Web design has come a long, long way since the 1990s when things like GeoCities and AOL dominated the Internet.
The design has evolved with a deeper understanding of principles like usability and user experience. There certainly hasn’t been a lack of studies examining everything from typography and site speed to content above versus below the fold.
The Nielsen Norman Group is one of the premier user-experience consultations on the planet. It’s been in business for decades, conducting study after study on the design, usability, and UX. For example, one of its earliest studies from 1996—when “Friends” and “The X-Files” were still on TV—identified ten web design errors that were hugely problematic back then, in the very early days of the web.
You’d think that, 20 years later, as the design has gotten more sophisticated and design information has become much more accessible, designers would learn to avoid design mistakes. Still, a recent, large-scale usability study from 2016 by the NN Group found the opposite true.
Instead of learning from past mistakes, designers have continually repeated them throughout the decades. If there’s one thing that’s certain in web design, these errors persist because designers keep forgetting the basics and creating web design mistakes.
One of the most stubborn errors designers continue to make on websites is not sympathizing with the need of users to clearly and easily understand what the site or its elements is about. Producing endless web design mistakes.
The study identified these mistakes surrounding a lack of clarity:
The study revealed how too many designers put content in places that users aren’t familiar with based on ordinary browsing habits. For instance, inaccurate or inappropriate category names that failed to match the expected content within the categories were a recurring problem causing web design mistakes.
Other web design mistakes were navigational categories or links that sound similar and hampers users from finding the information they want. In such a case, your users will likely leave your site and go somewhere else, where content is sorted much more clearly.
Hidden fees and prices will also hurt your conversions because no shoppers want to feel like they’re being treated dishonestly. Creating huge web design mistakes. When it comes to money, your users want to know everything they’ll have to pay for upfront at the beginning of a transaction. This refers to prices, subscription fees, convenience fees, and anything else involving money. From a pure design perspective, it’s a massive mistake if hiding fees and costs cause a loss of customers and transactions.
Overstock is an excellent example of full disclosure: note how big and bold its product pricing information is.
How easily your site visitors find it to use your site is integral to whether or not your site has good UX and is avoiding web design mistakes.
The NN Group’s study found these UX-related web design mistakes that won’t go away:
Two significant design errors associated with web design mistakes are isolated pockets of information on any page that fails to link to other related information on different pages and force users to repetitively click on what amounts to the exact links to get specific details. Both design errors inconvenience your users by failing to provide the information they’re looking for in context, producing huge web design mistakes.
Many sites feature subsites (think Yahoo). The problem is that some of these subsites provide users with no way of returning to the leading site, creating a headache and stranding them where they don’t want to be. Yahoo is an excellent example of a primary site, and subsites are done properly, as users can never leave and always click on the home button to return avoiding the headache with web design mistakes.
On the search issue, unfortunately, many sites still either fail to search the entire site for search terms or return results that fail to match users’ search terms in the first place—creating multiple web design mistakes.
And while filters and facets (essential filters for various attributes of objects in a set of content) are well-intentioned, they’re often either tagged incorrectly or insufficient, creating confusion and major web design mistakes.
Information architecture should, in many ways, be the heart and soul of good design. Essentially, it helps users quickly understand your site environment and content to find what they want. It involves labeling, organizing, and structuring your content in the most straightforward way possible.
The usability study again found stubborn, repeated web design mistakes designers still make in this area, just as they did 20 years ago.
These web design mistakes include:
Studies show that users don’t read web content; it’s more like they skim or scan said content instead. That’s why content should be chunked into small and short paragraphs and broken up with everything from bullet points to enumerations for better reading. The last thing you want to do is put vast blocks of text before your users—one of the most repeated web design mistakes.
Wayfair.com is a case in point for how to present information to visitors. Note how its content is easily digestible, as it’s efficiently broken up.
On the problem of hidden links, you’d be surprised at how often designers hide links to relevant site content—for example, the menu of a restaurant—in the same column as ads leading to external links. The long and short of it is that most users won’t be able to find such relevant links amidst all the ads, which makes considering the placement of relevant links extremely vital to design to avoid web design mistakes.
The problem is that many designers aren’t usability experts, but that’s no excuse. When designing, you must be obsessed with providing your users superb Uwith X. Otherwise, your site’s usability, conversions, on-page time, and sales drop—no client will tolerate that.
It will be interesting to see if, in another 20 years, we still see studies like these, talking about how design errors from decades ago are still haunting our web-design community.