The bad website design guide

Posted on April 6, 2016


There are plenty of guides to good web design, but not many devoted to bad web design. So, here’s one for you.

The main factors that contribute to good web design can be summed up as:

  • Easy to use
  • Aesthetically pleasing with good use of colour
  • Design elements don’t obscure the content
  • Easy to read
  • Animation that is not overdone

To appreciate good web design it helps to take note of bad web design. Here is my guide to bad web design features that should be avoided.

Everything moves

Animated Gifs can be a good way to add animation effects to a website, in moderation. Some websites go over the top with an abundance of flashing images that feel like someone shouting in your face. This makes the website look cluttered, cheap and a throwback from the 1990s.

Animation subtly done can add interest to a website but when it is overdone a website looks garish.

Horizontal text cannot be seen at a 100% zoom

Not everyone views a web page at a high resolution. Some monitors are still set to 1024×768 pixel resolution. At this resolution the whole width of the web text should be readable without having to scroll horizontally or reduce the page zoom factor. This is something website designers should have really mastered over 15 years ago, but it’s still news to some.

In addition, there are many people viewing a website on mobile devices which means that websites should be responsive with layouts adapting to reduced screen sizes to make them readable. If you have to ‘pinch’ on a website to read the text on your mobile, it’s not right.

Beautiful Flash designs

There was a time when many websites had home pages that featured beautiful animated intros, or ‘splash pages’. Business owners loved these designs as they seemed to associate works of graphical art with the company. Some even won design awards for their efforts.

Most of these sites used Macromedia Flash extensively (as it was then, before it became Adobe Flash). This created a number of problems:

1 – the pages took ages to load, and this caused people with slow internet connections to navigate away from the website.

2 – Apple did not add Flash support to their iPhone and iPad operating systems, which meant that Apple device users could not see these wondrous pages.

3 – Google couldn’t read Flash, which meant websites built in Flash were invisible to Google, so didn’t receive much traffic or have particularly good rankings.

In short, Flash was never meant for use on the web – and it never should have been used by website designers.

False links

Text links normally use underlined text to denote they’re link. Underlined text that is not a link confuses users. Links that are not underlined may not be noticed, unless they’re a different colour to the rest of the text and have a ‘hover’ state, so they change colour or have an underline when rolled over with the cursor.

Links should be obvious, not hidden. They exist for people to use them, so they can navigate to other pages on your website. Why hide them?

Where’s the call to action?

If a website advertises a ticketed event then there should be a clear call to action text such as “Buy your tickets here”. If calls to action are missing, or difficult to find, then no matter how enticing the graphics that advertise a product or service, sales will be low.

How much does it cost?

Some sales pages have long sales messages that praise a product or service. If the sales copy is done well, by a few paragraphs down, readers may have made up their mind that this is something that they are interested in. There is then probably only one question that needs answering before a decision to buy is made and that is: “How much is it?”

On some sales pages it can take a lot of scrolling down the page to find the buy button. There are examples where you have to actually get to the checkout shopping page to know the full price. Other pages add Vat and shipping costs after making a buying decision. This can add considerable costs to what the buyer was expecting to pay.

If potential purchasers become frustrated then it is likely that they will abandon the purchase.

The words “£30 delivered including VAT” above the buy button makes the total price transparent.

These are just some of the many bad web design features to avoid. Studying bad web design helps the process of creating good web design.

Technical Director at Engage Web
Darren is Technical Director at Engage Web, as well as being a co-founder of the company. He takes a hands-on approach to SEO and web design, helped by more than 20 years’ experience in these fields.

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