How many websites have you visited in the last year alone? Given your evident interest in the field of web design, I imagine the number is somewhere north of 10,000 — possibly much higher, depending on how rampantly you consume digital content. And in that sea of sites, there will have been a fair number of clunkers.
Yes, even though the web is well out of its adolescence and into adulthood by now, there are still plenty of questionably-designed websites still around. These sites offer up features and layouts that make users cringe, sending them racing away to greener pastures, so it’s of paramount importance that you make sure your site isn’t one of them.
To help you audit your site and polish it to an inviting mirror shine, let’s take a look at some of the obvious web design mistakes that pollute the internet, and the keys to avoiding them:
Every website — every page — exists for a reason, and that reason is almost always to drive some kind of action. A product page pushes people to buy, a contact page pushes people to get in touch, and a donation page pushes people to donate. Think about it this way: a page you put on the internet gives some kind of value to the user, and the action it drives returns that value.
The problem with some careless web designers is that they make their pages slick and convincing but forget to ask for anything. It’s like giving someone a spectacular sales pitch for a mystery product but going quiet and walking away when they excitedly ask how they can buy it.
Avoiding this pitfall is very simple: ask for what you want. Want someone to sign up to your newsletter? Pay for your service? Fill in a survey? Don’t try to vaguely allude to it. Instead, provide a clear and unmissable CTA. Problem solved.
Mobile traffic has become the dominant form of internet browsing, yet there are still sites out there that are poorly optimized for mobile screens. Technically functioning on a smartphone isn’t enough — it isn’t close to being enough. When someone on a modern phone arrives at a site built for desktop screens, they’re likely to laugh, or cry, or do both.
Avoiding this mistake is also easy: use a standardized website builder, or choose a responsive page template, then check your website on various platforms to confirm that it looks alright no matter how or where you view it. If it doesn’t, make the necessary changes and test again.
This is something I find particularly irritating. When I’ve visited a specific site, it’s because I want to see what’s on that site. I don’t mind being pointed elsewhere (because citation is handy, and the internet is full of useful things), but I despise it when I click on a link only to find it opening in a new window. Why? Because I can’t just use the back button to return. I have to actually close the new window.
To avoid this, default your links to opening in the same tab. Follow this process. You can’t ultimately force it, because the user might have specifically selected to open links in new windows, but it’s fine in that scenario because they chose it.
You arrive at a site, and the content hooks you. You like the layout, and the navigation, and the copy, and the imagery. If it’s an ecommerce site, you like the products and the prices. You’re almost sold on whatever’s on offer — not quite enough to click the main CTA, but enough to want to know more. So you decide to investigate directly… but where are the contact details?
You’d take a phone number, but you can’t find one. An email address would suffice, but it’s similarly absent. In fact, you can’t find a damn thing that would get you in touch with the people behind the site. Maybe there’s a generic contact form, but it barely looks functional, plus you’d like to be fairly specific with your query.
If they can’t find contact information, can someone truly be sure that they’re dealing with real people? What if the whole website is a sham? It might seem like paranoia, but it doesn’t take that much effort for fraudsters to whip up fake business sites. You might not like the idea of being contacted over the phone, but it really matters for establishing trust, so find a prominent spot to place various contact options.
Keeping it simple tends to be the best approach for web design, and it’s clearly the case for fonts, because a website that barrages your eyeballs with fonts is truly an affront to good taste. Far from keeping things fresh, it makes copy harder to read, and results in a deeply confusing aesthetic.
As with everything else we’ve looked at, the answer isn’t remotely challenging: it’s simply picking a maximum of two fonts to use for your website copy. You can use styles as you prefer, placing parts in bold or italics, but stick with one or two fonts (three at a stretch) and you’ll avoid the cringe-inducing power of turbulent typography.
There are plenty more obvious web design mistakes you can make, but if we tried to go through them all, we’d be here for years. These ones are particularly egregious, as I see it, so deal with them first — then give your website a top-to-bottom audit from the perspective of a user. If you see something confusing, strange, or outright infuriating, then you’d better get back to the drawing board.