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What are the risks of designing a website?

by Cory Loxton-McMahon

published on November 26th 2023 and last updated 8 months ago

What are the risks of designing a website?

Imagine this: After months of hard work, you finally launch your website. It looks fantastic, and you're brimming with pride. But within weeks, you notice something's amiss. Visitor numbers are dwindling, the site is painfully slow, and, worst of all, there’s a security breach exposing sensitive data. This isn't just a nightmare scenario—it's a reality for many who overlook the myriad risks in website design.

Welcome to the digital age, where a website is more than just an online presence; it's the frontline of your business and brand identity. But with great power comes great responsibility, and designing a website is not without its pitfalls. From technical snags and security loopholes to legal entanglements and brand misrepresentations, the path to creating an effective and secure online presence is fraught with risks.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the often-overlooked dangers of website design. Whether you're a seasoned developer, a budding designer, or a business owner stepping into the digital world, understanding these risks is crucial. We'll not only highlight the potential issues but also provide insights into how you can navigate these challenges successfully. So, buckle up and prepare to dive deep into the world of website design, where every decision counts and the smallest oversight can have significant consequences.

  1. Technical Risks: First, we'll delve into the technical aspects of website design. We'll explore the dangers of security vulnerabilities, performance issues, and the challenges of ensuring cross-compatibility. Understanding these risks is fundamental to building a robust and reliable website.
  2. Design and Usability Risks: A great design is more than just aesthetics. We'll discuss how poor design choices can lead to a subpar user experience, deterring visitors from engaging with your site. We'll also emphasize the importance of accessibility in design.
  3. Legal and Compliance Risks: Navigating the legal landscape is crucial in website design. We'll cover the potential pitfalls of copyright infringement and the necessity of adhering to various privacy laws. Staying compliant is not just about avoiding legal issues; it's about building trust.
  4. Financial and Business Risks: Here, we'll tackle the financial implications of web design. From budget overruns to the risk of poor ROI, understanding these aspects is vital for any business investing in a website.
  5. Branding and Reputation Risks: Your website is a reflection of your brand. We'll explore how inconsistent branding and design flaws can impact your brand image and reputation, potentially leading to lost trust and business.
  6. Strategies to Mitigate Risks: Knowing the risks is just the beginning. We'll provide actionable strategies and best practices to help you mitigate these risks, ensuring your website is secure, user-friendly, and legally compliant.
  7. Regular Audits and Updates: Keeping your website up-to-date is not a one-time task. We'll discuss the importance of regular audits and updates to maintain performance, security, and relevance in a rapidly evolving digital world.
  8. Professional Guidance: Sometimes, the best approach is to seek expert advice. We'll talk about when and why it might be necessary to consult with web design professionals and legal advisors to navigate the complex web design landscape.
  9. Conclusion: We'll wrap up by summarizing the key points discussed and reinforcing the importance of understanding and addressing these risks. Our goal is to leave you better prepared and informed to embark on your web design journey.

Digital concept art of a hacker in a dark room with multiple screens, depicting the threat of security vulnerabilities in web design. The hacker appears as a mysterious figure, with screens showing code and potential security breaches.

Technical Risks in Website Design

The technical aspect of website design is a bedrock that determines how securely and efficiently a website operates. Ignoring these risks can lead to serious repercussions, affecting not only the website's performance but also its credibility and safety. Let's dive into some of these technical risks with real-world examples.

Security Vulnerabilities

Security should be a top priority in website design. Vulnerabilities like SQL injection, Cross-Site Scripting (XSS), and poor data encryption can lead to disastrous consequences. For instance, in 2017, the Equifax breach, caused by an unpatched vulnerability, compromised the personal data of over 143 million consumers. This highlights the need for rigorous security protocols and regular updates to safeguard sensitive information.

Performance Issues

A website’s performance is critical for user experience and SEO rankings. Slow-loading pages, broken links, or server downtime can drive visitors away. Amazon found that every 100ms delay in page load time led to a 1% decrease in sales. Similarly, Google's algorithm favors faster websites, meaning poor performance can directly impact your site’s visibility.


With the diversity of devices and browsers used today, designing a website that works seamlessly across all platforms is a challenge. For example, when Microsoft Edge was first released, many websites designed for Chrome or Firefox did not render correctly on it, leading to a poor user experience. This emphasizes the importance of responsive design and regular testing on different browsers and devices.

Real-World Examples and Takeaways

Equifax Data Breach (2017):

  • "The Equifax data breach was a security incident that exposed the personal information of 143 million to 148 million Americans in 2017, including names, birthdates, social security numbers, and more. The breach was investigated by several federal authorities and resulted in a class action settlement, with some Equifax executives accused of insider trading." (Source: EPIC)
  • "The breach occurred due to a vulnerability in Apache Struts and compromised private records of millions of Americans, British, and Canadian citizens, making it one of the largest cybercrimes related to identity theft." (Source: Wikipedia)
  • "U.S. Department of Justice charged four Chinese military-backed hackers in connection with the 2017 Equifax cyberattack." (Source: FBI)

Amazon's Website Performance Impact on Sales:

  • "In a 2006 study, Amazon found that every 100ms increase in page load time cost them 1% in sales, highlighting the significant impact of web performance on business metrics." (Source: Conductor)

Mitigating Technical Risks

To mitigate these risks, it's essential to:

  1. Implement Robust Security Measures: Use secure coding practices, employ encryption, and regularly update software to patch vulnerabilities.
  2. Focus on Performance Optimization: Regularly test your website’s loading times and optimize images, scripts, and CSS files to enhance performance.
  3. Ensure Cross-Compatibility: Design responsively and conduct thorough testing on different browsers and devices to ensure a consistent experience for all users.

In conclusion, addressing technical risks in website design is not optional; it's a necessity. By learning from real-world examples and implementing proactive strategies, you can create a secure, efficient, and user-friendly website.

Illustration of a person looking confused in a computer mouse-shaped maze, symbolizing the complexity of UX design in web development. The maze is intricate, highlighting the challenges of navigating user experience design.

Design and Usability Risks in Website Design

Design and usability are central to the success of any website. A visually appealing site that fails in functionality can be as detrimental as a technically sound but unattractive site. Let's explore the key risks in design and usability, and how they impact the overall effectiveness of a website.

Poor User Experience (UX)

A website's user experience encompasses everything from navigation to content layout. A common risk here is a cluttered or confusing design that overwhelms users. For example, when Snapchat redesigned its interface in 2018, it faced significant backlash due to a confusing layout, leading to a drop in user satisfaction and even a petition with over a million signatures asking for the old design back.

Accessibility Concerns

Accessibility in web design means creating a website that can be used by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. Neglecting this can not only alienate a portion of your audience but also lead to legal repercussions. A notable case is the lawsuit against Domino's Pizza in 2019, where the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling that Domino's website and mobile app were not accessible to visually impaired users, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Real-World Examples and Takeaways

Snapchat Redesign Backlash (2018):

  • "Snapchat's major redesign in 2018 was met with significant user backlash, primarily due to a confusing layout that jammed Stories between private messages. This resulted in 83% of App Store reviews for the update being negative. The most referenced keywords in these negative reviews were 'new update', 'Stories', and pleas to fix the update." (Source: TechCrunch)
  • "The redesign aimed to boost Snapchat’s revenue but led to a loss of $443 million. Snapchat responded to the negative reviews by suggesting that users needed time to get used to the update." (Source: TechCrunch)

Domino's Accessibility Lawsuit (2019):

  • "In the Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that Domino’s website and smartphone app were not accessible to people using screen readers, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The case, filed in 2016, concluded in 2022 with a settlement, emphasizing the importance of ADA compliance in digital content." (Source: Bureau of Internet Accessibility)
  • "The lawsuit had far-reaching implications for digital accessibility. Domino's initially argued that the ADA did not apply to websites, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that the ADA does apply to digital content." (Source: Bureau of Internet Accessibility)
  • "The case highlighted that fighting against ADA compliance requirements can be detrimental for businesses, both financially and in terms of brand reputation. Domino’s decision to fight the lawsuit rather than address accessibility issues was criticized as irresponsible." (Source: Bureau of Internet Accessibility)

Mitigating Design and Usability Risks

To reduce these risks, consider the following strategies:

  1. User-Centric Design: Focus on creating a user-friendly interface. Conduct user testing and gather feedback to ensure the design meets the needs and preferences of your audience.
  2. Prioritize Accessibility: Make your website accessible by following Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Use tools and audits to ensure compliance with accessibility standards.
  3. Responsive Design: Ensure your website is responsive and provides a consistent experience across various devices and screen sizes.

In summary, paying close attention to design and usability is not just about aesthetics; it's about creating a seamless, inclusive, and engaging experience for all users. By learning from past examples and employing thoughtful design strategies, you can significantly enhance the effectiveness and appeal of your website.

In the realm of website design, legal and compliance issues are often overlooked, yet they carry significant implications. Violations can result in hefty fines, legal battles, and damage to a company’s reputation. This section explores key legal and compliance risks associated with website design.

Using copyrighted materials without permission is a common pitfall. For instance, Getty Images is known for actively pursuing legal action against websites using their images without a license, leading to costly settlements.

Privacy Laws Compliance

With the enforcement of GDPR in the EU and CCPA in California, compliance with data protection and privacy laws has become crucial. A notable example is Google’s €50 million fine under GDPR in 2019 by France’s data protection authority, CNIL, for lacking transparency in how data was collected and used for personalized advertisements.

Real-World Examples and Takeaways

Getty Images Copyright Infringement Cases:

  • "Photographer Carol Highsmith received a $120 invoice from Licensing Compliance Services on behalf of Almay Limited, a photo stock agency, for using an image she had taken and donated to the Library of Congress for public use. It was discovered that Almay Limited and Getty Images were selling Highsmith’s public domain images and aggressively pursuing legal action against users of these images." (Source: The Graphic Artist Guild)
  • "Highsmith’s donated images, numbering over 18,755, were found on Getty Images, often credited incorrectly or not at all. This led to a significant legal battle highlighting the complexities of copyright law and public domain dedication." (Source: The Graphic Artist Guild)

Google’s GDPR Fine (2019):

  • "In January 2019, Google was fined €50 million under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by France’s data protection office, CNIL, for not obtaining adequate consent from users when processing their data for personalized advertising and failing to provide clear and easily accessible information about data collection." (Source: Digital Marketing Institute)
  • "This fine marked the first time Google was penalized under the new GDPR rules, representing a landmark ruling in the enforcement of data privacy laws." (Source: Digital Marketing Institute)

To mitigate these risks, consider the following steps:

  1. License and Attribute Content Properly: Always ensure that the content used on your site, whether images, text, or videos, is either created by you, appropriately licensed, or safely within fair use parameters.
  2. Understand and Comply with Privacy Laws: Stay informed about relevant privacy laws like GDPR and CCPA. Implement clear privacy policies and practices regarding data collection, storage, and usage.

In summary, staying vigilant about legal and compliance risks is imperative in website design. By understanding and adhering to laws and regulations, you can protect your website from costly legal issues and build trust with your audience.

Financial and Business Risks in Website Design

Website design projects, while essential for establishing an online presence, come with inherent financial and business risks.


A common issue in website projects is exceeding the initial budget. This can occur due to poor planning, unexpected technical challenges, or scope creep. A notable example is the website, which faced significant cost overruns. Initially estimated to cost $93.7 million, the project's cost escalated to over $1.7 billion due to various technical and management issues. Cost Overruns:

  • "The cost to build and its related systems is estimated to be over $500 million, with the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services spending almost $394 million from 2010 through March 2013. The original contract with CGI Federal to build and other technology portions was $93.7 million." (Source: Digital Trends)

Tropicana Rebranding in 2009:

  • "Tropicana's rebranding and new packaging for its Pure Premium product in 2009, which had sales revenues of more than $700 million per year, led to a 20% drop in sales within two months, resulting in a loss of $30 million." (Source: The Brand Hopper)

Return on Investment (ROI)

Websites are often major investments, and there's a risk of not achieving the desired ROI. This could be due to ineffective design, poor user experience, or lack of optimization for conversions. A case in point is the rebranding and website redesign of Tropicana in 2009, which led to a 20% drop in sales over two months, amounting to a loss of approximately $33 million. The redesign was poorly received by customers, leading to a swift reversion to the original packaging design.

Conceptual image of a mobile phone with a broken screen, symbolizing mobile incompatibility in web design. The phone's screen displays a poorly formatted website, underscoring the importance of responsive and mobile-friendly design.

Branding and Reputation Risks in Website Design

A website is a digital representation of a brand, and any missteps in its design can adversely affect a company’s reputation.

Inconsistent Branding

Inconsistent branding on a website can confuse customers and dilute brand identity. An example is Gap's 2010 logo redesign, which was reflected on their website and met with widespread public disapproval. The negative reaction from customers and designers alike forced Gap to revert to their original logo within a week.

Gap's 2010 Logo Redesign:

  • "Gap decided to redesign its 20-year longstanding logo in 2010, which was estimated to have cost around $100 million. The new logo, replacing the old one overnight, was met with widespread disapproval, leading Gap to revert to its original logo within a week." (Source: The Branding Journal)

2012 London Olympics Website Design Criticism:

  • "The 2012 London Olympic Games faced controversy over its logo, a modern and jagged design depiction of the year 2012. The logo, created by design firm Wolff Olins, was met with confusion and distaste, leading to a petition signed by over 48,000 citizens to have the £400,000 logo scrapped and redesigned." (Source: Sessions College)

Negative Public Perception

Poor website design can lead to negative public perception. A case in point is the 2012 London Olympics website, which faced criticism for its usability issues and overwhelming design. The site was critiqued for being difficult to navigate and not user-friendly, impacting the overall perception of the event's digital presence.

Expanded Strategies to Mitigate Risks in Website Design

Adopting Best Practices in Web Design:

  • Implement responsive design to ensure your website works seamlessly across all devices and screen sizes.
  • Prioritize user experience (UX) by focusing on intuitive navigation, fast load times, and engaging content.
  • Ensure accessibility for all users, including those with disabilities, by adhering to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
  • Stay updated on the latest web design trends and technologies for a modern and effective design approach.

Conducting Regular Audits and Updates:

  • Perform regular security audits to identify and fix vulnerabilities, protecting your website from potential breaches.
  • Regularly update your website’s content, design elements, and technical aspects to maintain relevance and efficiency.
  • Use analytics tools to monitor website performance and user engagement, making data-driven improvements.

Seeking Professional Guidance:

  • Consult with web design and development experts for insights on best practices and innovative design solutions.
  • Engage legal advisors to ensure compliance with copyright laws, privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA, and other legal standards.
  • Work with SEO specialists to optimize your website for search engines, enhancing visibility and traffic.

Implementing Rigorous Testing Protocols:

  • Conduct thorough testing across different browsers and devices to ensure consistent performance and user experience.
  • Test website functionalities like forms, checkout processes, and links to ensure they work flawlessly.
  • Use A/B testing to compare different design elements and functionalities, determining what works best for your audience.

Utilizing Reliable Web Design Tools and Resources:

  • Use reputable web design frameworks and tools that offer robust features and security.
  • Access resources like online courses, webinars, and tutorials to stay informed and skilled in web design.

Engaging with the Community:

  • Participate in web design forums and communities to stay abreast of emerging risks and solutions.
  • Gather feedback from users and peers to continuously improve and adapt your website design.

Artistic representation of a website being stretched and distorted, illustrating scalability limitations in web design. The image shows website elements being pulled in different directions, symbolizing the strain of inflexible web design.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, website design is a multifaceted endeavor that comes with various risks, including technical, design, legal, financial, and branding risks. It's essential to be aware of these potential pitfalls and take proactive measures to mitigate them. By following best practices, conducting regular audits, seeking expert guidance, and engaging with the web design community, you can create a secure, user-friendly, and compliant website. Remember that a well-designed website not only enhances your online presence but also builds trust and credibility with your audience. Stay informed, stay vigilant, and prioritize excellence in website design.

Additional Resources

For further insights and resources on website design and risk mitigation, consider exploring the following:

  • Web Design Best Practices: Smashing Magazine offers a wealth of articles, guides, and tutorials on web design best practices and the latest trends. Visit Smashing Magazine.
  • Web Accessibility Guidelines: The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) provides comprehensive guidelines on web accessibility to ensure your website is inclusive for all users. Explore the guidelines on the W3C website.
  • Legal Resources: Iubenda offers tools and resources for creating and managing privacy policies, terms and conditions, and other legal documents for your website. Check out Iubenda.
  • Web Design Forums: The Web Design subreddit is a community where designers and developers discuss best practices, share insights, and seek advice. Join the conversation on Reddit - Web Design.
  • Google PageSpeed Insights: Use this tool to analyze and optimize your website's performance for better user experience. Try Google PageSpeed Insights.
  • W3C Markup Validation Service: Ensure your website's code complies with HTML and CSS standards to prevent technical issues. Use the W3C Markup Validation Service.
  • SEO Guidelines: Access in-depth guides and updates on SEO trends at Moz and Search Engine Journal.
  • Cybersecurity Best Practices: Gain insights on general cybersecurity best practices from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Google Security Blog.
  • Responsive Design Tools and Guides: Learn about responsive web design through tutorials and articles on CSS-Tricks and A List Apart.
  • Web Design Inspiration: Find design inspiration and creative ideas on Behance and Dribbble.
  • Analytics and User Behavior Tools: Understand user behavior and improve website design using Google Analytics and Hotjar.
  • User Testing Platforms: Get real user feedback on website design from platforms like UserTesting and Hotjar.
  • Courses and Educational Material: Enhance your skills with courses on web design and development from Coursera, Udemy, and LinkedIn Learning.

For personalized assistance or if you have specific questions, don't hesitate to reach out to us at Our team of experts is here to support you in creating a successful and risk-free website design.

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