How does a web development firm prepare to go about redesigning its own website? Feel free to follow along with me as the MWI website goes through that process over the next few months.
Step 1 – Planning
Under “planning” I’m going to include thinking, brainstorming, research, and analysis. The first questions are why and what rather than how. That is, why should we redesign and what does “redesign” really mean? Planning how to do it can’t take place until we know what it is we’re going to do.
As to why, there are two principal reasons I want to have the MWI site redesigned; 1) to freshen things up, 2) remove clutter, and 3) get some standards. When people come back to a site for a year and a half and nothing looks different, they start to wonder what’s going on behind the scenes. Is there even a company alive back there? And over the years, the site has grown slowly without much overall thought for how information is organized. We’re at the point where I want to take a high-level look at all the information we’ve got and decide what stays, what goes, what needs to be added, and what needs to be rearranged. Finally, our site was built before we started doing standards-based HTML coding, so I’d like a complete recoding of the site to be part of the update.
Let’s dig a little deeper. What do I mean by “freshening” things up? I’m talking about look and feel. But how far should we go? Are we talking about switching out some photos on the homepage and updating the work portfolio section, or are we going to change layout, colors, fonts, photos, and style? I decided to get a little objective input from other designers via StyleGala, one of my favorite designer community sites. I created a post on the StyleGala forums entitled Gathering Suggestions for Site Re-Design. Notice how sometimes I spell it “re-design” and other times “redesign.” Although I was taught in school that if you’re going to make a mistake you should be consistent about it, I prefer to ignore that advice. I guess when it comes to punctuation and spelling I’m kind of like the guy who attends multiple churches as an insurance policy.
The question I asked was as follows:
We’re gearing up to redesign our firm’s site and I’m in the process of gathering ideas/suggestions. The site hasn’t had a major revision in two years, it was built before we got into standards, and it’s just getting to feel stale to us. However, I’d like to get some more objective opinions. If you’d like to answer the following questions then great, and any other input would be appreciated as well.
1. Design – We’re going to re-code the site and update the content no matter what, but should we keep the same basic design, update it a little, or scrap it and do something entirely new? And please expound on your answer if you feel up to it.
2. Structure – Whether or not we maintain the design, how do you feel about the structure? Does it make sense? Have you seen anything out there that you recommend? What would you change? Bear in mind our audience is clients, not other designers, and you all know some of the differences between designers and clients.
3. Content – I know, I know, the content is kind of a mess. Any input would be appreciated.
Anything else to add?
One of the reasons I asked the question was because there were some things I had to take into consideration. One was that nobody ever complained about our site, and I don’t want to change things like the structure of the site just for the sake of changing things. Photos, colors, and aesthetically-impacting items can be changed for the sake of change, but content and structure are more functional in nature and if they’re working, why change them? People won’t notice those changes the way they notice changes in appearance.
Another reason to not change the structure of the site is due to search engine optimization. While you don’t necessarily want a static site structure, that is, you constantly want to be adding pages and adding or changing content on pages, you don’t want to be moving pages all around or adding one day and deleting another. Search engines like certain types and amounts of consistency on a website, and completely scrapping the entire site structure would surely cause us to drop in the search engines, perhaps for several months. I’d prefer to keep more or less the same structure in place for the sake of SEO.
The advice I received in answer to my questions was helpful, especifically these bits:
From foxyboy: I like what I see as it’s clean, clear and very professional looking. I would work with what you have as you have a good base already.
From ClimaxDesigns: like the site also, doesnt seem too old, i do know what you mean about that type of style is a bit dated. i would aggree with foxyboy maybe simply update the site to standards, keeping the nice flash piece and jsut rework the site untill it looks fresh, baybe some higher contract in the colors.
From Panic!: I aggree with foxboy in that I beleive that your website would benefit more from a realign more than it would from from a redesign.
I personally find the spacious look to really work well for your site and think you should keep it in the newer version. Maybe highlight useful information a bit more, bring the navigation up-to-date, And make the text easier to read.
My main complaints with the current design would be the lack of useability, ie: small fonts, image based navigation, and the lack of contrasting colors between text and the colors behind them. A low vision user would click out of your website in seconds.
You have a very nice looking unique web presence and I think you should have no problem bringing it up to date.
The general consensus of my survey of three seemed to be that the site doesn’t look too outdated, and rather than a complete redesign just try some small modifications. This was in line with my own feelings, but it was nice to have it backed up by others who hadn’t seen the website every single day for the past two years.
And so it’s decided. The site won’t undergo a complete redesign, that is, when we’re done it will still look similar and be easily recognizable as being essentially the same site, but to the trained eye and the subconscious eye of the non-designer it will look better and be more organized. Of course the devil is in the details, and we’ll get there next as we start working on new designs.