Web Design Tips: 7 Common Mistakes Designers Make

Despite everything designers know about the web (or claim to know), plenty of them are still making the same unfortunate design choices. As many designers, design firms and agencies are busy producing for their clients, they often don’t take the time to keep their own site (or sites) current and up to the latest industry practices and trends. Perhaps these designers are too afraid to “perform surgery on themselves,” so to speak, but this is a key requirement to getting a site recreated, reimagined and updated for the world to see. Not to mention that reinvention is how we all stay relevant in an ever-evolving industry.

Web Design Tips: 7 Major Web Design Blunders to Avoid

Here are seven top web design mistakes that designers make, how to avoid them and best practices to rethink your approach …

1. A Flash Intro We Can’t Skip

Give users the option to skip an Intro or Reel, whether it uses Flash or another plug-in.

Give users the option of skipping an Intro or Intro Reel, whether it uses Flash or another plug-in.

It’s 2014, people, and the whole “Flash Intro Thing” has come and gone. Even worse, if you don’t let me skip the intro, things are already off to a bad start. You’re preventing every user from seeing what she needs. You’re actually getting in the way. Imagine if movie theaters forced us to sit down in front of the previews, handcuffed to the seat before the main attraction. Why are you doing that with your site? I appreciate a fancy reel every now and then, but please give us the option of bypassing it. This will go a long way …

2. Your Entire Website Is In Flash

Your whole site is in Flash? With no HTML version? My head's going to explode.

Your entire site is in Flash? With no HTML version? My head’s going to explode.

As it turns out, time travel is possible: An all-flash site takes us right back to 2006. But to be completely serious, there’s a major impact on the number of visitors who can access your all-flash (no HTML version) website. Specifically, no one with a device running iOS will be able to view your site, which is killing your mobile reach. There are definitely places to use Flash, but play it smart and consider the audience. Users need to see your site if they don’t have (or can’t run) the plug-in.

3. Your Site Isn’t Mobile-friendly. At All.

When embarking on your site design, start with mobile, and scale up from there, making sure it operates on all of them. Added bonus: it also looks great on a 40-inch or larger television.

When embarking on your site design, start with mobile, and scale up from there, making sure it operates on all screen sizes. Added bonus: Your site also looks great on a 40-inch or larger television.

If you’re designing for the web, you have got to be thinking about content in terms of mobile. Consider taking a “mobile first” approach—if that’s helpful—during conception, planning, copywriting, design, review, testing … all the way to release and revisions. You. Just. Have. To.

The Pew Research Center reported that 56% of adults have smartphones, and one of the primary ways they use their phones is for shopping. In 2012, the Pew Research Center found that 17% of all cell phone owners do most of their browsing on their phones. If a potential client is shopping for creative services, and they get to your site, but it can’t load because of a plug-in, you’ve lost business. If your site doesn’t respond to or adapt to a smaller screen, you’re going to make users pinch and pull to enlarge text and imagery, and this is a bad first impression.

Need help? The Mozilla Developer Network has information on thinking mobile first and designing responsive sites. HOW has plenty of assets, too.

4. An Online Contact Form Without Confirmation of Receipt

web design tips

A simple contact form is a gateway that connects your visitors to you. Keep it simple. Make it user-friendly. If you want to qualify your contacts, you can ask them why they’re contacting you, be it for new business or more general reasons.

web design tips

Once users submit a form, give them some feedback, whether at your site, or via an email sent back to them.

Allow visitors to reach out and contact you, whether through an online form or email. A telephone number is nice too, but not always necessary. If it’s an online form visitors have to fill out, provide a receipt to give a visual reassurance that you received the message. This could be at the site, after we’ve submitted the form. Or, it could be a confirmation email. Either way, the user knows that he’s been heard and his query will be addressed.

5. No Contact Information

This is a big problem, and thankfully it’s rare, but websites exist that have neither an email nor a contact form. They simply have a link to Google Maps or Yelp. You’ve lost me already. Don’t make your visitor leave for another site to find your contact information. Sure, you may want click-throughs, but this isn’t the way to achieve that. If you do have contact information on your site (or when you add it), please make it easily accessible and easy to find. Try placing this information in the site’s footer, header—or both the footer and header.

6. No Way to Bookmark Individual Areas of the Website

Bookmarking tools have come a long way since the dot-com boom. Now that we have pervasive web browsers and histories, we’re able to access our favorites, bookmarks and past sites across every device we use. In many cases, bookmarking independent areas of your site will prove valuable. If a potential client sees work you’ve done that’s aligned with their needs, give them the ability to easily bookmark it on their device. Then, if they want to share that address with their co-workers, they should be able to send out a URL that’s “page specific,” such as yoursiteonlie.com/annual-report-client instead of yoursiteonline.com.

7. The Site Screams “Generic Website Theme”

This last one goes back to the introduction, where I mentioned designers’ resistance to “performing surgery on ourselves.” There’s a long list of reasons why you may not be able to create a uniquely designed website, either at your company’s founding or when its reached a maturation point. But if you have to use a template, or any number of content management systems (CMSs), customize things where you can. Do enough research and select a template that isn’t frequently used. If the CMS has some identifier, with that CMS name, or the CMS template designer’s name, look into removing it (but only if you’re able to). In some cases, you have to provide credit to the template or CMS. If that’s the case, you’ll need to make a decision: Include the credit, or find another system/template that doesn’t demand a visible credit on the site.

Avoiding Web Design Mistakes Over the Long-Term

The web design blunders above and more happen when we don’t think enough about our users. For good design to happen, it’s critical for designers and design firms to test their sites, collect feedback, keep the sites updated and don’t stay-up-to date with current technology trends and practices.

User expectations are changing. Staying on top of your web presence is as important as when you meet with a client—in many ways, your website is the new face of your business.

Take the time to conduct user-feedback sessions with some of your existing clients.

Put the word out about a user testing session in your local AIGA newsletter, UX group or user group, and consider paying the test subjects with lunch or a gift card (or both). The incentive will motivate users to truly engage and provide critical feedback. If you know nothing about use-testing, web design or user experience, hire someone to help you. It’s never fun to perform “surgery on yourself” if you don’t have the right tools at your disposal. Your website is the first brand encounter prospective clients and existing clients are likely to see, so take the time to invest in its quality.

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