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The BIGGEST Mistakes in Web Design

Posted on 9.05.2012

There are many factors to keep in mind when designing a website. Sometimes in the vast scope of Web projects, however, some simple design mistakes inadvertently occur and may have a detrimental effect on website success. There are so many preventable errors that occur when creating new websites that listing them all would be impractical, but here are the design flaws seen over and over again on the Web.

Perhaps the single biggest mistake is designing around what is important to your company, and not what's important to your visitor. Too many websites have an air of self-righteousness, believing that readers want to read about ‘company goals’ and ‘organizational ethos’, but they couldn’t be more wrong. There are three basic needs that readers may be looking to satisfy when they arrive on a site: to be entertained, to be informed about a solution to a problem they have or to be engaged in a communal activity, such as sharing thoughts with other individuals with the same issue. In short, website visitors need problem resolution. Companies need to address the needs visitors had before arriving at the website.

Forcing Registration

Viewing a website is called “browsing” for a reason. When you enter a clothing store you wouldn’t expect to surrender your credit card details at the door before you've had a chance to look around. The Internet functions on the same principle. Unless it’s absolutely necessary for the functionality of your site (or you purposefully want to screen out most of your site's visitors), do not force visitors to submit their e-mail addresses or personal information early in the visit. Most people simply will not share this information until a site has proven that it contains valuable information.

Not Communicating Purpose

Company websites needs to explain their purpose, and fast. If viewers have to rack their brains to figure out what is being offered, the game is over. Make sure that your company name, slogan and introduction make its purpose immediately clear. Frequent offenders of this are often non-profit organizations with nice sounding names and slogans that say little about their purpose. A slogan such as ‘leading the way’ may be true, but leading the way in what? Don’t be afraid to say exactly what it is that you do or are offering your reader. If your company helps fight poverty in the third world then say so. ‘Leading the way in fighting poverty in the third world’ is much clearer than just ‘leading the way’.

Burying Important Features

Sometimes, in the effort to keep a website ‘clean’, an important feature might end up hidden, forcing the user to search for it (assuming they are even aware of it). Well-designed websites should consider making use of tip balloons that highlight key features and walk users through them, so users don’t get lost in the middle of a process. Since it can be complicated to develop complex, multi-step tool tips on your own, look for solutions that can help you create these features.

Unreadable Text

There is no point having a compelling slogan or clever idea if your visitors cannot read it (e.g. dark green text on a black background, or impossibly small font that require microscopes to read). The key here is simplicity. Make sure your text is in a readable font and in a size that most human beings can read unaided — read WM’s Design Principles for Master Developers ( Contrast is also something that sounds simple, yet is a mistake still seen on too many websites. Text drowning in a busy or non-contrasting background is an amateurish mistake that makes reading nearly impossible. And if a visitor cannot read your site’s content, then how can they be expected to buy what is being sold? Good sites make sure that the important text pops out and cannot be missed.

Many Technology Bells and Whistles

Many new websites fall into the trap of using new technology on their website, believing that bells and whistles should take precedence over everything else. This is a big mistake. Using flash graphics or gigantic JPEGs may look great on the designer’s monitor, but could frustrate readers if they have to wait for an image or animation to appear. Form over function is always a recipe for disaster. While it’s important for your site to exude modernity, don’t overdo it with cutting edge technology. Readers appreciate an easy to navigate site with simple, but functional graphics.

Dated Graphics

If your site has flashing fluorescent pink text on a custard yellow background, your average visitor time will be under a second, and there is a big chance they will leave your site with a migraine. Avoid harsh colors, flashing text and huge amounts of banners with conflicting colors and themes. Flashing text is an immediate giveaway that your site hasn’t been updated since the 90s, indicating that you aren’t relevant anymore. Use it at your own peril!

Failure to Target & Segment

Always make sure that your company’s website is designed around reaching its target audience segment. For instance, if your target market is older, you might consider designing the site with a larger font. Similarly, if your users are youngsters, digital compliancy such as an app for smartphones is a must. Adjustments to your company’s website to ensure it speaks the language of your audience will go a long way to increasing viewing time and ultimately sales.

No Call to Action

Whether the target of the website is to receive sign-ups, buy your product or receive information, you will need to have a clearly designed ‘call to action’. This is often in the form of a button that states the next process for the viewer such as ‘buy now’, ‘sign up today’ etc. However, a call to action can also be more subtle, for example, built into the text itself. Ideally there should be several different calls to action, each of which appeals to potential buyers at various stages of the sales cycle (often known as AIDA: Awareness, Intention, Desire, Action). There should be a call to action on every page of your site, always there to remind the reader the ultimate purpose of the website, giving your visitors a chance to convert at every opportunity.

Badge and Banner Clutter

Your company worked hard to win its awards and you’re right to be proud of them, but try to be selective about which ones you display on the home page. Websites with dozens of badges and awards looks cluttered, and can give the impression of trying too hard to impress. Emulate the leaders in your industry — are their home pages covered in every award or recognition they have ever received? Likely they are not. Your website, and company behind it, should speak for itself. There is plenty of room in the About Us section for boasting about accomplishments.

About the Author: Rafi Sweary is a co-founder of, the world’s first interactive online guidance system, enabling organizations to overlay on-screen ‘Walk-Thrus’ into their websites or apps. These ‘Walk- Thrus’ assist end-users in quickly and easily finishing even the most complex tasks, thus, helping organizations fight the ‘gremlins’ that take their marketing efforts off-track.

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