UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 971 March 6, 2013

The Five Worst UX Mistakes Websites Make

The user experience of websites has improved by leaps and bounds over the years, but I still run into sites that make me ask, “What were they thinking?!”

From a design perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in internal squabbles (“No, no, THIS is the content that has to be front and center”) or distracted by tools or methods (“I say we use lean UX on this project”). When this happens, we often forget that at the end of it all waits a person who wasn’t in on all these decisions, and just wants to get the information they need, buy the product, or be entertained for five minutes while waiting for the train.

In the hopes it will help us all avoid these pitfalls, here’s my list of the five worst UX mistakes that I still see people making in website design.

Mistake #1: Paying too much Attention to the Macro and Short-Shrifting the Micro

The large design decisions that you make—things like the main information architecture of your website or the overall layout grid of your pages—are, of course, important. But it’s the small interactions that often botch the entire experience.

Recently, I reviewed a non-profit agency website. It had great navigation, great content, and a great layout, but click on the Donate button and there were frustrating controls that didn’t work intuitively, and a screen that refreshed with every action.

When organizations are tight on UX staff they sometime have the UX people do the high level design and then leave the “lower level” interactions to people who are less experienced, or just don’t have time to take care of the UX details: often a costly mistake.

People expect technology to follow the same rules as human-to-human interaction. Think about it, how do you decide whether someone is truly kind, or if he or she cares about you and is acting in your best interests? It’s not the clothes they wear or whether they have the right accent. It’s the little things they do for you, and whether they come through for you in a pinch. The same is true of websites. We decide whether a website is usable and useful when we are trying to complete those micro-interactions.

Mistake #2:- Putting too much Time into Designing your Home Page

I’m as guilty as anyone of this. You put a lot of time and energy into designing and redesigning the home page of your website (versus all your other pages). But it’s possible, even likely, that few people are even seeing your home page. Your marketing and social media campaigns likely send your visitors to other landing pages.

Of course you want a well-designed home page, but don’t sacrifice the user experience of other important inside pages by pouring so much time and energy into the home page. Use your analytics to see where people are really entering your site and then make sure those pages are the best they can be.

Mistake #3: Relying too much on Text

What is the main way you communicate with visitors to your website? What percentage of your content is text versus imagery, audio, or video? There’s nothing wrong with having text on your website, except of course that people likely aren’t reading it.

Unless you have a site with the singular purpose of providing text documents, think about providing content in another format. Research on the human brain shows that when people are listening to someone speak, their brain activity syncs up with the speaker. The more the listener’s brain is in sync with the speaker’s, the more thoroughly the listener will comprehend the content.

Where it makes sense, use audio and/or video instead of just relying on text. (See my blog post on why video is so persuasive).

Mistake #4: Designing for the Wrong Generation

When I give talks, I often ask how many of the people in the audience are over 55, how many are between 30 and 55, and how many are under 30? Most of the people in the audience are in the middle range, between 30 and 55. That’s Generation X. Baby Boomers (those over 55) are a huge demographic, and the Millenials (those under 30) are an even larger demographic.

This indicates that most of the design for the two largest demographics is being done by the smallest one. Does that matter? Yes it does. Research shows that there are generational differences in the expectations and mental models that people have about technology. The technology that is dominant when you are between the ages of eight and 10 forever changes the way you think about technology. So if you design a website with content, features, and interactions that you think work well, it’s likely that it won’t be so great for people who are in another generational group.

For example, Baby Boomers expect technology to help them get stuff done. They don’t demand a multi-channel experience, and they make a distinction between different channels: TV is one channel and “the Internet” is another.

Generation Xers expect some technology to help them get stuff done and other technology to be fun to play with. Gen Xers think that it’s important to be able to customize and personalize an interface and an interaction, an idea that is not that important to other generations.

Millennials don’t even think about the term “technology.” Everything is technology. They think in terms of what they are doing, not what the technology is doing. Boomers will say, “Go look that up on the Internet.” Millennials would just say, “Go look it up.”

People who are even younger won’t think of a desktop or laptop as a primary technology. They think of smart phones and tablets. Since you are in one generation, you can’t ever really understand how another generation thinks: that’s why you have to test.

Mistake #5: Ignoring Multi-Screen Behavior

We know that the incidences of mobile and multi-screen use are increasing rapidly. People are accessing websites on smartphones and tablets. They are starting on their smartphones and then switching to tablets. They are viewing something on their laptop while also looking at something else on their smartphone. They are on a train, or walking, or talking to someone else while looking at websites.

Yet when we design we still tend to imagine one person sitting in front of a large desktop all alone in a quiet space. Unless you are sure that your target audience is visiting your website that way most of the time, you need to think about a multi-screen, active experience.

This is challenging. Most of our design tools haven’t caught up with this idea yet. Sure, it’s possible to code for a multi-screen experience, and everyone talks about responsive design, but what if you are a designer and not a programmer? Can you easily prototype a multi-screen or responsive experience? What if you are a site owner creating your own website with WordPress? How easy is it to design a multi-screen and/or mobile-first website on your own? And what about user testing for a multi-screen experience? Do you have that covered?

Hopefully these things will get easier, but in the meantime we’ll have to think of our own workarounds to be sure that we aren’t stuck in the “one person, one desktop” mindset.

Conclusion

It was hard to narrow the litany of “worst mistakes” down to five. What do you think? Are these the five you would have chosen? What are the missteps you come across that leave you asking, “What were they thinking?!”

 

Image of frustrated man courtesy Shutterstock.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

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Dr. Susan Weinschenk has been applying psychology to the design of technology for 30 years. She has a Ph.D. in Psychology and is the author of How to Get People To Do Stuff, 100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People, 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People, and Neuro Web Design: What makes them click. She is a presenter, speaker, and consulting, writes a popular blog at her website, and also writes the Brain Wise blog at Psychology Today.

 

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Comments

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87

I recently applied for a UX role at a global company. When I went to their website to do a heuistic evaluation, I watched a video that I thought would explain what the company did. I was dismayed by the content of the video. I watched a series of stock images of smiling workers with a voice-over that produced a stream of keywords attached together with such gobbledy-gook that the video could have been used for selling computers or vacation rentals. After 5 minutes of this, the video concluded and I still had no idea what the company did. The point is just because a company adds video doesn't mean it's great content.

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Given the comments about how much people engage with video, how would you explain the situation where we create lots of videos and no one views them?

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Thanks Susan, and good answers- here are some more that we consistently find at our agency, NavigationArts:
http://blog.navigationarts.com/evergreen-ux-issues/

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The biggest problem is that people who work in tech companies quickly lose contact with reality. And yes, I mean UX people, too. They create a multitude of complex rules and behavior theories to study 'users' because they honestly don't understand these aliens who don't live and breath technology.

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Great read! Especially the bit about too much text - "Research on the human brain shows that when people are listening to someone speak, their brain activity syncs up with the speaker." http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/07/13/1008662107.abstract .... So, embedded vids are important. I guess we designers need to carefully balance delivering messages through both videos and text.

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I like this list but I have to say I think your missing the mark on what a Users Experience is, and how we can design for it. Part of that design is Interaction, but thats just part. I see no mention on this list to User Testing and checking the validity of hypothesis through interviewing and testing users/customers. In my past 15 years working on the internet of things, I see this as being the #1 fail. I can assume an interaction works but until it is tested, it is still my opinion.

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I think point #1 makes the article. I read the headline and thought "Oh no, another opinion piece on what someone considers to be the worst UX mistakes" - Almost didn't read it, but glad I did.

I think a whole article could be written about point 1 though. UX consultants are often engaged at the beginning of projects and are frequently forgotten when it comes to design/ development. So, I agree that some of the most important micro-interactions get decided haphazardly by developers at the last minute.

Would love to read an article that articulates ideas for striking the right balance between the macro & the micro interaction design.

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I would also add:

#6. Map Content to Match the "Call to Action".
Most websites have a plethora of information, from company history to news to products to photos, and so forth, yet don't do enough to optimize content placement to match preferred crowd navigation patterns. If you track your user navigation closely and study your users' navigation tendencies, you'll see the content order among which users most commonly navigate before acting on your desired "call to action". Your website should be responsive to the preferred order of navigation leading to the call to action; this means that you must make it easy for users to flow through the specific content that facilitates their decision to engage in the desired action. For example, if the "Donate To Starving Monkeys" site metrics show that immediately before donating money, users always watch a video about hungry monkeys and then read the "Company History" page; consistent with this observation, you should make sure the video navigation and "Company History" content are closely laid out and accessible next to the donation button. The problem is that most site owners don't revisit their site after launch, when the navigation analytics start coming in - they just look at gross traffic and page traffic. Sites need to review user navigation patterns periodically to remap their content accordingly for the desired "call to action" optimization.

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I find it disconcerting that half of the comments regard grammatical errors in an otherwise interesting article. Lilly, do you seriously mean to imply that you will not share an article with interesting and valid points about designing websites because there are a few mishaps in the capitalization of headings? I find it hard to understand that assessment. It must be a great barrier to obtaining new knowledge. When I decided to spend time reading the comments I was hoping for fellow UX'ers sharing experiences with typical website shortcomings, not pedantic comments about grammar.

Here's my contribution: As goes for relying to heavily on text, I completely agree, but would add that people actually DO often have important things to say, in text, which people need to read. Combining text and pictures is a good way to keep people reading. This is also why it makes good sense to spread the use of pictures across the entire article/blog, especially when dealing with longer texts. Much like the length of the article on this site could often use more pictures.

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Well, I believe indulging into excess creativity is the only reason why we make UX worse for our target audience and, quite opposite to it, simplicity is your best answer. For some, not being creative is a bit difficult but the moment you feel you’re stressing too much on a single aspect, you know you are loosing it! Sometimes its good to be simple and simple is what is best if you don’t know what you want. Moreover, over dependency on images and flash is also a curse!

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Regarding the title capitalisation. Title case is obsolete. Don't use it because it reduces clarity. Imagine a restaurant called The Kitchen. Using title case it is not be apparent it is a proper noun. The only place title case looks good is with handscript or some decorative typefaces. In other words, old-fashioned applications. Otherwise it serves no purpose except to troll grammarians.

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Another key factor that is often overlooked is context. This becomes especially important as the role of the desktop computing environment is used less and less for many internet activities, especially those involving search for real-time events, restaurants, etc. The context of how the user interacts with an interface can have a huge impact on whether the UX succeeds or fails. The most important question to keep in mind is this: "What does the user need to do right now." The "right now" means where, why and leads to the question of how, a crucial factor in task mapping.

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Lilly, it appears the only thing not capitalized properly is "too much." Adverbs should always be capitalized in titles. Perhaps they used the dreaded "five-letter rule" and just applied it flatly. *shudders*

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Here's another mistake: Color differences/contrast. Take this article for example. My color vision is good but not perfect and I have a really hard time making out what is a link and what is not. When mouse hovering a link though, the text gets a dark red color on black background, which is really bad. The screen itself has a huge impact too. On any old screen, you wouldn't have to be color blind to struggle with these links. :)

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Thanks Susan for the helpful list. I wish we would get over carousel-ing on home pages, videos that start without asking (e.g., weather.com), and the trend to use barely visible text colors against backgrounds. Also amazed how many sites over-rely on Flash that will not work on the iPad. I am sure others will have more to add to your list, so thanks for getting us started!

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Speaking of micro details, what on earth is up with the capitalization of the subheadings? The use of caps is terribly inconsistent. Good list otherwise, but that's what I noticed most along with some of the grammatical errors. Definitely rules out sharing this with my team.

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@ "lilly" - Criticizing capitalization, while using an all-lowercase username? Nailed it.