov 04 2010

A very fitting theme for a very relevant blog post. Nice job!

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