While web design has improved immensely in the past decades, there are still good and bad websites online today. By “good” and “bad,” I don’t mean something subjective like pretty and ugly. A good website is user-centric. In other words, it makes it easy for people to navigate, find the answers they’re looking for, or complete an action (like making a purchase). A bad website is not user-centric. That might mean it’s cluttered, difficult to browse, has accessibility issues, or any number of things.
In this post, we’ll define what makes a website “bad” and look at some examples so you can avoid these mistakes in your own designs.
What makes a bad website design?
A cluttered layout, hidden navigation menu, lack of color contrast, non-responsive design, and inconsistent typefaces are just a few characteristics that might make a website design bad. The defining characteristic of a bad website design is lack of user-centricity.
In other words, a bad website design makes it difficult for users to accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish, which might be learning about your product, signing up for a newsletter, making a purchase, or any number of other actions.
Website engagement metrics, like average time on page and bounce rate, can provide insights into your website’s user centricity by telling you where your visitors tend to go on your website, for how long, how often, and how they arrived on your website.
User testing can also help you gather actionable insights and implement changes based on what you've learned. Fortunately, there are plenty of user testing tools available that can help. For example, HubSpot’s Website Grader will evaluate your website based on several factors, including mobile, design, performance, SEO, and security, and then offers tailored suggestions for improvement.
Another way to get a better sense of what makes a website design “bad" is by looking at examples. Let's take a look at some website designs below and explain what they got wrong.
Examples of Bad Website Design
- Paper Source
- The Room
- The Daily Mail
- Yale School of Art
- University of Louisiana
- Hacker News
- New Century Chamber Orchestra
Bad Ecommerce Website Design
The main goal of an ecommerce website is to generate sales. Websites that are difficult to navigate or overly complex will lead to people bouncing or abandoning their carts before they complete their purchase. These would be considered “bad” website designs. Let’s take at a look at some examples.
What it got wrong: Unconventional navigation
Visiting ZARA’s website is sort of like flipping through a fancy editorial magazine, which is cool but makes it difficult to actually shop. Take a look at the homepage of its US site above, for example. The text is super small and the navigation menu is hidden behind a hamburger button, so it’s not immediately clear to users what to do next.
The user journey is difficult on ZARA’s mobile site as well. When clicking on the hamburger menu on mobile, an unconventional navigation menu is revealed. Notice, for example, there’s no “Clothing” option. Even the clearer options like “Shoes&Bags” are difficult to understand at a glance because the spaces have been removed. For users that do forge ahead, they’ll find no breadcrumbs or sort options to help them browse. As a result of this poor navigation, users might bounce to a more traditional ecommerce site instead of guessing where to click next.
What it got wrong: Lack of visual hierarchy
Landing on Wayfair’s homepage might also leave users feeling paralyzed with indecision. While it felt like Zara’s homepage didn’t offer enough choices, Wayfair’s offers too many. The main problem: lack of visual hierarchy. Visual hierarchy is a way of arranging and organizing website elements so that visitors naturally gravitate toward the most important elements first. The goal is to lead visitors to complete a desired action.
The problem on Wayfair’s homepage is that almost every element is the same size and color and has similar copy and icons. So users are being told to shop home improvement items, cookware, shelves and cabinets, workspace, stove and oven ranges, and chandeliers at the same time. Rather than decide where to click first, some users might just leave the site.
What it got wrong: Complex product pages
When buying from an online marketplace like eBay, you want to make an informed decision. In an attempt to provide as much information as possible on its product pages, eBay is in danger of causing information overload. In the screenshot above you see the item’s name, price, condition, quantity available, and number already sold as well as shipping, payment, and return information — and that’s just above the fold. There’s another toggled section with more description and information on shipping and payments when you scroll.
You’re also presented with several options at once. There’s CTAs encouraging you to buy the item now, add it to your cart, or save it to your watchlist. But then there’s smaller hyperlinked CTAs inviting you to sell an item if you have one, see feedback from buyers, check out the warranty, learn how to get a discount on the item, save this seller to your watchlist, visit the store, view similar items, and on and on. Presenting so much information and options to a user at once might cause them to get frustrated and bounce — or pick an option you don’t want like adding an item to their watchlist instead of buying it.
What it got wrong: Low-resolution images
Incorporating images can make a website more informative, engaging, and memorable — but they have to be high-resolution. Some of the images on Lipton’s website are fuzzy and take a long time to load, showing broken image links for multiple seconds before being replaced by the actual images. The visuals are also primarily stock images or pictures of the packaging of each tea — these visuals would be more powerful if they represented what makes Lipton tea and its drinkers unique.
What it got wrong: Unclear mobile navigation
Mobile sites pose a design challenge: you want to provide all the navigation options and information a visitor needs without cluttering the interface. Madewell's mobile site doesn't quite strike this balance. It's clean and sleek, but it's missing some key features that affect the user journey.
For example, say you log in and want to change your password. You'd click the yellow user icon and see this fly-out menu. You might understand that you can click "My Orders," "My Favorites," or "Sign Out," but these won't provide an option to change your password. To get to account details to then change your password, you have to click the "HI, [NAME]." This unclear navigation label will likely prevent some customers from completing this user flow and being able to change their password, which is a big pain point and security risk.
6. Paper Source
What it got wrong: Outdated design
Paper Source was founded in 1983 and, like many brands that have been around for decades, its website suffers from an outdated design. Its layout is cluttered with images, text boxes, and CTAs. A mismatch of colors, fonts, and backgrounds adds to the visual clutter. As a result of this outdated design, customers might think the products — and overall brand — are outdated as well, and opt for a newer, trendier brand.
Bad Movie Website Design
The purpose of a movie website is to inform visitors and possibly persuade them to purchase tickets or film rights. Websites that seem unprofessional, outdated, or hard to navigate might cause visitors to leave before getting the information they were looking for or making a purchase. These would be considered “bad” designs. Let’s take a look at some examples.
What it got wrong: Lack of credibility
Could The Room’s website be ironically bad? Maybe? Whatever the intent, it has several UX issues, many of which boil down to a lack of credibility.
The website is one very long homepage, and there’s no navigation menu to make it easier to browse or jump to a specific section you’re interested in.The items below the featured image look like navigation items, but if you click on any of them, they actually open up a new tab. Some are broken, and open up a blank tab. So your only choice is to exit the site, or scroll down the page. You’ll see a bunch of images, GIFs, and hard-to-read text as you scroll. The media and info is only somewhat related to the film and ultimately distract from the main goal of the site, which is to get consumers to buy rights to use the film. They also hurt the site’s credibility, making it less likely that users will provide their payment information.
What it got wrong: Cluttered layout
IMDB has redesigned many of its web pages, like its homepage, for a much sleeker user experience. But some of its pages still have the outdated design shown above, which has some UX pain points. With little whitespace and color, relatively small font, and lots of ads and other content, the layout is cluttered and doesn’t make it easy for visitors to accomplish their goal: finding out more about Scoot McNairy in this case.
There’s no easy way to navigate the page either. Say you wanted to learn about McNairy’s personal details, for example. You’d have no choice but to keep scrolling —past his photos, featured work, credits, and related videos —until you got to that section.
What it got wrong: No clear CTAs
Like Zara, Wayfair, and the other sites discussed above, Fandango lacks a clear path for users. The problem: there’s no clear CTAs. In fact, at first glance, it looks like the homepage has no CTAs. That’s because the few that exist above the fold do not stand out. The two “Get Tickets” CTA buttons are placed in what appear to be ads, which are ignored by users. Another CTA —to enter your location or a movie title — is hidden in the search bar of the navigation menu. The “See all Movies” CTA below the search bar has even less visibility because of its size and lack of color contrast.
Finally, the slider contains some implied CTAs to view the 2021 Summer Movie Preview, or a breakdown of a scene in Candyman, and so on. However, since they’re not worded as actions or placed in conventional button designs, they are also easily overlooked by the user.
Bad News Website Design
The primary goal of a news website is to get people to consume as much of your content as possible. The trick is to promote a variety of your content, without overwhelming or confusing the user. Let’s take a look at some examples that miss the mark.
What it got wrong: Whitespace
Yahoo! has thousands of articles under dozens of categories to offer. But in an attempt to showcase this variety of content, its homepage can be overwhelming, especially to first-time visitors.
One problem is whitespace. While there’s almost too much negative space above the fold (at least on desktop), there’s too little as you begin scrolling. This, combined with the small font size, affects the readability of the homepage. As a result, instead of browsing the different content on the site, users might decide to exit out and go to a different news site.
What it got wrong: Slow load time
Like Yahoo!, CNN is designed to showcase a wide variety of content, including images, video, and text. As a result, the page is heavy and slow to load. So slow that it's listed as one of the top slowest sites on the internet by Speedmonitor.io. According to the latest daily Lighthouse audit, CNN takes 4.8 seconds to display visible parts of the page and double that (9.6 seconds) to become interactive.
Considering that load time is essential to the user experience and search engine rankings, CNN is likely losing visitors and positions on search engine results pages (SERPs) due to its speed.
12. The Daily Mail
What it got wrong: Too many ads
Ads are known as a necessary evil. They ensure that websites can provide free content to visitors, while still generating revenue from affiliate and product sales. So the goal is to display ads in a way that disrupts the user experience as little as possible.
The Daily Mail does not meet this objective. The ads clutter the main body of the web page and both sidebars, pushing the content down and making it more difficult to read. They also significantly slow down the website's load time.
Bad Education Website Design
An educational website — like the university or school it represents — is designed to educate visitors and provide them with the resources they need. Therefore, a website that uses animations, colors, or other design elements in an unconventional way risks distracting attention from the content. This ultimately prevents it from accomplishing its goal of informing visitors. Let’s look at some examples that fall short of this goal.
What it got wrong: Inconsistency
As an art school, it makes sense that Yale School of Art would want its website to make a bold impression. That means it could break some web design conventions — but it does so at the expense of user experience. While an animated background can add more personality and depth than a solid background, the speed and glitch effect of Yale’s distracts from the rest of its content. The inconsistent use of colors, fade effects, borders, and font styles (there’s uppercase, lowercase, italicized, bold, underlined, and normal font) is also distracting and confusing.
What it got wrong: Color
NYU’s homepage is made up of three major components — a navbar, a body section that has a unique grid layout, and a footer — and all of them are purple. Although they are slightly different shades of purple, there’s not much contrast or whitespace so it’s difficult to separate one section from another. This is confusing and makes navigating the site more difficult.
Also, since the grid layout has some images but is mostly made up of blocks with a solid background color and some text, it looks like the web page isn’t fully loaded. Some more images would help prevent this misconception and provide valuable context to readers.
What it got wrong: Complex drop-down navigation
The University of Louisiana has a lot of online resources to offer so it makes sense to have a drop-down navigation menu. But the design doesn’t provide a clean and readable list of items. The font is small, there’s not much spacing between items, and the menu color is very similar to the header background. When a user hovers over an option, the whole column changes to a slightly darker red instead of the individual option. As a result, the user will likely feel overwhelmed by the options presented instead of guided.
Bad Community Website Design
A community website is where people turn to get their news, find popular content and products, and just hangout. Ideally, this type of website should make it easy for readers to both browse casually and find exactly what they’re looking for, on any device. Let’s take a look at some community websites that fail to meet these requirements.
What it got wrong: Non-responsive design
Craigslist is notorious for its bad website design (although there are also proponents who defend the design). While it’s not pretty, it does allow users to browse, sell, search for something specific, and connect with each other. The major problem is that the site isn’t responsive. So if you open up Craiglist on your desktop or laptop and try to resize the window, it will hide a bunch of the content. Its mobile site works well, but nowadays users expect to be able to access a website on nearly any device and screen size.
17. Hacker News
What it got wrong: Readability issues
Hacker News is the go-to source for tech coverage and breaking news related to cybersecurity. Although it’s a widely-read publication, it has some readability issues.
For example, each item in the list provides an action to upvote, sort by website, view the submitter’s profile, sort by the time it was posted, comment, or go to the story. But the small and muted color of the font and lack of whitespace, icons, and hover effects makes it hard to tell that these are available and separate actions. Some changes in typography, color, placement, and whitespace would vastly improve the readability and scannability of this site.
Bad Arts Website Design
Ideally, art organizations have websites where patrons and supporters can find information about the latest events, purchase tickets, and make donations. The best arts websites provide all the information visitors might need about performances, staff, volunteering, and more — while keeping the layout sleek and simple so it’s intuitive for all users. Let’s take a look at a few websites that could improve their design.
What it got wrong: Inconsistent branding
The New Century Chamber Orchestra has an awesome logo made up of three colors: pink, blue, and yellow. These colors are used throughout the site — but in different shades. For example, the headings, email opt-in form, and footer on the homepage are all different shades of blue (none of which match the blue in the logo). Across the site there are CTA buttons that are neon pink, yellow, and blue. Some of these choices seem inconsistent and unintentional, which can hurt the user experience and dilute the brand’s identity.
What it got wrong: Accessibility issues
ODC/Dance has some accessibility issues which might limit its ability to reach as wide an audience as possible. For example, a video autoplays on the homepage. While this is interactive and engaging, it should have controls that allow the user to pause or stop playback, according to WCAG guidelines.
The site also has some color accessibility issues. In the screenshot above, for example, some of the heading and CTA text isn’t visible against the image background. Since the navigation bar and banner at the bottom of the screen are somewhat transparent, the white text is also difficult to read. This might prevent some users from clicking on the CTAs or navigation links, or even staying on the site.
The Showcase of “Bad” Websites
The websites above are used as examples of “bad” website design because they fail to be user-centric in some way. Some have accessibility issues due to a lack of color contrast. Some overwhelm users with choices because of a cluttered layout or lack of visual hierarchy. Others user colors, whitespace, and images in an inconsistent or unintentional way. You can learn from these mistakes and avoid them in your own website designs in order to provide the best experience to your visitors.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in December 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Nov 24, 2021 7:00:00 AM, updated November 24 2021