Change is always hard, and knowing when to upgrade or redesign is among the most critical events in a site’s history. A successful transition from old to new will revitalise a community, give renewed interest in your content or perhaps better portray your services. A poorly thought through redesign may cause your current user base to consider going to your competitors instead. As such, we need to highlight the methods we use within upgrades and that may hold the longevity your site requires.
Time for Something New
Whenever you begin walking the pathway towards a website redesign, the initial question which makes itself apparent is whether to start from scratch and come up with something totally fresh and new (which hopefully will appeal to your existing audience) or whether to take the website you have already and implement a wide series of changes and tweaks to optimize the existing experience. Both have their advantages and disadvantages but as is often the case, things aren’t quite clear cut.
Figure 1: Whichever route you go down, your visitors should be at the forefront of your mind.
In the search for a direction to take, we must examine the benefits and pitfalls which each of those methods bring as there isn’t a solution which is perfect for every website. Arguably if we look at the statistics the idea of a total redesign is more appealing with smaller websites due to the dynamic nature of their audience, but with larger especially corporate institutions the trend is to patch and stretch the existing design to the limits which can be afforded. Both are of general equal popularity.
When to Reboot
The trend of rebooting a website is based around the concept of scrapping everything that appears on the screen visually whilst saving useful content and features and reloading a brand new design which matches the increased needs of that audience. Arguably with most cases (except for the more neurotic of designers and artists), redesigns are usually less frequently implemented than upgrades and tend to have the biggest impact both in general recognition and in usability considerations.
Figure 2: A complete redesign can either be a great success or an epic failure (in equal quantities).
In respect to the best time to reboot, the generally accepted methodology would be to apply a fresh new look layout that will dazzle your audience only at a stage where it can be agreed upon that a rebrand is necessary. The act of changing your layout should be seen as an attempt to seek a fresh audience whilst ensuring your existing crowd will be happy with the new design or as a method to revitalize a community that has grown tired of a layout which is riddled with troublesome issues.
When rebooting a website design, it’s essential that you gauge your existing audience to seek out not only what they would like to see in a fresh revamped design, but you get the general seal of approval from those individuals by majority to ensure that what you have created will not seem like a backward step or do something to put people off your work. Such revamps should also be implemented only on an infrequent basis as people do not enjoy learning a new layout every week!
When to Upgrade
The trend of upgrading a website is based around the concept of taking the existing time, money and effort that exists from a previous web design and making fundamental core changes which remove existing issues and integrate new functionality whilst retaining the general layout and design. With these upgrades, the method of distributing and applying said fixes usually occurs on a more frequent basis and an emphasis is placed on gradual and consistent upgrades that won’t confuse the visitor.
Figure 3: Small planned upgrades can be a great idea – that is until something goes wrong live!
As for the best time to upgrade, while reboots focus on heavy changes which are implemented on an infrequent basis (think Internet Explorer release cycles) the upgrade process is more of a gradual and subtle process which shouldn’t impact your users too much (think Google Chrome release cycles). The implementation issues that may arise come as a result of the frequency and speed of those upgrades as visitors may not approve of changes made or additional issues may result from updates.
When upgrading a design, it’s essential as with reboots that you consult with your audience to determine the best route forward. Upgrades should firstly be made out of necessity such as the need to fix bugs or make minor resolutions that will improve the experience, then secondly out of enhancement such as improving how something is done and finally out of innovation such as the wish to expand your current infrastructure. It’s not an exact science and should be done with care.
The Best Tool for the Job
There isn’t a perfect solution for everyone and the pros and cons are of equal measure too. While reboots have the biggest impact which can be really beneficial to a needing site, they also carry the biggest risk in that users may not approve of, or be able to use the new site as easily. Picking the best tool for the job requires research and careful planning. In such situations, it pays to consider both options equally and not blindly follow the preferential method you have used in the past.
The process of doing something with an existing website appears a frequent question we have to ask ourselves on a regular basis and knowing what will meet your audience’s needs and demands best can literally make the difference between a business success and failure. While content will always be the main drawing point along with features for your site, the accessibility, usability, information architecture and general design of your work will impact your audience to an immeasurable extent!