John Siebert July 8th, 2014

Mandatory: 15 Web Design Mistakes To Avoid

Web design resembles a tough survival course for designers. A single wrong step can lead to disaster. As a designer, you will be designing sites for extremely picky and impatient website visitors who will scream blue murder if the website doesn’t meet their expectations. This state of affairs puts web designers under tremendous pressure as they have to deal with demanding clients and discerning target users. In such a pressure cook situation, there is every chance of designers making errors and in certain cases these errors go unidentified and end up on live websites. kodiak-85921_640 Sooner rather than later these design mistakes take the website down and the fact that this happens in spite of a designer’s best efforts is the real tragedy. The great challenge for web designers is to make sure they stay away from making these errors, the kind of errors that remain in the background and rear their ugly heads when website visitors actually start using the site. The attempt behind this article is to lift the cloak of “invisibility” from these errors. Let’s take a look at 15 of the biggest mistakes to be made:

#1 | Lack of Collaboration at The Conceptualization Stage

The usual designing template followed by designers involves understanding the client’s project brief, doing their own bit of research on the same, making constructive changes, fleshing out the brief and moving on to ideation. The process of collaboration is limited to the client and concerned designers. But there are other equally important stakeholders that should be an important part of this collaborative process; a case in point being the internet marketing team, developers and content writers.  A contemporary web design project doesn’t exist in a silo but needs to be shared with diverse stakeholders who at some point of time will contribute towards project execution. team-123085_640 Brainstorming sessions must include participation by diverse stakeholders to come up with a competitive design idea. This ensures everybody who’s going to work on the project is on the same page. If this doesn’t happen, structural problems will abound wherein the design doesn’t meet the objectives of the internet marketing team or the content isn’t in sync with the layout of your pages.

#2 | Inability to Identify Expectations of Your Target Users

Website meeting the precise needs of a client is a good thing, but not good enough. The real question is this – Has a website managed to satisfy the expectations of its target users? For this to happen, you need to conduct user research. This takes a considerable amount of time and is the reason why busy web designers choose not to put in the time and effort to understand their target users. darts-102919_640 And this is where they go wrong. If a client tells them my target users are teenagers, they do not try and go deep into the ‘teenager psyche’ to understand what makes them tick. They work out a concept based on what they think this teenage audience wants and not on knowing exactly what it expects from a site. In this case, the resultant design might very well be satisfying but not wholly satisfying. This can be the difference between success and failure.

#3 | Excessive Focus on Getting the Job Done Quickly

Plenty of freelance designers and web design companies run a web design assembly line. They accept most projects they are offered; while there is nothing wrong with accepting a project, the problem area here is the project deadline. Each project has one and going over the designated timeframe underlined for the project is not an option. So, the focus is on getting the job done quickly, putting a project through the assembly line, and getting it live as soon as possible. The focus shifts from doing the job quickly from doing a good job. football-83505_640 No prizes for guessing, this is a fertile ground for errors. It’s important, therefore, to give sufficient time to yourself for project completion. This investment in time will see you making far fewer errors.

#4 | Undue Focus on The Latest Trends

Clients are pleased as punch when you tell them their website design will subscribe to one of the more popular trends doing the rounds. While a website must look trendy, you shouldn’t use a particular trend just because it is the latest trend and is popular. There must be a reason for it. For e.g. a retro designing style looks good, but it needs to work in the context of a website and all that it is trying to convey. Otherwise it might not work. skiing-16258_640 There are plenty of sites out there who seem to have done everything right. They look in with the times, have just the right visual appeal and are functionally sound. But they have one thing in common – they’ve made a specific trend the centerpiece of their design and it is a mismatch with the brand messaging. Result – website doesn’t work.

#5 | Fundamentals Go for a Toss

Effective web design is all about doing the simple things right and then working upwards. Yes, doing something new is an absolute must but not at the cost of ignoring the fundamentals. Aspects like easy to use navigation, proper use of white space, and adhering to all web design practices need to be given their due. buildings-123780_640 Problems arise when in their attempts to up the ante on their creativity, web designers forget the fundamentals and adopt a top to bottom approach rather than working their way from the ground up. This throws open the doors for errors. Also, the fact that designers have decided to adopt a top down approach to design means the fundamental errors are hidden from view.

#6 | Going Overboard

There is design and then there is design overkill. The latter is what can take your design down. Remember, website users aren’t visiting your website for entertaining themselves; they’re doing it because they want information. If your site’s going overboard with its design, it will receive attention alright, but it won’t convert. silhouette-314360_640 The excessive creative spirit displayed on your site can interfere with the user takeaway. Their attention shifts from the website’s messaging to its design. Big mistake!

#7 | Content That Cannot Be Scanned

Good copy and effective web design walk hand in hand. If you want your website design to be successful, it needs to be backed up with some solid web copy. But here’s the thing. letters-117545_640 Even the most brilliantly written copy falls flat if it is difficult to scan. No website visitor likes to be presented with a wall of text. That just puts him/her off big time. On the other hand, if visitors are presented with content that includes bulleted lists, short paragraphs, sub headings and catch phrases, they’ll love going through the content because they won’t be overwhelmed by it. They know they can make sense of this content quickly and effectively. This leads to better conversions.

#8 | Page Load Speed Be Damned

I am sure you come across plenty of sites that take their own sweet time to load because they’re graphics heavy and use a collection of animations as a centerpiece of their design. While these designs look good, the fact that the website takes a long time to load is something that’s not appreciated by its target audience. This is not to say there is anything else that is wrong with these sites; once they load, their visual and functional brilliance shines through, but the load speed takes them down. snail-317741_640 Another fact to consider is that your website will be accessed by people with varying internet speeds. Your agenda as a website designer should be to ensure your site loads quickly on the desktops/smartphones/tablets of a vast majority of its target users. Otherwise it will fail.

#9 | Building Sites for Search Engines

Search engine bots crawl your site but its humans who browse it. The idea is to build your site for the latter rather than the former. Designers forget this one essential fact and end up crafting a site that may or may not be search engine friendly but it definitely isn’t human friendly. The problem here is designers try to fit the site into a SEO paradigm where the focus is on the links, keywords and anything and everything else they believe will help their site rank better. matrix-356024_640 The ideal way of ensuring site is appreciated both by the search engines and users alike is by ensuring it delivers the information it is supposed to, through rich UI and UX. Making sure the design keeps website visitors glued to the website and persuades them to go through it is a great way of garnering appreciation from Google.

#10 | Unclear Call to Action

Baked within your web design strategy must be a strategy that helps you design call to action buttons that convert. Inability to weave this strategy into your larger web design strategy  results in call to action buttons that do not make sense, which means you users, are confused what to do once they land on your site. megaphone-50092_640 Call to action buttons essentially tell your website visitors what step to take next, and they work together with website content to convert visitors. Your call to action buttons must be labeled correctly and must stand out from the crowd. This ensures users know perfectly well what happens when they click on a call to action button and what they are supposed to do.

#11 | Lack of Proper Positioning of Call-to-Action Buttons

This point is a continuation of the earlier point and is about the prominent placement of the buttons. If they are not positioned in areas where they can be seen easily, it will hamper website conversions. It is placement that draws the eyes of the visitors to the buttons. Think very carefully if your button needs to be placed above the fold or below the fold. the-road-281058_640 If you are using two or more buttons on a single page, you can think about placing some above and the remaining below the fold. It is of paramount importance that you use A/B testing to evaluate the efficacy of your call to action buttons. If you don’t, you will never be able to find out if your buttons are performing as per your expectations or not.

#12 | Lack of Relevant Images

Even if somebody close to the design project thinks the imagery of a website is not perfect, the opinion is often ignored by designers saying this opinion is subjective; they cite the old saying, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. The truth might be the images are actually not good and lack relevance. It is the lack of due diligence that leads to designers picking the wrong images. stairs-349952_640 The image you pick must be vetted for its quality, clarity, memorability, motivational value, usefulness, brand and user connect and engagement quotient. These characteristics together can be clubbed under relevance.

#13 | Lack of Emotional Engagement

Mixed Feelings – How to Cultivate Emotional Engagement in Web Design is a great read if you want to know how you can use your site to connect emotionally with its target audience. This is important because humans are emotional creatures and many of the decisions they take are emotional. Yes, they will research the product or services you are selling, compare prices, but when it comes to finally making a decision to buy or not to buy a product/service, their decision will be emotional. childhood-84554_1280 As a designer, you need to use emotional triggers in the form of emotive images, text, color, texture, animation to build a strong emotional relationship with your website visitors. In the absence of such emotional engagement, your website might not be able to survive the competition.

#14 | Lack of Social Media Experiences

People today are hooked onto social media so much so that they want the websites they browse to bring social media experiences to their visitors. So when they visit your site, they want to be able to connect with their friends on social media networks, share your content with them, do a bit of social commenting and even invite their friends to your networks. This essentially is a win-win situation for both your site and its users. woman-241328_640 By making your site social media friendly, you are improving its engagement quotient and your users are given an interactive experience that helps them connect with their friends and followers when they are on your site. On the other hand, if your design lacks certain social design elements, it will fail to make a mark because your visitors are expecting a socialized web property.

#15 | Trying Too Hard

As a designer, you need to work really hard to create a fantastic website that delivers high ROI for your clients. But, the website shouldn’t come out looking like it is trying too hard to make an impression. In such cases while you might think your website is visually appealing, your users might actually find the visuals distracting. grandstand-330930_640 The idea is to aim for an understated elegance that balances both form and function. In many cases, form should follow function. One reason why flat and minimalist web designs have become so popular is because they ensure the website is stripped down to only those design elements that are needed to get its message across.

The Wrap

These mistakes very often cannot be easily identified and it requires more than just sharp eyes to pick them. What you must do to ensure you don’t end up making these mistakes is approach designing from a different perspective, which is user driven and considers the user before thinking about the website’s ROI. (dpe)

John Siebert

John Siebert is the President and CEO of Tranquil Blue – a webdesign company from Tampa, FL that focuses on all kinds of website design, mobile app development and search engine marketing.


  1. This is such a great list that I want to share with a few of my clients. One thing that I see a lot is the lack of call to actions or unclear call to action. Another one that I could add is “Over Designing” or “just over doing it” So many people end up junking up their sites with QR codes, ugly social media buttons, or just adding every affiliation logo possible. Thanks for the share!

  2. I’ll add making a site responsive for the sake of being responsive. Responsive websites can be nice for a blog or something with a lot of text content, but they are not necessary for every website on the internet. Particularly for portfolio sites and the like. No one cares about looking at tiny photos on their phone.

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