A well-designed website or application can make or break your online presence. With so many elements to consider, it’s easy to fall into common design mistakes that detract from usability and visual appeal. Steering clear of these pitfalls takes knowledge and careful planning. We’ve compiled ten of the most notorious design don’ts to help you avoid sabotaging your site. With the right strategies, you can craft an effective, aesthetically pleasing digital experience.
Avoid Cluttered, Overcrowded Layouts
Clutter is one of the fastest ways to derail your design. It overwhelms users, obscures important elements, and creates a sense of confusion. Some common clutter traps include:
- Packing too many menu options, widgets, images, or other components together on the page.
- Using distracting backgrounds like busy patterns or photos.
- Not leaving enough white space between sections.
- Choosing an inconsistent, disjointed layout.
- Cramming lengthy paragraphs of text together without visual breaks.
To steer clear of clutter:
- Prioritize simplicity – Remove any unnecessary elements. Determine the core components that support your goals.
- Create visual hierarchy – Use placement, color, size, spacing, and contrast to indicate importance and guide the user’s eye.
- Use whitespace intentionally – Blank space brings order and clarity to the layout. Don’t be afraid of it.
- Group related items – Unify sections through proximity, borders, or backgrounds.
- Check your alignment – Use an underlying grid to align items and maintain consistency.
With a clean, decluttered design, users can zero in on what matters most.
Don’t Neglect Affordances and Signifiers
Affordances refer to an object’s visual cues that communicate how it can be used. Signifiers denote its purpose or function. When affordances and signifiers are missing or unclear, usability suffers. Users won’t know what’s clickable or tappable, or understand how to interact with elements.
Common pitfalls include:
- Using non-standard icons that lack intuitive meaning.
- Failing to differentiate static text and images from clickable ones.
- Not indicating interactive elements like dropdowns, accordions, and tabs.
- Removing affordances on touch devices like hover and focus states.
To avoid this misstep:
- Test icons and symbols – Ensure comprehension without labels.
- Style links and buttons – Use color, underline, and cursor changes to signal interactivity.
- Include visible affordances – Display press states and loading indicators.
- Add ARIA attributes – Improve affordances for users with disabilities.
- Provide clear microcopy – Supplement elements with informative text and tooltips.
Thoughtful affordances and signifiers remove confusion and empower users.
Don’t Disregard Accessibility Requirements
Accessibility is a legal and ethical obligation, not an optional enhancement. Failing to make your design work for users with disabilities seriously limits your audience and business potential.
Some examples of accessibility oversights:
- Inadequate color contrast between text and background.
- Lack of ARIA markup for screen readers.
- Images without alt text descriptions.
- Videos without captions and transcripts.
- Site navigation that relies solely on a mouse.
- Interactive elements that aren’t keyboard operable.
To ensure accessibility:
- Review WCAG compliance – These global standards outline legal requirements.
- Conduct accessibility testing – Have users with disabilities evaluate your site.
- Provide multiple interaction modes – Support mouse, touch, and keyboard use.
- Add ARIA attributes – Make dynamic content usable for screen readers.
- Include alt text – Describe image content and purpose for the visually impaired.
- Have a tab order – Allow keyboard navigation in logical sequence.
An inclusive experience extends your reach and improves UX for all.
Avoid Text-Heavy, Content-Poor Pages
Web users value conciseness. Lengthy blocks of text without visual interest will cause most people to quickly lose focus and abandon your pages.
Hallmarks of text-heavy, content-poor pages include:
- Dense paragraphs spanning the full width of the page.
- Lack of subheadings, lists, and other text formatting.
- No use of images, multimedia, or other supporting elements.
- Overly long, complex sentences.
- Academic, impersonal writing style.
- Excessive word count that buries the core message.
To engage readers, balance text with the following:
- Photos and illustrations – Add relevant, high-quality visuals.
- Pull quotes and highlights – Call out key snippets in larger text.
- Short paragraphs and lists – Break text into digestible fragments.
- Scannable formatting – Use headings, bullets, and bolding for quick scanning.
- Clear writing – Favor simple words and concise phrasing.
- Supplementary content – Embed video, audio, charts and graphics.
With a mix of visual, interactive, and written content, you can capture attention and improve comprehension.
Don’t Choose Low Contrast Colors
Hard-to-distinguish color combinations impede readability and accessibility. Without adequate contrast between the text and background colors, your content will be difficult or impossible to decipher.
Common contrast issues include:
- Pairing light text with a light background.
- Using pure white text on a dark background.
- Choosing low-contrast accent colors like light gray.
- Changing color alone to denote meaning.
To maximize contrast:
- Use black text on a white or light background – This provides the sharpest contrast.
- Check contrast ratios – Use a tool to test ratios for accessibility standards.
- Avoid colored text unless the background is very dark.
- Don’t convey meaning through color alone – Also use symbols, text, or patterns.
- Make sure interactive states have enough contrast – Test hover, focus, and active effects.
With carefully chosen, high-contrast colors, your content becomes easy to consume.
Don’t Autoplay Audio or Video
Sudden autoplaying media frustrates users and creates accessibility issues. It draws attention away from your content, may play sound uncontrollably, and poses problems for those with auditory issues.
Situations to avoid include:
- Videos that automatically play as the page loads.
- Sound effects and background music triggered on page open.
- Carousels with self-playing slide content.
- Pop-ups containing unprompted audio or video.
- Advertisements with autoplay enabled.
To prevent unwanted media experiences:
- Default to muted and inactive – Allow users to opt in instead of autoplaying.
- Provide visible controls – Include easily accessed play/pause, mute, and stop buttons.
- Offer alternatives – Give a transcript or summary for those who can’t or don’t want to play video/audio.
- Avoid auto-advancing carousels – Let users manually control the pace.
- Block autoplay on ads – Use browser extensions to prevent non-consensual experiences.
With user-initiated playback, you respect preferences and create a less disruptive visit.
Don’t Rely Solely on Color Coding
While color coding can quickly communicate meaning, it becomes unreliable when used alone. Approximately 4.5% of the population has color vision deficiency, making certain color distinctions difficult. Only relying on color coding excludes these users.
Problematic examples include:
- Using color as the sole method to distinguish chart segments or data points.
- Marking required form fields red without also labeling them.
- Indicating validation errors through color alone.
- Providing nav menu categories identified by color only.
- Assigning status meaning through color without text or icons.
To augment color coding:
- Add supportive text – Include labels, legends, tooltips, and captions.
- Use icons and symbols – Pair colors with indicative graphics.
- Choose sufficiently distinct hues – Avoid subtle shade variations.
- Make sure colored elements have other styles – Underline links and embolden titles.
- Implement alternate indicators – Outline or mark required fields with an asterisk too.
With multiple associated indicators, users aren’t solely reliant on distinguishing colors.
Avoid Mismatched or Unrelated Imagery
Visually cohesive imagery reinforces users’ mental model of your brand, product, or message. When photos, illustrations, icons, and videos don’t match in style or relation, they feel arbitrarily slapped together.
Watch out for:
- Mixing clip art, stock photos, and custom illustrations.
- Images that blend clashing moods like playful and formal.
- Pictures that have no connection to the topic or text.
- Photographs with inconsistent lighting, filters, and cropping.
To align imagery aesthetically:
- Curate photos from one source or collection – Stick to a unified visual theme.
- Adapt photos to match editing choices – Apply consistent filters and crops.
- Illustrate ideas uniformly – Coordinate illustrator or style across icons and drawings.
- Select images that reinforce the message – Don’t choose random decorative pictures.
- Group similarly styled images – Transition between visual themes intentionally.
Consistent, purposeful imagery looks polished, intentional, and professionally produced.
Don’t Break Established UI Conventions
Users come to expect common UI patterns from their experience across websites and apps. When you disregard these conventions, you introduce uncertainty and friction. People will waste time looking for familiar functions or interacting incorrectly with controls.
Some examples include:
- Power button in the top left instead of top right system menu.
- Back button on the left side instead of the right.
- Search icon that brings up account settings instead of site search.
- Scrolling left to right instead of the standard up and down.
- Inverted navigation menu with old pages on the bottom.
To adhere to conventions:
- Follow platform and OS guidelines – Stick to user expectations.
- Maintain consistency across your properties – Don’t arbitrarily alter patterns.
- Study established sites – Draw inspiration from ubiquitous models.
- Use common and intuitive symbols – Rely on familiarity.
- Put interactive elements in well-known spots – Such as navigation bars.
Leveraging accepted UI patterns makes usage smooth and predictable.
Avoid Misalignment and Inconsistent Spacing
Aligning page elements and using consistent spacing between them makes the design appear orderly and polished. When alignment and spacing vary arbitrarily, the layout looks sloppy and fragmented.
Watch out for:
- Text, images, buttons, and sections that aren’t aligned to a column.
- UI elements like menus and cards with uneven margins and padding.
- Jagged edges from fluid or full-width components stacked together.
- Inconsistent spacing between paragraphs, list items, and menu options.
- Text, borders, or icons that bleed off the page boundary.
To improve alignment and spacing:
- Use an underlying grid system – Build layouts off invisible columns and rows.
- Snap elements to the grid – Ensure consistent margins and positioning.
- Align items intentionally – Left, right, and center anchor items predictably.
- Add space deliberately – Balance and separate design parts.
- Maintain equal spacing – Apply uniform margins and padding.
With careful alignment and consistent spacing, everything fits together in an orderly way.
Avoid Repetitive, Uninspired Design Patterns
Many sites fall into stale, overused design patterns that feel uninspired and copycat. While common patterns are familiar, sticking too closely to a formulaic site structure and style lacks originality.
Somerepetitive approaches include:
- Generic site templates with little customization.
- Carousels, parallax scroll, and pop-ups on every page.
- Outdated and overused visual trends.
- Following your competitors too closely.
- Relying on common layouts without innovation.
To create a more unique experience:
- Add your brand personality – Customize the template to reflect your style.
- Use patterns selectively – Not every layout needs a carousel.
- Create signature design elements – Develop memorable visual motifs.
- Experiment with new ideas – Explore trends outside of your niche.
- Craft a distinct visual hierarchy – Guide visitors in an unconventional but intuitive path.
With creative thinking, you can breathe new life into standard design approaches.
Avoid Unclear or Unactionable Call-to-Action Buttons
Call-to-action (CTA) buttons urge visitors to take your desired next step. But without clear messaging and strong design, they become ineffective. If users don’t understand what the button does or where it will lead, conversions tank.
Ineffective CTAs include:
- Vague labels like “Submit” and “Sign Up”.
- Mismatched styles that blend into the background.
- Multiple competing CTAs on one page.
- Unclear destinations after clicking.
- Passive voice or soft sell copy on the button.
To create high-converting CTAs:
- Use specific, action-focused button text – ex. “Start Free Trial”.
- Ensure strong visual contrast – Use color, size, and white space to differentiate.
- Limit to one primary CTA per page – Avoid diluting the call to action.
- Communicate the post-click experience – Set expectations of what’s next.
- Speak directly to the user – Use command wording like “Get”, “Join”, “Buy”.
With a distinct, clearly-defined, and click-worthy call to action, users immediately know what to do.
Avoid Unreadable Text Styles and Sizes
Hard-to-read body text hampers comprehension and causes frustration. Small text size, unusual fonts, and low contrast all impact legibility. Your choice of typography directly influences how easily visitors consume and retain information.
Some scenarios to avoid include:
- Tiny 10 or 11 px body text.
- Thin font weights under 400.
- Text styled entirely in uppercase or italics.
- Ornate display fonts for paragraph text.
- Low contrast between text and background colors.
- Narrow columns requiring long wrapped line lengths.
To maximize readability:
- Use 12-16px text size – Ideal for extended onscreen reading.
- Choose easy-to-read fonts – Opt for clean, simple, sans serif options.
- Maintain adequate line length – About 50-75 characters per line.
- Use medium – bold weights – Avoid light or thin fonts.
- Make sure background contrasts text – Don’t pair light on light.
- Limit embellished text styling – Use sparingly for impact.
With optimized typography, users can smoothly process and retain the information you provide.
By steering clear of these notorious design pitfalls, you can craft effective, polished digital experiences. A meticulously designed website or app keeps visitors engaged, converts customers, and establishes professional credibility. With care and planning, you can bring your vision to life while avoiding common mistakes. Focus on clarity, simplicity, visual cohesion, ease of use, and strong information hierarchy as guiding principles. The end result will facilitate intuitive interaction and leave a positive impression.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some tips for avoiding clutter in web design?
Some tips for avoiding clutter include prioritizing simplicity, removing unnecessary elements, using white space intentionally, grouping related items, checking alignment, and creating clear visual hierarchy. Focusing the layout on the most important information helps avoid an overloaded, distracting page.
Why are clear affordances and signifiers important in UX design?
Clear affordances and signifiers are crucial so that users instantly understand what interface elements are interactive, how they can be used, and what effect taking an action will produce. Ambiguous affordances confuse users and make UI elements frustrating and ineffective.
What are some best practices for ensuring web accessibility?
Best practices for web accessibility include conducting accessibility testing with disabled users, providing text alternatives for images, supplying captions and transcripts for audio/video, coding ARIA attributes, offering keyboard navigation support alongside other input methods, and meeting AA level contrast ratio standards.
How can you create text-centric web content that holds user attention?
To hold attention with text-centric content, use short paragraphs, lists, bolded key points, images, pull quotes, scannable formatting, engaging writing, and supplementary interactive elements. Avoid walls of text, overly academic language, and excessive word count. Interest users quickly and communicate concisely.
Why is high color contrast important in UI and web design?
High color contrast is essential for visual appeal, usability, and accessibility. Low contrast between text and background makes content hard or impossible to read. It introduces a significant barrier for users with vision impairments. High contrast ensures all users can comfortably view and use the interface or content.
What are some alternatives to solely color-coded elements in a UI?
Some alternatives to convey meaning beyond color coding alone include supportive text labels, indicative icons, sufficiently distinct hues from one another, additional styles like borders and markings, and alternate indicators like asterisks on required fields. Employ multiple associated cues beyond just color.
How can designers avoid repetitive, clichéd website templates and layouts?
Designers can avoid repetitive site layouts by customizing templates to reflect brand personality, using common patterns selectively rather than on every page, crafting unique design elements, exploring trends outside one’s niche for inspiration, and coming up with an original visual hierarchy flow