OPINION: The five most common UX mistakes

18 Apr 2015

A UX professional is not a UI designer who reads Mashable once a week

Like many or perhaps all services businesses, clients contact Fathom because something is broken. Or if it’s not broken, then it could certainly perform better.

While the specifics of each challenge are unique, this ‘could do better’ attitude reveals itself time and again in some of the following patterns.

  • An e-commerce website isn’t persuading enough users to buy
  • A software-as-a-service website isn’t encouraging enough users to sign-up and try, or enough trialists to move from free to paid-for
  • A website has a suspiciously high bounce rate
  • A competitor has emerged and is stealing significant market share quickly through its digital activities
  • Anecdotal feedback suggests that a website’s navigation is problematic for users
  • A beleaguered marketing team want to remove conjecture and internal politics from the design process, to deliver a customer-centred site
  • There is little or no coordination across digital channels such as web, mobile, search, social, affiliate and email (and don’t even start the discussion about online and offline integration)

In each of these challenges, user-experience planning and the implementation of the right UX processes, delivered in the right order, can always help and in some cases revolutionise performance.

Not infrequently clients who come to us for assistance and professional advice consider that they “already do UX” or that “UX was all sorted as part of web design” and so we always start our engagements by setting UX in context, explaining what it is and why it matters, and debunking some common myths.

1. UX isn’t all about designers 

Despite many in the industry agreeing that UX is not UI, the overwhelming majority of people whose job title starts with UX ends with designer. UX designers are great people and we need as many of them as we can get our hands on, but what about UX researchers, UX analysts, UX copywriters, UX architects and so on?  My guess is that UX designers outnumber all of the UXers by at least 10 to one and this needs to change.  A UX professional is not a UI designer who reads Mashable once a week.

2. Invest in research 

Starting from the premise that on the web we are communicating with intelligent strangers, smart people who we haven’t physically met who want to access information to make informed buying decisions, it seems logical to me that the more we know about them the more accurately and succinctly we can communicate with them. In a time-poor, attention-poor environment such as the web, if we make assumptions about our customers, we lose. If we know our customers and speak their language, prioritise what matters most to them, help them find tasks and complete tasks, pitch our tone of voice correctly and let them engage with us across devices, across locations and in multiple contexts of use, then and only then have we a chance of closing the deal.  Such customer knowledge requires understanding customers intimately by investing money in research.

3. Get everyone in the company interested in UX

User-experience planning demands leadership from the top down, and for it to truly succeed needs to be believed by everyone in the organisation: from the chair, to the board, to the CEO and at every staff level throughout the company. UX thinking often requires infrastructure, investment, business process changes (people in silos who haven’t spoken to each other for years now having to work collaboratively), strong digital leadership and a new way of measuring success.  In December 2014, Forrester Research reported that “only 25pc of customer experience (CX) professionals say their company’s CX programs actually improve customer experience” with cultural misalignment being the core reason for the disconnect.

4. Listen to facts rather than opinion 

Many organisations, particularly larger ones, are characterised by semi-competing silos, internal politics and decision-makers faced with the challenge that what is best for the business isn’t best for their career.  Perhaps the most over-used, under-valued phrase in digital is the phrase “best-practice” as it becomes the go-to defence for the promotion of opinion and levering of influence. Culturally, every organisation must have a healthy disregard for opinion and a healthy skepticism of the findings of experts (and I include Fathom in that), unless justified with evidence, statistics and facts.

5. Measure its impact 

Sometimes the impact of a user-experience initiative is immediately obvious and measurable. We have been privileged to be involved in UX-testing projects that have almost tripled conversion, others have seen task completion double and task efficiency increase fourfold. Sometimes it can be more difficult, particularly when it comes to understanding conversion attribution and multi-channel, multi-context-of-use decision-making.  Measuring UX can be difficult, but where UX can be measured it should be measured.


Ultimately UX philosophy is founded on the realisation that your user, right now, on your website, is having an experience whether you have thought about it or not. It is only by addressing your business culture, business processes, research and design activities that you can be confident their experience is a good one for them and a profitable one for you.

Gareth Dunlop


Gareth Dunlop Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy that helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include user testing, usability and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include Invest NI, Permanent TSB, Three, Ordnance Survey Ireland, and Independent News and Media. Visit Fathom online.


Mashable image, via Shutterstock