Avoiding the R wordPosted November 13th, 2008 by David Hamill
Many web teams I talk to long for the day they get to redesign their websites. I remember the days when I was the same. I now believe that the word ‘redesign’ should be avoided. I think it’s quicker and easier to improve a website in phases. That includes the look and feel.
Avoiding the R word makes it easier to improve your website.
Usability should be an iterative process
There is no such thing as the perfect design. You can test your site, fix the problems that you find, and then test it again. You’ll find more areas for improvement, they’ll just be different ones and hopefully less severe. The best way to constantly improve your website is to keep doing this in cycles (alongside other usability activities of course).
A redesign is a large task
Much of your website probably works OK. In a redesign project you end up changing all of it. A redesign is a massive undertaking for most sites. Much of the work involves changing parts of your website that actually work fine. In fact, by changing it so drastically you risk resolving some problems but introducing new ones elsewhere. Why not focus on the opportunities for improvement in small phases instead?
The distraction of the homepage
If you’ve ever been involved in a redesign project you’ll know how much time is wasted arguing about the minute details of the homepage.
The homepage is a symbol the whole project for many people. So around 60-80% of the time spent discussing the project can centre on the homepage. A few months after launch, much of the stuff you were arguing about can be changed without many people noticing.
Redesigns are too high profile
If you’re ‘introducing a new feature’, most of the company will leave you alone to get on with it. When the R word is used, everyone wants a piece of the action.
The company management will of course want to change something and you’ll have to waste time persuading them to leave it alone. You will of course fail. When the organisation is large, then there will be a lot of these important people sticking their nose in. This can result in butchery of the very things you’re trying to improve.
Not many problems will require a redesign to fix.
Many of the usability problems on your site can be improved without a redesign. Don’t be scared to make big changes to your website over a period of time. The things that appear to be gaping inconsistencies to you will often go unnoticed by your users. Those who notice will seldom care.
The threat of deadlines
Website redesigns usually have deadlines. Deadlines are a good motivator, but they can lead to corners being cut. Many of the requirements you started with can be dropped in order to meet the deadline you set.
When you release iterative improvements, those deadlines are easier to reach. You can also pick up dropped requirements in the next phase. When you’re doing a redesign you may have to wait years to do the same.
How did you get in this situation in the first place?
If you feel you need to redesign the site, then ask yourself how you managed to get yourself into this situation. Perhaps it’s because you haven’t improved the site significantly since the last redesign? So what are you going to do this time to stop it happening again?
Even if you do redesign it this time, consider planning this to be your last full-scale redesign.
Learning from the big boys
When was the last time the BBC redesigned its website? How about Amazon? These organisations change their websites, sometimes significantly. But they no longer seem to redesign them. Instead they evolve over time.
By doing so, they constantly refine the site without having to start again from scratch.
Treat your website like a garden
The approach I favour is to constantly improve a website instead of redesigning it every few years. It’s a lot more efficient. Think of your website as a garden. You don’t uproot the whole thing every 3 years because you’re bored with it. Instead you identify areas for improvement and it develops and improves over time.
By doing this, you leave the stuff that’s working OK alone and concentrate on the areas that can be improved. As a result your website will improve more rapidly.