Design Usability – 10 Common Mistakes

Design Usability – 10 Common Mistakes

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This article has been contributed by Jessica Velasco.

The internet is filled with how-to articles and tips for success. Rarely do we find people who boast about the mistakes they’ve made!

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However, when we do come across one of these self-flagellation articles, there is a powerful lesson to be learned. We all make mistakes on occasion. And learning from those mistakes is vital for long-term success.

Design Usability

But it is even better when we can learn from the mistakes other people make!

It doesn’t matter if you are an amateur or a design veteran, if you are a freelancer or a member of a massive corporation – don’t commit these ten usability mistakes.

1. A Lack of Consistency

There is a time for showcasing creativity, and there is a time for keeping it simple. When it comes to designing different pages for the same site, it is best to keep it simple.

Visitors expect to see the same colors, logos, fonts, navigation tabs, et cetera in the same place on every page. Don’t make visitors wonder what site they are on by confusing them with inconsistent page design. This is frustrating for the user and looks unprofessional for the company.

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This very site is a great example of consistency. The color scheme, shapes and fonts flow seamlessly from one page to another. Plus, Jacob uses a self-portrait to infuse even more continuity.

Consistent Design

2. No Way to Search the Site

Google is so popular because it helps people find the information they want quickly and easily. Designers should follow Google’s lead and make sure information on the site they are designing is easy to find.

One good way to do this is to include a search box on the site. Google Custom Search (GCS), as used on Just Creative, is easy to include and greatly enhances the user’s experience as they sort through content. There are free and paid versions available of GCS.

Google Custom Search

3. Experimental Navigation

When it comes to helping visitors navigate a site, a straightforward approach is best. The aforementioned search box helps with navigation, as does having clear and logical navigation tabs.

Using breadcrumb navigation (so visitors can see where they are and how they got there) can be helpful for certain types of websites.

Breadcrumb Navigation

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Here is an example of breadcrumb navigation. As you search through Amazon, you can easily see where you are and how you got there. This page would list the non-fiction eBooks about cats. A hyperlink on the company’s logo that takes the user back to the homepage can also serve as an “emergency exit” for users to get back to the homepage without leaving the site.

4. Outdated Content

More is not necessarily better when it comes to website content. Weeding out outdated content should be part of regular website maintenance. Old content can either be updated and made relevant for users or redirected to more applicable content.

Leaving outdated content as it is turns visitors off to the site and makes them less likely to return. For example, if the last blog post went up three years ago, visitors are likely to think that the website has been abandoned and will not return.

Like content, links need to be monitored as part of regular website maintenance. Dead links are unprofessional and annoy users. Remove them promptly and replace them with working links to keep users happy and engaged. You can use Google Webmaster Tools to find deadlinks.

6. Unconventional Content Organization

Keep the site organized. Have the most important information greet visitors when they first arrive. Make other important information easy to find by putting it in a logical, practical place.

Keep in mind the different types of visitors a site is likely to receive and organize information to meet different needs. For example, the website for a college should contain tabs to redirect different visitors (prospective students, current students, alumni, and faculty) to pages with more specific, relevant information.

Stonehill College has great content organization. They offer multiple routes to retrieve the same information. For example, information about admissions is available from a homepage link. It would also be available via the “resources for prospective students’ option from the dropdown list.

Content Organization

7. Poor Legibility and Readability

Visitors are on the website to find information. In addition to making the information easy to find, make sure it is easy to read.

  • Use simple, easy-to-read color schemes. While you are free to use whatever colors you want for the primary design, remember the wrong color combination can make reading difficult. For the bulk of your site’s content, try to use black text on a white background.
  • Don’t be too experimental with fonts. San Serif fonts are best for the site’s content. If you must use Serif fonts, limit yourself to things like headings and small, insignificant blocks of text. Also, limit the variance in size and typeface. Three is the magic number… no more than three different fonts and no more than three different font sizes.
  • Keep paragraphs short (about four sentences each). The more white space, the better.

8. Music

Music on a webpage can be distracting at best, irritating at worst. Include a music player only if the music is relevant to the site’s content. For example, the website for a band may benefit by playing their music for visitors.

If a music player is used, be sure to have a stop button and keep the loop continuous. Visitors do not want to hear the same song start over each time they go to a new page.

Fans can enjoy Leeland’s music on their website but on their own terms. The tunes won’t assault you as soon as the page loads. Instead, visitors can launch the music player or hit play on one of their videos.


9. Neglecting Mobile Users

This tip might seem outdated but we are all aware of the popularity of mobile devices. However, an alarming number of designers still fail to take these users into consideration.

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Web designers must be mindful of this audience. Either design pages that are easy to use and read on a small screen or create a separate mobile site.

When opting for the latter alternative, be sure that the mobile site is consistent with the main page and that mobile users have the option to access the non-mobile version of the website.

10. Forgetting the Contact Page

We’ve saved the best for last; or at the very least, the most important. This tip goes above and beyond simple usability. The other mistakes might be annoying, but this could actually affect the company’s profits.

Providing adequate contact information is essential. It is the first step towards customer loyalty and the necessary link between disgruntled customers and a problem-solving customer service representative.

The vast majority of credit card chargebacks occur because of faulty customer service. As a designer, you probably don’t know much about these financial setbacks, but your client does (if you want to know more, check this article about credit card chargebacks).

Your clients expect you to deliver a top-notch, effective site. And if your design actually increases the likelihood of a credit card chargeback, they won’t be happy. Since the majority of chargebacks are filed simply because the user can’t find the necessary contact information, it is essential you provide everything a user could possibly want. That might include:

  • A generic email address (like [email protected])
  • Specific email addresses that connect the user with the exact person or department they want
  • A contact form
  • The physical address
  • A fax number
  • A telephone number (although direct lines or extensions to applicable departments would be better)
  • GPS coordinates
  • A map
  • Links to the company’s social networking sites
  • A live chat interface

The more detailed the contact page, the better.

Check out Moz‘s “Contact Us” page. They include a plethora of information; city-specific physical addresses, Google Maps, a contact form, and a live chat option.

Contact Us

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While some creativity may be appreciated, a simple site with straightforward functionality often provides a superior user experience and is most likely to please clients.

We all make mistakes. It is time to learn from our mistakes and those of other designers.

Jessica Velasco has made a lot of mistakes during her various business startups. She wants to help others avoid the same fate! She shares a lot of her thoughts, suggestions, and lessons learned at The Leadership Notebook.

18 thoughts on “Design Usability – 10 Common Mistakes”

  1. instead of simply removing dead links, a great tool to use is the wayback machine from; use it to backup links in your posts, so in case link rot occurs, you can always add the wayback link in the dead links place, thus preserving your post/content.

  2. Under 2nd point “No Way to Search the Site”, it looks like the text is cut off from the last line “There are free and paid versions available a”. Is this sentence complete or were you trying to tell something more?

    Offering multiple routes to get the same information wouldn’t confuse readers? and is it even according to Search Engine guidelines? Wouldn’t it be considered as spamming?

    In my opinion and from what I have seen, sometimes offering multiple links leading to same page confuse readers as to which link to click to get their desired information.

    • Thanks for pointing out that text mix up. And for providing your thoughts on the links. Definitely something to consider.

    • Thanks for the heads up Preston, I had just put an extra letter by accident which i removed.

      I think multiple navigation points is very useful especially in larger sites where there are so many overlapping categories (think Zappos, Target, etc).

  3. Excellent guidelines. If you want to design a well-designed and moneymaking website, then you should pay attention to usability factors. Making usability mistakes when designing a website can drive visitors away from your website.

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