Creating Engagement with Web Magic Tricks

Paul Annett‘s panel “Oooh, That’s Clever! (Unnatural Experiments in Web Design)” was one of the few that stood out for me. Not only was his content compelling, but he’s also a great presenter and story teller. His years of experience as an amateur magician no doubt contributed to his skills on stage. The talk was a showcase of websites that are doing some very clever CSS/Flash tricks to create more engaging user experiences.

You might look at some of his examples and go “OK, that’s pretty neat, but this is more like an easter egg and is not really essential to the overall goal of the site.” To put it in terms of ROI and business value that a client can understand, you need only look at what his company ClearLeft has done for their product website Silverback. Back when the site first launched, it was a only splash screen for an upcoming product with very little info about the product itself. However, detail oriented web designers noticed that when you resized the browser on the Silverback website, the vines in the background had a parallax effect creating the feeling of 3D. In a short amount of time, designers were blogging and tweeting about what essentially amounted to nothing more than an easter egg for a website, resulting in tremendous traffic, to the tune of over 100,000 hits. To top that off, a very large percentage of that traffic signed up to hear more about this phantom product without even knowing what the product was about, solely because of this little effect. Several other sites now implement a similar effect hoping for similar results. Small little hooks can have a tremendous amount on the bottom line.

Here are some of the examples that stood out:

The dConstruct User Experience Conference website has a secret navigation up top that lets you see the progression of the site from sketches to final product through clever use of CSS.

Kyan, a web design and development agency, has a small worm on the bottom of their website. Clicking on it reveals a previously hidden underground secret Kyan labs.

I thought these next two examples did a really good job of tying together the cleverness with the core experience of the product.

The Wario Land Youtube page slowly collapses as Wario causes more and more damage. This is a very ingenous use of overlaying Flash. You think you’ve landed on an ordinary Youtube page, but as the video plays, elements of the Youtube page start to crumble and fall until all you are left with is a large pile of HTML debris at the bottom of your page.

The iPod touch ad on the Yahoo Games page gets clever by tilting the elements on the website as if they were affected by the iPod touch.

Engaging users doesn’t have to be big and flashy. A little hidden gem can go a long way drawing in people. Often times, you just need people to step through the door.