Designing applications is not an easy task because of the varying degrees of complexity and challenges unique to every organization. This post will discuss five common design mistakes seen across industries and some suggestions for improvement.
Feedback is just one way to improve an application’s usability. It informs users how their commands and actions have been interpreted and it tells them what’s happening. For example, if a user clicks on a button, did the system interpret that click correctly? What will the system do next in the process?
Another example I think we all had experience with is lack of feedback when a system fails to notify users that it’s taking a long time to complete an action. How many times have we sat at our computers and stared at the “spinning wheel of death”? In this example, users think the application is broken and start clicking other elements on the page. If your application has a slow response time, indicate that to the user. If a command takes 10 seconds or longer to load, show a progress bar so the user knows the application is loading and its progress.
Users have expectations on how something should behave and where they can access it. Not meeting those expectations can cause confusion and frustration. Some of the common inconsistencies include:
- Different words for the same action. As a website owner, you want people to contact your business so you have various calls to action on your site for people to fill out a contact form to get in touch. Some calls to action use “reach out to us” as the copy and others use “contact us”. Pick a phrase and keep it consistent throughout the site.
- Placing controls for the same feature in multiple places
- Controls that perform similar tasks but can be access in multiple places
- Sometimes a feature is available and other times it’s not, but the reason for this isn’t known
Bad Error Messages
Error messages are an important part of feedback. They tell users something is wrong. There’s nothing worse than an error message that doesn’t tell you how to fix the problem. Talk about feeling stranded! Informative error messages not only help users fix the current problem, but they can also help educate the user. It’s not expected that the user will become an expert with your product, but they may make the effort to understand the error and try to overcome it.
Default values help speed up the interaction because users don’t have to define a value if the default is acceptable. They also help teach users what is and is not an acceptable answer for any given question. I’ve run into this issue many times when filling in the contact section of a form. Organizations have different requirements for collecting a user’s phone number. Some set up the form for a phone number to be entered like this 1234567890 or like this 123-456-7890. Without a default value present, there’s no way of knowing the preferred method and this can result in an error message and frustration.
Most icons cannot stand on their own. Even icons that may seem universal such as the hamburger menu or login icon are not as familiar to users as most of us would expect. Adding text to these icons reduces the amount of time to recognize the command and it helps users learn the interface.
Nielsen, J., & Laubheimer, P. (2019, February 17). Top 10 Application-Design Mistakes. Nielsen Norman Group. Retrieved July 15, 2022, from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/top-10-application-design-mistakes/