Redesigning a website is one of the more challenging tasks you can take on as a designer, and in fact many designers are not really up to the challenge because they don't set about doing it in the right way. If you're the kind of designer who really cares about always doing your best work, you'll want to know the best methods for implementing a redesign, and that's where this article can be helpful.
Step 1: Establish the reason for the redesign
Knowing why (or even if) the website needs a redesign in an important first step. If you don't know why the redesign is required, your mission will lack true direction.
- To create better usability or accessibility
- To optimize the site by removing useless bandwidth-consuming resources
- To improve the user experience, based on valid user feedback
- To present a new corporate message
- To revitalize the brand image
- To leverage new technology (where it offers improvement)
- To present information in better ways
- To follow a trend
- To copy a competitor
- “Because it's time”
- “We need a fresh look”
- “The old site design is stale”
You'll notice the reasons classified as “excellent” are mainly concerned with improving how the site functions, while those that are classified as “terrible” are mainly concerned with how the site looks.
Now this is not to say that you should never overhaul the look of a website when you know the original design was seriously horrible, but in those cases it's best to design a completely new site, forgetting the old unappealing site ever existed.
In every other case, you need to follow a principle of least change. Why? Because in general, whereas corporate leaders often think users desire change, the reality is users hate change. Nearly always, change results in problems.
This is a lesson that had to be learned the hard way by:
Now, if people can get that worked up over a genealogy site, what does that mean for your company? It probably means you should tread very carefully when making changes, get plenty of user feedback, and implement changes in as many increments as you can.
Step 2: Stay on message
You need your corporate message not to be lost among the sea of changes, and it should still be the driving focal point of the website. All too often we see sites that put selling and marketing first, but that's not the right way to design a website. People don't want to be sold to, they want to be given a reason to trust you.
As a competent designer yourself, you already are aware of this. You won't make the mistake of allowing the site's focus to shift, or the company's corporate message to be washed out. Also everything presented on the site needs to reflect that message and be in harmony with it.
If your corporate message suggests you're a company that cares about the environment, but you sell the PollutionMaster 3000 (now with even more pollution!), it's cutting into the trust you're supposed to be building. Likewise if you want to promote a family-friendly image but then stock DeathMetal merchandise, or other such things. The social media backlash that can result just isn't worth whatever sales you make from promoting off-message products.
You can create alternative sites for controversial products and sell them through those sites under a different brand name, if you must. Let go of the idea that you need to put all your eggs in one basket.
Step 3: Make sure your implementation isn't detrimental to the user experience
The success or failure of a website these days is largely dependent on the quality of its UX. Fail too much, and you'll lose a lot of potential viewers. Above all, you'll want to avoid introducing any of the many annoyances that will be considered as unacceptable UX mistakes, despite their widespread use. These include:
- Pop-ups and pop-unders
- Nag screens and subscription solicitations
- Annoying cookie warnings
- Using cookies at all when they're not vital
- Interfering with user control (eg. preventing right-click)
- Interfering with navigation
- Introducing radically different interface components
- Autoplay video or autoplay audio
- Hiding content behind “More” links
- Endless scroll
In effect, your site needs to be as unobtrusive and unobnoxious as possible. The site should be there as a polite and humble servant, following the demands of the user, not the CEO Of your company or the head of marketing. And that's usually where designers face a conflict of interest.
So here's the thing: don't be humble yourself. Put up a good fight defending proper design and UX principles. If marketing or the CEO still insist on doing things the wrong way, you'll at least know you tried. and you'll have a great “I told you so” to come back with a few months down the track when visitor retention is inevitably falling.
Step 4: Understand that what users really want is information
The company website is part of your overall marketing mix, but where so many marketing teams get it wrong is in thinking of the site as being a big ad for the company and treating it as such. Your website should never be an ad unless it's a targeted sub-site that was created exclusively for that purpose.
Your website should be a source of information about your company and the products or services it sells, and it should always be treated that way. Because this must be the purpose of a corporate website, you need to go ahead and provide plenty of information.
Sites that don't provide information are usually doing that in violation of step 5 (outlined below), because they're trying to squeeze content into the design, instead of the design being built to hold the content.
Your site needs to be as descriptive as possible about everything that appears on it, without exception. Yes that means you'll be paying more for copywriters, but so what? If you're not investing in content, you're losing out to competitors who are providing more information. The user didn't come to your site to buy a product, they came to your site to find the information about the product that would help them make the decision to buy it.
Step 5: Always design a site around its content
It drives us bonkers when we see sites where the design was obviously created before the content. Yes, content changes, but it doesn't change that much that it should break a design. And when it does, that's when you know it's time for a redesign.
But every site should be planned as content first, and then the designer can use this conent as inspiration for creating the design. Otherwise you get a crazy situation where content has to be mashed, chopped, and revised to fit into the design, and that is never a good thing.
So when doing the redesign, isolate the content first, look at it, and make your redesign decisions based on that content and the best way to show it off.
A redesign is difficult enough, so why repeat the mistakes of the past?
Designing a good website is not something you can learn in a HTML course or even a four year college degree. It's a skill that is picked up through experience, but you can smooth out the learning curve considerably by learning from the mistakes of others.
The best source of information on what works and what doesn't is the users themselves. You can find this out just be searching around the Internet for what users are complaining about, and what they're praising. We've already covered most of the existing design trend mistakes in this article, but the next big trend is just over the horizon, and who knows if you should jump on the band wagon?
Do your research, implement changes gradually, process feedback, be informative, and avoid interfering too much in the user's mission, and your redesign is sure to be a success. In the end, you see, it's all a matter of common sense.
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