7 of the Most Common Web Design Mistakes You Must Avoid

by Tom Kenny (@tkenny)

As a web designer, it is difficult for me to use the web without analysing almost every page I see. Web design is my passion so I can’t avoid it. It’s one of the best ways to learn what has been done well so when I see poor use of design on the web and think about the average user, it annoys me to notice that some aspects of websites, or even complete sites, are poorly designed.


Here are seven of the most common mistakes made in web design and why you need to avoid them at all costs in order to make sure you are on the right track to producing the best work you possibly can.

1. Unnecessary Use of Flash

First of all, Flash is great when used well. For example, the current state and popularity of online video streaming with sites like YouTube wouldn’t exist in the way it does without it.

The problem is that beyond this the disadvantages of using Flash far far outweighs the benefits in almost all cases. Being a browser plugin, it has a reputation of slowing down computers by using excessive CPU. Flash 10.1 however will support GPU usage to take the strain off the CPU. Which is nice.

Sometimes you’ll see Flash being used for navigation when it just isn’t necessary at all. Remember, by doing this you are making it less accessible to use. Avoid this like the plague as there are many great options using js libraries such as jQuery.

Jacob Nielsen’s article from way back in 2000, titled Flash: 99% Bad, still has many relevant points as to why Flash is unnecessary most of the time, especially the section titled ‘Breaks Web Fundamentals‘.

2. Poor Search Results

When using the search function of a website it is safe to assume that someone is actually looking for something and if it exists, poor search results may well prevent them from finding what they want.

One way of improving this is to make use of the power of the most popular search engine with the use of Google’s Custom Search Engine. With this solution, your results will be formatted in the same familiar way that they are on Google’s own pages so users will know what to expect.

3. Bad Images

There are two types of poor images when it comes to web design. The first is using images which are uninteresting or irrelevant especially with the internet being such a visual medium. Good images can convey so much meaning and get a message across very effectively. As the well known phrase goes, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ which is especially true when it comes to web design.

The second is quality of images which relates to heavy compression, blurry images, resized images and images that are stretched or squashed altering their aspect ratio. Any of the above is unacceptable in this day and age.

4. Irrelevant URL Structure

It is common for content management systems by default to use a dynamic URL usually consisting of seemingly random characters and numbers such as www.exampleurl.com/?p=52 Do you have a clue what the content of that page is? Certainly not from the URL and neither will search engines. Even if a potential visitor does see this in a result on a search engine then they’ll be less likely to follow through due it’s cryptic appearance.

Beyond that is the use of short URLs commonly seen on Twitter. Popular Twitter clients such as Tweetie are able to show the actual URL before sending you off there. When people use that option, it is generally to see what the URL is that they will be taken to and by containing a description of the page in the URL, it is possible to have a good idea of where their click is taking them.


5. Lack of a Clear Message

By not having a clear message on your site or a site you’ve designed, you run the risk of confusing any potential new customers or visitors. The longer they take trying to work out what it is the site is actually for, the more chance they will leave and try and find what they are looking for elsewhere.

A simple way of helping resolve this is to have a simple tagline, no more that 8-10 words long, located in the header. That way if someone lands on a page that isn’t the homepage, they can see the message and be clear of what the site is about without heading to the homepage or the about page.

6. Not Understanding What the Client Needs

The most important thing to get right before you get started is to make sure that you understand your client and what service or product they offer. This doesn’t only apply to freelancers or web designers who work in a design agency where they deal with multiple different clients but also those who work in-house. Think of your employers as your client as they, much like a traditional client, pay your for your service.

Making sure you have an understanding of what the client needs will reduce frustrations further down the road. Most of the time there will be changes out of your control that can’t be avoided but by getting your head around what is required early on will reduce any confusion as much as you possibly can.

7. Ignoring Important Browsers

The average web user doesn’t know that there are differences in the way that browsers render pages, they only see the internet as one. If they come across a site that is broken in their browser then they aren’t going to know to switch to another browser to see if it works there, they’ll just move on to another site. Most users don’t even know what a browser is anyway.

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by Tom Kenny

I’m a freelance web designer and front-end developer with 9 years of experience designing for the web. Follow me on Twitter here.