The 10 most common design mistakes on the Web

  1. Not understanding the nature of the Internet.  Too often, design teams think of the Internet as a pushing media such as television or radio. Users’ behavior on the Internet is different than when they are reading books or newspapers, listening to the radio or watching television. For example, when browsing, users have goals and look for information.  If they don’t find what they are looking for, they will leave the page after 8 to 12 seconds.  Users scan web pages.  They don’t read.  If something looks like an ad, they will rapidly look someplace else.
  2. Forcing users to guess what is clickable or not.  Design teams expect that users will figure out what will be clickable on their page.   This is not the case.  In most cases browsing is non-mandatory and users do not put their full attention on a website.  In this context, it is very likely that they will not click on a non-visible link even if they understand that a cursor changing from an arrow to a hand means a clickable region. Blue underline hyperlinks are the most effective.  Users perceive such hyperlinks 50 milliseconds faster.   In the world of limited attention resources, loosing 50 milliseconds of user attention means leaving money on the table
  3. Not understanding the interactive aspect of the Internet.  Too many design teams see web pages as a static entity.  They have design meetings with color printouts of web pages laid out on a table.  They get clients or management to sign off on a project with static pages.  When people talk about a book, they don’t talk about the front page but rather about the story.  Discussing interaction issues with static pages is like talking only about the front page of a book.  Since interaction is dynamic, this process results in poor design decisions where too much emphasis is put on superficial aspects, such as the look.  Never forget: user interaction with web site cannot be describe, written or verbalized, it can only be observe.
  4. Using ads in the same way they are used in traditional media.  Internet is a goal-driven media with very limited user attention.  The bandwidth of user attention is similar the one we have when looking at a billboard on the highway: a few seconds.  Worse, on the Internet, users are not captive but in control of the interaction.  This does not leave much room to be pushing ads.  The only effective way to do that is to position related items at the right time and place.  This requires designers to understand the probable sequence of users’ goals (the path of attention) and to position related items for cross-sale or up-sale in the form of links inside the useful field of view (5-7 cm diameter on a screen).
  5. Copying others.  Too often, designers start with the designs of others as the basis for their own design.  The reasoning is that because other companies use a certain approach, it must be good.  This lazy way of solving problems often results in solutions that do not solve the target user problems.  Instead, the focus should always be on solving the target user problems first.  Once the design team has a clear picture of the users and their problems, and only then, can they take a look at how others and the competition address those issues.
  6. Cluttering pages with too much information. On home pages and landing pages, user attention is 8 to 12 seconds and reading speed is about 3 words per seconds.  This corresponds to a total of about 25 to 35 words.  The useful field of view is about 5-7 cm, leaving a space of about 4 to 5 groupings on a web page.   When reading a list, users abandon after 5 to 7 items unless the lists are organized in alphabetical or numerical order. 
  7. No back button. Users expect to be able to use the browser’s back button.  There are so many websites that do not permit the use of a back button.  Often, IT (Information Technology) people bring security issues as a reason for the lack of a back button, but the fact is that its incorporation requires them to do more work.  Who should do the work, your millions of users or the programmers?
  8. No concise writing.  On the web, users are not fully attentive and tend to scan a page.  This means that the comprehension capability of a user with a college degree will be equivalent to that of a user with a fifth grade education.  The writing must be simple, short and right to the point.  To achieve this goal, designers must reduce the quantity of text by 50% in the first review and reduce it again by 50% in the second review.  The text must be tested many times for clarity.
  9. Pop-ups. They are annoying, disruptive and do not provide browser navigation capability.  In addition, they cannot easily be printed and are often blocked by pop-up blockers.
  10. Small font size. This is the most commonly violated rule.  All sites should provide readable fonts.  With a contrast of 100%, the font size must be equal to 1/200th the distance of reading.  On a computer screen, this means a size of about 3.2 mm.  For a standard font such as Arial or Verdana, it is about 11 points.


7 thoughts on “The 10 most common design mistakes on the Web

  1. I would add an eleventh one, which in my perspective would be number one : not taking into account the need to build a spiderable, indexable and search engine friendly web site. Or else you could end up with a very well designed piece of the invisible web.

  2. I agree with you that is number one. I would say it is fundamental.
    There factors that affect search engine friendly site that affect the design and should be taken into account up front

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  3. I was excited to discover this page. I want to
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  4. Thanks for your information and I can tell you, you are right the people are different on the web that’s why I make special case of my website. I work on it and adapt to the demand. My french website Dollarannonce a classified advertisement is up to date for mobile and much more. There is no secret to success. It is work.

    Daniel Saraazin

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