Redesigning a website can be both exciting and nerve-racking. On one hand, there’s something fun and refreshing about throwing out the old and starting with a blank slate. However, all that is new and clean doesn’t equal success. No matter if you run a corporate website or a personal shopping blog, you’ve probably had the urge to suggest a redesign.¬† But committing to a full redesign is not your only option. This article looks at when it is appropriate to do a complete redesign and and when it may be better to just tweak your current design.

Redesign vs. Realign

Before we delve into the discussion about full redesign or not, let’s first look at two schools of thought on the whole process: Redesigners vs. Realigners.¬† A 2005 article on A List Apart compares those who Redesign and those who Realign. The article is a great read for anyone looking towards a redesign but I’ve summed up the two positions below.

Characteristics of a Redesigner:

  • More interested with the look (color scheme, logo, etc.) of the site than with it’s purpose
  • Thinks a new look will bring traffic to the site
  • Wants to Rebrand to stay trendy

Characteristics of a Realigner:

  • User needs are a top priority
  • A website and it’s design serve a greater purpose than just to have something pretty to look at
  • Understands what works in the current site and what needs improvement

Obviously the goal is to become pro-realignment.  Be objective when approaching the redesign and see what needs to happen.  The redesign of a website should be purposeful and thought out. Make a list of strategic goals, ideal conversions, and user needs.  A better and easier-to-use website should be your goal. Adding a fresh coat of paint because you were sick of looking at the last site is really a waste of time.

As we continue, keep in mind the perspective of a Realigner, not just a Redesigner. (For sake of conventions, I will continue to refer to the process as a redesign but without some of the negative connotations).

Smashing Magazine's changes improve functionality, not just asethetics.

Smashing Magazine's changes improve functionality, not just aesthetics.

To Redesign or Not To Redesign

That is the question.  Now that we understand how we should approach this process, we need to ask if a full redesign is necessary.  Sometimes an entire new look is not the best solution. If your problems can be solved with minor tweaks, there is no need to devote the time and resources to a full website makeover.

Just Tweak it

The old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies here. If your site works great like it is, maybe a complete overhaul is not the solution.¬† Here are some points to consider that may lead you to tweaking your current design.

Maintain Brand Strength

If your current design wraps itself around the strengths of your brand and the values it stands for, a new look for looks sake may cause damage to your established credibility.¬† Going back to the redesign vs. realign argument, if you’re wanting to change the look of your site, make sure there is a strategic purpose for the change. If not, a tweak is more appropriate.

Don’t Disorient Your Audience

Customers are loyal, to a certain extent, to any product or service that they use regularly.¬† Your website is no different. A repeat visitor to your site may be turned away when they pull up the page and find a completely new design. We are creatures of habit who fear change. A new layout comes with new rules that all users must learn. If your redesign won’t make the user experience obviously easier, ask yourself if you should be doing it.
Facebook is the perfect example of users crying out against large scale changes. It seems every time a large redesign is implemented, millions of users group together in revolt. The team behind the design may have the best intentions, but if the user is unhappy, the design is ultimately a failure. The scary thing is most websites don’t have near the loyalty from their users as Facebook does. Think about how damaging it may be to release a design iteration that turns your users away.

One of dozens of groups against a new facebook redesign

One of dozens of groups against a new facebook redesign

Is That Feature Really Essential?

Many times we redesign because we want to add new features that won’t fit into our current structure.¬† Adding a company blog is a a great example. But just because you think it would be great to add features X, Y and Z, make sure they will really add value to your site and your users. If your new blog is only updated once a month, it may not be wise to make room for on the home page. Ask yourself if the features you want to add are worth the redesign.

Time Equals Money

Complete redesigns take time–time that could be spent working with clients.¬† There’s the planning, the design time, the browser testing. All the parts that make up a complete redesign really add up to make a site overhaul a daunting task. Small design tweaks can be accomplished much faster and sometimes with much better results so you can get back to doing what you do best.


It’s Time For A Complete Overhaul

Now I’m not here to keep you from that complete overhaul you’ve been craving. I want you to be aware of the options that exist in tweaking versus throwing out the whole thing and starting fresh.¬† There are still some excellent reasons to redesign realign your website and that’s what we’ll look at now.

Looks Do Become Faded

There are websites that we’ve all visited that look like they were around when the Internet was invented.¬† A perfect example is Craigslist.¬† If I were on the Craigslist team, I would push for a major refresh–not to improve usability but just because the site looks old.¬† Along the same lines, if your site looks unprofessional or you have the resources/skills to bring it up a notch, a new look can add credibility to your brand. Everyone needs to brush out the cobwebs from time to time.

It may be time, Craigslist.

It may be time, Craigslist.

Improve User Interaction

The purpose of most websites is to drive users to make an action. In analytics-speak, these completed actions are called conversions.  If you run an e-commerce site, a sale equals a successful conversion.  If your site is failing as a whole to drive users to certain actions, it may be time to start from scratch.  Starting over, with the goals of the site driving the redesign, may drastically improve the success of the site. A word of warning: if the site is failing to convert, make sure the site is the problem before you try to fix it. If your just not getting traffic, you issues may be with marketing and promotion.

Make Room For Useful Features

Along the same lines, new features can add successful conversions and provide users with more information to make informed decisions. Sometimes however, a design cannot handle these desired features. Redesigning the structure to incorporate useful features should be welcomed by your users, as long as they find value in the features. Examples may include improved navigation, search functionality, user interaction (contact forms, calendars, message boards, etc.) or an updated blog.

Stand Out In the Crowd

If your site looks like all your competitors, a redesign may help you stand out from the crowd. A memorable look can be a strategic advantage. This is especially true in the blogging world. Unique designs stay fresh in people’s mind. This is why, at the time of this writing, I’m working hard on releasing a redesign of this blog. Having a unique design to go along with your unique voice can go along way in establishing credibility in the eyes of your users.

Image by <a href=
Source:  T1TAN

What’s Best for My Website?

To sum up the decision making process of evaluating a complete redesign vs. tweaking your current design, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are there major problems in the conversion process of my site?
  2. Are my users having trouble accessing my site? Is it too slow?
  3. Are there useful features that I want to add that won’t fit in the current design?
  4. Is the look of my site causing it to lose visitors to competing sites?
  5. Do I have the time and resources to devote to a complete redesign?

If you answered yes to all four questions, then a complete redesign may be in order. If not, take time to consider the benefits of small tweaks to your site that may save you time, customers, and your sanity. Whatever you choose make sure you have the interest of your users in mind and keep your site strategy as a guide to keep you from redesigning for design’s sake.

If you’ve decided that it’s time to redesign, make sure your process is efficient these 8 tools to maximize your redesign efficiency.

Other Resources

If you want to read more about the redesign process, check out these great articles:

Your Turn to Talk

What is your thought process when it comes to a redesign? Did you redesign or realign your last site? Are you more of a tweaker or a start-from-scratcher? What questions do you have about redesign? Let me here your thoughts, questions, comments and snide remarks.

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