Top 3 tips from our webinar “The 7 most common usability issues”

4 min read
Margaret Kelsey
  •  Mar 10, 2015
Link copied to clipboard

Last Thursday, we hosted “The 7 most common usability issues,” a webinar with Stef Miller from UserTesting. Stef shared best practices gathered from hundreds of thousands of hours spent watching user research videos at UserTesting.

Here are 3 of the 7 usability issues Stef highlighted in her talk. To get all 7, watch all of “The 7 most common usability issues.”

68% of users give up because they don’t think you care about them.

1. Multi-level navigation can confuse and frustrate

If you’ve got a complex, many-paged site, a multi-level nav may sound like just the thing. But in practice, they can be problematic. If you’re planning to use one, it’s the first thing you should be testing with users.

Watch out for the following issues in your multi-level nav:

  • Information overload: Multi-level navigation can be overwhelmingTwitter Logo, especially if it includes everything plus the kitchen sink.
  • Poor organization: Without a solid information architecture underlying your nav, users might never find the page they’re looking for.
  • Hover tunnels: Hover-activated navs create “hover tunnels,” narrow paths users must guide their cursors through to reach the destination link they’re looking for. These can be incredibly aggravating as users try time and again to click a link, only to have the nav close up on them.
  • Inconsistent triggers: Requiring different input (hover/tap/click) in different places can be very confusing. And keep in mind there’s no hover on mobile, so using it on desktop immediately creates inconsistency for users switching between devices.

To help avoid these issues, here are a few best practices for multi-level navigation:

  1. Don’t rely on the back button.Twitter Logo A user 4-levels deep could develop carpal tunnel getting back home. Instead, try breadcrumb navigation or a similar system to get users to major locations fast.
  2. Make your navigation structured and as simple as possible. Apply the principles of information architecture to bring order to the chaos.
  3. Don’t rely on icons alone. Will get into this more later, but adding text labels to icons really improves usability and findability within navs.

2. Checkout is a pain

Checking out of an ecommerce store can be one of the most complex and frustrating flows a user will ever encounter. Here’s how to cut down on their aggravation:

  • Optimize your checkout flow. Eliminate all unnecessary form fields. (Why ask what card I’m using when the numbers tell you?) Clean up styling. A/B test all of the things. Check out UX Archive to see how other designers have tackled these flows.
  • Consider a virtual wallet. Stripe and Apple Pay let you pay with a single tap. Incorporate PayPal because it’s easier than filling out a huge form on your site.
  • Don’t forget trust. If people are considering giving you money, they want to know you’re not some fly-by-night outfit that won’t deliver. Become a Google Trusted Store, grab a Norton Secured icon, include a few real customer testimonials, or even display reviews.

3. Icons aren’t the universal language

Despite the dreams of many designers, icons don’t convey the same messages to every viewer. Even common symbols can mean different things in other cultures. Plus, some people have a much harder time interpreting visual information and would rather have a label.

You also have to remember that different platforms use different symbols. So if you’re building mobile apps for cross-platform continuity, you’ll need to make sense to people on either platform.

A few tips:

  • Be careful with the hamburger icon: Love it or loathe it, you have to acknowledge that the hamburger menu hasn’t become universally recognized as the symbol for “menu.”
  • Use labels and tooltips: Twitter updated their tweet icon with the feather-pen-in-a-box icon, but added a tooltip to let you know what it does.
  • Know your user: If you’re designing for the AARP, you might have to use different methods than the designers at Smashing Magazine.
    Be consistent: As Jakob Nielsen said, “Consistency is one of the most powerful usability principles: when things behave the same, users don’t have to worry about what will happen.”

There’s no replacement for testing

No matter how different we think we are, there will always be things we do in common. You’ll always pinch your nose when you smell something bad or squint your eyes at a bright light. These actions can also extend to how we browse the web or use a mobile app.

None of the tips above let you skip testing with your real users. But they can save you from wasting time testing things that almost certainly won’t work.

We think Cindy wrapped it up pretty well.


Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard