Top 10 Web Design Mistakes

October 5, 2005 by

Usability guru Jakob Nielsen revealed his Top 10 Web Design Mistakes of 2005 earlier this week, and church web sites could learn a thing or two. For the most part it’s the basics:

  1. Legibility Problems
  2. Non-Standard Links
  3. Flash
  4. Content That’s Not Written for the Web
  5. Bad Search
  6. Browser Incompatibility
  7. Cumbersome Forms
  8. No Contact Information or Other Company Info
  9. Frozen Layouts with Fixed Page Widths
  10. Inadequate Photo Enlargement

Here at Church Marketing Sucks we’re guilty of a few of these (especially 2 with our non-underlined links and 9 with our fixed page layout), though sometimes these are debatable (i.e., not everyone agrees). But what’s really important is understanding the basic idea and trying to make your site as usable as possible.

Just look at Nielsen’s entry for how to do web sites right. The text is scannable and chunked, he uses bold text for emphasis, and he links to his own content when appropriate, which is not only incredibly helpful for the user, but it encourages people to spend a lot of time on his site. (link via eministry notes)

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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19 Responses to “Top 10 Web Design Mistakes”

  • Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain
    October 5, 2005

    Personally I find Nielsen’s site pretty horrid to look at. Check out this article on how some really great designers redesigned his site…

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  • Nathan Smith
    October 5, 2005

    I don’t think that non-underlined links are a problem. This is actually beneficial if you have an email address with an underscore in it, as underlines make this look like a space. For non web-savvy people, this will created the dreaded %20 sign.
    As far as fixed-width goes, I prefer it. Look at A List Apart – a site done by pros for other web designers. They use fixed width. It just makes sense to me, as you wouldn’t encounter a physical newspaper made out of spandex.
    People are used to reading their text at a set width. It wasn’t until the advent of the web browser that this became an issue. And, let’s not forget that the original measurement of the web was pixels, and not percentage.
    I agree with Jesse, Nielsen’s is horrid. He should definitely take the Usability Guys’ advice. What point is accessibility if the site looks like trash? In my opinion, it has to be both-and, like social justice and sound theology: there needs to be both if a site / church is to be effective.
    The only possible issue I could see with CMS is that color-blind people will see your red links as a dark brown, not that different from your dark grey body text. Other than that, I wouldn’t pay too much to mind Mr. U. (for Ugly site).

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  • kevin
    October 5, 2005

    And I think that’s where people miss the point. Is Nielsen a usability-nazi? Yes. Is his site ugly? Yes. But is it useable? My gosh, it’s ten times better than most sites I visit.
    Nielsen may be an extreme voice, and his comments taken with a grain of salt, but the same can be said for designers who do things just for the sake of cool. Too many designers know how to make things look good, but they don’t stop to think about how it will work. And that’s more than half the battle.
    As for the two points I mentioned this site having problems with, non underlined links are a problem when you have two links running together. You can tell when one stops and the other starts and it ends up looking like one solid link. While that doesn’t happen often, it’s fun to do when you’re linking to a handful of similar articles to emphasize a point. But no underline ruins the effect.
    And fixed width design is such a problem because of the range of screen sizes people have. By fixing the width at a size the majority of people use, we make it difficult for the small percentage who use smaller or larger monitor resolutions. I don’t know what that percentage at now, but it seems more helpful to me to find a solution that serves everybody, not just sticking with the majority and screwing everybody else.
    So hate Mr. Nielsen if you must, just make sure your site is easy to use. Making it look pretty is one thing. Making it work pretty is an entirely different matter.

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  • Nate
    October 5, 2005

    well said kevin. his site is horrid, that is for sure – and he admits that. hes not claiming to have the best site out there, hes simply a usability guru. read a few of his actual reports. very well done and IN DEPTH with the little things. he knows his stuff and spends alot of time researching. though i dont agree with EVERYTHING, he is right in most cases.
    designers often forget that its not about THEM when designing a website. yes, its a reflection of their work – but the goal is to make a functional, usable, and visually aesthetic site. however, its not the aesthetics that keep people there – its the content and interaction.
    To Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain, your website is BEAUTIFUL. very well put together all the way around. :)

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  • Alex Seidel
    October 5, 2005

    I am glad Nielsen is getting time on this blog. Maybe 80% of the sites out there ignore any form of usability principles. Nielsen’s usability guidelines are very important to listen to, since they are all based on usability studies. He is very statistically backed with actual user experiences studied by cognitive psychologists.
    So then, while his design is dry, it is effective. And while I think great design is important, if it does not include standard usability and user-centric features, than it is bad design (no matter how dang cool it looks). Let’s face it there is a lot of bad design out there, and thus many confused users. My belief is that if you are going to err with your web site, err on the site of less design with better user-focus. Ideally, it should be a hybrid of both.
    As for our upcoming site redesign, it has been built on usability priciples, though not perfectly. It will evolve. And next year, I hope to pay for in-depth usability testing as measured against our ministry objectives.

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  • jason
    October 5, 2005

    Fixed width is essential. It’s way easier to control cross-browser and millions of different monitor sizes when you use fixed width– as long as you keep in mind the teeny pocket pc screens that might come by your site. I write sites that provide different content for pocket browsers and pocket web archiving programs.
    Non-standard hyperlinks are pretty well common place now too.
    Yep, 9 shouldn’t be on the list. Pretty much agree with everything else though.

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  • YWAM Information Technology
    October 5, 2005

    Top Ten Web Design Mistakes of 2005

    Keep in mind that these are written by someone who takes usability to the extreme on his web-site without much of an eye for design. That said, his points are very relevant:
    Legibility Problems

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  • Jeff Mikels
    October 11, 2005

    I need some help with my site. I’ve been running a WordPress blog for nearly a year now, and I’ve been really pleased with it, but I’ve just realized that the layout has problems under IE! (I love Firefox). If anyone has some CSS experience and can help me figure out what’s wrong with my site, please let me know.
    Here’s my URL:

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  • Ian Reves
    May 25, 2006

    God designed the brain with two distinct halves for a reason. I have to deduce that that reason is that nothing in life, business, design, marketing, whatever can ever be it’s best without logical consideration balanced with aesthetic/artistic consideration. If we followed Nielsen’s manifesto in the context of other marketing pieces, say print materials for example, everything would be 8.5×11, black and white, photography-free, phone book pages.
    Usability is not defined by rules like “All links must be blue #0000FF and underlined.” Usability is defined by a user’s experience, and this goes much deeper than following a few web standards. The job of a creative designer and an innovative marketing professional is to design with these rules in mind AND the user’s in mind AND the design. Otherwise we could leave “designing” of interactive pieces to programmers and code writers.
    It is a total miss to make such sweeping accusations, as it appears Nielsen does here. There are infinite ways to design a website that is creatively unique AND is user-friendly.
    PS – I REALLY can’t believe “Flash” is listed as a common website MISTAKE. Seriously people.

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  • Doug
    June 9, 2006

    Nielsen’s usability top-tens were relevant the Web’s stone age, but how people interact with websites has changed dramatically with experience. At this point, it sometimes seems like he’s just coasting on his once-deserved status as a usability guru, simply because no one’s willing to fight him for the title.
    While “legibility,” “bad search,” and “content not written for web” are fine, his obsession with underlined text links is strange, and his “liquid layout” is stranger still. The liquid layout is fantastic for multi-column content monsters like Amazon, but most sites will find that on a liquid layout, item proportions drastically change….on one monitor, your big graphic promotional might look like it dominates the left column, but on a wider one, it’s reduced to taking up a tiny proportion of space next to things you deemed less important. Additionally, it pushes text line-length past the acceptable point for easy reading (my number one complaint about his website).

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  • Luke Bodley
    June 29, 2006

    Flash is not one of the top 10 mistakes… that is the most stupidest thing i have even seen.
    More and more developers are starting to use flash, and as TV and the WEB keep merging closer and closer flash will be a huge part of that.

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  • kevin
    June 30, 2006

    Flash is such a (wait for it) flash point. Read Nielsen’s entry Luke. His complaint is with bad flash. Flash can be used for good, but so many people screw it up. Use it well, and it’s fine. Use it poorly, and it’s an impediment to surfing a site.
    Gee, sounds like a familiar struggle.

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  • Gel Glade
    July 10, 2007

    I actually agree on the top 10 mistakes that a website usually commits. I have this experience with a very cool website,nice lay out and nice texts but when I get to check the contact or the about info, they didnt put anything.Sometimes being keen on the little things can be a big deal.

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  • Troy@7SEO
    July 10, 2007

    Make your page always W3 compatible..
    Check out

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  • Gelglade@seo
    July 10, 2007

    I completely agree that flash is one big thing in the computer;cyber world. Flash animation lets reality and creativity connives and bring about effectivity in arts, aesthetics and business

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  • Martha@seo
    July 11, 2007

    It is indeed important to maintain and uphold the interest of your customers and makes your site accessible all the time. I have encountered lots of websites committing the same mistakes over and over again.

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  • hello
    June 16, 2009

    text size is really too small.

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  • Lebanon Church
    October 21, 2009

    I’m on the web ministry team at Lebanon Church of West Mifflin, PA – near Pittsburgh. We recently started a technical outreach ministry in which we offer free technical resources to help other churches and Christian organizations further their online ministries. Check out our latest Webinar on how to build an effective evangelistic church website.
    Learn the strategies and techniques to help you get your church website up and running. Click here to view the Webinar (7 part series) on Lebanon Church’s YouTube Channel. Click here to download the Powerpoint PDF version of the document from our website. We hope that you find these resources to be useful and encourage you to check back at our website, for more free technical resources and information regarding our events, programs, and ministries.
    Hope this helps!
    God Bless

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  • affordable church websites
    December 7, 2009

    I have seen it way too many times how churches forget that content is more important than flashy effects. There is actualy a lot a church website can do. They just have to be designed right and if they are you can even get a stronger church that is more connected.

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