The Most Common UX Design Failure

Despite how well your site follows all of the common tactical UX design principles; if you don’t have the right UX strategy, your site will fail. Most every website I review suffers from a common strategic failure, they are designed to reflect the way each company sees itself, not the customer’s perspective – how the customer perceives the problem they need to solve on that site.

I was recently asked what I thought were the most common website UX design mistakes. Instead of describing the typically pedestrian design failures, such as button colors, call to action message, poor halo effects, etc., I offered a more strategic reply.

Some years ago, a well-respected mutual fund investment company that sounds a lot like Fan Guard Mutual funds, launched a website with autonomous sections for each of their separate business units. If a customer wanted to review the diversified portfolios for their retirement, college fund, or vacation home objectives, they had to visit each separate section (mutual funds, stocks, money market, etc.), write down the values of each of their holdings, determine which holding was for which objective, add them all up and then try to determine how well they were performing with respect to their goals.

They built their site based on their perceptions of their business, a separate site for each business unit. Customers merely wanted to see how well they were performing with respect to their investment objectives, which contained a mix of holdings from each of the business units. Clearly, these two perspectives were incompatible and the business suffered for it.

Reorienting the site around the customers’ needs resulted in a single-page dashboard that displayed how well each investment objective was performing, if it was going to meet their needs (i.e., retire by 62), and what they could do to get back on track. In a quick glance, users get all of the info they needed on one page without having to do any of the work.

Granted, yours likely isn’t a financial services site, but your site should still focus more on the customers’ perception of their problem rather than how you see your business, products, or services.

Though it’s an over-used example, there are few sites that perform as well as ProFlowers. The site design is oriented around the customers’ perception of their problems, “What’s the right bouquet for [insert customer’s occasion here]?”

ProFlowers organizes bouquets by the occasions they fit, not by the flowers in them. Users merely need to select an occasion and then choose from a set of bouquets appropriate for that occasion.

How does this company perspective problem continue to happen? Because, most sites forego good user research.

Despite your most ardent belief to the contrary, you don’t know your users or the problems they are trying to solve. A good UX researcher will uncover the real user problems; usually problems you or your competitors never knew existed. The first one to solve those problems wins.

I’ve worked on close to 300 projects in my 25 years as a UX research and design consultant, and not one of those projects solved the right problem. That’s a 100 percent failure rate. Those companies that reoriented their solutions to solve the redefined problems, have dominated their markets. Those that eschewed that research stagnated or died.

Avoiding this common design fail takes just a little extra effort:

  • First (and often hardest), accept the notion that you don’t know your users as well as you think.
  • Second, conduct real user research to identify their perception of their problems.
  • Lastly, redesign your site around those perceptions – solve the user’s problem for them.

As Steve Krug wrote, “Don’t Make Me Think.”

Is your website designed to solve the problems your users are having?