Once you’ve learned the basic rules of web design, made plenty of mistakes and explored your craft for a while, you start to realise that breaking those original rules is acceptable – even desirable – sometimes.
However, it’s important to know when you’re breaking the rules and when you’re just making mistakes.
Some ‘mistakes’ are conventions we’ve accepted for so long, we no longer challenge them… so they find their way into our work again and again.
Here are some common mistakes we all make in our web and app designs (but need to keep a close eye on).
1. Making visual cues too subtle
If it’s not obvious where a user needs to go to complete their task, don’t make the cue too subtle – people are in a hurry!
Sure, it may have been a delight designing that little menu icon or positioning your content in a way that hints at the next bit of content, but will it truly help the user, or will they get frustrated trying to figure it out?
Your product shouldn’t be a puzzle. Make it clear for the user what their next action should be rather than hiding interactions behind gentle nudges that cause them to waste time.
2. Explaining the product’s inner workings
Last year, during a client meeting, we as a team got extremely excited about how we were going to build something and began explaining the tech to the client.
As it turns out, the client only wanted to know it was going to work. Once they knew we could deliver, they were happy.
Often the same goes for product users – they only want a product to do what it says on the tin. How the magic is happening will be interesting to some, but explanations shouldn’t hold up the user’s journey.
Explain the inner workings in blog posts, in FAQs, on social media – not when the user is trying to get something done.
3. Teaching with text
Have you bought anything from Ikea recently? Most of their furniture is easy enough to put together just by looking, but if you decide to use the instructions… it’s more pictures!
More often than not, text instructions should be left out if you’re trying to design a purposeful onboarding experience. People don’t want to read, they want to do, and the fastest way for them to learn how to use something if by trying it for themselves.
Again, you may want to make in-depth instructions available – but not during the experience. Keep your mid-product instructions as simple headings, icons and other visual cues.
4. Re-inventing proven solutions
Very often, a problem seems so specific to your current project that you set about solving it with some creative new method. But if you’re trying to reinvent something, you’re likely overthinking what the user wants.
You don’t need to take weeks designing a new map concept just to show a location on a website – huge companies like Google have worked on maps for many years and they’ve already eradicated all the ‘bad’ approaches.
Don’t be afraid to take external solutions and apply them to your work. Save your energy for bespoke components that apply to your product’s USP.
5. Building pure-logic hierarchies
It’s nice to organise designs in logical ways. Font sizes that change at a set-rate. Colours and opacities with the same differences from one to another. Margins and paddings that are the same multiples of the same numbers.
It’s a satisfying feeling to know everything on a screen adheres to your own system. Unfortunately, these hierarchies aren’t always obvious to users and often don’t convey information easily when they’re implemented.
One of the best ways to test your visual hierarchies is to ask users and members of your team how things look. Ask which elements they think are linked to others visually. Watch to see where do they look, and where they look after that. Is that the best way to enjoy the product?
6. Choosing readability over scan-ability
All text should be readable – otherwise there’s no point having it at all. But readers online behave very differently to readers offline.
Online readers will often be searching for specific information and will scan for what they want rather than read every detail. The fix for this is very much linked to point 5 – visual hierarchies are key.
Make the important information stand out so users can scan your content and find what they’re looking for quickly. If they have to dig for information, they’ll look elsewhere. It’s one of the easier mistakes to make because we designers have the importance of readability drilled into us from day one.
7. Hiding the user’s past
It’s very easy to get wrapped up in designing the current part of your product, but it’s important to remember how the user got there and the previous steps they made in this task. They’re also likely to be multi-tasking and could return to your product completely lost.
With multi-step screens, it’s important to show both the step a user is currently on and the step they just completed. Users should be able to navigate through your product by following the breadcrumbs if they make a wrong turn.
Don’t be afraid to ditch the design flair and use small text-based pointers high up in your page to give your users a sense of location within your product.
Identify design mistakes by sharing your work
Design mistakes are bound to slip through occasionally. If you’re often spotting problems in your own work, it could just mean that you need to share your work more often!
Sending your designs around for your team to review will help to expose minor design mistakes early on. If you need expert design advice, try joining a local social group for designers or a design coworking group for freelancers. Many professionals will be happy to lend a critical eye if you’ll do the same in return.
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