When one thinks of a pandemic, thoughts of personal health and the protection of family are the first things to come to mind. What I, as an experience strategist, had not considered, is the  impact of a global health crisis on the communication medium I have been working in for most of my UX design career: the pharmaceutical website.

Let’s talk about the typical anatomy of a healthcare website. The essential parts include main navigation, logo, copy, images, ISI, sign-up and a search bar. But slowly, in the first week of March 2020, the violator (a simple badge, or on-page announcement) began its run to become the most rapid global website update of 2020 and possibly the history of the internet. COVID-19 violators now reside across all types of business and product sites, both consumer and healthcare.

The Rise of the Violator
First, it was on a few sites. A week later, a few more. By week 3, it was everywhere, globally. The sheer number of sites that added a COVID-19 violator in such a short period of time is incredible.

From left: 1. “Above-the main navigation” violator; 2. “In-line message window” violator; 3. “Dual message violator” above main navigation and below on-page content.

This screen shot from the retail site Homedepot.com shows COVID-19 messaging in the context of an already-crowded screen. With so much for a user’s eyes to scan, it becomes difficult for them to make a choice.

By week 10, in some cases, violators were now working double duty, showcasing two messages. The first, an open letter on what a company wanted visitors to know about how they were dealing with COVID-19, and the second, the addition of a company position on the tragedy of George Floyd and the events that occurred after his death.

Nike went with the “above-the-top-nav violator.” Even with this addition, the site is very clean and presented in a minimalist, typography-forward design style.

Previously, violators had been implemented in healthcare to function as a stop gap to add content before the new build of a website; to showcase a new product indication; express a product franchise; or to entice users to sign up. As of July 2020, what was once an infrequently leveraged web module has become a norm.

The pharmaceutical industry wants to ensure people can continue to have access to the drugs that improve their and their families’ quality of life. So, in addition to their COVID-19 statement, many companies have also made use of the violator to guide patients to savings programs and co-pay card opportunities in response to the economic impact of COVID-19.

What’s the Big Deal, and Why Does It Matter?

Clarity.

Unconsciously, visitors see the violator as an additional page element their brains must process on their quest to find an answer, complete a task or gain an understanding. In marketing terms, we see it as a CTA (call to action). In certain cases, I’ve said, “a call to action is a call to distraction.”

In the healthcare space, this is especially interesting due to the existing mandatory pieces of content that already legally must be on a screen. These mandatory pieces of content consist of ISI, PI, scientific references and legal statements. All of which protect users by providing the details and legal coverage that allow companies to communicate with transparency and confidence.

Add a global violator with one or two messages and we could easily have a visually busy viewport; i.e., enough distractions that it causes visitors to use more of their cognitive brain power to (A) see what the site’s content options are (the main being top navigation); (B) choose where they want to tap/click; as well as (C) determine whether this site indeed provides the answer or information they seek.

If a visitor can’t process these decisions in microseconds, they jump to another site. If they can’t quickly see the value of sticking around to consume the content on your site, they’re gone. Users will jump back to Google and visit a competitor’s site.

A Call to Action, Not a Distraction
That’s why understanding and being sensitive to all the content on a page is important. If a piece of content — a block of copy, an icon, a button, a callout — is on screen, it should have high value and purpose. If it’s unneeded to clearly tell the story, then it’s a distraction that will cause users to leave your site early, become confused, unable to focus, or possibly all of the above. It’s my job as a UX practitioner to empower users to understand their choices , move through the content and accomplish tasks.  It’s clarity of site design and structure that is critical for a successful communication in this landscape, in these trying times.

Simpler is always better. No matter the experience, be it voice, augmented reality, a mobile website, expo touch screen or an Instagram post, direct language and clean navigation backed by high-value CTAs and value proposition is the way to increase user engagement.

As marketers, let us lead with thoughtful consideration for all users in these increasingly challenging times.

If you have specific questions or want to uncover opportunities to bring more clarity to your website through UX design, reach out to your Intouch contact to learn more.

Shawn Capizzi is an associate director of user experience at Intouch Solutions.