When you think of the WORST websites on the Internet, you probably think of blinking text and clashing colours. But I would argue the worst thing any website can do is be confusing or frustrating for visitors.
There’s plenty of room for personality and aesthetic in a website design—for example, through fonts, colours and images. But a website is first and foremost a tool to share information and we should never let aesthetic get in the way.
Here are the three “worst offending” web design elements I advise against when planning out a website with my clients.
1. Music or sounds on the site that play automatically
Putting sound on your website is quickest, most efficient way to getting visitors to leave. I sometimes get asked about adding sound effects or music on sites and I strongly, strongly advise against it for two reasons.
First reason: You’ll upset visitors by embarrassing them
Imagine someone sitting at their desk in an open-concept office. They take a few minute between tasks to google a carpenter for a renovation they’re planning at home. They visit one of the sites that comes up, but when they click one of the links on the site, a loud saw sound plays. Their colleague—or maybe their boss—looks over.
That carpenter’s site immediately gets closed.
Second Reason: You’ll upset visitors by wasting their data
If you’re someone who mainly accesses the internet through your desktop computer, you probably never care how much data you have to download to view a site. After all, it’s going over your home or work internet connection.
As of 2018, however, more than half of all website traffic comes from people browsing on mobile phones. That means that many people will be using their cell phone data plan, rather than wifi, when they view your site.
If I visit a website on my cell phone while I’m waiting in line somewhere and a sound or video automatically plays, I groan and think, “Geez, thanks. There goes another hit to my monthly data limit.”
And then I close the site.
2. Too many animations or graphical elements
At their best, animations on a website can really add a little extra something and help enliven the content. But it’s important to remember that every animation, photos, graphic or sound element adds to the overall loading time of a website. At their worst, too many animations or graphics can really slow down websites (and web traffic!).
Google Web Fundamentals has an illuminating article about how long the average user is willing to wait for a site to load. There were varying results, but the main finding was that users are not patient. If a site takes longer than a few seconds to load, many people won’t bother waiting.
The key is really finding the right balance. If a site has a lot of large images, for example, I generally recommend going light on animations and extra elements. If a site is relatively plain, however, there’s no harm in adding a bit extra.
3. Not giving users what they expect
If you’re an artist, it may make sense for you to have a website that defies the expectation of what a normal website looks like—after all, outside-the-box creativity is part of your brand.
But for most business owners, the purpose of a website is to clearly pass on information to potential customers. Their sites should look professional and polished, but the design should serve only to support the content. The design of a plumber’s website, for example, shouldn’t be avante-garde—unless the intention is to confuse people.
This is especially true when it comes to the elements of a website that users know to expect and look for. The navigation for a site, for example, should always be near the top of the page as a row of links, a drop-down menu or a three-line hamburger icon. That’s what people are going to look for, so that’s what we want to give them.
One possible solution I often propose for clients who want to include fancier design elements is to make sure we still have the usual elements as a back-up. If a client wants an animated, interactive banner with links to other parts of the site, I recommend still including a small hamburger menu in one of the top corners if I think there’s a risk of confusing people.
What the best websites do
All clients have different needs and preferences that I work to accommodate, but there are a few design rules I try to stick to.
Here are my
ten six commandments of web design:
- Thou shalt include the site name or logo in one of the top corners, and clicking it shalt always take thou back to the front page.
- Thou shalt place the site navigation near the top of the page as either a row of links, a drop-down menu or a three-line hamburger icon.
- Thine front page content shalt briefly and clearly answer the question: What does this company or person do?
- If thine basic contact information isn’t included at the topmost section of the site, thou shalt include it at the very bottom; it should be available as a quick-reference on every page of the site, either at the very top or the very bottom (or both).
- Thou shalt not inflict auto-playing, data-wasting music or sounds on thine visitors.
- Thou shalt strive for balance between page load speeds and graphic elements/animations.