Common usability problems

A few weeks ago, the guys at Smashing Magazine posted an article that brings up 10 Usability Nightmares You Should Be Aware Of. They also list examples of those usability problems as found on a number of more or less well-known websites.

I agree with most the problems on the list, though I would order them differently. I also think one or two of the examples aren’t really that bad. It’s easy to find a site that has much more annoying animation that Digital Web does, for instance. Just go to any newspaper site…

Anyway, here are the problems mentioned in the article:

  1. Hidden log-in link
  2. Pop-ups for content presentation
  3. Dragging instead of vertical navigation
  4. Invisible links
  5. Visual noise
  6. Dead end
  7. Content blocks layering upon each other
  8. Dynamic navigation
  9. Drop-Down Menus
  10. Blinking images

Of those issues, the ones that annoy me personally the most are 2, 4, and 9. Especially number 9, drop down menus. They are almost always obtrusively implemented and thoroughly annoying and difficult to use. Especially when I’m travelling and have to use my MacBook Pro’s touchpad.

Number 2, pop-ups for content presentation, is another nuisance. If I follow a link on your site, why do you have to open it in a new window? At least be polite enough to warn me about it first.

Number 4, invisible links, really shouldn’t exist. Maybe I’m missing something, but I just don’t see the point in creating a link only to make it look the same as the surrounding text.

Here are a few more problems that are common and make many websites harder and more annoying to use than they have to be:

  • Low contrast text
  • Small text that can’t be resized
  • Small text that can be resized, but doing so causes content to disappear
  • Preventing or breaking normal browser functionality like mouse-wheel scrolling, printing, and bookmarking
  • Over-designed forms

There are many more common usability problems, of course. Which ones are most annoying to you?

Posted on November 5, 2007 in Accessibility, Usability

Comments

  1. Number 2, pop-ups for content presentation, is another nuisance. If I follow a link on your site, why do you have to open it in a new window? At least be polite enough to warn me about it first.

    What about using techniques, such as LightBox, for content ‘pop-up’ presentation?

    A few of good examples might be:

    • Help Content
    • Login Box
    • Feedback Form
  2. From that list, my biggest pet peeves are #1, #2, #4 and #10.

    I find it absolutely annoying when I can’t find the login box on the website (amazon.com was famous for this one, thankfully it’s been redesigned since then).

    Pop-ups are awful, especially when they are designed to open up in the predefined space (for example, in the very top right hand corner).

    I see no point for invisible links either.

    Blinking images are simply way too distracting.

    PS. Great post as usual.

  3. Invisible links are mainly used for SEO and such. Smaller search engines will register them as relevant content and rank a page better. Bigger search engines such as google does not register these links, instead they might blacklist the site in question.

    One thing that irritates the heck out of me are flash based menus, i cant scrollwheel-click the items to open them in a background window! Dunno if flash-menus are included in the “dynamic navigation” thou..

  4. Flash sites so badly designed, that they dump you when you hit the back button is one of my pet annoyances - they deserve no visitors.

    Sites that autorefresh on leaving, so that you cannot leave them by the back button really gets me.

    Otherwise I gladly blacklist any site exploring trick no 2, 5 and 10.

  5. “Especially number 9, drop down menus. They are almost always obtrusively implemented and thoroughly annoying and difficult to use. Especially when I’m travelling and have to use my MacBook Pro’s touchpad.”

    question: how many times did you have to use the application’s drop down menu to compose and post this article? and did you experience the same level of annoyance? if not, why not?

  6. November 6, 2007 by Carolina F S

    I hate number 7, it’s always happening to me. I usually adblock the offending flash movie or just go away. Not from the list, but I also hate it when you have to close an ad to read the real content behind it.

  7. About number 2: “Pop-ups for content presentation”.

    I think auto pop-ups is boring. It make noise. But how about click and pop-ups? User may knew about the behavior, and do it. I think that can’t be a usability problem.

  8. The new Safari styles quite a lot of formcontrols, I find this to be highly annoying.

    I am also not very fond of flash intros. Most have a “skip intro” link but surely that means that the designer is, on some level, aware that what he’s created isn’t very appealing to visitors. Why not take the logical step and omit the fluff?

  9. November 6, 2007 by Dennis

    Window resizing is one missing point. What do these so called web designers think why I’ve decided not to use a full screen. If a website resizes my browser’s window it gets closed immediately.

  10. November 6, 2007 by Sander

    Custom scrollbars, using JavaScript or Flash… brrrr…

  11. On the drop down menus:

    I recently had to redesign a site for a client and they were dead set on making drop down menus for the 50 page site.

    I used a couple of analogies (and I don’t even know if they are good points or not) but the client made a 180 degree turn on her stance.

    First Analogy:

    Imagine you were giving someone written directions to a location, and you listed every single way from point A to B. Now, what if they were a visitor to your land and you wanted to show them the scenic route.

    Second Analogy: Imagine if you were making a book and put the table of contents on every single page. People know where to go… IF YOU FOLLOW CONVENTION!

    Like I said, I have know idea if they are good points, but it saved me from having to roll out a God forsaken drop down menu.

  12. November 6, 2007 by Stevie D

    If drop-down menus are implemented well, they are fine.

    By that, I mean that there has to be a static link somewhere to every page.

    Let’s say that you’ve got nested menus, so that you can only see the main section titles until you :hover, then you get the submenu for that section fly out. In which case, you should have the submenu for the current section always visible.

    This ensures that keyboard and AT users can always get to every page listed on the menu, even if they can’t access links on the flyout bits, and it makes it easier for people to find related links because they are always visible.

  13. November 6, 2007 by Anders Ytterström

    Static dimensions in combo with the asumption of a neat, large LCD screen. My computer is a 12” laptop with 1024x768 screen resolution, and more than once the shopping cart or something other important in the page footer is placed below my viewable area.

    Developers should try their interfaces in 1024x768 for real to see what inferno they may bring by asuming too much.

  14. I don’t see how a drop down menu would be a bad thing, when properly done.

    Static links, and even making sure it’s keyboard accessible aren’t very hard to do.

    I can understand how a completely javascript menu would be a bad way to do it, but to say they’re annoying… I don’t know, takes it one step too far for me.

  15. Roger, what do you mean by over-designed forms? Could you point us to an example of this, please? Thanks.

  16. My biggest pet peeve is when designers do not use the label tag, especially with radio buttons and check boxes. I HATE to click on them directly and always click on the text next to it first.

    Wow, I guess I need to browse the Web more (I can’t believe I just wrote that). Until this article I had NEVER seen technique #3 used before.

    I am actually okay with a very conservative use of invisible links. Case in point: I am quite frankly disappointed when a site’s main banner image isn’t a link back to the home page.

    To further comment on my heathen ways, I actually like drop down menus on most sites, yet I acknowledge that they aren’t always the best form of navigation. When I use it, I tend to use the script mentioned in PPK’s book. At least then there are no pages that are only reachable using JavaScript, even if the layout is clunky.

  17. November 6, 2007 by Phil Dobson

    Re Drop Down menus. As long as there is a good alternative (e.g. contextual options which change as you navigate through the structure) I find these very helpful - they allow me to see what is available on a site by hoverring without having to visit each link to see what is beneath it, or having to visit a site map.

  18. Sites which resize the browser window are also boring.

  19. November 6, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Beau:

    What about using techniques, such as LightBox, for content ‘pop-up’ presentation?

    It could be an option. By the way, does anyone know of a lightbox clone that is fully keyboard accessible?

    Amnell:

    One thing that irritates the heck out of me are flash based menus, i cant scrollwheel-click the items to open them in a background window!

    Yeah, Flash-based menus feel so 90’s. It’s like they don’t want you to actually navigate the site.

    soxiam:

    how many times did you have to use the application’s drop down menu to compose and post this article? and did you experience the same level of annoyance? if not, why not?

    Valid questions.

    I think I used it once, for a command that TextMate for some reason refuses to accept my keyboard shortcut for. I did not find it as annoying as using a drop-down menu on the Web since in desktop applications they actually work. They can be activated and used by keyboard only, and I can click to open a menu and have it stay open until I’ve found my way through it.

    Michal:

    Roger, what do you mean by over-designed forms? Could you point us to an example of this, please?

    Forms where controls and buttons are designed and tweaked so much that they are hard to recognise for what they are or become ugly or hard to use in browsers that the designer didn’t test in. Ironically I can’t think of any examples right now. I don’t normally bookmark the sites with badly designed forms I come across. Maybe I should start ;-).

  20. @Camilo: Ditto for me, though boring isn’t the word I’d use. But I absolutely hate it when the owner of a site tries to decide for me the size of my viewport.

  21. What I find not only annoying, but think are a real hit at usability are advertisements that interfere with the websites content.

    Two examples of these are (Flash) ads hovering over your main text or navigation, and those bold double-underlined advertisement links in your main text. Especially the last since ads are not part of your content and your readers are confronted with Javascript pop-ups when hovering any of these links.

  22. All points everybody hates about sites. But some points are more an accessibility problem than an usability problem.

    A text that simply isn’t readable because the contrast with the background is low, is quite inaccessible. Even so with drop down menus, they should be accessible by a keyboard. Both points can be found in the WCAG1 and 2 guidelines, for example.

    Usability is more something like ‘be nice to your users’. Over-designed forms are quite accessible, but it is not very nice towards the people who fill in the form.

  23. November 17, 2007 by clemisan

    There are many more common usability problems, of course. Which ones are most annoying to you?

    One of the most annoying usability problem for me is the bad design of given links.

    Absolute no-gos’s like “Follow this link” or “See more, here”.

  24. Similar to Brian’s peeve I’m often frustrated by links that are ridiculously small, like 7px tall arrow gifs.

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