Web designers are wonderfully creative people. We love what we do; we love to experiment; we love to put our artistic “thumbprint” on all that we do. But, it is often too easy to get carried away with the “art” of it all and lose sight of one important fact – the website is designed first and foremost for the user, not the designer. And users want very specific things when they access a site. Here are some all-to-common web design mistakes that a pro may not even notice — but an end user certainly will.
1. Failing to Use a Grid When You Design a Page
Yes, grids can be seen as “confining” at times, but without one, the page looks “off” to the visitor who may not appreciate artistic asymmetry. The vast majority of users need a visual experience that makes sense to them vertically and horizontally – it makes them feel like the company is organized and structured. Unstructured design is best left for framing and mounting on a wall.
To correct this, you may be able to take your original design, superimpose it on a grid and make some changes. If that is going to be too hard, then keep your great design ideas, get a blank grid, and start again. You want your creativity to “shine” through, but you will have to temper it with structure. And, consider using a design tool (e.g. UX Pin) for grid design.
2. Using a “Canned” Theme and Failing to Customize It
Let’s be certain about one thing. There are some really great theme kits out there, and most designers make use of them. They result in consistency of pages throughout a site, and users like consistency. In fact, when you need to get a site up and running very quickly, a design theme kit is really the way to go. But, you will want to modify in order to really customize it for your purposes after that, so it doesn’t look like thousands of other websites.
If you are a bit stuck with what modifications you might want to make, search around for customized sites that you really like, and copy their URL’s. Then go to “What Theme is That?” and paste the URL in – you can find out what tool kit was used. You want one that will let your change things like color and typography. And if you are still stuck, you can use a white label partner, that your client doesn’t even know about. These consultants assist designers when they are having difficulties and act as fully “silent partners.” An excellent way to get a second opinion or a few practical solutions to your problems. The design community is typically more than willing to help one another.
3. Not Designing for Multiple Platforms
If you design a site with the intention of just making everything smaller for tablets and then smaller still for phones, you will lose your mobile users. They will be swiping horizontally; the pages will be too cluttered, and their experiences will be poor.
Be certain that you use responsive design or a “mobile first” strategy as you design the site. Starting with mobile is usually a good idea, because it is a lot easier to add content and media as you move to larger screens than it is to take out content after the fact. Using a mobile first strategy also forces you to focus on the really critical aspects of a site first.
4. Getting Too “Out There” with Color and Font
Designers are, above all, artists, and artists love to experiment, especially with color and texture. If, when you finish your design prototype, you get feedback that things seem “out of place,” it is probably because you have not matched color palette and typography well enough. In general, viewers like things to “match.” It gives them a sense of security and the feeling that they are more in control.
Start with a color palette and typography that matches, making only minor tweaks at first. User test it all along the way – better to know now than later when your boss or client objects. And, be certain that the color and type you use are consistent with the type of business for which the site is designed. Sophistication requires black, white, and grays, sometimes navy; entertainment, travel, and leisure require brighter colors and more “fun” type; serenity uses calm blues and greens; professional sites should use navy, blues, greens and white. And if the company has a logo (think Starbucks), use the same colors for brand consistency.
5. Loads Too Slowly
This goes for the landing page and every other page on the site. It’s fun to add animation, videos, photos, and other media, but if those things are slowing down access, visitors will be move on to another site. Remember 2-3 seconds is a good target. And loading times will vary across devices, so that has to be accounted for too.
You will need to find the “culprits” and get this fixed. And, you may need to eliminate or really compress things in order to speed up load time on tablets and phones. Again, user testing your prototypes before finalizing a design is pretty critical. One intermediary step you can take is to use a “loading video” which entertains the visitor while the site is loading. This can only be a temporary fix, however, unless you plan to hang out that video often. People will get bored.
6. Navigation is Just too Complex
Users don’t want to have to spend time figuring out how to get to what they want, nor do they want to spend time on lengthy drop-down menus. If it takes them too long to get where they want to go, it is just easier for them to bounce and go elsewhere.
The best fix for this is to have just a few links at the top of the landing page, and other pages that will get users to the main pages of the site. From there, they may find link to sub-pages. But, a good “rule of thumb” here is 3 clicks. A user should be able to get anywhere with that number. Another pretty effective design, especially when a site has lots of pages, is to put a sidebar menu for all of your more minor pages. This is far easier than that long drop-down.
And menus for mobile devices, especially for phones, have to be simpler. Drop downs may be better for phones, but there should only be 2-3 choices.
7. Using PDF Files for Reading
Users expect PDF files when they access educational and governmental websites. And they expect PDF files for lengthy things (e-guides, manuals, etc.), but they are irritated by them because of the slow loads. In some cases, PDF is essential because it keeps the original formatting of the page you are sharing.
This is an easy fix, and it really is only a matter of remembering – PDF only for large files.
8. Not Having Color Changing Links
One of the nice things about a Google search is that when a user links to a site and then comes back, the color on that site link has changed, telling the user that s/he has accessed it already. It saves time and irritation. If you have not put that feature in your design, you should – users really appreciate it and it helps them get to where they are going.
9. Hiding Your Prices
You are a bit at the mercy of your boss or client on this one, but you are the expert and you should try to convince them that one of the most irritating things for visitors is not to be able to find a price very early in their navigations. Check competitors’ sites, and, if they are showing prices early, then you must do the same.
10. Not Having Enough White Space Around Important Elements, Like CTA’s
Too much clutter around the really important information and the CTA buttons confuses visitors, and they will miss things.
The fix of course is to clear things out and simplify as much as possible. Place buttons above the fold and put white space around them, using a distinctive color for them. And the button text should be a clearly contrasting color, to grab the eye. One more thing about buttons: Make the edges curved not squared off. Curved edges draw the eye in to read what the button says; squared edges take the eyes out and away from that button text.
11. Not Having Simple, Large Registrations Forms
How much detail about someone is absolutely necessary? Users do not want to give out too much information or wait while you verify an email address; they want speed and simplicity. And mobile users, as well as most people over 40, really want larger form fields and buttons.
Be certain that you are only asking for the essential information on all forms, and make them a decent size for readability. Another thought here: It’s a nice idea to give users the option to enlarge text – “over 40 eyes” will thank you.
12. Not User Testing Every. Single. Thing.
If everything is not tested, and problems are discovered, then you have to go back and fix things while the site is already up and running. This means taking pages down as they are repaired, and it is a bit irritating for a user to link to a page, only to read, “Under Construction.”
If you user test absolutely every aspect and feature of the site, on multiple platforms, you will have a site that is “ready to roll” when you demonstrate it for your boss or client. And you should not do that user testing yourself. Ask a trusted colleague or use a white partner for this activity.
Design begins with thinking like a user. S/he wants:
- Visual appeal
- Easy navigation
- Readable and broken-up text
- Fast loading pages
Think like that user first and then add your creativity. You’ll have a design that users like and of which you will be proud.