Top Ten Mistakes of Web Design in 2021

A list of the most common issues in website design for web design agencies and web designers.

Top 10 Web Design Mistakes — 2020 Edition
Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash

So, your career is just getting started as a web designer. Or maybe you’re an established professional, who’s been working in the industry for years. Or perhaps you’re a business owner and are looking to build a website for your company. Maybe you’re even already on the market, reviewing web design firms you may or may not potentially work with. Regardless of your experience, it’s useful to know the basics of what makes a site functional and practical. And sometimes the best way to do this is to understand what NOT to do.

One of the biggest misconceptions held by new and experienced UI/UX designers alike is thinking that given how universally essential websites have become, that designers have all but figured out how not to make mistakes. Given just how many good sites there are — there are no design issues to learn from. With all these sleek and modern websites everywhere — like Apple’s site for instance — it’s almost as if poor web design has become ancient history.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Poor design choices still permeate across all corners of the internet. Freelancers, web design agencies, and respected web designers alike even slip up from time to time and produce things that aren’t all that impressive. While hiring a web design agency is the most effective way to guarantee the prevention of catastrophic yet straightforward web design mistakes, it may not always be possible. But do not worry — there’s some good news. We’ve decided to try and put an end to all these preventable yet straightforward web design mistakes by sharing a list of what NOT to do. If you keep these in mind, you’ll never be the one to ruin an excellent website.

While branding is sometimes characterized as something separate from web design, the truth is they are intimately connected. A website communicates the brand to potential customers. Therefore, your company’s story expressed through its vision, and voice must be clear and clarified through the design. If a visitor cannot determine who your company is, what its story is, or the overall values guiding your vision, then a crucial function of your site is lost.

When a customer lands on a website, they should quickly and easily figure out how to get to where they want to go. While different industries require different web components, what is universally relevant is ensuring that your site tells visitors exactly what they need to know and where they need to go. A strategically located CTA (call to action) is an essential step in guiding potential customers — if a CTA is obscured, too small, in an unknown location on the site, or illegible — users will quickly get lost, frustrated, and likely leave your site. Worse, these types of frustrations push potential customers into the hands of your competitors. Further, for those websites which sell things, the CTA is a critical juncture in the overall sales funnel — the design logistics that guide customers to purchases. All these components should be mapped out and structured on the site during the design process.

A significant pillar of good web design is presenting information directly. That means pieces of information must connect throughout the website logically and sensibly. If the information on one page has no relevance or relation to information on the main page, it becomes confusing and disorienting for visitors. One significant way this happens is through poor link organization. If a link on the main page says “products” but takes the user to an intermediary informational page that doesn’t have to do with products, this is ultimately a problem with usability. Users need to feel like things connect. Similarly, multiple pages shouldn’t have the same information and compete with one another. For example, two different pages shouldn’t suggest two different solutions to the same problem. If this happens, it just ends up delegitimizing the product or service you intend to sell.

Important information should be easy to find — not a scavenger hunt. For example, a link to your store or the location of contact information should be readily available and accessible. If a visitor cannot locate simple information they are looking for, this is a problem. Sometimes designers with a little too much creativity think that a non-intuitive maze to critical pieces of information is desirable — but that’s not true. You want the location of crucial information and site functions to be logical and self-explanatory.

Advertising is often a premium revenue stream for websites in particular industries. News media, for example, especially as print resources have gone further by the wayside, are mainly dependent on it. But designers must beware of overloading individual pages with advertising. Sometimes even a smaller number of legitimate ads, like 2 or 3, can overstimulate the eyes of a user and, more importantly, distract them from the ultimate reason for their visit. Further, data is showing that people don’t respond well to too much advertising. Therefore, strategic advertising on the web is an art form. A good web designer strategically distributes and incorporates ads into websites so that their presence doesn’t take away from the goal of the company or organization for whom the site was built.

Information is a good thing. But just like chocolate or whiskey, too much of a good thing is….a bad thing. Web designers make a critical error when they give visitors more information than they can handle. The art of web design is curating particular information for visitors so that all of the information they process is purposeful. A way to do this is by distributing critical points of information wisely and consciously so that no one page is too full. If a visitor sees too much information, they’ll likely leave the page without digesting anything you intended to show them. The systematic distribution of crucial points of information should be a guiding principle of the entire design process. Minimalism, as a design concept is useful in this regard — it can show you how to declutter your design.

Web designers should think about color schemes as the bread and butter of a website. Colors or a lack thereof always surround textual and visual information. When colors clash, they can make the time visitors spend on a website entirely unpleasant. For example, if a block of text is a light grey and laid upon a yellow background, it could be tough on the eyes. But if the black text is laid upon a white background, then it’s far easier to read. Sometimes even small differences can have a considerable impact — no two blues are the same, and distinguishing between “sky” and “aqua” could be a game-changer for your site. Therefore, having a basic understanding of color palettes, color schemes, and how shades interact can drastically improve your web design capabilities. But when the colors work well, like on Cafe Bustelo’s site, then the whole voice of the brand comes into clarity. The yellow, blue, and red are pleasant to look at and have come to symbolize the brand itself.

Including images and other visual representations of information, such as infographics, is pretty much standard web design practice these days. It’s possible to have a text-only website, but this isn’t often the case. However, some designers don’t grasp the concept of proportions very well. A good site that incorporates visuals always does so with balance in mind. Two or three visuals on a home page of drastically different sizes look awkward and confusing. If visuals are going to be different sizes, the designer needs to develop a scheme of proportions so that the page doesn’t look awkward. It might take a little bit of practice, but is ultimately worth it — proportional images allow the user to focus on the visual itself, not their awkward size difference.

A website is like a piece of art — every single detail is significant. When designing a site, even the smallest mistakes starkly stand out and can reflect poorly on the company. When a web designer skips over something they think is insignificant, it can have a considerable impact. A missing period, a misspelled word, using a different shade of the same color by accident, can throw off the internal flow of a website. Paying attention to details as a general rule is a helpful way to overcome this issue.

There are two forms of optimization that a web designer should always take into consideration — screen and text. Screen optimization is making sure your website functions properly on any type of device — a desktop, cell phone, or tablet. Given how many internet users do their browsing and shopping on mobile devices and tablets, any site must function on all mediums of technology. If it doesn’t, you’re losing out on a vast pool of potential clients. In the same vein, text SEO optimization is essential as well. This is usually the job of copywriters, but it is ultimately an issue of design. If your site isn’t SEO optimized, it means it is not coming up on search engines at the position in the results that it should. Such an oversight hurts a primary goal many businesses have — customer conversions. So make sure you keep both of these details in mind, the whole time.

So at this point, you’ve learned what not to do when doing web design. If you’re working on a website yourself, this list should come in handy. If you’re an experienced web designer, these reminders should help sharpen your skills. If you’ve hired a web design agency to take care of your website needs, the good news is, they tend to be well aware of these essential yet critical errors. Regardless, remembering these basic potential pitfalls in design from start to finish can help turn a mediocre or even poor-performing site into one of the best investments you’ve ever made.

My name is Nik. I write about UI/UX, Web Design, and Branding.