The cons of forcing a full-screen website

As a web designer I am asked to provide a good marketing plan in addition to a great layout.  Sometimes the clients insist on features that will absolutely sabotage the very thing they’re trying to do — attract more customers.

I recently had a customer insist on implementing a full-screen script for their online marketing brochure, which is a horrible idea.  Here are some pros and cons for implementing such a feature, and you can make an informed decision for yourself.

Having a web page go full screen can be a technique to grab your customers’ attention, but is usually perceived negatively by the consumer. Here are several reasons why forcing a full-screen website on your users can have negative effects.

Users are usually browsing other web pages
Most browsers today use a tab-based navigation system. If a script on a particular site forces the browser window full-screen, then all of the websites in the other tab are also forced full-screen. Fixing this is not a one-button click, as the window is not “maximized” but rather the window is resized to the exact dimensions of your desktop.

Most users do not maximize their windows
Many users who are browsing the web are usually doing other things, and like to have windows showing so they can go between applications, or have access to desktop items. Usability studies generally show that users generally only make items full-screen when their current desktop resolution is inadequate for the content to be displayed, such as a spreadsheet or word-processing application.

Full-screen pops are usually considered malware
Web users have become familiar with internet malware (viruses, malicious scripts, and browser hijacks), and they usually bait users by either mimicking the operating system (like a virus has been found) or by making it very difficult to avoid their message (i.e. go full-screen or kiosk mode). Any web site that forces a user to go full-screen will generally have this same negative feeling associated with it

Demographics have already been performed on your site’s layout
The designer who worked on your website has already analyzed demographics and usability studies to determine a layout suitable to your average user. The average user’s desktop is usually 1280×1024, and inexpensive laptops and widescreen monitors are making 1440×900 and 1920×1200 very popular. The main page was designed to be 980 pixels wide and 750 pixels high, leaving a decent amount of room for “browser bulk” at common resolutions.

Forcing full-screen for every user will leave a lot of unused negative space for those with widescreen resolutions.

The user wants to feel in control
Nearly every user will maximize a window if they want to, but they have to feel like they are in control of their own computer.

Forcing a full-screen web page on a user is counter-productive in marketing terms. A user’s time spent on a site is reduced to several seconds when they feel they have been “trapped”, thereby eliminating the attention that you were looking to grab.

There are several online marketing strategies to get good customers, and they rely on the principle of “good bait”. If your message or layout is pleasing, then they will stick around, place an order, and recommend it to their friends.

Alan is a web architect, stand-up comedian, and your friendly neighborhood Grammar Nazi. You can stalk him on the Interwebs via Google+, Facebook and follow his ass on Twitter @ocmodshop.