Adobe Creative Cloud

January 19, 2016 /

Experts Weigh In: What Is The Most Common Web Design Mistake You See?

Everybody makes mistakes. We asked a handful of design experts about the most common web design mistakes they see and what their tips are for fixing and avoiding them. From thinking too inside the box to ignoring both relic and mobile users, you can learn a lot from both your own mistakes and those of other web designers. Here’s what they had to say.

Jessie White, Associate Creative Director, Instrument

The most common mistake in web design is being inspired by web design. It’s easy to get in a loop of looking for inspiration in the kind of things we’re already making. My designspiration feed is full of good-looking websites and certainly I’m guilty of falling into that pattern. It’s a fun challenge to make a food finding app that feels like the music of Joe Jackson. Or a coffee e-commerce website that feels like you’ve walked into your grandfather’s meticulously cared for tool shed. It gets real weird and artsy sometimes, but that kind of inspiration helps turn my brain inside out. It’s important that my designs have a personality and it takes exploring and patience to get them to that point.

Wes Bos , Full Stack Developer and Teacher of all things web

One of the most common mistakes I see is having text and elements too close to each other. When things are visually messy, it makes users want to leave your site sooner. Clean lines and spacing between text and elements will put your users at ease and make them want to stay longer and interact with your website — just look at how Medium gets you to easily read a 20 min blog post. If you aren’t a designer, you can always err on the side of more padding, more margin and more line height being better.

Skylar Challand, Founder, Oak

One mistake I seem to catch again and again is the overzealous use of the overflow property in CSS, specifically ‘overflow: scroll.’ The overflow property has been around since the earliest days of CSS, very little has changed here — but there seems to be a trend among recent web designers who’ve grown up using trackpads, touch devices, and Mac OS X. Ever since the release of OS X Lion, scrollbars have become hidden by default, and are increasingly becoming a relic of the past. However, we still need to think about the rest of the world who may be using PCs, mice, or older tech where scrollbars are very much present. As a rule of thumb, never use `overflow: scroll` — while it seems to give you want you want, you’re actually adding both vertical and horizontal scrollbars whether your content needs it or not.

Instead, use `overflow-y: scroll` for vertical scrollbars only, or `overflow: auto` to only apply scrollbars where necessary. I personally use a Logitech trackball (the same one for 10 years), so I often catch this mistake and feel like I’m the “Overflow Cop” on our team. Tip: enable scrollbars on your Mac to see what you’re missing.

Bonus tip: Combine `overflow-y: scroll` with `-webkit-overflow-scrolling: touch` for smooth, momentum scrolling on iOS devices (reference and code example).

Melissa Showalter, Art Director, Instrument

Designing a website is similar to designing any other type of communication design piece. There’s no shortcut to the creative process, and the hardest part is figuring out what you want to say and finding the most compelling way to say it. Once the creative process has kicked off, a common mistake I see interactive designers make is separating the design phase from the technology phase. It’s easy to layout some great looking static pages in Photoshop or Sketch, hand over the files to a developer, and move on. But exploring the technology angle simultaneously with the creative approach is what sets great websites apart from average ones.

Brad Frost, author of Atomic Design

I think the most common web design mistake I see is sites not respecting users and their time. This is represented in a number of ways:

  • Bloated, slow-loading pages
  • Overly-aggressive advertising
  • Popups and overlays
  • Dark patterns
  • Other superfluous or intentionally deceptive practices I lovingly classify as bullshit.

Users of the Web are inundated with more information than ever before, so it’s up to us as people creating for the Web to respect users and their time. That means giving them what they want as quickly as possible. That means putting up a fight when asked to implement cruddy and/or deceptive practices. That means respecting your craft.

Patrick Richardson, Co-Founder, Executive Director, Franklyn

A mistake I often see designers make is treating web design like print design. Although any decent designer can make a website look good as a .jpg filled with beautiful images and perfectly ragged lorem ipsum, it takes real talent and foresight to ensure that same layout will sparkle when stretched to strange display proportions and filled by a client with less than ideal content. Unlike print, which is static and can be tightly controlled, great web design must be based on a super flexible, highly considered system that addresses all the crazy use cases that come with the modern internet. That said; some of my favorite web designers started their careers in print. [Print] provides an incredible foundation upon which all the digital stuff can stack.

What is the most common design mistake you see and what can be done to fix it? Let us know in the comments below.

Join the discussion

  • By Stewart - 5:56 PM on January 19, 2016  

    My worst fear, a “designer” who thinks design is just about being different, a “fine art” designer! Please keep her out of any realworld commercial projects, SERIOUSLY “a coffee e-commerce website that feels like you’ve walked into your grandfather’s meticulously cared for tool shed.” or perhaps a real nice Coffee shop! Customer & product first and last

    • By amandathewebdev - 7:07 PM on January 19, 2016  

      I agree with the point though. We do too often mimic what we see already done. She’s talking about user experience with the tool shed reference, which is about customer & product.

  • By Dave Barnes - 6:17 PM on January 19, 2016  

    Not enough content.
    I want to research “stuff” and too many business don’t have enough details on their website.

  • By Tony - 6:39 PM on January 19, 2016  

    Damn pop-ups. It is not that long ago that they were regarded as the devil’s spawn, and always featured top of the dung pile of the most hated device on websites, and they largely disappeared. Now back with a vengeance, and hopefully, to be treated with equal and full vengeance by site consumers, consuming elsewhere!

  • By Michelle Hickey - 8:12 PM on January 19, 2016  

    The most common Web Design mistake I see is lack of compelling content. Similar to what Melissa said, there is no shortcut in the creative process. All parties need to be involved (from start to finish would be ideal), but the start of all websites should be the content. If the content is not quality, then what is the point of having a website at all? Even if it is the most beautiful piece on the planet, the buzz will fade once the user realizes there is nothing that makes them come back for more. A great website houses intriguing content in a beautiful shell.

  • By Brad - 10:52 PM on January 19, 2016  

    For myself, its unnecessary HTML. Articles within articles!

  • By shashi rupapara - 5:24 AM on January 21, 2016  


    really helpful for me


  • By Cameron - 2:43 PM on January 25, 2016  

    100% agree with the last point. Have seen countless excellent print designers hand me a shocking website design with elements randomly thrown. It might look good in a graphics program it’s a nightmare for your developer.

  • By Una Neary - 1:08 PM on January 27, 2016  

    Large rectangular pop up screens that completely obscure what I have come to read.
    For heaven sake, if you want to ask me to join your mailing list, please wait until I have read what you have to say first and keep it over to the side or at the bottom somewhere.

  • By Jason - 7:06 PM on January 30, 2016  

    Bad css nomenclatures. People only focusing on the aesthetics aspects of web instead of the full circle of aesthetics and performance.

  • By Adam Lane - 2:46 AM on February 4, 2016  

    A big one is designers relying on cookie-cutter break points in their responsive layouts. Even well respected design firms tend to overlook this. A breakpoint should be the width at which your layout “breaks” not necessarily 768 px, etc….

    Also, so many major e-commerce sites not calling the correct mobile keyboard for specific form fields or overlooking the autocorrect, autocapitalize and autocomplete attributes for mobile forms. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case with the name and email inputs of this form as well.

  • By Meh - 1:00 AM on February 15, 2016  

    I like that last point by Adam. People treat breakpoints by device px rather than when the actual layout or content breaks apart

  • By Ann Ford - 3:17 PM on February 16, 2016  

    Patrick’s point about how a layout must work even when filled by a client’s less than ideal content touches on a common oversight: leaving content up to the client. The copy and content should merit the same kind of attention the layout does. Layout shouldn’t just be a beautiful shell, as Michelle mentions above, for anything the client wants to dump in it. When a writer, designer and coder are on board from the start, the work is much stronger and more effective. Offering web design without editorial services is missing half the picture.

  • By iDGS - 4:00 AM on April 28, 2016  

    Poor writing.

  • By Manu Gupta - 6:43 AM on April 29, 2016  

    I agree to Wes Bos. It is important to give due respect to each component on the web page. Not giving enough space, improper alignment create confusion make the user leave the page.