Compared to graphic design, SEO, and other online marketing staples, UX is a brand-new concept to the Internet. It’s an umbrella that covers a variety of different ideas and concepts from copywriting to web development and more.
As a result of its youth and its breadth, UX is filled with questions about how consumers choose purchases, how users experience the Internet on mobile devices, and even how they read content.
Today, we’re going to set the record straight.
Here are seven of the most popular UX misconceptions out there right now, confronted with the truth to balance them out. You’ve probably stumbled upon these before, and in the case that you fully believe them — well, hopefully this article changes your mind.
The Truth: Moderation is key.
Capitalism is based on the choices that consumers make. That’s why marketing and advertising exist in the first place — you need to convince potential customers to choose your goods or services.
But just because consumers need choice doesn’t mean they need a lot of it. And while that might sound weird, there’s a reason for it.
Too many choices overload users, especially at the bottom of your sales funnel. Lots of links, buttons, and calls to action might give a variety of options, but they can actually detract from your conversion rate. The most famous study on this came from the “jam experiment,” where Draeger’s determined people buy more jam when there are six options than they do when they have 24.
If you remember, Procter and Gamble reduced its number of Head and Shoulders products and saw a 10% increase in sales. Even when it comes to retirement plans, some people will choose not to participate in any fund if there are too many options.
But how does this relate to UX? One of the best modern examples is that GetBadges increased its conversion rate 40% by removing a button this past August.
That’s it. Just a button.
The button in question offered a competing CTA against the action that GetBadges wanted its customers to take (registration). Their final page had a button that said “TRY IT FOR FREE” in the page’s top right, while the registration form was to the left side of the screen.
Naturally, clicking on a button that says “FREE” is more appealing than filling out form fields. That extra CTA was a conflicting choice, and it cannibalized GetBadges’ overall conversion rate.
After removing that extra choice, it became much clearer what users should do.
While it might sound like you’re limiting your visitors, it’s mutually beneficial to restrict the number of choices available to the user at a given time. If they want to become a customer, they should clearly see how to do that.
You’re basically getting rid of noise to make sure your site’s visitors can clearly identify the path to conversion. And that, in general, provides a better UX.
TL;DR: Give your users a handful of choices on each page — no more than six.
2. If you have good utility, you don’t need aesthetics
It’s true that utility and usability are large components of web design. But that doesn’t mean they’re the end-all-be-alls of your projects.
A smooth, modern, and attractive user interface makes all the difference in immersing your users in your product. It doesn’t matter if it’s a website, an app, a video game, or whatever — your user needs to feel involved in what you’ve created.
A big part of that ambition is the back-end code you use to create something useful and engaging. But it also includes branding, colour schemes, and other graphic design concepts that are proven to keep users engaged.
The most obvious example of this is Apple’s modern branding initiative. They’re poised as a streamlined, futuristic, and top-level company that inspires a micro-culture of brand crusaders as their customer base.
Naturally, the utility of their products is a big part of that. Apple uses interfaces of lists and widgets for navigation that are so simple, even young children can use them. But if someone just handed you a device that showed list after list, it wouldn’t have the same impact as handing you an iPhone.
And that’s why Apple made its interface look iconic.
The dichromatic, sleek, and modern appearance of Apple’s products arguably spawned a revolution in design geared toward simple aesthetic (look at your phone — there’s a good chance it’s a black rectangle). And whether you agree with that assertion or not, you can’t deny the influence that Apple’s aesthetic has had on its industry, tech culture, and the company itself.
Their incorporation of a unique aesthetic into their UX — combined with some genius marketing moves — helped the company’s stock surge from 77 cents per share in 1997 to more than $100 per share today.
Can you experience the same kind of growth? It’s hard to say. Every business is different, and basing your business plan on another company is a recipe for disaster (we’ll cover that later). But at the same time, you can learn from other people’s successes.
Whether you like Apple or not, they’re one of the biggest success stories in modern UX.
TL;DR: Even if it works perfectly, it still needs to look good.
3. Customers are rational
One of the biggest myths about UX is that customers follow a logical train of thought. Unfortunately, that’s not always true, and that ties your hands on a lot of options. If your customers aren’t rational, how can you give them a good experience?
Making choices for convenience means making it as obvious as possible what customers should do at any point in your product.
On your homepage, they should have an incentive to convert, whether that’s a form field for their email address or a row of recommended products. On your landing pages, they should have an incentive to stay on your site, like a list of similar pages they’d enjoy. And all of that should ideally take one click to do.
Hero images, colorful buttons, and concise directions help with convenience, not to mention negative space that creates a more open feeling. You can also incorporate sleek graphics, clear calls to action, color-coordinated pages, pictures, and other visual elements, along with pages dedicated to conversions.
Plus, when you make it easy for users to complete a certain action, they’ll be more likely to do it. It’s like filling out paperwork — the less there is, the sooner you’ll get it done.
But unlike most situations where they have to fill out paperwork, users can leave your site at any time. You need to keep them engaged and guide them through the sales funnel as quickly and conveniently as possible.
Convenience in terms of UX comes in a number of different strategies. The right number of form fields, call-to-action buttons, and fast load times can all improve a customer’s experience online and lead to more conversions. The reasons they work is because they don’t ask too much, they’re clearly labelled, and they’re fast (respectively).
Or, in other words, they’re convenient!
TL;DR: Make it easy for visitors to engage with your company.
4. The best designers don’t need to test or adapt
As long as Stephen King needs an editor, every other writer needs one, too.
The same is true for UX designers. The reason there are people at the top of the UX field is because they learned the value of feedback and refining their craft.
That means even the best players in every industry get critiqued on their work in order to improve. You and every other UX designer should do it, too.
In fact, those who don’t test or seek feedback are typically newer to a field or simply overconfident. At least, that’s what the Dunning-Kruger effect says.
Daniel Kruger and David Dunning conducted a series of experiments on a wide variety of people involved in different fields, essentially testing how their confidence relates to their competence. The results showed that the people who are most likely to brag or cut corners also happen to be the least skilled.
While that’s a gross oversimplification of an incredible experiment, the “victims” of the Dunning-Kruger effect generally don’t understand their own lack of skill. They also don’t see the skill of others, and they don’t realize how far behind the curve they are. The only way to fix it is with training.
But even with experience aside, there’s another major reason that a UX designer — especially a new one — may not test: Stress.
UX is a high-pressure, high-demand career that works on tight deadlines and constantly getting bigger and better results. If a deadline’s looming and the boss doesn’t quite understand the importance of refining UX design, they don’t have a choice. They need to keep their job, so they need to turn out a product and move on.
In that respect, it’s not the designer’s fault that they don’t test — it’s their boss. Their boss (or their boss’s boss) may be the results-oriented, keep-it-moving type of personality that appreciates tangible, visible improvement over data-driven refinement.
And if that’s the case, the designer has to fight an uphill battle to do what they need to do.
The point is that the best UX designers don’t just test — they test often, and they work in an environment that supports their need to refine a product. They know the value behind seeing where customers fall out of the sales funnel or abandon their shopping carts. A good UX designer understands that data isn’t just for review — it’s objective, actionable advice that can guide a business to new growth.
And if you don’t think your new build needs to be tested, talk to another UX designer that’s been in the field longer than you have. Get their input on what you’ve made, weigh it against your original idea, implement changes, collect data, and find out what’s best for yourself.
TL;DR: Test everything you make, even if you have to fight to do it.
5. Mobile users need a different experience than desktop
There’s this big misperception in the marketing world that mobile users are constantly multitasking and dividing their attention. That might be true for some people, but it doesn’t describe the majority.
In fact, most mobile users are sitting on their couches.
In a way, this makes sense — people who are on the go generally have a place that they need to be. And if they need to be somewhere, they probably won’t make time to buy something, especially if they’re walking or driving.
This means your UX doesn’t necessarily have to be geared to people who are racing around the world at breakneck speed. You can provide an experience that’s accessible, immersive, and — most of all — responsive.
This works to your advantage since it promises that your current website will also work as your mobile website. In other words, you only have to worry about one major user experience and tweak it to fit the screens of other devices.
Those tweaks can include a finger-friendly interface, larger fonts, on-page buttons, and simplified navigation, among other ideas. But if you keep mobile users in mind when you’re designing, you can create a one-stop, comprehensive experience for all users, regardless of how they access your site. And it also helps that mobile-friendliness is a ranking factor in Google’s algorithm.
TL;DR: Your users are focused, even on mobile.
6. People read content
One of the biggest UX myths is that everyone closely reads content. The unfortunate truth is that the vast majority of “readers” don’t take the time to look at every word on a page — they scan it.
This isn’t new, either. Scanning is how people read newspapers, and it’s generally accepted as fact in journalism. It’s also why journalists write in the “inverted pyramid” style, where they start with a hook and then tell the who, what, where, and when of the story. It’s just easier on the reader.
With that in mind, it makes just as much sense that online readers skim content, too. With the oversaturation of the blog market and more written content out there than ever before, there’s no way someone could take the time to read everything related to their interests.
But what does this have to do with UX? While it might sound a little weird, UX designers can actually learn a few things from journalism since they’ve already adapted to F-shaped scanning patterns of their readers.
First, design content to be top-heavy. This includes collaborating with a copywriter to make sure they write their content that way, too. Draw the reader’s attention to the top of the article or blog post with larger fonts, different typefaces, or even exclamation points to make certain parts of your page stand out.
The blogging platform Medium does this exceptionally well with the standard layout of its articles. The headlines are big and bold, the subheaders are slightly less eye-catching, and their articles start with bolded words or dropcap letters.
Next, keep the reader going from paragraph to paragraph as smoothly as possible. This means designing content with negative space to make it more digestible — kind of like a newspaper. Keep each paragraph to a maximum of four sentences so that your readers aren’t hit with a wall of text. While that might not directly pertain to the design of your site, it has a lot of impact on a user’s experience.
Again, Medium does this really well by using large, easy-to-read fonts — though some use serifs on their lettering, which isn’t always recommended, but it can work all the same.
You can also format content to list of major points for everything you publish. Numbered lists (like the one you’re reading now) are a great way to do that, and it’s also why headlines that use numbers are so popular — just look at Buzzfeed and Cracked, two of the biggest reasons the Internet now enjoys listicles.
Last, you can summarize each section at the end. That gives you the chance to have an eye-catching or impactful title without skimping on the important points. Using the “too long; didn’t read” (TL;DR) format works pretty well for summarizing points to scan-happy readers.
TL;DR: Draw attention to and focus on the gist of content.
The fact that most of these myths are myths actually works to the benefit of most UX designers.
- Focus on the gist
- Make your product look good
- Limit user choice
- Don’t use big-company strategies
- Design for convenience
- Test your build
- Users are engaged, even on mobile
The bigger takeaway is to remember that not everything you hear about UX is true. UX is an evolving industry, and certain trends and design strategies can change from day to day. If you ever hear something similar to these myths, get the data first.
Or — if you really want to be awesome — use your own.