The NASCAR problem is when there is a jumble of branding icons in a user interface, like 3rd party sign-in/login options or sharing buttons on websites, that is visually busy and often noisy, distracting, and overwhelming.
It is dubbed the NASCAR problem because of these clusters of 3rd party icons/brands on websites resembles the collages of sponsorship decals covering NASCAR racing cars.
It's a problem because such clusters of icons/brands cause both visual noise and people to be confused (see Paradox of choice), overwhelmed or unlikely to remember individual icons, especially as the clusters seem to grow with the introduction of new 3rd party identity/profile/social sites and services.
Modern examples of a NASCAR sign-in UIs:
A modern example of a payment UI in Japan:
The phrase was originally coined by Daniel Burka of Digg to describe the user interface for signing in to websites that support third-party authentication protocols like OpenID.(date/time/source citation needed, from Chris Messina who made this assertion, likely mid-2000s though). Example of an OpenID sign-in UI with the NASCAR problem of a screen overwhelmed by brands:
- 2009 screenshot of Stack Overflow sign-in UI as a (past) real-world example:
- 2006-05-11 concept: Jeff Atwood appears to be first to have made the comparison between brand/icon links to 3rd party social sites and NASCAR in his 2006-05-11 blog post Excess Blog Flair and analogy to NASCAR:
Why do people want their blogs to look like NASCAR vehicles?
- 2006-05-11 Jeff Atwood: Excess Blog Flair
- 2009-04-06 Chris Messina: Does OpenID need to be Hard?
- 2009-05-15 Glenn Jones: Experiments in Data Portability 2 (Starting at Slide 28)
- 2014-08-20 Tom Morris: Apparently PayPal is a social network now.
- 2012-10-04 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/national-virtual-id-card-scheme-set-for-launch-is-there-anything-that-could-possibly-go-wrong-8196543.html mentions
Users who access the Government’s online one-stop-shop of public services will be asked to identify themselves by choosing one organisation from a selection of logos. (This feature is called a “Nascar screen”, in reference to the logo-filled livery of the famous American racing cars.)emphasis added.