Project Management

Five tips for avoiding common Web design sins

Some basic Web design guidelines are ignored on a regular basis, leading to inefficiency, security issues, and a poor user experience. Ryan Boudreaux offers his take on what not to do when designing your site.

Best practices and guidelines for Web design tend to fall into two categories: do's and don'ts. They might change places every now and then, but most likely the don'ts will end up on someone's list of fixes or changes. Sorting through the vast list of what not to do in Web design, I've come up with my top five, which I'll explain in some detail below.

Note: These tips are based on an entry in our Web Master blog.

1: Don't create a splash page

With the advent of HTML 5, there is a level of controversy surrounding the use of Flash. And since most splash pages are created in Flash, it's not a surprise that they seem to be on the wane. Splash pages are particularly overdone in many instances with long load times, several minutes of artful graphics, and no navigation. The exceptions are few and far between. Many splash pages can last up to a minute or more, and they become tiring when you want to get into the meat of the content on a Web page. Besides that, most visitors click through or just leave sites to avoid splash pages, and Web browsers have a hard time indexing them in their ranking systems.

2: Don't mix HTTP with HTTPS resources

Security is the point with HTTPS. So why do you find many Web documents that contain a mix of both resources when the intention is to transmit secure data? One of the issues with mixing the two is caching that occurs; another is that non-secure data that can be picked up along the way and replaced with counterfeit content or other exploits. One way around this is to use JavaScript or some other means that can call a separate secure "portal" window as https so that the secure resources are completely separate from the non-secured http.

3: Don't link pages to themselves

This offense is still on many lists, and I can't count how many times I still see this on Web sites today. Visitors get confused, can't remember what page they are on, and forget whether they clicked on that link when the same page refreshes. It is just not a good practice to link any page to within itself.

4: Don't resize the browser window

Many frown on this tactic from a user standpoint since they end up losing all control of the browser screen size. Most folks have their window size set a certain way and typically will close out any sites that automatically change the browser window.

5: Don't use frames

Some Web sites still use frames, especially for badges, widgets, and embedded content on a small scale. But typically, the widespread use of frames has fallen. Here are a few reasons why frames create weaknesses for Web sites:

  • Search engines have trouble reading content within frames.
  • Not all browsers support frames.
  • Adding a favorite or bookmarking a frame generally will not work correctly.
  • Framed Web sites often don't close properly when content is viewed through several frames.
  • Printing Web content within frames becomes problematic and typically requires a separate print-friendly option as a workaround.

Additional Web design resources


Ryan has performed in a broad range of technology support roles for electric-generation utilities, including nuclear power plants, and for the telecommunications industry. He has worked in web development for the restaurant industry and the Federal g...

michaelstn 3 Like

Note that most monitors are moving to widescreen and leave webpages with inadequate vertical space and wasted horizontal space. For examples, go to most pages, they are HORRIBLE.

michaelstn 3 Like

Don't refresh an entire page just because you've moved to the next photo in a slideshow. That moves the page all the way back up and forces the user to scroll down to see the text below.

tkeller 1 Like

Oh, you mean like the way TR slideshows do? Yeah, that's annoying.

JohnMcGrew 3 Like

A complete time waste, both in terms of load times and user attention. (There are too many frustrated "designers" out there who want to show off their photoshop skills I guess) After that, you're often greeted with a choice of sites, like "flash" or "non-flash". The other day, I actually came upon a site that presented 3 choices! The one I chose (the simple one) didn't even work.

rouschkateer 4 Like

One of my peeves that has been popping up more than usual are videos embedded into the site (mostly news) that start auto-playing once the site loads. I have Firefox with AdBlock, and most of the time, I STILL have to sit through a 15-30 second advertisement before I can pause the video. If I WANT to play the video, I will. Don't force it on me.

mig25jet 5 Like

Not everybody in the world has a terabits connection speed, so, please, keep the main page short and sweet. If something doesn't load fast, I just close that tab.

Ptorq 2 Like

There are valid reasons to link to the current page. For example, if you have a long HOWTO document, you might want to put in links at the top for people to jump to a particular step in the process. (Yeah, you could break it down into individual pages instead, but personally I feel that cure is worse than the "disease" of self-linking in many cases... for example, if it's something like a long HOWTO document that people might actually want to print out in full.)

CF Guerrilla
CF Guerrilla 1 Like

Yeah, I thought the same thing. Gotta be able to do the #anchor linking a page to itself in the case of scroll-down pages. From the users perspective, it doesn't appear to be "linking to the same page".

Jaqui 2 Like

um, you are sadly outdated if you thing any browser currently being used by any significant portion of people doesn't render frames. only the cli [ text mode ] browsers still don't handle frames. and they ALSO don't handle javascript, tables, graphics, audio, or video content.

Jaqui 2 Like

do NOT use TABLES for layout. that has been abused as badly as frames, and needs to be treated the same. as a stupid way to go.

rodney.mcmullan 2 Like

Sometimes users of older CMS are forced to use tables to layout copy, they have no option. I agree to a point, for new designs tables should be omitted where possible.

Jaqui 1 Like

use a cms that does NOT use that bad layout option. tables are for DATA that is best displayed in tabular form, not layout.

Jaqui 2 Like

absolutely right, up until you say use javascript to make a seperate connection for the https content just use https for EVERYTHING if there is content that needs the security. the MAJOR problem with the idiotic use of javascript for content like that, the BROWSERS do not recognize there is ANY encryption happening so the indicators for the user say it is UN SECURED. and lord knows, if the browser indicators say the security is lacking, I'm not going to use that site for squat.

ed 2 Like

"Note: These tips are based on an entry in our Web Master blog." (before #1 above) I don't understand why you gave that link. It's the same list, which I read when it came out. I was expecting something new. When I saw a "new" article by Ryan Boudreaux, I jumped at the chance to read it. That you just published the same list again is a disappointment.

Rexxrally 11 Like

Don't ever popup an ad or a request to do a survey when the user is just getting to the content they were looking for. Guaranteed the user, at that moment, is anticipating viewing their requested content, and any last minute interference will be swatted out of the way like an irritating mosquito


Sadly, THEY (advertising) will win every time, until they see page hits decline significantly and are ordered to find another way to annoy users with ads. Corporate types only interested in money see advertising as the money maker, and content only as a way to sell that advertising (or that they can only keep their site afloat by "BOO!" type advertising.)

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy 21 Like

Don't ever play background audio. Don't play any audio unless the user requests it. Related is the despised AV rollovers and effects (esp those related to advertising). Must control fists of death...

rouschkateer 1 Like

I had a client INSIST on it, despite my warnings. Nothing is more confusing for non-techs to browse a site and see the pop-up at the top of the screen asking you to install an ActiveX component to hear the music...which never sounds good, slows down the site, and scares the bejeebus out of someone who inadvertently left their speakers on.

JohnMcGrew 3 Like

...than having a noisy site. Virtually guarantees that people will flee your site almost immediately, especially if they're using it in a work environment. Same goes for video content that starts automatically upon arrival. I can't believe that there are still sites with cheesy MIDI tunes out there.

tech 8 Like

If I could possibly hit the + more than once for this comment, I would do so. So, let me repeat the post in another way: NEVER EVER EVER play any audio of any kind unless the visitor specifically requests it. EVER! Got it?

Editor's Picks