When I first heard of “antipatterns” I recognized the concept right away, and was thrilled to learn it had a name. It is the thing that everyone is using everywhere, but really shouldn’t. The internet is full of them. So is the real world.
Antipatterns are solutions that are very common, but not necessarily very effective. They propagate when people copy something, not realizing it’s not a good solution for the problem at hand (and may not be a good solution at all).
Not swimming after eating is an antipattern. Gifting a tin of fruitcake is an antipattern. Freezing coffee is an antipattern.
They are everywhere: in user experience design, business practices, software development. Marketing and websites seem especially prone to them, as those patterns are highly-visible, but we don’t actually know what’s behind the scenes. Is it effective? Is it being measured at all?
Antipatterns are not born of evil. Often, they were a good idea at one time. In the 1990’s when people were still learning how to surf the web, “Click Here” made sense as a call-to-action. Hyperlinks were novel and people needed coaching on how to use them. But in 2015, “Click Here” is an utter waste of pixels – people know to click on links, they need to know why they should. Similarly, in the late ‘00s when smartphones were novel and before the emergence of Responsive Design, dedicated mobile websites served a purpose. Now that any website can work great on mobile, building a separate site is inefficient for businesses and users.
We also find antipatterns where practices are copied from a successful context to one where they don’t apply. Media sites funded by ads want users to bounce from page to page. They use navigation patterns—mid-page ads, clickbait headlines, slideshow articles—that drive up page views and, in turn, revenue. A marketing website trying to tell a product story becomes an ineffective mess if it uses the same tactics.
Then there are practices that just aren’t ever a good idea. There has been a recent trend towards massively heavy sites with huge graphics, based on the assumption that almost everyone has high bandwidth. But even a user with the best internet service can struggle to download a bloated website under non-optimal conditions. And users in rural areas or with mobile devices won’t stand a chance. With so many ways to make visually beautiful sites without sacrificing performance, why wouldn’t you?
You can join the fight to eradicate antipatterns: Choose context-appropriate solutions. Measure and optimize. Do what works, not what seems popular.
It’s much like your parents’ tired line about peer pressure and jumping off bridges. Just because we see something being done—even with great frequency—doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.