What design features turn a good website bad? There are more potential pitfalls out there than you might think. Even design elements that may “look nice” to the untrained eye can have unexpected consequences, so acquainting yourself with these hidden landmines is an important step in the process of crafting a website.
The ten habits of bad web design described below will help educate and prepare both designers and clients alike, allowing you to determine what you do want for your website, while also avoiding the design features that can seriously diminish a site’s success.
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One of the best ways to properly design your website is to avoid the terrible design mistakes people make. Here are ten such design habits which needs to be avoided.
Website visitors are goal driven. They arrive at your website looking for a specific product or piece of information, so if your site lacks a clear purpose and sense of self, these users will quickly move onto the next option listed by their search engine. Bad website design first and foremost involves a homepage that does not adequately represent your site or prove why this site is relevant. Your homepage is your calling card – and first impressions are everything. Whether or not visitors move onto other sections of the website hinges on this initial presentation. Is your homepage boring? Is its purpose unclear? Hallmarks of bad website design include not knowing your target audience, including irrelevant or repetitive content, and lacking calls to action for sales or for more in-depth site exploration.
For all these reasons, make sure that you’re using web analytics to gain a sense of who’s coming to your site. Once you know what this demographic is looking for, provide them with it. Prioritize information so that the homepage is easy to read, with a clear header, introduction, and appropriately displayed links. Keep things simple and remember that not every piece of information must be included right off the bat (that’s what subsequent pages are for). Imbuing your site with the look, information, and personality that will speak to your niche audience is essential for capturing their initial attention.
Failing to inspire confidence in your readers is a major problem that can easily get in the way of a website’s success. It is necessary that your design features elements which prove to visitors that they can trust the information found within your pages. Immediate warning signs that diminish your site’s credibility are errors in grammar and spelling, a lack of visual cleanliness, and a site that looks outdated.
Think about it: If a site looks old, then might you conclude that the information contained therein is old, too? Therefore, it’s imperative that you continue to update and improve your website over time, being careful not to fall behind new trends. Technical errors like spelling and grammar mistakes, as well as messy visuals such as unaligned paragraphs give the impression that the website creator hasn’t put a lot of thought or effort into the site. If you can’t be bothered to spellcheck your work, then why should anyone else bother to read it?
Beyond just this basic maintenance, you can also add more in-depth indicators of your credibility. These include any relevant information about your educational and employment background, accomplishments, awards, accolades, site membership numbers or other statistics that indicate your success level, and any community or trade involvement that shows your legitimacy and outreach.
Who’s going to stick around a site they have to strain their eyes to read? Be very cautious about the font you use and the colors you choose. A lack of contrasting color between your type and your background can cause huge legibility issues. Make sure that the writing stands out enough from page and that the colors complement each other appropriately. Text that is too small can also be problematic, especially for older viewers. And although it’s not a bad design choice to use a fresh and modern font, make sure you’re selecting something that is crisp and clean enough to be used for bodies of text.
Long blocks of writing are, in and of themselves, something to avoid. Website visitors want to get to the main point of a page – and quickly. Large chunks of text discourage this, so the optimal thing to do is to edit out any unnecessary details, break up content into manageable paragraphs, and organize selected information into lists and bullet points.
Lastly, beware the bold, italic, underline, and caps lock options. These can be used sparingly to make a point, but overwhelming a page with them creates a visual mess and ultimately achieves the opposite effect from what you want, confusing the eye to the point where it doesn’t know where to look first.
Perhaps one of the most egregious offenses in website design is creating a site whose navigation is poor, shoddy, or confusing. Major design mistakes center around links, which must always be easily identifiable, descriptive in their title, and functioning properly. Don’t make visitors guess where they’re going: make sure that you distinguish visually between content on your page that is simply text and content that is a link and, therefore, “clickable. ” Underlining, bold, or a standout color choice can all be used to indicate that a word or phrase is actually a link. Be clear about where each one takes the visitor by giving obvious titles to your different sections, making it clear from a glance which button takes you where. Make sure that the links are visually unified; if every link is presented in the same style, then it will be easy for users to scan a web page and spot them.
Beware of orphaned pages! This term indicates web pages that have no link back to the homepage or, in the worst case scenarios, links to any other section of the website. Orphaned pages can create a huge hassle and annoyance for your visitors, who must leave the visual area of the website to use their browser’s “back” button. Likewise, to further avoid this situation, double-check to make sure all of your site’s links are functioning! Broken links and 404 error pages make a site look messy and unmaintained, as well as cause users a headache.
A few other warnings on this topic: bad website design is likewise evident on websites whose links don’t change color after having been clicked by a visitor. Help your users remember what parts of the sites they’ve already checked out so that they don’t find themselves lost within your content. Under no circumstances should you include any drop-down menus that fall below the bottom of your page. These will make certain links impossible to reach!
Overambitious and/or inexperienced designers have a tendency to believe that the more bells and whistles they add to a website, the more impressive it will appear to viewers. Wrong. In fact, too many special features and attention-grabbing effects can create a serious eyesore, as well as distract from the really important content. While it’s always a good idea to stand out from the crowd, making too big a point to grab viewers’ attention will actually send them running in the opposite direction. Remember that content is key, and no design features should overshadow that fact. Nor should they, in the worst cases, attempt to make up for a website whose content is not up to par.
What are these distracting features that bad web design usually consists of? Blinking signs, clashing colors, too many photos, crazy background images, clutter, and an inundation of ads, especially those that are poorly placed or which have absolutely nothing to do with the website’s theme.
First of all, to repeat, not all of your information must be included on the homepage – or on any single page for that matter. Websites have sections for a reason, so divide up your content wisely. Second of all, always go back to the main idea that website users are arriving at your page looking for information. If you remember this, then you’ll quickly see that anything blinking, clashing, or attention-grabbing simply isn’t helping anybody’s cause. Third of all, although advertisements can be a great source of revenue, be wise about what you allow on your page and where you place it. Keep the commercial aspects off to the side and always make sure that their products match your website’s theme and your viewers’ interests, otherwise, they will steal the spotlight simply by virtue of the fact that they don’t fit in.
No discussion of distractions can take place without also addressing the major design problem of automatically-playing media. If your visitors’ purpose is to get information from your website, why are you stalling their progress with long Flash intros that have no option to be skipped over? Why are you playing music when people only want to read or look at pictures? Why are you shoving pop-up windows in their faces?
To be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these media elements. A Flash intro can be a dynamic, inviting, and creative opening to a web page; videos and music can be wonderful tools and sometimes are the sole purpose of a website; and alerting your visitors to sales and offers is an essential part of marketing.
However, it’s all about the way you present these elements and the keyword here is always choice. Let visitors decide how much time they have and whether they want to use that time to sit through an intro or video; let them decide when they want to listen to music and for how long; allow them to click on offers, but don’t force them to close a pop-up window that’s of no personal interest to them. In other words, go ahead and include these media options on your page, but don’t make them run automatically. A tidal wave of media doesn’t achieve anything except increased visitor annoyance levels.
Because of web users’ goal driven natures and the plethora of web pages that they have at their immediate disposal, any web design features that test their patience can be prove to be major pitfalls in your website’s success. Beware of anything that makes visitors work too hard to find information or wait too long to get to it.
Perhaps the biggest issue in this category is the slow-loading page. This occurs primarily when there are too many images trying to load at once, or even a few images whose file sizes are simply too large. Make sure you know what quality of image is enough to make your site look beautiful, but not too much to slow it down, and then be selective about how many images you include. Besides the slow-loading page issue, you can also run the risk of half or partially-loaded images, which can look highly unprofessional and messy.
Also reconsider any design features that seem unnatural or add extra steps to your users’ activities. A good example of this is the horizontal scrolling bar. While web users are used to scrolling vertically, it takes much more effort for them to keep scrolling back and forth horizontally to finish reading sentences or find information that is off to the side of the main webpage. In some cases, they might not even notice or recognize that this type of scrolling is an option, thus causing them to miss out on whatever page elements are “hidden” from view.
Sometimes it’s what bad design leaves out, not what it puts in, that causes the biggest problems. Creating a website that lacks significant and relevant pieces of information can be disastrous for a business. By failing to fully answer your visitors’ questions or fulfill their needs, your website will quickly fall short of their expectations and potential return traffic will instead move elsewhere.
One of the main problems found in bad website design is a lack of contact information. Whether a customer is looking to find a business’ location(s), has a product-related question, or simply needs to speak to someone about opening hours or website issues, in this day and age they must be provided with multiple ways of getting in touch. Supply users with as many ways to contact you as possible: a phone number, an address, an email address, a fax number, or even a specially designated comments form.
Another type of issue arises when it comes to ecommerce websites, which are looking to make a direct profit from web users. Imagine you are a consumer looking to buy a product, and you end up on a website that doesn’t supply you with prices, descriptions or images of their items, or even a clear way to make your purchase. What are you supposed to do? You have no choice but to turn elsewhere.
Designers must make sure that an adequate amount of information is available when they’re asking customers to shop online. Photographs of the merchandise are very important, but may need to be supplemented with written descriptions that contain specifics like the products’ materials, functions, or non-visible qualities. Be sure that the prices are displayed clearly and choose graphics and colors that clearly indicate the path buyers can follow to check-out.
Perhaps one of the most overarching bad design habits is simply the overwhelming desire to be different, at the expense of website functionality and straightforwardness. While it’s important for your website to stand out from the crowd of other options, this can be achieved through excellent content, beautiful images, easy navigation, stunning graphics, or even utter simplicity. Where experimentation goes wrong is when a website tries so hard to break the mold that it actually only serves to alienate and confuse visitors.
Web page users are familiar with browsing websites and have learned to expect pages to work in certain ways. They’re accustomed to even the littlest details, like links being underlined or bolded, and sitemaps being found at the bottom of the page. If you start messing around with the accepted format, you risk losing an audience; even well experienced web users can still get lost and those goal-driven users who find your site too overwhelming will simply move on. Find the middle ground between making a statement and giving visitors what they want. Be creative in your content and instead leave all the major or basic page elements alone: let them work the way they always have.
Last but certainly not least on our list, if your website cannot be found by search engines and, therefore, cannot be appreciated by more visitors, then your web page design has seriously failed you. It’s not enough to have great content or a page that looks pretty; there are certain design elements that must be either included or avoided if you’re going to grow an audience and have any impact on the virtual world.
Make sure that you are using SEO keywords in an artful manner, incorporating them into the fabric of your web page so that your content can be found and receive the attention it deserves. At the same time, you don’t want to overwhelm any web page with irrelevant information or a whole bunch of SEO nonsense that has been awkwardly planted in your text. Be smart, selective, and mindful of your viewers. Fit keywords into your writing in ways that complement the content, not destroy or delegitimize it.
Another major rookie mistake is placing text inside of image boxes. Designers may think this effect looks cool, adding a neat visual background to tabs and headings. Unfortunately, however, text that is programmed in this manner cannot be found by search engines, so any keywords that you’ve embedded in an image will be lost and useless. In this case, as well as in the case of Flash menus, it is absolutely essential that a designer remembers to include a sitemap or tags on their page, since these will be recognizable. It’s a simple solution that allows you to achieve creative design, without sacrificing your number of page views.
Avoid these ten habits of bad web design and you’ll be on your way to creating a site that is not only gorgeous and visually memorable, but fully-functioning and successful!
While writing this article, it’s always a possibility that we missed some other latest design trends. Feel free to share it with us.