Redesigning a website happens very often on the internet today. It can be thanks to the new technologies that appear one after another (and every one of us wants to stay in fashion) or because the rules change from month to month. Whatever the reason is, it is quite important to do it properly and to ensure the new design will bring you more advantages over your competitor than the old version.
We don’t redesign a website only for the sake of spending money. We do it because we feel that the site needs a visual revamp, we feel that our visitors want to see something new from a visual stand point. Considering the redesign is entirely for the users, it’s them we should focus on when we think about creating a new identity for our blog, publication or whatever kind of webpage it is.
The bigger and more important your webpage is, the higher the probability to fail when redesigning it is. Why? Because when you have to take hundreds of thousands or millions of users under consideration, it might be difficult to please all of them – quite frankly, it is impossible to do it. I personally experienced leaving a website I liked only because they changed the design – and I am aware of how the web works. If I left that webpage for good, I am wondering how many other users that don’t have anything to do with design did the same.
In order to increase the probability of your redesign being successful, I have created a list with some tips for you.
Make sure you need to redesign
When you already have users that come back to your site, most of them expect certain things; they know where the navigation is, where to search for content, where to find archives and so on. By redesigning you will most likely change those things.
Image by buritikid
If you are lucky enough and have a responsive community, you can even make a poll and ask them if they think the site needs to be redesigned. If you don’t have such a community, the decision will be up to you and will be more difficult to make unfortunately. Try to ask fellow designers about the particular website and see what they think about it.
Involve your users
The second step in a redesign process is to involve the community base. This can help your new website to look and suit your audience better, because you get feedback from them and use it to inform your designs.
A good tip would be to try and keep the main elements in the same place, or at least to ensure the functionality is similar. Moving the sidebar from left to right is confusing for the first time; the same with the navigation – if you had a dropdown menu before, either go with this type again or simplify the navigation. It’s important to always make sure the user doesn’t find the new website more difficult to navigate than before. Thus it’s necessary to avoid a total redesign. More important, involve the users in the process.
Image by Dominik Gwarek
Test the website
Testing the website doesn’t only happen behind the closed doors of an agency, but also with the users. Offer them the option of testing the new website – and make it visible. Afterwards, allow them to send you feedback through forms or a survey and always keep track of it. This is another way of involving the users and helps because, I am saying it again, the user is always the focus. You never redesign for yourself, but for them. Allowing them to test the new design before it’s done will also give you the opportunity to adjust it. Expect this to be a difficult process, because you will start with some ideas and will end up with a different site – but make sure your visitors will appreciate it and will come back afterwards.
Don’t change the layout right away
This is a strategy most of the social media sites use. Whenever they change the layout, they either allow you to stay with the old one for a predefined period, or change to the new one and give you the option to go back to the old style. Why do they do this? The answer is simple. Not everybody has the required time to get used to a new layout when the designer wants. Getting used to a new style takes time and if the user doesn’t want to spend that time right away, give him the right to do so.
Allow users to change to the new design (and specify it is still in beta) and give them an option to go back to the old one. Sure, don’t keep this forever, but look at Facebook. They only force everyone to update their layouts to the new ones after one or two months after they make them available for the first time.
Some of the users decided to go for the new “Timeline” of Facebook. I decided to keep the old layout because I liked it. Moreover, I didn’t even think of getting the timeline because Facebook wouldn’t allow me to go back to the previous style. Therefore my Facebook still keeps the old style. But as a matter of fact, Facebook will update my layout to the timeline very soon, when the old style will not be available anymore.
This is an interesting strategy and is very well implemented in social media. Therefore think of implementing it with your site’s redesign.
Allow feedback even after the process is done
You redesigned the website and now it’s on. Users can’t go back to the old one and there is nothing else to do other than accepting it as it is. Fair enough, but allow the users to give feedback.
There are lots of tools you can use for this on the internet and this way you will make sure that if something is wrong, users will point it out to you- this happens mostly if you have a responsive community supporting the website, but it is always worth trying.
If a lot of your users feel the same thing is wrong, make sure to fix it as soon as possible. This way they will feel like they’re a part of the community and, since their opinion is valued and taken into consideration, they will happily continue their stay there.
Make the reasons behind your decision clear
It is always smart to tell your users why you think it is important to redesign a website. Some of them have no idea of design changes, usability or new technologies and I am afraid they don’t even care – they just want to be able to use the website like they were accustomed to. Changing the design will not allow this for a period, until they get used to the new layout, therefore some of them might be against you customizing the style.
Thus, explain to the users why you think it is important to make changes. Use some basic theories and explain that being up to date with new technologies will allow the website to offer even more and will probably even make it load faster. When they hear about speed, most of them will be excited about the new design.
Make a guide for the new layout
If you make major changes to your website, then creating a photo, text or video tutorial about this would be great, interactive and helpful. I am sure the visitors now knowing what to do next will appreciate the tutorial which will allow them to adapt faster to the new design. This gives them the impression that you care about them – which again will make them come back to your page.
In case you already redesigned your webpage and it kind of failed, there are solutions for you too. This happens if you hear way too many complaints from your community and you don’t want to spend money on a new design again, but want to do something to improve the atmosphere for your users.
It’s about your mistakes
If this happened, then it is probably your mistake as a designer, because you either did something wrong during the development process or you failed or miscommunicated with the users. It is clear that if they are not happy with the new design, there is something wrong and it’s obviously something major that you’ll need to address.
This is the perfect moment to show how close you are to your community. It can be on Twitter, Facebook or even on the site, make sure people find out you want to fix your mistakes. Let them speak and let them tell you what was wrong, this way it will be easier for you too, when you will have to decide on the solution.
Use their feedback
When they send you feedback, make use of it as much as possible. Acknowledge some of the complaints and show the community you are involved and want to change everything for the best. This will, again, make your life easier, because all the feedback you get and discussions you stir with the community will end up with some conclusions, ideas and possibilities. It’s much easier to repair a mistake when you are backed up by your community, then when you are not.
Go back if you need to
There is no shame in acknowledging that your redesign has failed, therefore if the community strongly asks for it, you can go back to the old design. Sure, going back to the old design means you still have to use resources to redesign (that is where you started from in the first place), but at least until you prepare a new strategy the number of visitors will not decrease.
It is really important to keep the community happy and the way of doing it if you are in this situation is to allow them to go back to the old style. Don’t force this into them, it will definitely get confusing for the ones who thought well of the new layout. Just offer the option of choosing their own style. This will, for sure, solve the problem in the short-term and will allow you some time to prepare the new design better.
Always follow opinions
The most important thing whenever you launch a new design is to monitor carefully the community and their behavior. Google Analytics is the best tool you can use, because it is free and gives you an in-depth insight into how the users spend their time on your site. If the number of visitors decreases soon after the launch date, it might be because of the new layout.
This is the time when you have to start interacting more with the visitors and ask what is wrong. The bottom line is that many users would rather stay on a bad page if the designer is interested and involved with them, than staying on a very good page where the designer doesn’t really care. You have to show your community you care about them.
Another way of keeping track of the opinions is to closely follow social media posts. Most users actually prefer Twitter and Facebook when talking about these kinds of changes, so keep an eye out there too. This is another way to show your users the redesign is for their own good.
The conclusion is that redesigning your website is not as easy as it sounds. Not being able to involve your community in this important decision will most likely turn your project into a failure and will drive the users away. Thus it is smart to keep the community close and use their feedback and opinions – in the end, everything you do is for them – at least consider their opinions. This way you will be closer to success than if you do this the other way around.
Christian Vasile is an enthuziastic Romanian web designer currently living in Denmark. He is passionate for the industry and writes about design, usability, coding and freelancing and is a regular publisher here at 1WD. You can follow him on Twitter at @christianvasile or visit his web portfolio by clicking on the link above.