HTML disasters and web design horrors are still a common sight on the internet despite the fact that usability of most websites have improved dramatically as modern UI and UX thinking has begun to permeate throughout the web. That still doesn’t mean that everyone has got the memo though. Let us take a look at some of the absolute no-nos when it comes to website design, so you’ll know what to look out for (and avoid):
- Bad search – There is nothing more annoying than a literal search engine that cannot parse through the typos, hyphens, plurals and other query term variants. Such engines are especially difficult for users over the age of 60, who give up after a couple of tries. Another related problem is when the search engine prioritizes the search results based on the number of query term matches instead of the document’s importance. Much better if the search engine can list out the best bets at the top – particularly for important queries, like product names. Remember, that the search feature is the user’s life vest when navigation fails. So, it is important to get this right.
- PDF files – Users hate to come across PDF files when they are browsing, because it tends to break their flow. Even simple operations like saving or printing documents become difficult because the usual browser commands do not work. The layout is often optimized for different paper sizes, which hardly matches the size of the browser window. You can kiss smooth scrolling goodbye and say hi to tiny fonts. Moreover, a PDF document is an undifferentiated block of content, which makes it incredibly hard to navigate. PDF is great if you want to print and distribute manuals or other big documents, not for anything else.
- Not changing the color of the visited links – Knowing your navigation history helps you understand your current location, and makes it easier for you to decide where to go next. Links play a key role in the navigation process. Users can ignore links that did not yield any results in their previous visits. Conversely, it makes it easier for them to revisit the links that they found helpful before. Of course, these benefits accrue under an important assumption: that your users can tell the difference between a visited and an unvisited link. However, if the links stay the same color, then users tend to exhibit more disorientation while navigating.
- Text that’s difficult to scan – If you just have a wall of text on the web page, it can never yield an optimal user experience. It can be boring, intimidating or painful to read. Remember that you are writing for a site, not for print. To draw your users into the text and support smoother scannability, use the following tricks:
- Bulleted lists
- Highlighted keywords
- The inverted pyramid
- Short paragraphs
- A simple and readable writing style
- Marketing-jargon-free language
5. Uniform font size – CSS style sheets allow websites to disable the browser’s “resize font” button, maintaining a uniform font size throughout. More than 95 percent of the time, the fixed size is tiny and reduces readability for people over the age of 50. Respect the preferences of the user and let them resize the text as they want. Also, make sure that you specify the font size in relative terms – never as an absolute pixel number.
6. Design elements that look like advertisements – the selective attention of web users is pretty powerful and users have learned to ignore ads that get in the way of their navigational goals. Web users also tend to ignore legitimate elements of site design that resemble advertisements. And once they ignore it, they won’t bother to study it in detail and find out what it’s about. So, what are the elements you should avoid?
- Banners – Users never let their eyes hover over something that looks like a banner due to its position on the page or its shape.
- Flashing/blinking text – This is also known as animation avoidance. Users ignore areas of the page with flashing or blinking text, or any other aggressive animation.
- Pop-ups – Users close pop-up windows even before they are rendered fully; and sometimes with aggressive viciousness.
Feel free to make mistakes when you are designing the site. After all, how else are you going to learn? But the moment a design element signals a red flag, take it out and break it down. You will know why it didn’t work and you will avoid it in the future.