The Worst UX Design Advice I've Heard in 15 Years as a UX Designer

After 15+ years as a professional UX designer, I've just about heard it all. Here are some of the worst examples of UX design advice I've heard over the years. I'm sure there are (many, many) more, but I wanted to call out a few that really bothered me.

1. “We don’t need to talk to users, we are the users.”

Wow okay, let's walk this back a bit. First, let me say, you should always talk to users. Even if it means grabbing a random person from your office or the closest coffee shop that could fall into a potential user group and walking them through your designs. You'll be amazed at how much you'll learn, and will gain more empathy for your users that have to use your product each and everyday. If you're limited by time, resources, or both, remember that some user testing is always better than no user testing. A good thing to keep in mind is that by testing 5 participants, you will uncover 85% of issues.

Good UX Design Advice: Learn how to conduct a usability test from start to finish

2. “Let's just do it like our competitor does it.”

Just because a certain design or feature worked for your competitor doesn’t mean it'll work for your product. Furthermore, taking a specific feature out of context and putting it into your context will just ensure a bad user experience because the initial intent for the feature has now been lost. Your best bet is to create an experience that is right for your product and your users. To accomplish this, you must conduct proper product persona research to make sure your features are aligned with your unique user’s needs. If you’re having trouble convincing your team to invest in proper product personas, there are a few tactical things you can do to win the argument.

Good UX Design Advice: Learn to handle 3 of the most common persona complaints

3. “Don’t worry about the UX, just make it look better.”

This one is painful, because generally the UI and visual design are part and parcel of the same user experience. You don’t tell a cake maker to not worry about the cake and just make the icing. You simply can’t separate the two. If that's not enough, there’s a huge business case for prioritizing ux design in any product - just ask IBM.

Good UX Design Advice: Learn the 5 ways design thinking saved IBM millions

4. “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know when I see it.”

Here is a fun one. A stakeholder is having trouble articulating exactly what they want, so they rely on the UX designer to tease out what is in their head. This challenge ends up wasting a lot of time and energy because the designer is forced to figure out what the stakeholder has in mind. Instead, the stakeholder should be much more concerned with knowing what their end-user needs are rather than creating a product or experience that aligns with their own subjective opinion. If you ever run into this, you could set up a 2-hour design thinking workshop to tease out what the end-user needs are instead and guide stakeholders to focus on the human problem they're solving, rather than the experience you're creating.

Good UX Design Advice: Facilitate a 2 hour design thinking workshop with stakeholders

5. “People don’t click, so we need everything on this page.”

I would like to introduce you to my friend, his name is Cognitive Load and… well, he gets overwhelmed easily, he really can’t process a lot of information at one time. If he does, he starts to forget things, or worse - gives up. Okay, Cognitive Load may not be a real person, but it’s a real human problem. The more things you put on a single screen or in a product at one time, the more information an end user has to keep in their head.

Being more prescriptive about what you want each page to do and understanding what the user's goals are in your product should help.

6. “Everything needs to be above the fold”

Oh that's a new one! </sarcasm>. This one is probably the most ubiquitous advice UX designers hear and it’s just not true. Users scroll all the time, the key is to give them some affordance that there is content/functionality below the fold for them to scroll to. This can be accomplished by breaking up the space at the bottom of the viewport. If users see a single horizontal line or a horizontal color field they would assume there is nothing below the fold, but if there is something that breaks that horizontal line they will scroll. Don’t believe me? Check out the data listed in this article on how this is all a big myth.

7. “This is too complex, can we hide the complexity?”

Complexity is often unavoidable (especially in enterprise applications), you can’t hide it, you have to put it somewhere. The best plan of attack is to spread out the complexity across multiple pages using wizards. Which are multi-step processes with clear back, next, and progress indicators. The key to wizards are their limited calls to action and consistent progress through all of which builds trust in your system.

8. “I don’t click on anything that is not blue or underlined”

What is this, HTML 1.0? Can we get some support for this hypertext! But seriously, the notion that clickable elements have to be blue or links need to be underlined is fairly outdated at this point. Buttons and other calls to action come in a variety of options and should be an extension of a product or site’s branding. With the ubiquity of mobile devices and the lack of hover affordances in those, experiences have made users even less likely to rely on old conventional interactions.