Toolbox Blog: resources, tips, tricks & info for creative professionals

Posts Tagged ‘bad websites’

February 10th, 2009

5 Common Mistakes Made When Designing a Website

There are some pretty bad websites out there.  In fact, there are sites dedicated solely to pointing them out (  Most of the ‘bad websites’ out there (excluding the truly horrific) are labeled so because they made a handful of very common mistakes during the design process.  These are some of those mistakes we see the most often.

Having design elements that look like ads – There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a reasonable amount of advertisements on your website.  However, you must realize that because of the sheer volume of advertisements on pages, most users have developed selective attention.  They’ll ignore everything that looks like a banner, pop-up or any other type of typical ad – so its not a good idea to have important design elements or information displayed in any of these formats.

Jamming 10 pounds of stuff into a 5 pound bag – Whether you go overboard on content or flashy design elements, cramming too much onto a site is a common mistake.  The result could be a busy layout, a wall of text, side scrolling, very little white space, etc.  Each of these things makes a website difficult to read and making your visitors work for information is never a good idea.

Having confusing and unclear navigation – Clear navigation is one of the most important factors for a site’s usability.  Users should have no questions about how they are supposed to move around the different areas of your site.  It’s a good idea to make your links change colors once a user clicks on them, knowing which pages they’ve already visited helps prevent users from unintentionally landing on pages they’ve seen before.  Also, your users shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to find the content they are looking for – make sure that every single page is within 3 or 4 clicks of your homepage.

Looking amateur-ish – Sure this is a bit vague, but there are certain features/missteps that web designers make that scream beginner.  For example, avoid saying “Welcome to ____” on your homepage.  There are other ways to make your visitors feel welcome.  Similarly, test to make sure your page looks good in all browsers instead of taking the shortcut “Best viewed in ____”.

Using overly wild or bright color schemes – Everyone loves creativity, and this doesn’t mean that you should shy away from using color in your design.  However, when colors are too bright or you use too many colors on the same page it can look unprofessional.  Also make sure that your background color and text color compliment each other, keeping your text easy to read and scan.

So next time your designing a site, take a minute to step back and review.  If you avoid these common errors you are probably safe from having your site end up on one of the many “Worst Website” lists.

December 3rd, 2008

Stop Spreading Lists Over Mulitple Pages!

It’s been out for a while now, but this morning I was all excited to go check out what considers the 50 best websites of 2008.  I’m greeted by the headline “The Best in the Online World” and, with building anticipation, I click enter…only to realize that in order to see these 50 sites I will have to click through 51 pages.  Putting aside the fact that this math doesn’t seem to work out right, I’m immediately put off and slightly annoyed.

And I know I can’t be the only one to feel this way.

Now I have to read a paragraph, and wait for my browser to load, read a paragraph, wait, etc. It’s a definite time killer, and more likely than not my browser will crash at some point down the list.  Plus it makes browsing over the list quickly impossible.  I realize that I will miss the witty commentary about each site – but sometimes I just want a quick glance over.

This trend has gotten so bad that people on social bookmarking sites like Digg have started to post the actual list in the comments section – with captions like “save your time, here’s the list:” or “great list, but takes forever to load – here it is:” or they get annoyed too and take this route:

Now, I’m not talking about 50 item lists spread over 3 or 4 pages, that is completely reasonable – it actually decreases loading time of the page and browsing the list is still a valid option.  Its the 1:1 ratio of item to page that is the problem.

In theory I understand the reasoning behind the decision.  You stand to bring in more advertising revenue by placing different ads on each page, and they may get a boost in the search engines because each page is getting lots of traffic.  But these “benefits” come at the cost of usability and in my opinion no site should be willing to sacrifice that.

November 5th, 2008

Great Brands with Bland, Boring, or Just Plain Bad Websites

There are a few brands, the crème de la crème, that consistently show up on various “Top 100″ type lists.  You know which ones I’m talking about.  They’re household names and for the most part come out on top because they’ve met and exceeded the expectations of reviewers/consumers/whoever.  They’ve got the best of everything (insert famous ad tagline here) and they’re usually not hurting too badly financially.  So when I stumbledupon the latest “Top 100 Brands” list here I took a look at some of the companies’ websites guessing I was in for an overdose of inspiration…

I was wrong.  A few were great, most were fine, and some were pretty bad.  The bad ones are here…enjoy!


For a site with upwards of 80,000 visitors per month its amazing how dated Duracell is, and the slow-to-load, amateur-ish flash intro doesn’t help.


Yes, its bad – but I was going to let this one slide because it was UPS.  That was until I checked out and found out they average over 12 million visits per month! I am truly speechless.


Better than UPS…but not by much.


AH my eyes!! Bad color choice and much too cluttered.


Cars this cool deserve a better website…’nuff said.


Granted it gets better as you delve into the site – but you don’t want this to be the first thing people see. Boring.

Merrill Lynch

I know its ‘professional’, and that a website probably isn’t a high priority for them right now…but come on, this looks like they haven’t upgraded since 1998.


I’m not lovin’ it. The black background could look cool, but they have so little content on the page it ends up being overwhelming.  The navigation is hard to use as well.  They made it super interactive, problem is that when you move your mouse inadvertently what you were reading can disappear.


Where’s the yummy food?  Seriously…not one chocolate chip? I realize they are a huge company, but it seems like they’re taking themselves a bit too seriously with this extremely corporate-feeling site.


With second quarter earnings this year of $4.98 billion you’d think they’d be willing to drop the $5K or so it would take to make their site modern and maybe a bit better looking.


Avon’s business is looking pretty…they should know better.


The biggest/best consulting firm around and this is all they’ve got? Tired design with hardly any navigation to speak of doesn’t convey the image they’re probably going for.


Some useful features, but the site doesn’t have a very welcoming feel – why would I want to stay here? I think not having any pictures at all is a lost opportunity for any site trying to sell accommodations.


Know any other great brands whose websites don’t quite live up to your expectations?  Let us know in the comments!

August 13th, 2008

11 Signs That its Time for a Website Redesign

There are ALOT of sites out there that, well to put it nicely just aren’t very good. We’ve all gotten a good laugh when we come across a truly horrific design…but what if that site was yours or your business’? Not so funny now. The ever increasing quantities of websites, plus our rapidly decreasing attention spans, make good web design more important than ever.

As a public service, here are a few signs that you might want to think about a redesign:

Your Site Makes No Attempt at Engaging a Visitor

Your site is a wall-flower. One-way information flow is old and tired. With all the social networking and bookmarking sites (Digg, Stumble Upon, and Facebook just to name a few) people are connecting in new ways every day. These users will become frustrated if they can’t interact with your site. Blogging is a great way to make your site feel more social and up-to-date, as long as the blog is relevant. An added bonus is that the consistent new content will attract a crowd of “regulars” and makes your site more appealing to the search engines. At the very, very least make sure your email is easy to find. Remember, if people like you they’ll tell their friends.

Exemptions: Some sites intentionally designed to be informational (and informational only) may get a pass on this, but there’s really no excuse for not engaging a site visitor.

Your Homepage Makes People Shudder

You’ve got a cluttered first page. Too many graphics, links every other line, ads on every side, not to mention all your text, etc. Its enough to make the casual viewer’s head hurt! For example, I stumbled across this page and my stress level shot up instantly. The most up to date advice is to keep it simple.

Exemptions: No one. There’s no excuse for a homepage that leaves people not wanting more.

Your Site Makes Any Sort of Noise

Music, unless it is very relevant to your site content (i.e. you are a record label’s website) its probably a better idea to leave it off. Keep in mind where people may be when they come across your site…at work, school, in a library, etc. – all places where a loud burst of music may be less than welcome. Another factor to keep in mind is that not everyone may share your obviously superb taste in music (shocking I know). If, after you put some serious thought into it, you still decide to have a musical background please PLEASE design it so I will be able to turn it off.

Exemptions: Obviously, any music or video websites and also the very, very few websites that tactfully use sound on the site.

Your Site Has Content No One Can Read

No one can read your copy. Having too many colors on the page or choosing bad color palettes/backgrounds can lead to a site that is very hard for a user to read. The same goes for using really tiny text or a hundred different fonts. Anyone can get carried away during the design process, but let’s remember that first and foremost your website must be readable. If people can’t read the information you want to give them your website is essentially useless – no matter how pretty you think it is.

Exemptions: No excuse for tiny text or anything hard to read.

Your Site Involves the Use of a Horizontal Scroll Bar

The site has horizontal scrolling. We’re all used to scrolling up and down, making us scroll sideways is awkward and annoying. Please don’t do it, nobody likes awkwardness.

Exemptions: Blue Vertigo who has a resource list in the same vein as our Dashboard gets an exemption cuz their list is so useful, but it would be equally useful vertically. No one else gets a pass on this one though.

Your Site is Ugl-IE

Your site works and looks great in Firefox but is a train wreck in Explorer. Make sure your design works well with all browsers, you don’t want to lose people before you even get started.

Exemptions: None and its time to fire your previous web designer.

Your Site Leads People To Nothing

There is no focal point to speak of. Check out this site – sure our eyes flock to the red circle in the middle but after that its a free for all. It’s important to know how people’s eyes read a page and factor that into the design. You can influence how people view your site by creating a flow that is ordered and makes sense.

Exemptions: None, unless your going for that complete chaos look.

Your Site is Either All Text or Has No Text

Your site is all text, or for that matter your site has basically no text. Designing a successful web site is walking a fine line in this respect. Too much text looks busy, and people simply won’t read all the way through it. On the other hand a site with all pictures is confusing and hard to navigate, not to mention that having no text makes it much harder for the search engines to index/find your pages. For example, I dare you to try and find your way around the bow-wow books website

Exemptions: Craigslist (all text at its finest).

Your Site Opens with a Ridiculously Long Flash Intro

You have a ridiculously long flash intro. In theory its a great idea – visually appealing, fun to watch unfold, unique – but in reality it can go very wrong. These designs are now commonplace and people won’t sit through long intros, especially without a skip button. Granted, some flash intros can be very cool, but a common opinion among the best designers is that the intros are just another obstacle for potential visitors to overcome. Deciding to put in a skip button itself can be a catch-22, you allow the visitor to get right to your site but you are also effectively saying ‘my intro isn’t important why don’t you skip it’. In that case why do you have an intro in the first place? Its a debated issue and it basically comes down to personal taste. A flash intro is not an inherently bad design technique, but when abused it can hurt you. A general rule of thumb is any more than a few seconds and you start losing people. Here is an example for you – its obviously not meant to be a legitimate intro but you get the point.

Exemptions: Any site purposely trying to drive visitors away…so no exemptions here.

Your Site Induces Seizures

The website has text that blinks/scrolls too fast/flashes neon colors at you or contains any other activity likely to cause a seizure. Along these same lines continuous animation is also a no-no. Take a look at this site, the spinning globe animation and flashing text not only look bad but also make the design very dated, circa 1995. Too much movement on a website is like the little kid inside the store screaming ‘Look at me!’, its bound to get some attention – almost none of it positive. You have to go to this website to get the full effect, trust me (and what’s with the random cat running backwards at the bottom).

Exemptions: The band M.I.A. who’s user base loves flashing colors.

Your Site’s Navigation Confuses Users

The absolute #1 sign it is time for a new web design is if your site has unclear navigation. How users get from one page to another on a site should be obvious. Make sure you have some sort of menu on every page – people get frustrated when they have to hit the back button a thousand times. But be careful, let them hit the back button if they want to, there is nothing more annoying than getting redirected to the page you are on when all you want is the page you just left.

Exemptions: No excuses for a website that can’t be navigated by an everyday user. (more…)

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