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What are some common mistakes regarding usability for web applications?

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closed as not constructive by Patrick McElhaney Sep 28 '11 at 17:38

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31 Answers 31

CSS / Javascript drop down menus that don't have a delay specified on them so you experience the "diagonal problem" (via Jakob Nielsen)

alt text

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Man I hate this sh.t :) Why can't they work with clicks instead of hovers. –  naugtur Aug 18 '10 at 8:07
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This is why CSS hover menus are never feasible. @naugtur: I just asked that question here: ui.stackexchange.com/questions/782/… –  DisgruntledGoat Aug 25 '10 at 9:51

Poor form validation design.

I hate it when I submit a form which fails validation and the application does any of the following:

  • Fields are BLANK when the form reloads. This happened to me while signing up for a web app on my iPhone. I was royally pissed because there were over 8 fields.
  • Displays only one validation error per form submit.
  • Does not present a summary of errors at the top of the form.
  • Does not visually highlight the invalid field inputs.
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14  
Password fields are left blank so you don't end up sending the password back to the user in plaintext in a potentially cached document on their computer. –  Aren Oct 8 '10 at 0:27

Not putting clickable labels on checkboxes and other form fields.

It's so easy to do. See the HTML <label> tag.

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8  
+1 I will actually boycott services who don't do this. –  sholsinger Feb 4 '11 at 20:18

Poor design when it comes to Primary vs Secondary action buttons on forms.

http://www.lukew.com/resources/articles/psactions.asp

alt text

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19  
The Cancel button looks disabled, I'd be careful when choosing a different color. –  mbillard Sep 2 '10 at 15:45
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Although conceptually I get it, the last example always looks to me like Firefox is falling back to the link title because the image is 404. ;-) –  scunliffe Sep 8 '10 at 9:58
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I currently have to use an application involving text editing which has [OK] and [CANCEL] buttons about as close as in that example, exactly the same styling, with the OK button taking up about a third as much space as the CANCEL. Guess how often I accidentally click that CANCEL button losing all changes, and guess how much I despise the application as a result... –  Bobby Jack Nov 24 '10 at 1:09

Users use the back & forward buttons in their browser (or on their mouse). And they use the refresh button too. So be careful with form posts on your website.

Nobody likes this...

enter image description here

This dialog box appears when you refresh the page that the data is posted to. Fortunately, it can be avoided by using method="get" when possible, or method="post" followed immediately by a redirect where necessary. If you must use a post for length or security reasons, the redirect should go to a different URL than the form action to avoid this message.

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Thanks for the reminder. I need to go back and look at some of my applications to make sure I'm not putting users through that. –  Kevin Kaske Aug 16 '10 at 19:41
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Don't use method="get" if your form post changes something. Only use get for things like searches, everything else should use post. –  Runscope API Tools Aug 16 '10 at 19:54
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Ideal redirect is en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTTP_303 and not 302 or 301. –  iamgopal Aug 17 '10 at 2:37

JavaScript links. You can't middle-click open a new tab for javascript:loadPage(34576).

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Big no no. But guess what ASP.NET Web Forms do? Exactly that. –  sholsinger Feb 4 '11 at 20:23
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Well, in Safari you can. It will execute the JavaScript on the current page and open any pages that that JavaScript code opens in a new tab. –  rightføld Aug 6 '11 at 15:11

Asking mandatory personal information in registration forms when they are not necessary.

Examples :

  • asking an address on a website where this information is useless
  • Forcing to enter a "real" name
  • ...

Making this information mandatory is the best way to get a really polluted database full of "dummy", "foo@foo.com", etc. because most people don't like to give that kind of information when it's not really necessary.

Moreover, not being able to modify any of this information is a really bad design.

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I would add to that asking for first name and last name as separate fields. There are some people out there who only have one name, and not all of them are celebrities. –  ICR Aug 17 '10 at 8:05
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@ICR It also affects other cultures that don't have the same concept as western culture, where we have our given and family name. See the Wikipedia article on Arabic names for an interesting read. –  Jared Harley Aug 21 '10 at 2:29

target="_blank" on anchors is one of the most common, and the one I hate most. There are some cases which it makes sense, though, to my opinion.

Here's a rather known list of Top 10 Mistakes on Web Design: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9605.html

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+1 It's a classic link. –  Chuck Conway Aug 16 '10 at 19:44
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@Aren only in XHTML. It's still valid in HTML5 and HTML 4.01. –  Yahel Nov 1 '10 at 17:36
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@LoganGoesPlaces: Whilst there's at least some logic in what you say (It's much better than "I don't want people to leave my site ...") I think having a rule that all external sites should open in a new window is a bit too black-and-white. The only case that I can really think of that justifies 'open in new window' is a list of links, many of which are highly likely to be opened, probably for later reference, whilst the containing page is very likely to be constantly open. For example: twitter. –  Bobby Jack Nov 24 '10 at 1:13

When the functionality of the back button is disabled or changed from what the user would expect. I see this a lot on applications that use custom dialog / lightboxes / iframes.

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Making me hunt for the "forgot your password?" link, and then once I click it, sending me my password in the clear1 once I find it. Our dear Jeff Atwood covered it quite well in "You're Probably Storing Passwords Incorrectly"

1 Admittedly, this part is more of a programming problem, but I consider it a usability problem as well.

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2  
@Dis Sometimes it's not that easy - my wife's payroll company sends passwords in the clear - I wrote them a nice long email, with references, explaining why they really, really, really shouldn't do what they're doing. –  Jared Harley Sep 11 '10 at 3:33

Using checkboxes as radiobuttons and vice-versa.

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4  
Select checkbox. Select another checkbox. Get a javascript alert saying I'm only allowed to select one checkbox. Arrrgh! (It only happened to me once, a few years ago, and I still remember it with rage. It's just so inexcusable.) –  TRiG Dec 1 '10 at 21:16

Nowhere to close your account or or making it really hard to find where to close your account.

Ideally you want a section "Account" or something worded similarly, and on that page, aside from all the other stuff you want there, a clearly labeled link or button that says "close my account". You can follow that with a page that asks users why they're leaving or invites them to give feedback, but all that stuff should be deprioritised compared to the actual "close my account" (or delete, remove, etc.) call to action.

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1  
Or making me write an email to have my account deleted. I'm looking at you, Fring and Digsby! –  Jared Harley Aug 21 '10 at 2:33
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Yes, but did that stop you from opening an account? Its not so much a usability gotcha as a conflict of interests between client and supplier.. –  Mongus Pong Sep 7 '10 at 11:28
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I might not have if I'd known before opening the account. That's the problem: you sign up for something expecting a degree of control, only to find out you don't have it. –  Rahul Sep 7 '10 at 12:00
  • Fields with super strict validation. For example, if you typed a postal code and "V5X4O4" works but "V5X 4O4" doesn't.

  • Icons with no textual label or title (on hover or not).

  • If a title is being truncated, I think you should be able to see a tooltip with the full title on hover.

  • When important buttons are obfuscated from end users in favour of advertisements or promotional material. Think of PayPal's "Continue without an account" button.

    • AUDIO THAT PLAYS WITHOUT PERMISSION! Lol - Also, no mute button.
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+1 - just because you know how to embed audio/video doesn't give you the right to make me hear/see it! –  Jared Harley Sep 11 '10 at 3:37

The question is a bit too general and actually more of a discussion.

I can contribute one thing I've seen repeatedly:

Forms that have a "clear all" button.

  • Some of those even design both "submit" and "clear all" buttons the same, giving them equal weight.
  • Not to mention that I've seen examples (don't have a specific link in mind right now...) where the "clear" is on the left and the "submit" on the right, causing some users to press the first button closest to their cursor when leaving the last field.

I see no reason at all for a "clear" button, but if you absolutely insist then just use a very subtle link, allowing just one simply and obvious action for the user.

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2  
Yup. Cleared them a lot. I also changed my password a lot in one webapp that had a bigger "send me new password" button than the "log in" button. –  naugtur Aug 18 '10 at 8:22

Not having your site degrade gracefully when JavaScript is disabled.

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34  
I disagree. In principle, you have a point, but javascript has become integral part of the web experience for most people. –  Chuck Conway Aug 16 '10 at 19:54
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Whether or not JavaScript is more widely accepted now, it is bad practice to require it for the key information on your site. There are still plenty of enterprise users stuck on IE6, people with JavaScript turned off for security reasons, and people with screen readers. If you have to use JavaScript(which I am all for), you should make sure your site still provides it's key information even when viewed with styles/scripts disabled. –  LoganGoesPlaces Aug 17 '10 at 1:28
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Same old story. While JS still can be turned off (I use JS blockers on sites I don't know) It's not worth it to design a rich webapp to work without javascript nowadays. You'd do better if You created an app engine with api and a rich JS interface for it as well as a "fallback" interface that would work without JS and even in lynx. That's what google did with gmail after a whie for example. I use it in lynx and I get mad when other sites don't work (eg. train schedules). If I use firefox I accept the requirement to turn on JS on any sites –  naugtur Aug 18 '10 at 8:16
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I will agree with you in web sites, but this question pertains to web applications. It is common for web applications to require Javascript now-days. –  jeef3 Aug 30 '10 at 1:46

Being "creative" and tucking your search bar behind a tab/link/etc. If you offer search, just make a box available, rather than needing to hunt for it!

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Having to register to perform some basic operations that doesn't really need registration. Or allow a "one-click" registration method.
The user should have the right to decide. I end up with a lot of "one-time use" accounts on so many websites !

Some examples where it shouldn't be necessary :

  • downloading files (how many "code" website ask you to register to allow you to download a sample file ?)
  • searching (yes, some forums disable search for non registered users)
  • accessing an article (when its access is free)
  • ...
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2  
Even worse: searching forums on gamefaqs.com required the user to be registered AND have over 100 "karma" (~= reputation). Leads to the same questions being asked over and over. (may have changed; haven't been there in a few years) –  OverMachoGrande Aug 17 '10 at 3:42
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If a forum allow searching only if you are registered, then you can used google with "site:form_site.com", but I agree the this is bad idea in the first place, and this is realy annoying. –  jcubic Oct 7 '10 at 10:34

My biggest pet peeve are sites that for one reason or many don't correctly support plus signs in email addresses. A lot of the time, websites won't validate an email address with a '+' before the '@'. The worst though is when a site accepts the address, but then doesn't escape and/or unescape the data correctly and either tries to send email to an address with a space in it or with the two sides of the '+' smashed together.

This free validator written in PHP purportedly follows all the RFCs and their associated errata.

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Sites with floating status bars

Such as Meebo Bar. These are obnoxious and rarely provide useful functionality. They take up unnecessary space and pop up distracting balloons.

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Having to search for the logout link. I log on to a page, and I in some, when I'm done, I have to search for the logout button or link.

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Web Apps that run on a secure HTTPS connection, but load content from an HTTP connection. On one hand this is totally fine, but for IE users in particular (not me typically) the security warning is awkward and confusing for users...

Not only is it highly aggravating to dismiss on every page, but the wording is awkward, and the button actions are different for IE(6&7) vs. IE8+

Old IE dialog:

alt text

New IE dialog:

alt text

So, if as a user you "just want to load the full page" (e.g. you are looking for the "go away" button)... it is the default Yes in IE6 & IE7, but the non default No in IE8+.

Note: I'm fully aware as a developer what the purpose of the dialog is and even why Microsoft changed it but for end users it just confuses them especially in IE8. End users see a dialog come up asking for "permission", "confirmation", etc. and expect to click the "ok" or "yes" option because they don't read the dialog. One can argue that the users should read it, but it is just easier if developers ensure they don't have mixed content if it can at all be avoided.

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3  
I'm a "power user" and it took me a while to realize why some of my emails weren't loading in OWA - I was telling them not to because of that new dialog. –  Jared Harley Sep 12 '10 at 23:28
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I actually found the newer one to be more confusing than the older one. –  Theodor Sep 24 '12 at 16:15
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@scunliffe A more sensable choice of labeling the buttons would have been something like: "Hide non-secure items" and "Whatever, go away". I wish all dialogs had a "Whatever, go away" button. –  Theodor Sep 25 '12 at 12:32

Recently I've noticed something I never considered a usability problem:

Hover for making actions available. Like for example on twitter.com where hovering a tweet displays the retweet and reply commands.

This simply doesn't work on touch-based devices at all. There's no hover!

Another pet peeve of mine are websites that don't open external links in a new tab. Look, I'm browsing in a tree. I expect every domain I'm on to represent a branch, when I'm done with it I will close the tab. I certainly don't want clicking 'back' ten times to travel up the branch.

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You can just middle click or Ctrl+Click for your pet peeve. I think most people will disagree with you. Also, the OP asks for one answer per answer. I was going to +1 but I disagree with your second point so it cancels itself out. –  Joe Philllips Aug 16 '10 at 22:04
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Hover for actions is indeed irritating on touch devices. There are ways to mitigate it; not do it, detect touch browsers and not do it, or also display the controls on click. Those with hover abilities will get it on hover, those with touch when they tap. Not great, but a compromise if you really have to have reveal on hover. –  ICR Aug 17 '10 at 8:03
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I would definitely disagree with the second point. It is easy enough to open a link in a new window. I want to be in control of my browsing experience and what opens where, not have somebody else think they know better. I obviously browse the web differently from you - I don't think of it as a tree of domains at all. The website shouldn't force a particular behaviour upon me. –  ICR Aug 17 '10 at 8:04
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Touchscreens is a whole new medium. I think it should be supported by browsers. CSS has screen and print media types. I think adding a touchscreen would do quite enough. You could add a style for that medium and it'd show all onhover actions. Anybody got friends in W3C? :D –  naugtur Aug 18 '10 at 8:20

Hiding what users want and instead giving them what YOU want them to want.

An example is customer support. Instead of listing a big fat box with phone number / mail etc, some companies show a FAQ as a means of getting help and don't have any contact info on that page.

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3  
To be fair, those things are usually hidden to avoid the customer support getting inundated with simple questions that are answered in the FAQs. –  DisgruntledGoat Aug 25 '10 at 9:56

Many sites don't use different colors for visited links.

Jakob Nielsen: Change the Color of Visited Links

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QA sites that display the accepted answer twice.

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1  
sexperts exchange? (sic) –  scunliffe Sep 25 '12 at 12:25

Sites that have menu structures that "float" up and down either side of the screen as you scroll. I can see why they've done it, but it's often very distracting and more often not as "slick" as the designer had obviously hoped for.

An example to which I am referring can be seen here: http://www.deluxe-menu.com/floatable-menu-sample.html

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Sites that uses lots of cpu and memory

I usually have a bunch of tabs open with programming questions/answers from various mailinglists and many of these sites have some heavy javascript going on (Installing adblock helped, but still there are heavy sites). With Chrome I can finally see which tabs that are causing it.

The new improved Google image search puts my cpu on heavy job and takes up several hundreds of megabytes. Much resource hungry.

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Having static elements on your page that change color if you put the mouse cursor on them, but do nothing if you click on them. In the same league: hyperlinks or buttons where the clickable region is limited to the text.

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Captchas

although they are quite popular these days, they're also considered an accesibility issue, especially for people who fail to recognize words they don't know (or don't even have special characters such as ýáěíč on their keyboard)

personally, I rather use simple rational questions to serve this functionality

example: please write the next whole number that comes after number eleven

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A List Apart has an article by Aza Raskin: "Never Use a Warning When you Mean Undo".

http://www.alistapart.com/articles/neveruseawarning/

Users tend to ignore or dis-like "warning" pop-ups, but offering a user the chance to "undo" is much more user-friendly.

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