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What's the best way to approach a redesign of your website?
Maybe it's been coming on for a while. Your services have shifted. You're trying to attract a new audience. You've established some new goals for business.
Whatever the case, you've determined that your website needs an overhaul. But the work of equipping your website to tell the new story is awfully daunting, isn't it? There are a lot of factors to consider:
- SEO research
- copy writing
- site structure
- an alteration to the site's layout — or maybe a new design altogether!
Where to start?
As someone who has been designing websites for almost 20 years, my knee-jerk reaction is, "Start with a new design, of course!" There's nothing more exciting than a fresh, new design, right? Fonts, colours, layout patterns... Throwing ideas around is the fun part, and it feels so productive to watch a new design take shape.
But just hold on for a minute! There are a lot of reasons why you shouldn't start there.
Hierarchy of Needs
Remember Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs? As you can read in the top portion of the pyramid, the ultimate goal is "achieving one's full potential". But in order to reach full potential, a person needs all sorts of other things first:
A website has a similar hierarchy:
The job of a website's design is to provide a tangible way for users to experience an organization's branding and content, and to invite users' action and engagement.
Sitting there at the top of the pyramid, a website's design is dependent on all of the other layers.
- Branding establishes who this organization is and what they are here to do.
- With a clear brand established, it is then possible to work at preparing the website's contents. (Writing is a lot more difficult if you haven't figured out your tone and the goals you have for your content.)
- With the primary content prepared, it is then possible to do some SEO research to make sure you are using the kind of vocabulary that will result in people finding you when they search. Your SEO research will be a lot easier to conduct if you have specific pieces of content or topics to investigate. (This is sort of a second round of copy writing, since you will need to work through your content again to find natural ways to work in the vocabulary people use when looking for organizations like yours.)
- With your content developed and optimized, it is then possible to organize it in some intuitive way for people to navigate.
- Finally, it is time to devise a design that will express your organization's identity appropriately, that will make your website easy to navigate, and that will invite your users to engage with you.
Because of this, reconsidering the design of a website should come at the end of the process, not at the beginning.
But does the design really need to change?
After going through this hierarchical process, you may find there is less redesigning to do than you first imagined.
Generally speaking, it is wise to alter the structure and core functionality of your website as little as possible so that you don't make long-time users feel lost or frustrated.
It is better to gently evolve your website slowly over time, rather than abruptly redesigning the entire website at once.
You might be excited to introduce new features or an excitingly fresh design, but this can cause serious obstacles for your customers and users. Keep in mind, you will have spent hundreds of hours thinking about the new design, but your users haven't.
To you, it may feel "time" to make these wide-sweeping changes. But your users are probably quite accustomed to getting their tasks done the way they always have. A large scale change will cause extra work for them, since they will have some relearning to do.
Bring your users along for the ride.
By rolling out smaller changes to specific areas of your website, you can make gradual improvements without disrupting your users' experience.
And best of all, introducing small changes is an excellent opportunity to invite your users to give you specific feedback about the experience. With some A/B testing, you can introduce different variations to sets of users, and ascertain which design works best.
Maybe you are looking to make your checkout process simpler. Or reduce the steps it takes to unsubscribe from your newsletter. Even a small amount of user testing will go a long way toward making your website better for everyone.
Gradual change is stronger change.
If you evolve your website gradually over time, you will be able to improve it incrementally, providing a better and better experience for your users. While on the other hand, a complete redesign resets the clock, and you lose the momentum of incremental improvement.
Of course, at times you will need to redesign your website outright if it is failing your organization or your users. And when that happens, just make sure you communicate with your users as often as you can, even inviting them into the process for testing and feedback.
Design for kindness.
Bringing big changes to your business is a lot of work. Reworking your website may be one of the final items on your list after you have gone through all sorts of consulting, restructuring, and discernment. It can be stressful, nerve-wracking even, to tackle your website, to "go public" with the changes you have made.
The best thing you can do for yourself, and for your users, is to work through your website's "hierarchy of needs".
Following a process is a kinder way to work. Doing everything at once or in no particular order can make it feel like you're putting out fires every way you look. But following a orderly process will allow you to move from step to step with confidence, knowing the end result will be strong, consistent, and something you will be proud to put out into the world.
If you feel in need of guidance as you work through your business change, please get in touch. I'd be glad to help.