Lots of talk about redesigning websites lately. Maybe it’s because summer is ending, and the Holidays are right around the corner (for e-Tailers, that is)?
First, there was Jeff Sexton‘s post about asking the right Persuasion Architecture questions before redesigning, which was inspired by a Seth Godin post. Then, Jakob Nielson had some good thoughts from the Usability camp about redesigns and how radical they should be.
Mr. Nielson’s thoughts resonated with me given that our OnTarget product is generally focused on incremental improvement of clients’ existing websites. He urges readers to avoid redesigns that involve massive change to a site’s user interface. Why? Because users (read: customers and prospects) hate change and love the familiar, even if we as marketers are sick of how our own sites look. It’s always good advice to “evolve a UI with gentle changes rather than offer a totally fresh design.” He also recommends “getting the basic design right in the first place, before you launch, so that it can live several years with minor updates.” I think that’s a key point: a good (re)design is one that can stay fresh and current for several years, and accommodate a process of continuous improvement and incremental change.
I’ve seen many gorgeous site redesigns that didn’t stand up to that criteria–they weren’t well-coded, well-documented, or maintainable. And when it came time to start optimizing, the marketing team found many unexpected constraints that made incremental changes more expensive than they bargained for.
Another point I’d like to drive home is that redesigns should be done with ROI in mind, not because internal stakeholders are sick of the look and feel. There should be documented goals that can be measured, for example, increasing pages per visit by 20%, and increasing conversion rate by 5%. And flexibility should be built in, so that you can always have a “to do list” of small improvements you can implement each month to incrementally build on your successes.
Finally, if you are considering a moderate to major redesign, keep in mind that usability testing can be done on very simple prototypes before you make major investments. And, we love giving feedback on mockups, wireframes, prototypes, etc. because it allows our clients to launch with the best possible product, after which we start the process of continuous improvement.