In advance of an article on the inspiration and ideas behind the recent redesign of this site, I thought it would be useful to talk about basic redesign principles and strategy.
A lot of people ask me if there is some sort of specific methodology, timeline, or feature checklist for site design or redevelopment. The answer is it’s really a suite of best practices. How, then, do we determine that it is time for a redesign? A few pointers:
- The site design no longer serves its users.
- As a site evolves, so to do the practices of its users. Look at your web logs: how are people actually using the site? What features do they appear to struggle with, or require but do not have? What content lies unappreciated? What attracts visitors?
Consider browser and device upgrades: the opportunity to dispose of a bunch of hacks and old practices to produce a new streamlined site without abandoning a significant portion of your audience should not remain unappreciated. How many people are visiting your site on mobile devices? What platforms are they using, and how are they interacting with the site? How can they be better served?
Look at page speeds: is the addition of features slowing page load times? Could the features be somehow filtered, or made non-blocking through asynchronous techniques like AJAX? During heavy (>10000 visitors) days, I found that some users were experiencing page load times in excess of 40 seconds; obviously, the site needed to be optimised to cope with increased demand.
- Users don’t feel compelled to stay.
- Look at your visitor metrics, especially your bounce rates after a big social media push: after coming to your site, how many visitors stay to visit a second page, or a third?
People hitting your site and immediately leaving may not always be a bad thing: they may just get the information they require and go on their way. But most designers seek to extend visitor engagement and interaction: a high bounce rate may indicate that the current design is not inciting curiosity in the average visitor as to the rest of the site’s content. This is exactly what I found with this site, at first: many visitors were arriving, reading the page they had landed on, but not exploring further.
The response to this is often “we need more features to cause people to stay!” That may not be the answer: in fact, adding more features may make the problem worse. Visitors stay for content; features are just a way of reaching that content.
- An accumulation of features makes the site appear no longer appear organic, but a Frankenstein creation: the aforementioned “three chairs and a goat”.
- You know the drill. The client comes to you with a proposal: “we’re doing social media now! We’d like you to add a Twitter feed to our site!” And you do it, with a little reservation, and manage to lever it into the design. Over time, more and more features are added. This is natural, and inevitable… but at a certain point, the additions will no longer fit well into the original design. (In an inflexible, poorly developed site, any unplanned additions immediately make the pages look worse). That growing strain cries out for a site reevaluation and redesign.
- The “To Do” List is approaching critical mass.
- Some changes and upgrades can immediately be implemented in a site, and should be. Others naturally slide into the “nice to have”, “to be considered” and “too hard” baskets. Eventually, it becomes easier to tear the entire structure down and rebuild from scratch, with the previously sidelined features as central considerations, rather than trying to jury-rig them into an established design.
I hope this is a helpful guide to your own site redesign plans. As a very rough guide, I try to consider a redesign of this blog every two years, which means that sketches start 12 to 18 months after the launch of the last version.
Photograph by Alain Delorme, from his “Totems” series
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