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Carousels and other animated banners on websites (for example promoting special offers) are supposedly bad for UX as the sliding animation draws the users' eye from whatever it was they were reading/looking for to look at what is moving. This causes frustration as they then have to look for what they were looking at to begin with.

I was just thinking of using animations on my call to action buttons (such as 'add to cart' button) where the words would jiggle a little once every 3 minutes or so, i.e. the words 'add', 'to', 'cart' would animate together into 'addtocart' and back again in the space of 100ms once every three minutes.

The thinking behind this is to grab the users' subconscious attention and make them look at the button I want them to click on.

My questions are:

Is this ethical?

Has anyone done this before and, if so:

what was the reaction of the customers and,

what changes did they experience to their conversion rates?

  • I don't see any "ethical" problems with it. It's a bad idea, which most definitely won't increase conversion, but it's not unethical. – AndroidHustle Nov 28 '14 at 15:24
  • disclaimer: I see now that you wrote that the animation would trigger every 3 minutes, which makes my previous comment a bit harsh (I apologize for that). Still, not sure it's a good idea. User's may think they're experiencing some malfunction with the site, seeing that it happens so "randomly" (which every 3 minutes could be perceived as). And more importantly, it may run the risk the taking the focus away from a possible product a user was considering. – AndroidHustle Nov 28 '14 at 15:29
  • I want the animation to be quick and non-obvious. I want the user to see the animation out of the corner of their eye while they are reading something else / playing with the product options, and make them look at the add to cart button. Moving into pop-psychology: peoples brains don't like unexpected events so, even if the person is not aware that they saw the button shift, their brain has seen it and want the person to look at that button to understand why it shifted so they can anticipate it in the future. I am hoping that by staring at the button long enough people will resolve that they – Richard Parnaby-King Nov 28 '14 at 16:12
  • want to buy the product, even if they don't know why. – Richard Parnaby-King Nov 28 '14 at 16:12
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    This is only a personal opinion, but when shopping online, the most important thing for me to feel is 'in control'. A randomly triggered animation invokes the opposite of this feeling, and reduces the level of trust I would have in the website. – Rotem Nov 29 '14 at 9:40
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The call to action should be well-designed enough to stand out alone without animation. Place the button in a universally accepted area where the user will expect to find it.

Adding animation often looks like a cheap trick and user's won't appreciate it especially if they are engaged in your site and then their focus and attention is taken away because of some animation happening in the corner of their eye.

That being said, the one place I have seen animation work beautifully is on the "Slide to unlock" on the iPhone, subtly suggesting to the user which direction to to slide.

  • I'll just add that part of the reason that the animation on the iphone use works quite well is because the user has already given the device a prompt saying "hey, I might want to do something (or unlock, or answer the phone call, etc...)", and the animation helps to reward the finality of confirming that action. But the key here is that the user gives input before the system responds. – Nikolas Jeleniauskas Nov 30 '14 at 0:58
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Using design psychology to influence your user-base, is perfectly fine (ethics don't apply).

I don't think however that what you want to happen and what will be perceived by the end user are in line with one another. With your specific question I could see the following effects taking place, as an end-user:

  • I'm somewhat confused by some random thing moving as I don't understand what the animation is trying to impart.
  • I've been interrupted from the task that I was working on
  • My control of the UI has been snatched away
  • I missed the animation entirely as I was really focused in on another area, or the cta is out of my viewport

The latter has the effect of the animation amounting to being completely useless. The former three are however on some level is a deliberate interruption on what you were doing to get you to do something. Regardless of how a user might lay, what you propose will 100% introduce some level of cognitive dissonance on the overall session for the user (split attention, reduced task effectiveness) as it will be a constant interruption to them. Some people might not react too much to this, but others may react violently against this kind of intrusion.

Clippy comes to mind with regards to unsolicited prompts to a user, and there's plenty of stuff around that shows that some people reallly hated Clippy.

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Yes, it is manipulative (in the same sense that a baby's cry is manipulative, car commercials are manipulative and butterfly's wing patterns that look like eyes are manipulative).

And yes, these practices are usually ethical - as long as you are not selling something illegal, promoting credit cards to poor people, lying about the product qualities, that kind of stuff ;)

As has been said before, "random" events not triggered by any user action can promote the feeling of being out of control (well, the user is in fact out of control, so who could blame them).

However, a decent animation when the users scrolls to the very bottom of the page, or to the very top, can have the desired effect of grabbing attention without inducing powerlessness..
[I am not aware of any scientific papers in this area though]

Also while "less is more" applies here, 100ms animation might not get rendered very nicely in browsers, you need to test on low-end machines to make sure it looks good - what you might think of as "subconscious" might cause a browser to freeze for a second which is not a good message at all.

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