Bad Design8 Common Mistakes
What not to do:

  • Backgrounds
    Busy, distracting backgrounds that make the text hard to read
  • Text
    Text that is too small
    Text crowding against the edges or images
    Text that stretches all the way across the page
    Paragraphs of type in all caps, bold, and/or italics
    Underlined text that is not a link
  • Graphics
    Large graphics that take forever to load
    Meaningless or useless graphics
    Missing graphics
  • Blinking and Animations
    Anything that blinks, especially text
    Multiple things that blink
    Rainbow lines, particularly ones that animate
    Under construction signs, especially of little men working
    Animations that never stop
  • Navigation
    Links that are not clear where they will take you
    Dead links
    Unclear navigation; overly complex navigation
    Frame scroll bars in the middle of a page
    Orphan pages (no links back to where they came from)
  • General Design
    Counters on pages – who cares?
    Having to scroll sideways
    Important home page content that is not visible without scrolling down
    No focal point on the page; too many focal points on the page
    Cluttered, not enough alignment
    Lack of contrast (in color, text, to create a hierarchy of information)
    Pages that look okay in one browser but not in another

8 Common Mistakes

Adapted from the 2004 Vincent Flanders “Web Designs That Suck.” Click here to go to his web site and view the entire report.

Believing people care about your company.

The only reason your web site exists is to solve your customers’ problems. Nobody cares about your business. What visitors care about is getting their problems solved. Most people visit a web site to solve one or more of the following three problems.
• They want/need information
• They want/need to make a purchase/donation
• They want/need to be entertained

This is one of the most important issues in home page design. Users typically allocate only a few seconds to scan each of the sites that a search engine drags up. Don’t hide your offerings in generic marketeese that makes very little impression on prospective customers.

A man from Mars can't figure out what your web site is about in less than 4 seconds.

You should be able to look at the home page of any site and figure out what the site is about within four seconds. If you can’t, the site has failed.

People who make Mistake #1 often end up making Mistake #2. Non-profit organizations are the worst offenders when it comes to names and taglines. Here’s a typical non-profit organization’s name and tagline:

Big Hands of Hope—It’s all about compassion
Nothing in the name or tagline tells you this organization helps African children. What is this site about? Who knows? Who is going to care enough to stay around and find out?

Here’s an over-the-top example of a name and tagline that’s better:
Save the African Children—We keep them from dying a horrible death

Yes, the tagline has to be toned down, but at least you understand the mission of the organization.

Navigational failure.

Navigation must be simple and consistent. All web navigation must answer:
• Where am I?
• Where have I been?
• Where can I go next?
• Where’s the home page?

Additionally, you should make it easy to access anything recently featured on your home page. Users remember when they’ve seen something interesting on a home page. However, unless that home page lists recent features and offers links to them, users will never be able to find it again.

Using Mystery-Meat Navigation.

While there are 10 million ways to screw up your navigation, the best way is to use Mystery Meat Navigation (MMN).

Mystery Meat Navigation occurs when, in order to find specific pages in a site, the user must mouse over unmarked navigational “buttons”— graphics that are usually blank or don’t describe their function. Only then does the button reveal what the real purpose is and where it leads. It’s horrible because you can’t just look at the links and know where they will take you.

There are certain sites that are allowed to use MMN: music, band, movie, art, experimental, fashion — sites where making an impression or being cool is mandatory — sites that are so popular with a specific group that their audience automatically commits the icons to memory.

The problem with MMN is it influences designers and companies who aren’t smart enough to realize they’re not in the music, art, movie, or fashion business.

Another good tip is to begin link names with the most important keyword. Links are the “action items” on a home page, and when you start each link with a relevant word, you make it easier for scanning eyes to find what they are looking for. A common violation of this guideline is to start all links with the company name, which adds little value and impairs the user’s ability to quickly find what they need.

Site Lacks Caffeine Content.

So, you get someone to visit your site…great! But how do you get them to come back again and again. Caffeine content’s characteristics vary by type of site — but you’ll know it when you see it! One global characteristic is frequently updated content. The best way to get people to come back to your site again and again is by having content they need, and then updating this content on a regular basis. Remember, it’s what your audience wants that counts.

Here are some thoughts about web content:
a. Does your content match your audience’s expectations?
b. Have you determined the purpose of your site?
c. Do you know your target audience?
d. Is the content technically correct?
e. Does your customer need to know the content you’re presenting?
f. Is the content current and updated frequently?
g. Can people find the content they’re looking for?
h. Ask yourself: “What content do I have that would cause anybody in their right mind to visit my site a second, third, or fourth time?” This is extremely important. You might seduce someone to visit your site once, but why would they want to come back again.

Forgetting the purpose of text.

After years, you’d think web designers would understand how to use text, but they don’t. Here are some helpful hints.

Text is text. Don’t use graphics or Flash for text. The first reason is it increases the size of the page; the second reason is it isn’t search engine friendly; the third reason is mistakes are hard to correct.

Gimme contrast. Web designers have fallen in love with creating text that doesn’t contrast with the background.

Don’t use small text. Designers are also fond of using small text (especially on Flash sites). Hey, we’re all getting older and, “If people can’t see it, they will flee it.”

Misusing Flash.

Flash is just a tool that can be used for good or evil. It all comes down to how it’s used and who is using it. Unfortunately, there’s a tendency to misuse Flash.

There’s nothing like having to watch a boring, 20-second flash intro with no option to skip it. If you’re still around when the content loads, the pain doesn’t stop. There is a lovely 8 or 10 second delay between when you click one of the navigation options and when the content actually arrives.

Here are some interesting Flash mistakes that are worthy of comment.

• Forgetting to put a “Skip Intro” button, forcing visitors to see your Flash Splash page.

• Putting a “Skip Intro” button on the page.

No, I’m not trying to have it both ways.

A “Skip Intro” button signifies that the content on the page is worthless. Good web designers not only no longer use Splash pages, but they only have valuable content on a page. By giving visitors the option to skip this material, you’re saying it’s not worth seeing. If it isn’t worth seeing, why do you have it on your site in the first place?

If you must have a “Skip Intro” button, make it big enough so people can see it and have it available as soon as the animation starts. Don’t wait 10 seconds to load the button.

It’s worth mentioning that you often find Flash with Mystery Meat Navigation — taking one bad technique and making it four times worse.

Making people listen to music.

If you have music on your page, give people the option to turn it off. Most web surfing happens between 8am and 5pm. These folks are at work and generally don’t want music blasting from their computer speakers.

And if people turn the off the music on one page, it means they don’t want to hear it on any other page. There are dozens of sites where the programmer hasn’t figured out how to make the music stop on all pages.

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