We’ve seen a lot of websites adding a new feature, video backgrounds. This popular design trend turns the background of your website into something dynamic, living and breathing. We at iTracking Research recently implemented this design trend, as have many of the companies we work with. The reason we like it? It plays into the base human instincts developed by our ancestors 84,000 generations ago. As hunters and gatherers we relied on our instincts to keep us safe and out of harms way. Although we no longer have to fear being eaten by a lion on the Serengeti, those base instincts still remain. By using motion, we can capture the instincts of the viewer and keep them engaged on our page. But not everyone feels the same way we do. In order for a fair assessment we’re presenting both sides of the story.
One of my favorite websites for creative inspiration is Creative Bloq. This site regularly covers web and design trends. In an article about video backgrounds, contributor Alex Black says,
Designing a website doesn’t mean you have to create a static experience – it’s not print.
Video backgrounds can be used in many ways. For some, showcasing products or services is the primary concern and the video background is meant to be watched by the visitor. For others, video backgrounds are simply used to change the look and feel of the website while subtly grabbing attention but not necessarily actively watched.
We mentioned base human instincts in the first paragraph but what do we mean by that? Well this all comes down to visual salience. Visual salience is “the distinct subjective perceptual quality which makes some items in the world stand out” (Scholarpedia). Movement or the perception of movement attracts our visual attention. When we were hunters or gatherers, the ability to perceive motion was a desirable trait and kept us safe and allowed us to find food sources. Without this natural instinct, predators would be able to attack and food would be hard to find.
When not optimized, a video can significantly slow down the speed of your website. Human attention span is less than six seconds. If your video or page is still loading in 6,5,4,3,2,1… your visitor is gone.
Video backgrounds aren’t mobile friendly. We live in a mobile world with 60% of all web traffic happening on mobile (Small Biz Trends). With this staggering statistic it’s important that you use a static image rather than a video background on your mobile site. By using a video background you are making it difficult for your mobile site to load quickly and if it does manage to load, most mobile browsers do not support autoplay of videos.
Video backgrounds can also be distracting. If the goal is to get your attention but the background does this a bit too well, it’s hard to call this a successful site. We went through a series of videos until we found one that was the right level of attention grabbing but not distracting. It’s important for you to decide whether the video is meant to be truly in the background or if you want your visitors to actually watch it.
Some people just plain don’t like it, and that’s okay. Design can be subjective. There are things that are tried and true but in order to create a pleasant experience for your visitors you need to understand them first.
The verdict? If you can’t do it right, don’t do it. If you don’t know if you’re doing it right, test it. As an eye tracking research and UX company we’re always big proponents of testing out your designs before you launch. After all, it’s only your reputation on the line.
Also published on Medium.