10 Fixes For Improving Your Product’s User Experience

Written by Craig Morrison - Get free updates on new posts here.


I remember how easily UX mistakes were overlooked at my first startup. It had a drastic effect on the experience user’s had with our product.

That’s bad, because positive user experiences lead to increased word of mouth, higher engagement rates and faster growth.

The thing is, most of these mistakes could have been easily fixed. All it requires is a bit of time to make yourself aware of how to spot them.

Do you want to learn how to create repeat customers and loyal, engaged users?

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Bonus: Download this free eBook outlining Quick UX Fixes that Take 5 Minutes or Less to quickly improve your user experience.
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Fixing 10 of the Most Common UX Mistakes

Here is a list of 10 of the most common UX mistakes and their fixes for you to keep an eye out for.

1. Focusing on “Impressive Design” over “Usable Architecture”

It’s easy to understand how this happens. You want your app or product to make a big splash. You want to create a buzz.

People shouting in the streets about how incredible your new app looks. The front page of TechCrunch raves over the details of your splash page and the beauty of your forms.

You want people to be wowed. So you convince the best visual designer you can find to join you and task him in creating a beautiful interface design.

You think, if you’re blown away by the way it looks, then that’s how your users will feel as well, right? WRONG.

You and your users have two entirely separate goals. You want the product to wow users, but your users want to use the product. See the difference?

The Fix

The best user interfaces are the ones that get out of the way and provide the user with simple, easy to understand tools.

How do you create an interface like this? By hiring UX Designers and Information Architects.

The way to fix this mistake is to avoid it in the first place. Don’t hire a Visual Designer to join your team until after you’ve worked with a UX Design or IA.

It’s much better to have proper UX and poor visual design than it is the other way around.

Visual design can have the “wow” impact you’re looking for, but once you draw people in, you’re going to lose them immediately with your unusable interface.

If you can’t afford to hire a UX Designer, or if you’ve already built your product, consider taking advantage of a UX consultation service to help you fix any usability errors you might be missing.

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2. Not Removing Unvalidated Features

Ideas for features can quickly get away from you. At my last startup, we racked up a “planned features” list that we could have never kept up with.

When you have a great idea, it’s so easy to let your brain convince you that your product needs it. What makes this even worse is when the idea comes from one of your users.

You end up spending time and money building these features, and when all is said it done, you feel accomplished. You’ve provided something new for your users and added value to your product… but have you?

Unless you keep track of whether or not these new features are actually being used, they start to build up. Suddenly, your users are faced with an endlessly growing list of options, most of which no one actually uses.

This degrades your user experience by watering down the true value of what you’ve built.

For example, if I go to a shoe store, I don’t want to be sold hamburgers. Maybe at one point a customer said they were hungry while they were trying on shoes, but do you think the store owner ran out and put in a hamburger stand? Of course not.

But just imagine for a second that he actually did build a hamburger stand, do you think he would keep it running if no one was buying hamburgers?

The Fix

Taking a page from Eric Reis’sThe Lean Startup“, anything you add to your product must be validated in order for it to stay there.

This means that developing and implementing a feature is only half the battle. Next, you need detailed analytics on whether or not it’s being used.

If the analytics show it’s not being used, you must remove it. I know how hard it might seem to remove a something that cost thousand of dollars in development costs, but just imagine it being a dirty old rotting hamburger stand sitting in the corner of your shoe store.

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3. Listening to What Users Want, Not What They Actually Use

What I’m talking about here is the gigantic difference between what a user says they want, and what they actually use.

Listening to what a user wants ultimately leads you to hamburgers in the shoe store. You’ll be building features no one will actually use.

While the shoe store owner was busy listening to one person about how hungry they were, he failed to analyze his other customer’s behaviour. Had he done that, he would have realized that half his customers left because they forgot to bring socks.

A simple box of disposable socks could have increased his sales far better than hamburgers.

The Fix

For testing new features, designs and re-designs, don’t ask users their opinions, instead watch what they do.

Sit a user down, give them a list of tasks, and watch as they attempt to execute them. Do this with enough users and you’ll notice patterns that develop of people getting stuck on the same task.

But this brings up the question, if you shouldn’t listen to what users want, how do you know what to build? Well, there’s a few different ways.

First, analyze the way people are using your service. Users are creative. If they want to use what you’ve built for a purpose other than what you’ve designed it for, they’ll find a workaround.

For example, at my last startup, users were given a “general discussion” board, which was intended for creating high level discussions on community events. Instead, many users began posting requests for child care providers.

This lead us to develop a very minimal version of a “child care” section and watching to see if users would rather use it instead.

Usability godfather Jacob Nielsen of NN/g suggests another strategy for discovering what users want. Give users a survey to fill out only after they’ve participated in a formal user test. This ensures the feedback you get is from users who have fully engaged with your product.

He also suggests polling users with the question, “Why are you visiting our site today?” which reveals motivation for using your product. This can lead to insights on how to add value in the form of features.

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4. Forcing People to Signup Without Offering Any Value

The most likely scenario for this is a mobile app. The user downloads the app, opens it, and then gets stuck at a “signup or login” screen.

It can also be a landing page that contains nothing but images of icons and selling points.

It’s pretty much anything that says, you’ve got no choice, if you wanna try our product, sign up or GTFO.

It’s a lot to ask your visitor to give up their information without even knowing if they want the product first. This can lead to a major decrease in conversions.

For example, imagine you tried to walk into the shoe store, but were stopped at the front. The store owner approaches you and asks for your credit card number in exchange to come inside.

How would that make you feel? Probably pretty weird, considering you didn’t even get a chance to browse the shoes yet.

You’re losing people the moment they hit that signup wall. Yes, you probably will get a large percentage of people willing to sign up to try your app, but now you’re building a user base of potentially uninterested users.

Why would you want the email of a person who tried your app and hated it? If you think you can eventually “change their mind” you’re wrong. It’s pretty rare they’ll be back.

The Fix

Give visitors as much as you can before asking for their information. A great example of this is products that allow you to begin creating something, and don’t ask you for user information unit you’re ready to publish it.

Allow them to browse your product’s content, and then prompt them for login details when they want to interact with it.

If this isn’t possible, at least offer them some images or video of the product being used.

The goal here is to prove to your user that there’s value in your product for them. The result is a user base of people who signed up because they actually wanted to use what you’ve built, not just try it out.

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5. Taking User Feedback Personally

This used to be me. There was a time, before I started learning about UX, that I hated when users couldn’t figure out how to use something I designed.

I poured my sweat and tears into that. It’s not my fault the user is stupid, they’ll just have to learn how to be smarter.

This is dangerous thinking. It’s something I’ve encountered everywhere I’ve worked, from designers to developers to founders.

People don’t realize that no set of users are built the same. They’re made up of different people with different goals and different problems.

You can apply UX best practices, and build your design to the best of your ability, but you’ll never get it right on the first try.

The Fix

Make sure to communicate with your team, and yourself, that developing a usable product is an ongoing process. What they’re creating is a starting point, and it will go through hundreds of iterations.

Team members need to feel like they’re working together, towards making an amazing user experience. They should never be made to felt like they did something wrong, only that they provided the foundation for collecting user data in order to improve.

Negative user feedback is good. Adopt this mentality. You want to see users get stuck, because that is how you improve your product.

Just don’t forget that watching a user get stuck is much different than listening to a user talk about what they got stuck on.

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6. Not Including an Onboarding Experience

Onboarding is how you interact with a user when they use your product for the first time. It’s often in the form of guided tours with overlays, tips and arrows pointing out what button does what.

Not including a form of on boarding leaves the user in charge of figuring out how to use your product.

It always takes a first time user a bit of time to learn the ropes. The problem is that this is the most important time in a user lifecycle. They’re deciding if your product is something that will benefit them.

They want to be impressed by your product. They want to be excited. But now they’ve gotta learn how to use it. Without help, they’re most likely going to get frustrated, and then they’re going to leave.

For example, imaging you walked into the grocery store because you wanted to buy some bread. You realize no one actually works there because it’s an automated grocery store.

No big deal, you’ll just head to the bread isle. Where’s the bread isle? You can’t find it because there also isn’t any signs for what’s in each isle.

You’re on your own in an empty grocery store with no signs. How frustrated are you right now? You just wanted a peanut butter and jam sandwich. Sigh.

Once you leave that grocery store, you’re never coming back.  You had a horrible first experience, and that is the same mentality your users will take.

The Fix

Put some time into creating an on boarding experience. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated, in fact, the less the better.

Make it interactive. Don’t just show them a big long tour that they need to watch, force them to interact with your product. This increases their retention of what they’re learning.

If you’re gamer, you’ll be familiar with some of the best on boarding experiences ever. They don’t just show you a video with a voice over telling you what buttons do what.

They force you to complete tasks before moving on, in order to teach you the controls in a fun way.

For an absolutely awesome look at designing a killer onboarding, check out this epic article by Samuel Hulick.

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7. Having a Poorly Design Search Function

I talked about this one more in-depth in my post about Designing a Search Function that Keeps Users Coming Back, but I’ll go over it again because it’s so damned important.

Fifty percent of users, on the entire internet, are search dominant. This means 50% of your users are using your search function as their main point of navigation.

They don’t care about your drop downs or your side nav or any fancy browse function you’ve got. They get in, search, and find what they want.

Most people don’t put enough thought into their search function. Where they place it, how they design it, and how it functions are often an after thought.

Even more important is the design of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP). This is the page you land on after you search for something.

Doing search wrong creates a poor user experience by forcing the user to choose another option to navigate besides the one they a most comfortable with.

The Fix

Check out my post on designing a proper search function. It has a ton of tips on how to do it right.

To paraphrase here a few key points:

  • Have you search box on every page
  • Put it somewhere it’s always going to be visible
  • Don’t use advanced search until your results page
  • Always search the entire site (not subsections)
  • Make your results MATCH the look of your content
  • GIve people the ability to sort and filter their results
  • Help people out by fixing spelling errors and recommending what they meant to search

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8. Not Optimizing for Mobile

If you’re bootstrapping, or if you’re just testing the waters with a minimal product, building a responsive site is a lot of extra development.

I agree, It’s better to get your product out there and get testing it than to be sure it functions correctly on mobile.

But not having a product that works on a mobile device means you’re losing 20% (total mobile traffic) of the people that make it to your site.

Getting those visitors to come to your site is hard work! Are you really willing to let 20% of that go to waste just because you don’t have a mobile solution?

Not just that, but the number of web users on mobile devices is rapidly increasing. Having a mobile friendly site not only lets you nab that extra 20% of users, but it also prepares you for future.

If you’ve ever visited a site on your mobile device that wasn’t optimized, then you know the drill. Page loads, attempt to navigate, get frustrated, leave.

The Fix

Building a truly responsive site is a lot of work. You know, the ones where all the content resizes depending on your EXACT resolution?

What I’ve found much easier is to use media queries.

Media queries are CSS rules that allow you to define rules for your existing classes based on the size of the current browser. For example, your CSS query would say, “If the browser’s max size is 640px, then make the main container 620px wide”.

For more information on how responsive design increases the results of online marketing, check out this article by Kristi Hines.

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9. Not Offering Users Help

Regardless of how usable your site is, someone is always going to need help.

If you’ve ever worked in a supermarket you’ll have been in this situation before.

There you are, stocking some bread on the shelf, when a distraught customer approaches you. “Excuse me! Where on earth do you keep your bread? I’ve looked everywhere for it!” You casually hand them a loaf as they quietly walk away with their tail between their legs.

There’s no way around this. People get lost even when they have a GPS system telling them when and where to TURN.

Not having a way for your users to reach out and get help with their problem creates feelings of frustration and helplessness.

The Fix

The first step is providing them with a searchable FAQ and Help Wiki.

There are a ton of themes out there you can download and simply plug in and start filling with content. Provide a lot of high level “how-to” videos and have an FAQ section with common tasks phrased as questions.

Let’s think about the lady who couldn’t find the bread. There were a ton of signs pointing her in the direction of the bread, but she didn’t read them, why? Because she was too frustrated that she couldn’t find it on her own, so she went to a live person for help.

This is why a live chat window is the best type of help you can give to your users. It allows them to get immediate answers for their problems, and can save you losing a user due to frustration.

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10. No Emotional Connection Between Your Brand and Your Users

If the goal of good UX is to create a enjoyable experience for your users, then your company’s brand plays into this far more than you’d think.

Positive user experiences aren’t just about making sure your users are able to use your product, it also has to do with the reason they’re using it.

Users who feel emotionally connected to your brand will have a better experience using your product because they are willing to forgive small usability hiccups.

Apple’s brand is built on making products that are designed to be beautiful and easy to use. They have made it clear that they care deeply about aesthetics, and that all products should have the same care and love put into them as they do.

Can you guess who else holds these same types of values? Creatives. Designers, artists, writers, generally anyone who puts work and passion into making something look nice.

What types of computers make up every creative department of every startup, agency and studio out there? Apple.

This isn’t a coincidence. Phototshop runs on Windows just the same as it does on a Mac. Yet here I sit, typing this blog post on my Macbook Pro. Why? Because I identify with the values of this brand, and I connect to it emotionally.

Much like the way I’m friends with people who I have things in common with, I feel I have a lot of the same values as this brand. That means my experience using it is automatically improved, because I’m willing to overlook minor problems that otherwise would make me upset.

What sets two companies apart whose products are almost identical? Their brand. It’s the biggest, most overlooked asset you have in beating your competition.

The Fix

Brand yourself. It’s not a simple as it sounds, but know that if you don’t take steps to brand yourself, your customers will define your brand for you, based entirely on your interactions with them. This could go very well or very very bad.

Understanding how branding works is the first step, followed by building an emotional brand, then a visual brand.

Here is the entire process watered down:

  1. Decide how you’re different from the rest
  2. Create a brand message
  3. Choose a stance on something
  4. Pick a name
  5. Get a logo designed
  6. Design a visual style
  7. Brand your product, site, social properties, etc.
  8. Build your following
  9. Protect and grow your brand

I go through the entire branding process in detail in my book, The Complete Guide to Branding your Startup. I’ll teach you everything you need to know about building an effective brand for your startup.

The result will be more loyalty from you users, increased retention, more word of mouth referrals and faster growth.

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Let’s Summarize

Mistakes like these are easy to miss. You might have not even realized you made them, or you might just be so bogged down with running your business that you let them slip away from you.

A user who has a good experience with your product is one much more likely to return, recommend you to others, and continue to purchase from you.

If you haven’t already, think about implementing as many of the following fixes as possible for creating the best experience for your users.

  1. Work with a User Experience Designer on the usability of your product before concentrating on making it look nice.
  2. Remove features that aren’t being used, no matter how much blood, sweat, tear and time you put into building them.
  3. Watch users, don’t listen to them. Study user behaviour in order to determine where problems exist with your interface.
  4. Allow users to interactive with, or see your product working, before asking them to sign up. Provide some value first, then ask for credentials.
  5. Make sure everyone on your team understands that the UX of you product is constantly evolving. Negative user feedback should be met with excitement, not anger.
  6. Include an “on boarding tutorial” for first time users. Walk them through how to use your product. Make it interactive.
  7. Design your search function properly. See my post on how to design a proper search flow.
  8. Make your site look good on mobile devices. Use media queries if it’s easier for you.
  9. Offer help to your users when they get stuck. Make it accessible and if possible, from a live person.
  10. Build a brand that connects with people on a emotional level. See my book, The Complete Guide to Branding your Startup, to learn how.

More UX Quick Fixes in my Free eBook!

You’re already on a UX fixin’ roll, now I’d suggest downloading my free eBook, Five Minute UX Quick Fixes for a bunch more UX fixes which all take under 5 minutes each!


  • Hello Craig,

    Keep writing mate as your posts and excellent and your followers will quickly grow if you continue to push out such high quality content.

    For your color boxes at the end of your posts are you making them with a plugin or a combination or html/CSS?

    Thanks Crain and once again keep up the good work!

    • Thanks so much! It really helps to hear that when first starting out. I really appreciate that.

      Do you mean the giveaway boxes? Like on this post, for giving away the ebook?

      It’s a combination of a plugin called My Shortcodes which allows me to build a short code using custom HTML and CSS.

      I’d be happy to share it with you. Would you be interested in seeing it as a post?

    • Heya Craig,

      yes I mean the box in this post that you have at the bottom of each of your ten suggestions that have different colors and have faded pics and with quotes. I have searched everywhere for something just like that for quotes, but all I can find is shaded boxes.

      Thanks for your help.

      Johnathon

  • Brilliant, and simple! Unfortunately, many companies appoint someone other than a UX and Information Architect team to accomplish UX refactor. As you suggest in each of your graphics, the result of this approach is predictable. I am aware of a tech company embarking on a UX refactor, preparing to institutionalize each of the errors you described. Unfortunately, their management has no regard for the disciplines involved. They will forge ahead unfunded, resource-light, and over-wrought. This company is even running a contest to solicit, essentially crowd-source, the UX project.

    • The ROI of UX really needs more exposure. I have an upcoming post on exactly this.

  • Pingback: UX Design in the modern age - StickPoll: Developer Blog()

  • Audrey

    My goodness, thank you! I’m a graduating student in this field but i still feel that there’s so much more to learn. I think I gained alot of UX knowledge from reading your posts and of course downloading those notes. I really enjoy making people feel like they are born to use a certain app/site instead of making them feel stupid while navigating around. I guess that’s what always happens to me, so i wanna make this change! Thanks again!(:

    • That’s why I got into UX, it’s so frustrating finding an app that gives you so much value but is so miserable to use.

      Thanks for the kind words!

  • John Negoita

    Hi Craig, thank you so much for this list. It’s such a difficult thing to fix a site with bad UX especially if the fixer is also the person that created the site. I’ve also written a post on improving UX

    http://www.coding-dude.com/wp/seo/how-to-improve-user-experience-and-reduce-bounce-rate-on-a-website/

    I’m be curious if you agree with any of my points

    cheers!

  • Awesome. Really helpful. I implemented all the points and got really good results. Thanks