4 Signs of Website Bad Design

Knowing how to spot website bad design is crucial when 94% of first impressions (particularly bad ones, which can happen in milliseconds) are from a site’s web design. But it’s not just first impressions that are affected by website design. Users judge that 75% of your website’s credibility comes from your website’s design.

These days a brand is not trusted unless it has a website. Just having a website is not enough. It needs to be well designed to be aesthetically appealing, easy to navigate, and have good user experience. One way to find a working design is to look at your competitions’ sites. If you do, make sure you know the signs of website bad design, so you know not to copy their mistakes for your design. I.E. learn from others’ sites what not to do.

The four signs of website bad design are:

  • Ugly/Old Visual Aesthetics,
  • Terrible Navigation,
  • User Unfriendly Feeling,
  • Misleading Users.

Signs of Website Bad Design

There are four signs of website bad design: bad aesthetics, terrible navigation, being user unfriendly, and misleading users. 

Ugly/Old Visual Aesthetics

The first and worst sign of website bad design is awful aesthetics.

Piercing colors

If you’re just surfing the web and you go to a site that makes you want to close your eyes and never open them, you probably found a site using clashing, way too bright, and/or too many colors. Unless your site is for firefighters, there is no good reason to make the primary color red; the same is true for sparkly magenta or bright orange, unless it is set off with equal amounts of neutral colors.

There’s setting up your brand to make it memorable, and there is making your brand memorable due to the awful colors. Don’t use more than two or three colors across your design; more just makes it look like you couldn’t commit or you let a preschooler design your site.

Make sure the colors you use don’t clash either. Blue and orange are dramatic, but unless used carefully they will look gaudy. Neon pink and deep green, and dark purple and bright yellow, also look gaudy if not used carefully.

For more about colors in web design, click here for more tips.


Nothing says ‘I can’t organize electronically’ like random-ish boxes and text of varying color and font stacked over each other all across the page, making it very crowded. Even worse when there is no connection or logic to the text and boxes. It’s like they started with a few things and keep adding stuff wherever it fits on the page just to get it on there. 

Organize your stuff; decide what the most important thing on the page is (a call to action is common) and make that up front and center. Add other topics, tools, or objects below it according to what users most want to least want. Keep sections visually separate from each other, and organize stuff into groups, usually of 3-5 things to a group.


Unreadable text

If you’re going to say something, make sure to enunciate so that people understand you. It’s similar with text. If you can’t read the headings or titles, are you going to read the body text? Unlikely. Are you going to believe/trust what the body text says if you do read it? Very unlikely. A website that has unreadable text is worse than useless; it destroys your credibility, the epitome of website bad design.

The most common reasons text is unreadable is: 

  • The contrast between the color of the text and the background is very little,
  • The color of the text is makes it hard to see, 
  • The font of the text is difficult to read,
  • The text is too small to read.

Website Design from the Early 2000s (or Earlier, shiver)

Anytime I see a site with the copyright or ‘designed by’ with a year from at least a decade ago I start getting worried. This suggests that the site has not been updated in some time and that the site may be insecure (and not safe to visit). A design from at least 15 years ago also suggests these things.

An old design is easy to pick out. It usually has: 

  • A horizontal menu on the left side with 8-20 items in it, 
  • No photos or digital art, 
  • No mobile friendly version,
  • Art and text that were made for poor quality monitors (they just seem pixel-y now),
  • Old, out-of-date fonts,
  • Multiple menus with no indication which is the main menu.

Terrible Navigation

The second sign of website bad design is terrible navigation.

Who even are you?

red question mark among black question marks

Here is a basic of web design: if users can’t tell what a site is for, you have website bad design. At the least, there should be a logo and a slogan on the top (left or center) of every page that tells users what brand the website they are at is for. There should also be descriptive enough titles in the menus to give hints what purpose the site serves (and how big it is): are there services? Products? A place to donate money? A big search bar taking up most of the header? All of these suggest what purpose this site performs.

Where are the products?

Most people did not come to your site because they were curious. They came to find something (products, services, information) to solve a problem they have. If users can’t find your products or prices, they will get frustrated and likely go to a competitor’s site, giving up on you. (Am I the only one annoyed by sites that say ‘call us to get a quote’? I hate calling people.) Make sure that users can find what they are looking for. This is usually done by clear menus of most desired pages, grouping together similar things logically, and a search function in the right of the header.

Man looking worried at phone cartoon

Where am I? How’d I get here?

Going through a site should not feel like you’re lost in space. It’s even worse if users aren’t even sure if they are on the same site anymore. Make sure to have an easy way to go back to main pages (menus help here) and have a helpful breadcrumb trail for if you have a bigger site and people need to find their way back to previous pages (never rely on back arrows, there are some sites on which that they don’t work right).

User Unfriendly Feeling

The third sign of website bad design is being unfriendly to users.

We just want your money.

You might be thinking ‘Duh’, but few people want to be reminded (or more importantly, treated) by a brand like they are just a walking wallet that the brand wants money from. Empathy goes a long way here. Why do you think your customers are here? What are the problems/issues they are looking for help with? Do you understand them? This is also why marketing is a top skill to have in business; you need to show off the benefits of your product/service and how it is useful to your customers without sounding slimy or greedy. You also should highlight why users should use your brand rather than your competitors’ and make it sound like their idea.

We are right; you are wrong.

No one wants to be told they are wrong, and being told to ‘conform’ to what works for ‘everyone else’ is just infuriating. You are unique, but the issues you have with something or someone rarely are unique only to you. Other people likely have the same problems you are with a brand, a website, or a design. 

Being told that you are wrong since ‘there is nothing wrong with things as they are’ or ‘we know your problems better than you do’ is insulting and close minded. The hard part is when you are the one being told that something you thought was designed well is giving people problems. Do you dig in your heels, or try to find the pain point? 

Generally, just because it works for you or it was researched ‘thoroughly’ does not mean it will work for everyone. People rarely complain about functionality of design unless there is a serious issue that is causing them frustration. Be open minded and be ready to go through multiple versions of something until you get most of the issues ironed out and your users are happy with the design.

No customer service; all sales final.

First of all, this is getting suspicious. How do I know I’m getting anything at all? Second, anything I buy I better hope I get it sent to my address, I receive it intact, and I like it because I’m not getting my money back if anything goes wrong with this. This is one of the reasons I think a ‘contact us’ page is a requirement for any site and a link to the page should be in all menus to avoid this worrying website bad design.

But even if there looks like a way to contact a brand, can you actually reach them? Do your emails go to an address that no one checks? Is the phone number even real? Do you get someone on the other end or just go to a generic answering machine? 

Misleading Users

The fourth sign of website bad design is being misleading to users.

Do I need a subscription or not?

Going to a site for information about something only to hit a paywall to get the information you came for is very frustrating. All sites generate profit somehow, but some do it by displaying ads, some direct traffic to another site, and some require a subscription or other form of payment upfront. It is frustrating for users to go to a site that seems to be one of the first two only to find that it is the third.

Wait, you’re a physics student?

This should be a no-brainer,  but don’t make it sound like you’re someone you’re not, particularly with credentials and degrees. It’s one thing to speak from experience or compile information from around the internet; it’s another to just make stuff up or copy/paste stuff from Wikipedia or other such sites. Don’t plagiarize, kids.


Knowing how to spot a website bad design is crucial when 94% of first impressions (particularly bad ones) are from a site’s web design. These days a brand is not trusted unless it has a website. Just having a website is not enough. It needs to be well designed to be aesthetically appealing, easy to navigate, and have good user experience. The four signs of website bad design are:

  • Ugly/Old Visual aesthetics,
  • Terrible Navigation,
  • User Unfriendly Feeling,
  • Misleading Users.

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