Usability Mistakes: 6 Honest and Valuable Tips From a UX Designer

It often occurs to me how avoiding usability mistakes would take so much less effort. After so many projects, I realized I'm making common mistakes way before I actually design a single thing. Usability issues had been forming silently in the background while I focused on the design. They took root in my workflow and now I’m trying to revamp how I work.

In this article you can learn more about:

  • A UX designer’s experience with a constantly changing project
  • A lesser-known perspective on usability mistakes
  • 6 tips on revamping workflow to avoid poor usability and low website conversion

I was reading up on how to avoid usability mistakes while designing an online store a few months ago. After a few days, I kept finding the same old articles over and over again. Obviously, they all collected the same mistakes on purpose: Frequently appearing and easily avoidable mistakes deserve mention.

Problematically, they seemed like temporary solutions since the basic properties of my project kept changing on a weekly basis – the information architecture, the navigation mechanics, everything. I was searching for new tips every week so I decided to look for the nature of usability mistakes instead of a way to avoid them.

The inefficiency of sorting usability mistakes

Identifying a usability mistake can take a lot. It affects effectivity, efficiency and convenience in a negative, compromising way. A minor issue can make the user feel unpleasant while completing a task. A massive one can make even completing the task impossible. In this article, I’ll talk about them as incorrect design choices.

Convenience Efficiency Effectivity Diagram
Usability mistakes affect how conveniently, efficiently or effectively the user goes through a journey.

The problem lies in that usability issues come in many different forms and levels of severity. So why not just categorise and prioritise them? It can’t take that much, right? Not long ago I thought exactly that. Creating order in the chaos would make perfect sense, but when it comes to usability mistakes, this concept fails.

Making groups or listing the most commonly made ones doesn’t provide an effective solution. Why? UX design is ever changing and has multiple variables. Just think about how the way we interact with interfaces has changed in the last two decades.

We have moved from monitors to small mobile screens while tablets and smart watches with circular screens have broadened the palette. And that looks at just one variable in a way more complex equation.

That said, no rule or principle lasts forever in the constantly shifting field of design. This means that finding and sorting the most frequent mistakes supplies just a temporary solution. It may work but not for long. To prepare for everything in the distant and blurry future of UX design, look at your workflow for an ultimate answer.

How you can improve your workflow with usability mistakes in mind

Usability mistakes example on iPhone swipe up gesture
A few years ago, no one blinked at designing a cart function accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. In 2017, iPhone X happened. Since then, most users have used this gesture to get to their home screen. Source: support.apple.com

1. Integrate awareness into your workflow

I used to not browse design trends to keep them from influencing me. Just checking mood boards and color combinations instead, I completely ignored navigation structures and other UX solutions. I believed we subconsciously give up our innovative ideas after looking at popular solutions.

After all these years, the whole concept has flipped around in my mind. Ignoring current user behavior patterns and technological changes, you won’t just not expose yourself to the possibility of making critical design mistakes. You’ll also miss out on all other opportunities to make your design really useful.

2. Acquire background information

OK, so you map your future users’ behavior, but you have to follow through. Conducting exploratory interviews as a method makes for a good start. Asking questions and discovering motivations behind pain points and desires gives you the perfect material to work with: background information.

This becomes a gold mine when designing an interface. The sheer amount of data it produces might look scary. You may find it hard to organise or to work with but the hidden possibilities always lie inside.

Find a feasible way of acquiring some juicy background information. If you lack time for your own interviews, find case studies of similar products and pick out the findings. Take a look at existing benchmark studies or successful features of similar products. While not quite the same, they give you something to work with. Doing this research before even thinking about wireframes lets you design for the user.

Want to know more about wireframing and the steps of the UX design process? Download our free e-book today!

UX Designer looking at usability mistakes

3. Deconstruct your preconceptions

I was designing a food delivery app and wanted to experiment with the position of the button that takes you to the complete list of restaurants. I tried many variations through several tests but didn’t pay much attention because the user had several other ways to do that. Although the following tests went well (so the subject could complete the tasks) the experience still didn’t satisfy. Finding out why made for a hard nut to crack since they couldn’t identify the problem (not their job anyway).

A few days later I was watching my girlfriend order food on a totally unrelated site. I noticed how specifically she avoided predefined categories and recommended restaurants. She said they looked like ads. She considered the homepage a controlled environment so she proceeded to the restaurant list where she could sort and filter them without feeling controlled. This held the key to my project: control. I had missed this during the tests because of my preconception of how users should use the app.

The easiest way to make a risky design decision? Stay unaware of how your desktop and mobile device users want to use your product. Building for users and not telling them how they should think always comes easier. Mapping how your target audience expects to interact with your product will help you create an intuitive interface while avoiding critical mistakes simply. It makes for a good trade.

4. Accept your mistakes

Designers prove themselves just as human as the users they design for. Hard as it comes, we have to accept this fact. That tiny mistake haunts me to this day. Accept your mistakes, especially you perfectionists. We just can’t perform at one hundred percent all the time.

Moreover, we can’t avoid smaller usability problems there and no one can design without them coming up. They just make up part of the process. Of course, using various proven practices or (in this case) revamping workflow helps avoid critical issues. But we most likely can’t tackle satisfaction-related inconveniences. Because we perceive the world in unique ways, we expect outcomes and behaviors differently.

Sticky notes about usability mistakes

5. Understand your mistakes and build on them

Analyse what went wrong and why. Understanding the reason behind a bad design choice brings us way more than the mistake itself. This takes us back to the “inefficiency” of simply sorting usability mistakes. If you can tell why you’ve made a mistake in the first place, you can avoid making the same one in the future regardless of the platform or the audience.

Tracking back your mistakes might lead you to a habit (or the opposite, a lack of a habit) in your workflow that causes a lot of trouble later. In my case, designing with presumptions led to a lot of minor usability issues. In turn, they affected the overall user experience in a significantly compromising way. So I’m writing this article. Looking at your mistakes as a byproduct of how you work could help improve methods and get rid of easily-uprooted problems.

6. Validate your changes

Uprooting mistakes alone, however, doesn’t cut it. Just like designing and testing, reconstructing your workflow requires validation, too. We can do this only via various follow-up techniques. You can decide whether to send a simple email to the client, create a full-fledged questionnaire, or even do another round of testing. Determining the most effective way to gain relevant info about your work depends on your project/client.

Get some kind of feedback on your work to see the amount of improvement. This way you can measure the effectiveness of your changes and finetune them to achieve better results in case the first round doesn’t satisfy. Besides, it also gives you some good material for your CV, but that just comes as a bonus. 😉

Ux researcher observing usability mistakes

Conclusion and recap

So here follow in no particular order my tips to improve usability by revamping your design workflow. They rather provide a guide to where they should come in handy. Let’s do a quick recap to see them together:

  1. Integrate awareness into your workflow: Know current user behavior patterns and technological changes.
  2. Acquire background information: Find a feasible way to learn more about the motivation behind choices and preferences.
  3. Deconstruct your preconceptions: Stay ready to learn something new, and keep an eye on new perspectives.
  4. Accept your mistakes: Designers rate just as human as the users they design for; making mistakes doesn’t make you any less so.
  5. Understand your mistakes and build on them: Understand the reason behind a bad design choice; it brings way more than the mistake itself.
  6. Validate your changes: Reconstructing your workflow requires validation to determine effectiveness.

I’m still trying to properly integrate these tips in improving your workflow and it takes a lot to accurately measure. But my output already feels more strategic and prepared. I hope it helps you as well.

Continue learning with UX studio

Want to learn more about user-centric design and explore the basic principles of our proven lean UX process? Take a look at our Product Design book written by our CEO, David Pasztor.

In case you need help designing products or educating team members to access a new level of usability, feel free to contact us at UX studio. A team of fun-loving, enthusiastic professionals, we provide services ranging from UX consulting to UX trainings and reviews – and, of course, delivering pixel-perfect designs.

Sándor Zelenka

As a UX Designer I always aim to build a seamless and mutually beneficial connection between user and screen. Thanks to my experience in the content marketing industry I am also familiar with branding and UX writing.