web design

Top 12 Usability Web Design Mistakes to Avoid

web design usability mistakes
Written by Paul Steinbrueck

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web design usability mistakesLast week in 9 Common Aesthetic Web Design Mistakes to Avoid we discussed design issues that affect the look of a website. This week we turn our attention to usability issues – problems that make a website difficult for visitors to use.

Usability will also be the topic of this week’s #WebDesignChat Twitter chat at 3 PM ET Thursday.

12 Usability Web Design Mistakes

1) Inconsistent design. Every page in a website should have the same basic look and layout. If a page looks different from the rest of the site, people will get confused, wondering if they mistakenly moved on to another site.  If a page is laid out differently or the menu is different, people will get confused and have difficulty doing what they want to do.

2) Flash sites. Creating a website entirely in Flash has never been a good idea, but now that tens of millions of people view sites with iPhones and iPads which don’t support Flash, it’s a ginormous mistake.

3) Really long menus. The primary purpose of a navigation menu is to help people get to get to the information or functionality they want as quickly and effortlessly as possible. If there are more than 7 items in any menu (main or sub-menu), it becomes challenging for the visitor to find what they’re looking for. If a site contains hundreds of content items, it’s critically important to group content into categories and sub-categories in a way that will be intuitive to the visitor.

4) More than one menu. Just as with really long menus, having more than one navigation menu makes a site confusing and hard for the visitor to find things. Just to be clear, I’m not referring slide-out or drop-down sub-menus. Those are usually very user-friendly. I’m talking about having a horizontal menu across the top and then another menu below it or in a sidebar.  Consolidate!

5) Bad site organization. Another navigation pitfall, is having pages/functionality under menu headings that don’t make sense to the visitor. Before a site is designed (or redesigned), take the time to do content mapping. Using post-it notes (with each page/function on its own note) on a whiteboard can make this easier and prevent leaving anything out.

6) Insider language. Using insider language in the navigation menu, icon or other navigation graphics also makes it difficult for visitors to find the information or functionality they’re looking for.  Churches are notorious for this with ministry names like “Fuel,” “Drive,” “Axis” and “Hearts on Fire.” Visitors have no idea what these terms are, so be sure to use them in combination with more descriptive terms like “Middle School (Fuel).” Churches are not alone, though, as schools, businesses and ministries also like to give sub-groups, events and locations nicknames.

7) No menu/link to homepage. Make it easy for visitors to get back to your homepage. It’s become a common design convention to make the organization’s logo link back to the homepage. I highly recommend it. If for some reason a site doesn’t do that, it’s absolutely necessary to have a “Home” button or navigation menu item.

8) Dead links. Pretty obvious usability problem, right?

9) Violating linking conventions. People have come to associate underlined text with links. Putting links into text without underlining that text will cause people to overlook the links.  Underlining text that does not link, will confuse and frustrate some people. Don’t make people think; just follow the convention.

10) Requiring plugins.  Any content that requires a plugin is going to be missed by some users who don’t have the plugin and don’t want to install it.

11) Hidden contact info.  Don’t make it difficult for people to get in touch with you and ask you questions. Address, phone number and either an email address or link to a contact form should be on every page of every website.

12) Broken functionality. Another pretty obvious one here, but forms that don’t submit, videos that don’t play and shopping carts with error messages give a poor user experience.  Be sure to test these things to death, and in multiple browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari at the very least).

Any of these usability issues resonate with you?  Got any other usability design mistakes you want to point out?

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About the author

Paul Steinbrueck

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck.


  • I think I ranked pretty well except that I do have two menus. The top menu are the pages and the bottom menu are the categories. I used to just list the categories on the sidebar but I think they would often get overlooked there. I now have a home tab and a blog tab.

  • I really liked your comments on poor web usability web design. There is no shortage of sites that have poorly designed the user experience and made navigating the site frustrating for users.

    The challenge for many site owners is the inability to modify their sites and the content within it with them without having to use a designer. As a result, there are sites with stale content and poorly thought out designs that add little value to visitors.

    There is a easy web design software that helps address this common problem.

  • Despite the myriad changes in website design, it's nice to see that the core issues really don't change – that being said, the links in your bio aren't underlined – but because they were in a contrasting colour to the rest, I could still tell they were links 😉

    Thanks for sharing these!

  • Great resource about the common Website Design mistakes a designer must take care of. A neat and clean web design, easy navigation and effective content are must to have for professional websites.

  • Good article!
    However, I don't agree with 4) – that I should only have one navigation. If a page is long enough and the user has reached to the bottom of it, in order to use the navigation they'd need to scroll all the way up to reach the menu – which is ridiculous since people don't like to scroll infinitely. Therefore in my opinion repeating the main navigation or some part of it in the footer is a must – of course if it's done in a balanced and tasteful way.
    I also can't seem to fully agree with 9) Violating linking conventions. I'd rather say that hyperlinks need to contrast well with the text and also, which is extremely important, they need to be consistent as well. In other words – the user should always be able to tell plain text from a link and a button from another.. something.
    Cheers 🙂

  • Great with tips – but as always with best practice tips – there are situations where it doesn't fit.

    I work with a lot of municipalities and government websites – and they have a heavy focus on self service.

    Therefore in those cases I have to disagree with 11). It may be beneficial to make the user go past the FAQ in order to get to the contact info – thus reducing the amount of calls to the helpdesk.

  • Some pretty useful things to remember, thanks for the reminder. It still surprises me that some of these happen, especially the no link to the homepage. I do find sites like that still though.

  • The biggie for me from a church website perspective is making it super-obvious where your service is, eg the when and where of where your church meets! If a first-timer visits your site odds are they want to know when and where you are

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