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11 common mistakes new UX designers make according to experienced designers

Including tips to avoid them and real-life examples


In this post, Masooma Memon rounds up 11 common mistakes that new designers make according to experienced designers. Hear from the experts about how to avoid these common mistakes with real-life examples.


Masooma Memon

Freelance Content Writer & Author

From the “Pale” collection on Ouch Illustrations

“Losing your balance and falling off the bicycle or sailboard is not a failure, but a moment of learning."
— Robert Fritz

It’s not unlikely to land yourself in a puddle of mistakes as you enter the UX design field. Sticking to those mistakes or overlooking them, however, isn’t the way forward. Fortunately, you can always learn from those who have been in this line long enough to trace a pattern of common mistakes.

So we reached out to just these folks for this post and asked them about the typical mistakes that new designers make and their tips to avoid them.

Let’s dig in:

1. Lagging behind in the user research department

User research is to design what quality chocolate is to a chocolate dessert. The poorer the quality of the chocolate, the less demand the dessert has. User research is the same. It’s impossible to design well without research as you end up designing for yourself. In growth designer, Lex Roman’s words, this means your design is “not actually talking to customers/users.”

With his 25 years of web design and development experience, Shane M. Bailey also points this out as a common mistake that rookie UX-ers make. He highlights, “Design for the user, not for yourself. A lot of beginning designers forget that it's not really “their” experience it's the users.”

Besides, research allows you to identify the real problem that needs a solution. It’s as Jesse James Garrett summarizes in this tweet:

The designer’s first and most essential task is choosing the correct problem to solve. Because if you get that wrong, every choice you make after that is irrelevant.

Your solution moving forward is conducting thorough user research. G2’s Content Associate and Digital Designer, Daniella Alscher shares a solution. She recommends, “testing the final design on average people (family members, friends, etc.). Does it make sense to them? Those are the types of people that will be seeing your work.”

However, you need to keep in mind that you don’t have to completely rely on feedback from your family and friends as they may not always be your target audience. You can get some good feedback from them, but your go-to feedback should always come from your target audience. Put simply, grab a post-it and scribble the motto that Doist’s product designer, Alex Muench, shares, “Always think user, context and user experience first.”


➲ Real-life example

Let’s take an example of redesigning a transit mobile app for a major city. Your research should start by surveying the app’s reviews for the current design with a special focus on what complaints people have. Next, go ahead and talk to real people. Dig into the conversation for uncovering pain points. Here’s where you’ll get your starting point to potential solutions.

Based on your findings, design a prototype. Don’t assume it’s enough though. Repeat what you started with - get back to the users and put the prototype in their hands to see how well your design is helping solve their problem now.

Jumping straight into design on the basis of assumptions isn’t the answer. Instead, researching the problem and solving it with a prototype is.

2. Not researching the project before starting

Knowing the project/work at hand is as important as knowing your users. The Creative Director for Madison + Main, Art Webb stresses, “Think more, design less! Research the topic.”

Brand Designer, Joe Lopez also agrees. Lopez says, “The BIGGEST mistake young designers make is not researching and learning about business, marketing, and actual communication.”

Not only will this help you design better, but it will help you stand out in a saturated market of designers as per Lopez.

Hence, your mantra from now onwards should be research, research, research. Webb advises, “Find out what is out there. Do the homework before you open any Adobe application. Sketch out your ideas and talk it through.”


➲ Real-life example

Let’s say you’re working with a client to design an app in the event planning space. Concentrate on not only the goals of your client and his business but the problems that need solving too. Survey which apps are already available. Then study each for what it does well and what it isn’t good at? Question how people in this industry plan events without an app.

The take home message is simple - understand the space inside out.

3. Not learning your target audience like the back of your hand

While we’re at the research part, let’s also not forget how crucial it is to dissect your target audience’s wants, needs, and everything in between. The reasoning behind this is simple, “great design begins with an understanding of who it’s for” in the words of the Faraz Ahmed Khan, the UI/UX Designer at ContentStudio.

Not only will this help you create a design that speaks to the user, identifying your audience will make your designing choices simple too. Khan confirms as he shares that knowing your user helps you select the most suitable design elements like the layout, navigation, and typography.

So follow what Khan advises, dig out details. Start with the demographics including age, gender, location, and so on. What’s more, “discover what makes them tick. Who are they? What drives them? What are their beliefs and values? Which other companies are they buying from? What products do they use?”

➲ Real-life example

Let’s suppose you’re working on designing a learning experience for students grades three through 12. There are commonalities amongst this group. They are all students who will use the experience you design to learn. However, there is also a significant age gap, and different students will be learning different subjects.

When you drill down to this level of specificity, you will find that particular age groups and topics will have different needs and requirements and it’s not until you get to know the different users in your target audience that you’ll understand what they need, when and how.

Hence, your goal should be to know not only your audience in general but different target users.

4. Not beginning with a properly sketched out plan

Another early-stage mistake is beginning without an action plan in mind. Joanna Lu, the Product Design Manager at Venngage notes, “the most common mistake that new designers make (and one that I’ve made countless times) is getting bogged down by the little details and letting edge cases steer their solution.”

The answer to this is simple – start with a vision. Lu advises that planning would “enable you to be more iterative in the process.” You can also answer important questions as you move forward such as what will be the means to your end goal.

Elbz, a UX designer working with the Wizeline Design’s team is of the same mind. She suggests, don’t treat anything outside the ‘happy path’ as an ‘edge case’ blindly. These are scenarios.” Lu also adds “From that, you can prioritize what’s most critical in order to see results. A concrete vision not only ensures everyone is on the same page with what the outcome will be but it also enables you to figure out a strategic game plan.”


➲ Real-life example

Envision you’re creating an entire application from the start. In such a case, working with a plan from the start can lead to confusion and loss of time. What you need to do instead is create a plan with milestones within a specific timeframe. This can help you work backward to ensure progress.

Be specific with the vision at the beginning of the project by answering high-level questions about what the app needs to do and for whom. This will help you craft and work towards the first version of your product or idea. You may not be able to accommodate every edge case or scenario but you can always come back to them later. Besides, the product development lifecycle never really ends.

5. Not following a proper workflow

Design is a process. You can’t sit one evening and complete it, and positive outcomes are a result of iterating. You’ll need user input and data to make your design decisions because “every choice you make should have a reason. Otherwise, you’re just making art” as Lopez suggests.

Product designer and entrepreneur, Justin Mitchell, shares that he “commonly see[s] newbies getting all caught up in a Dribbble design not realizing that it basically only works as a cool mock-up. If you put real data in that design it would fail.”

Be prepared to throw away the thing you designed. Put away your design for a day or two. And look at it again.

Don’t let this break your heart though as Adyen’s Head of Design, Jeroen de Lange, outlines some tips. He stresses, “Don’t design the whole thing. Sketch, do quick mockups and ask a lot of questions about what your ‘client’ expects.”

He also warns you to be “prepared to throw away the thing you designed. Put away your design for a day or two. And look at it again. Or show it to someone who doesn’t know the brief.”


➲ Real-life example

A case in point here is designing a new feature for an existing application. Take some time to gather and understand any data that might inform the work you’re doing. From there, explore a variety of potential solutions through sketches or simple wireframes.

Once you have enough feedback and confidence in one direction or solution, you can start to refine using high-fidelity design for creating a realistic design using real information. This also ensures your design can meet real-world requirements.

Thus, what you need to keep in mind is that fostering a workflow that focuses on low-fidelity design and exploration at the beginning. Moving to high-fidelity design over time allows you to think, explore, and include different inputs into your project with less risk and time and effort to start.

6. Focusing only on visuals

Design is not just visuals. It’s a lot more than that and includes research, problem-solving, usability, interaction design, a user experience that makes sense for the users, and more. Ramy, the brain behind Page Flows, notes, “focusing on visuals without thinking through the tasks users are trying to complete and why they're trying to complete them” as one of the leading mistakes that designers make.

Firstly, start with understanding the pain points that a product is going to solve for the users.

Fortunately, Ramy also has the right tips for you to shift your focus from aesthetics to user experience. Firstly, start with understanding the pain points that a product is going to solve for the users.

Secondly, ask some important questions. Ramy suggests questioning, “Is it actually useful? What alternative solutions do people use to complete the same tasks the product is used for?”


➲ Real-life example

A case in point here is designing a new feature for an existing application. Take some time to gather and understand any data that might inform the work you’re doing. From there, explore a variety of potential solutions through sketches or simple wireframes.

Take an app like Instagram and the seemingly simple task of posting a photo. It’s only when you write down each step involved in this task that you can see the complexity of what needs to be designed.

Put simply, focusing on designing a good experience for this task first (how it works) will allow you to cater to the users’ needs before focusing too much on the visual design (what it looks like).

7. Prioritizing the interface (UI) over experience (UX)

Closely related to the point that Ramy makes is Maria Duvidzon’s observation. Duvidzon is the Product Designer at Venngage who rightly opines, “UX is about the story: what is the pain point you’re trying to solve? How does your idea help them? How does it relate to the business mission? What process did you follow to solve this problem?”

Get to the core needs and motivations of your users.

To beat this problem, let’s get straight to the tips that Maria points up. To begin with, think about how your design is functional as, “people won't come back to a pretty app if it doesn’t work.” Then get to the “core needs and motivations of your users” and “develop a customer journey” as Maria does. Make sure you worry about these factors all before you fuss over typography and colors.

One last word of caution from Maria, “It's easy to get too attached to your prototype and forget about the end goal.” So keep the goal front and center and pair it with design based on user needs, motivations, and experience.


➲ Real-life example

Let’s say you’re redesigning an app that people use to order goods from distributors. In its present condition, the app doesn’t look great, but it works well and in a way that users expect it to. By only focusing on the user interface and not the flows that each user goes through to complete a task, it’s possible to design a worse experience.

The key fact is form and function are both important but an experience must always work for the user. Moreover, he will always choose an app that solves a problem and works well for them instead of one that looks great but doesn’t solve a problem.

8. Typographical errors

This one is a mistake that the majority of the experienced designers noted in their answers to the questions we put forward for this post. Dave Smyth, creator of the CSS for Designers course and independent web designer, heeds the variety of errors that fall into this category including, “font pairing, the type being too small, not enough contrast to the background (i.e. light grey) or letter-spacing lowercase text.”

Bojan Janjanin, a freelance web designer suggests that such a mistake surfaces from choices being made on “popularity rather than font character and legibility.” Beginners also tend to “use libraries like Google Fonts but forget to call all the weights and styles they use on their website.”

Lots of tips can help you navigate your way through typographical problems. Starting with what Dave recommends, “Read up on typography – there are loads of resources out there (for instance practicaltypography.com). Make body font sizes a decent size, don’t add letter-spacing to lowercase text and make sure there’s decent contrast to the background.”

Analyse the content of your website and your target audience, try out a couple of typefaces, and then make your choices.

Bojan also makes an ace point as he asks news designers to steer clear from using trendy fonts. He advises, “Analyse the content of your website and your target audience, try out a couple of typefaces, and then make your choices. Test the typeface on all sizes and as many devices as you can. Ask around for opinions. Tweak until you're happy.”

The Director of Experience Design & Design Thinking at Pfizer Digital, Gina Charalambides, also adds to this. She recommends designing on a grid and ensuring, “any font you download is properly licensed, same with icons and assets, naming layers, use a good naming convention when you save, give people context when you share work.”


➲ Real-life example

Nike uses specific fonts that appeal to athletes or fitness lovers. However, these will always be different from font pairings used in a design that caters to children. An easy way to compare font pairings is to try several different ones in the same design. Take one page or screen, create a handful of different artboards, and apply a distinct font pairing to each. If you’re a beginner, don’t be afraid to try a font pairing.

Put simply, test different font pairings to see what works well in your design and consider what’s appropriate for your audience.

9. Making wrong color choices

Doist’s Alex, holds poor color choices as another mistake that designers commonly make. Muench notes, “New designers tend to forget that color plays a huge role in making their design accessible for everyone, like color blind people but in truth, for everyone. For example, greys that are too light are used in texts, icons, navigation elements - without judging how well the contrast is. On the same note, small text sizes harm the legibility for users.”

To save yourself from making such a mistake, educate yourself about “the importance of accessibility and inclusion in design. There are lots of resources to learn more.” For instance, Alex’s team’s Accessibility Knowledge Paper that he shared.

Also follow what David Luhr, UX Development Manager at DockYard shares, “Specific to product design: learn about accessibility (and assistive technologies) as a core aspect of usability. Spend a good bit of time testing websites using only the keyboard or through a screen reader. Considering these needs from the start will really pay off.”


➲ Real-life example

At the most basic level when it comes to accessibility, you want to make sure that there is enough contrast between foreground and background colors. When it comes to contrast, we're talking about the text on a background, text on top of images, icons, and buttons (default state as well as hover and focus). You can make this easy by designing your color palette for accessibility from the get-go. For example, if your color palette includes five colors with six shades for each color, take the time to test and include the WCAG rating for white as well as black text on top of each shade. Look to Colorbox by Lyft as an example of this.

10. Copying design inspiration without testing

Alex also outlines another very important mistake that happens under the guise of inspiration. He elaborates, “Designers get inspired by other designers and apps, which is totally fine. But it’s bad practice to copy a design pattern from another app, project or website blindly without properly evaluating and testing.”

He explains that a certain design is a result of extensive research. Plus, as Alex words it, “the thought behind a user flow won’t automatically work for your project. You can’t use “company X or successful app Y is doing it this way…” as an argument.”

The answer to this problem is research. Additionally, keep in mind what Alex elucidates, “It is valid to go over the thought process behind a given design solution in order to understand it. Sure, it would be a bit biased, but it can help build critique towards your own solutions.”

In simple words, Alex opines that getting inspired is good, but taking design decisions rationally is better.


➲ Real-life example

Let’s suppose you are inspired by a specific checkout flow on one of your favorite eCommerce websites. However, by applying it on your personal branding site, you may find that it doesn’t work so well. This is mainly because different audiences have different expectations based on what they are buying.

In short, it is best to test a specific design pattern to see if it works in your design for your audience. You can easily do this by making a simple prototype and testing it with users.

Put simply, test different font pairings to see what works well in your design and consider what’s appropriate for your audience.

11. Not including developers in the design process

Design never works in isolation. In fact, it’s a collaborative process, one where designers work in tandem with developers and end users. Since we’ve already shed light on designing for users and with them, this point emphasizes the mistake of forgetting to loop in developers.

To elaborate, “not talking to engineers about designs/lacking understanding of development lift” is one of the serious mistakes that rookie designers make as per Meher Goel, designer at Healthcare.com.

The answer to preventing this mistake is working closely with designers. Communicate with them throughout the design process. Plus, keep your team updated. Elbz shares, “not showing progress often but until a hi-fi deliverable [doesn’t help as it] cuts trust with the team.”


➲ Real-life example

Imagine you’re working on a new feature for an app. The Chief Product Officer has shared the vision and everyone is on board with the plan. You also have the pain points and requirements on your desk. Except, when you share the design with your team including the development department, you uncover technical constraints. You know what’s next, right? You need to redesign the feature.

Avoid such scenarios by sharing the conceptual design with the developer(s) early in the design process or design with him or her.


In Conclusion

Let’s wrap this up with a final parting tip from our contributors - “Never stop learning,” as Nick Finck, the Lead UXDI Instructor at General Assembly says.

Do whatever you need to do to find a person or a team that you want to become.

To this end, UX Designer working on Market Insights for Dynamics 365 at Microsoft, Austin T. Byrd advises designers to, “look for the right mentor over the right job. Ignore the paycheck and everything that comes along with it. Do whatever you need to do to find a person or a team that you want to become.”

Byrd also encourages reaching out directly. He says, “Be raw and honest and ask experienced designers to mold you. You’ll be surprised how many want to help out.”

With this, we're at the end. Which of these tips if your favourite? Where do you lag the most? Tweet at us to share your thoughts. @inkandcopy @jesseddy


Masooma is a novel nerd and and freelance writer. She writes actionable blog posts and articles for small businesses and app companies who aim to employ quality content to educate and engage with their audience. Find more about here.