Top Mistakes When Redesigning a Website
In the past year, over 68% of marketers redesigned their website, and about a third of those marketers weren't happy with the results.
It's no surprise why. Any significant redesign of your website can be a lengthy process. Hundreds of color palettes, wire frames, and data spreadsheets end up strewn around the office. With so many variables involved, it's easy to get overwhelmed and find yourself slogging through a swamp of a site with no end in sight.
We've put together a list of the top mistakes that can happen when redesigning a site. Next time you're ready to dive into the redesign, take a step back and consider the following.
How Not to Redesign Your Website
Mistake 1: Blindly following trends
Just because a trend is new and exciting doesn’t mean you have to immediately jump on board. Before you adopt a trend, think about whether or not it’s appropriate for your demographic.
Flat design is a great example of this. It’s popping up everywhere, and for tech-savvy start-ups that need to be on the cutting edge of design, it makes sense for them to go flat. But for a more traditional company, flat design may not be the right choice.
It’s not just whether it fits the demographic, but also how the demographic is using your site. Design above all is about usability, not aesthetics.
NBC News recently launched their redesigned website. The desktop version of the site takes cues from Window 8’s Metro UI style. The large, flat tiles make it difficult for users to determine what each story is about. What NBC News didn't seem to consider when they launched a redesign, however, is how people were actually using their website. The image-heavy tiles probably work fine on mobile devices and tablets, but they not nearly as functional for desktop users.
The headlines are hard to read, and there’s so much competing for the viewers’ attention that it’s hard to determine what story to jump into. Sure, it’s a trendy design, but it just doesn’t work.
Mistake 2: Sticking with what you know
At the same time, you can’t be stuck on design elements with which you’re familiar. Having a closed mind can prevent your redesign from succeeding. Be aware and appreciative of evolving web trends and standards. An open mind will ensure your redesign is innovative and at the same time ideal for your audience.
Just because something has worked in the past doesn’t mean you should stick with it. If you haven’t paid attention to design in the past few years, you should take a look again. Aesthetics have changed a lot since then, and consumer expectations have shifted with it.
Stay abreast of the latest design standards by examining how people use the web. Take cues from what the big players, such as Facebook or Google, are implementing.
For example, with larger monitors and the growth of smart phone usage, scrolling webpages have grown popular. Designing above the fold is no longer necessary. Many sites such as Amazon and the NY Times have moved towards longer web designs.
Web technologies, which were cutting-edge just a few years ago, are losing their relevance in today’s world. Flash, for example, is quickly being replaced by HTML5. Look at what technologies you are using (including third-party tools), and see what needs to be replaced or updated.
Mistake 3: Not having concrete deadlines and processes
With a site redesign, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the details. Something as simple as picking a shade of blue can go back and forth, and ultimately you end up wasting time.
Before beginning the redesign process, decide on a timeline and stick with it. It's easy to lose sight of the end goal when you don't have a hard deadline. Establish a realistic timeline with milestones for your team that can be attained with hard work and focus.
You also need to determine priorities. This will help you decide how much energy should be spent on each item on your list. Identify problem areas by taking a look at Key Performance Indicators, such as bounce rate, leads/sales generated, and cart abandonment rate. The data should reveal the most pressing issues with your site. For example, if visitors are having a hard time finding the right products or information on your site, you'll want to put an emphasis on streamlining navigation and improving your site's search function.
One of the most time-consuming parts of the redesign process is decision making. Determine who is involved, if there are any restrictions on the number of revisions, and who, if anyone, has veto power. When working on such a large-scale project such as a redesign, it's easy to get sucked into endless debates on button styles. Deciding how the decision process works will help your redesign run more smoothly.
Most importantly, focus on separating your emotions from the final product. It’s not an easy thing to do, but nitpicking over minute decisions eats up precious time. This is a great post on how to make the design process less subjective. While subjectivity cannot be entirely removed from the process, one way to do so is to back decisions up with data. With the right evidence, there should be no question as to whose opinion is correct.
Mistake 4: Trying to do it all at once
When you try to do too much at once, you’re likely to fail. With a few exceptions, it’s generally better to make smaller, iterative changes. This gives you flexibility and the ability to test changes to make sure you have a successful roll-out.
Take Digg’s infamous redesign in 2010. At its peak, before the redesign, Digg had over 40 million unique visitors each month. After the redesign was launched, traffic dropped 26% in the U.S. and 34% in the U.K.
Digg’s redesign included a re-platforming of their website. Instead of making iterative changes to improve the site’s functionality, they stripped it, upsetting users who left in droves to sites such as Reddit overnight.
In retrospect, this seems like a no brainer, but making massive changes, especially to your site’s functionality, can be disorienting for users. This is why sites such as Google prefer to only make subtle changes to their website.
According to the New York Times’ design lead Renda Morton, their team took a gradual approach. Attempting to overhaul the entire website at once would have been far too cumbersome of a task. The design team started by addressing the story pages first, because this was, in her words, the place "where most of our readers spend their time on the site." The home page and section fronts were then re-skinned to match. Morton and the NYT team continues to slowly add features and refine as part of the slow evolution of the site.
These common mistakes shouldn’t deter you from rolling up your sleeves and jumping into a redesign. It’s just important to keep these things in mind so you aren’t left hanging with a cumbersome project and no end in sight.
Once you’ve launched your major site redesign, remember that it’s never a finished product. There’s always tweaks here and there you can make to improve your site’s performance.