In the past few years the User Experience industry has gained a lot of momentum, designing websites and mobile applications that are intuitive and fun to use.
User Experience (more commonily called UX) basically describes the experience someone has while using a product, website, or app. To put it simply, if you go to a website and find everything you need quickly and efficiently, without a lot of fuss, that’s a good user experience. If you visit a website and aren’t sure where to click, or you get stuck somewhere and can’t find what you’re looking for, that’s a bad user experience.
Today, there’s an entire industry of professionals dedicated to improving the user experience on different websites. For those of you building your own sites, you are your own UX designer. Though there’s a lot to learn, you can easily avoid some common UX mistakes that designers, developers, and DIY’ers alike all run into. Let’s look at some frequent UX mistakes and highlight what you can do to correct them.
1. Serving mystery meat
This sounds weird, right? But the term “mystery meat” is quite applicable; when you’re presented with a clickable icon, button, or image that leads you to a page you weren’t expecting, you’re getting the mystery meat.
A lot of times this mystery meat appears when people try to get creative with new kinds of buttons and icons. Over time, we’ve all been trained to look for specific cues to navigate online—a little phone icon will lead you to the phone number, a magnifying glass takes you to search, etc. Throw an unexpected or ambiguous choice into the mix, and people will get confused.
If you’re worried that your website may be riddled with mysterious icons, buttons, or directions, ask yourself, “if this is the first time I have ever been to this site, would this make sense to me?” If the answer is “no,” it’s probably time for a change.
The solution is often very simple: use icons and images that have been universally established to represent an action. There are great resources online like flaticon.com and graphicburger.com, which have dozens of free sets of icons for you to use, all utilizing industry-recognized designs.
2. Ignoring user feedback
When I was creating my first mobile application design, I didn’t add a “forgot password” option. That seems so obvious, right? I always forget my own passwords to sites that I don’t visit regularly. But I still would have overlooked this feature in my own app if I hadn’t asked a friend to review my design.
In addition to the missing password link, she found my design confusing and didn’t understand what the app would be used for. I thought she was crazy. It was obviously designed to keep people on schedule by setting simple tasks. I immediately ignored her feedback and moved on to choosing which color scheme I thought would work best for the app. It wasn’t until I shared that version with some other people that I got the same feedback as before. I guess I was the crazy one, I wasn’t listening and I got ahead of myself. Once I took a step back and reviewed all of my collected feedback, I found clear patterns and changes that could have been made easily if I had listened earlier on.
Save yourself days of unnecessary work by listening to feedback early on, and it will save you hours of lost sleep! Usabilla.com is a great site to gather continuous user feedback from your visitors; getting access to this kind of information has never been easier.
3. Forgetting to write
Time and time again we have been told to avoid text because people don’t read it, and that is absolutely true. However, if there’s too little text it leaves the user with questions that you aren’t providing answers to.
A great way to see if this is true for your site is to ask a friend or family member to “test” your website by using it in front of you for the first time. Ask them to talk their way through each step, telling you why they decided to click where they did. Do not answer any of their questions, simply observe and notice where they are getting stuck. At the end of the “test,” refer to your notes and see if additional text could have cleared up some of their questions.
4. Underestimating white space
When we start designing websites, we can get a bit carried away with the use of excessive text and photos. Think of white space as breathing room, you need to give your page a bit of air so that the user can easily take in all of your information. When I complete a page, I like to take a few steps away from my computer screen to gauge how cluttered it looks from a distance. If it looks jumbled and heavy, I know it is ultimately going to cause confusion for my user. I need to find ways to increase the white space. Whether that means resizing or deleting photos or even moving some text to another page entirely, I know it must be done.
The best way to ensure you are using enough white space is to sketch out a basic layout on a piece of paper. Draw a grid and outline exactly where an image should live as well as the text. This will naturally give you chunks of white space and ease the business of your layout. Use this design for every page of your content, it will create consistency for your user and nice, clean flow for your site.
5. Using low-quality images
When we build websites, we take a lot of time laying out the content and making sure there are no misspelled words or confusing sentences. It’s important to pay the same kind of attention to the images we are placing alongside our carefully curated content. Images help us absorb information in a clear way and help break up the text, making the user experience smoother and more inviting.
The easiest solution is to take your own photos, but not everyone has an eye for aperture. I recently discovered deathtothestockphoto.com which gives you access to high-resolution stock photography for free, they even email them to you directly. Our post on website images also has more recommendations for royalty-free photo sites.
Avoid using images you found on search engines because they belong to other people and while you may be asked nicely to take found photos down, some people are not so friendly about it.
6. Not paying attention to placement
Websites have been evolving for years, but take note of the icons and placement that haven’t changed. For instance, the back button is always in the top left corner of any site. Why? Because that is where our eye has been trained to look. Don’t move the essentials around for the sake of your design. I know it can be tempting, especially when you are creating a form, but stick to the basics and keep things in an expected order.
For instance, when asking a user to input their information, begin with their name, address, phone, etc. in that order. Starting out with details that aren’t common can be confusing and will only cause the user to input incorrect information.
On a similar note, place the most important pieces of information “above the fold.” This means that key elements should be visible on the screen before a user starts scrolling downwards. Use the upper right corner for small buttons like “search”, “contact”, and/or “sign in”. As a rule of thumb, the user shouldn’t have to use their mouse to see important information, it should be presented to them first thing.
UX means keeping the user in mind
UX mistakes are common, but if you remember to keep the user in mind throughout the design process, you can enhance the experience that you create. Lastly, remember that UX is about iteration; you can always make additions and change your site as issues or thoughts arise.