Clear Indications That It’s Time To Redesign

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Redesign. The word itself can send shudders down the spines of any Web designer and developer. For many designers and website owners, the imminent onslaught of endless review cycles, coupled with an infinite number of “stakeholders” and their inevitable “opinions,” would drive them to shave their heads with a cheese grater if given a choice between the two. Despite these realities, redesigns are a fact of any online property’s life cycle. Here are five key indications that it’s time to redesign your website and of how extensive that redesign needs to be.

Metrics Are Down

The first and most important indicator that your website is in need of a rethink is metrics that are beginning to tank. There certainly could be other reasons for this symptom (such as your product not fitting the market), but once those are eliminated or mitigated, a constant downward trend in conversions, sales, engagement activities and general user participation indicates that the efficacy of your current design has worn off. Many people call it “creative fatigue,” but what this really indicates is a disconnect with your audience. The key to solving this in the redesign is to figure out where in the workflow the design is breaking down and then address those areas as top priorities.

Metrics
The metrics are the most important indicator.

The extent to which you redesign to solve sagging metrics could be limited either to adjusting your conversion funnel, if that’s where the problem resides, or to optimizing the product’s main workflow. It does not necessarily mean having to rethink the entire face that your product presents to the world.

Your Users Tell You It’s Time

Metrics give you immediate insight that something is wrong, but to get to the core of what needs to be addressed in the redesign you need to speak with your customers. Surveys work well, but usability testing is most effective. The fluidity of face-to-face conversation allows you to explore the dynamic threads that surveys restrict. If through these conversations you notice consistent patterns that shed light on the drivers behind your downward-trending metrics (and you will), then it’s time to redesign. In addition, these user conversations will reveal prevalent attitudes towards your brand, which can also be addressed in the redesign. In some instances, negative brand perception should be enough to trigger a redesign — but you’d never know about it unless you talk to your customers.


The final decisions are still up to you. (Image: Kristian Bjornard)

Customer feedback will tell you not only whether to rethink parts of your website, but to what extent. Typically, customer conversations focus on specific elements of your workflow. Those areas are the ones that the redesign should focus on. In most cases, this wouldn’t be the whole website, but if the feedback is broad and far-reaching, then tackling the entire experience may be a priority.

The Tech/UX “Debt” List Is Longer Than Your Forearm

Over the course of building a product or website, an organization begins to accrue tech and UX debt. This debt is made up of all the things you should have done during the initial build but either didn’t get around to or had to cut corners on in order to ship the product on time. Each subsequent iteration inevitably adds more debt to the list, until the list becomes so long that it is almost insurmountable. While there are many ways to tackle tech and UX debt on an incremental level, there comes a point when the website, in essence, becomes “totalled.” Like a car that has sustained damage greater in cost than its value, your website gets to the point where starting over would be cheaper than fixing all of the items on your debt list. This is a perfect time for a redesign.

When the debt list gets this long, taking on “incremental redesigns” is easy, where you knock off bits from the list but not the majority of it. This turns into death by a thousand paper cuts, because as you fix elements on the list, you start to accrue more debt around other features. If the list truly is longer than your forearm, then rethink the website if possible.

It Just “Looks” Old

The website’s aesthetic reflects directly on the perception and trustworthiness of your brand. Even if your design was the hotness when it first launched, aesthetics evolve. An old design will be detrimental to your product, leading to the declining metrics mentioned earlier. How can you tell whether your website’s aesthetic is outdated? Look at your competition. Look at hyped-up newly launched services in other sectors. Compare your aesthetics to those of brands that are performing well. Those factors provide excellent barometers by which to assess the currency of your design. The challenge is to review these other websites objectively. Living with your website day in and day out can amplify the feeling that it’s stale and old. Ensure that your assessment is accurate by reviewing your findings with a cross-section of employees in your company.

Win some, Lose some.
Decide on what to lose and what to add. (Image: Kristian Bjornard)

In this case, the redesign would essentially be a facelift, a superficial upgrade of the presentation layer that doesn’t necessarily address the fundamental workflow or conversion funnel — although those aspects will undoubtedly be affected by this aesthetic upgrade.

It’s Been More Than 12 Months Since Your Last Refresh

Even if none of the above indicators apply to your website, the shelf life of an aesthetic in today’s highly iterative online reality is hardly ever more than 12 months. If it’s been a year or longer since you last redesigned your website, then it’s time to redesign. Not only will it refresh the experience for your loyal customers, it will attract new ones. In addition, it will breathe life into the brand and show your user base, the press, your investors and staff that you’re committed to keeping the experience fresh and top of mind.

Again, the focus here is on an aesthetic improvement that keeps the brand current, not necessarily an overhaul.

In Conclusion

These are five simple indicators that it’s likely time to redesign your website, but the list is certainly not exhaustive. The number of them that apply to your situation will determine whether a redesign is imperative. But each indicator on its own is still a strong reason to kick off the next phase of your website’s life. Maintaining a current and fresh face for the online world will yield dividends in customer acquisition, conversion and retention. Also, your staff will stay immersed in the latest technologies, design trends and presentation-layer wizardry if they know that they’ll soon get to exercise their chops in a redesign.

What indicators have you found work best in your organization to drive a website redesign?

(Cover image: una cierta mirada)

(al)

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Jeff Gothelf is a user experience designer based in metro NYC. He has spent his career designing engaging experiences for clients big and small. He is currently the Director of User Experience at TheLadders.com where he helps executive jobseekers and recruiters make meaningful connections with each other. Previously Jeff helped shape the designs of AOL, Webtrends and Fidelity. Jeff publishes his thoughts on his blog and on Twitter. Jeff is presenting Lean UX: Getting Out of The Deliverables Business at this year's SXSW 2011 conference and the IA Summit.

  1. 1

    Hmmm, i’m not to sure about this point “It’s Been More Than 12 Months Since Your Last Refresh”

    I agree more with the realign not redesign argument. You should re design when the site no longer fits its purpose

    19
  2. 2

    Your boss tells you it’s time…

    36
  3. 3

    You get so annoyed by the jumping cellphone-gif on the contact-page that you smash the place up

    18
  4. 4

    Very interesting article. I wouldn’t say that the shelf life is 12, or any particular amount of months though. It sort of depends on the “timeless” factor in the design (i.e. it is really good and people will put up with it for a long time) and also on what is meant by refresh – as some redesigns could be radical enough to get the customers hatin’. But regardless of timelines, redesign is inevitable. Simply because the technology is changing: your awesome design optimized for 800×600 now looks garbagy on most of the screens.

    4
  5. 5

    Hi,

    Very interesting article indeed… well, as a lot of articles on SM, you could say.

    I’m just wondering, where does this number comes from : 12 month of shelf life ? Not that I especially disagree (neither I do agree) but what’s the origin ? I mean is this a study result or something else ?

    7
  6. 6

    Very useful, simple post. thank you so much

    0
  7. 7

    wow, some real food for thought – as a marketer i’m the other side of the coin, but i’m glad that I have allocated some budget for big changes to our site.

    0
  8. 8

    Thank you for justifying my need to redesign my own site every eight months or so.

    8
  9. 9

    If 12 month were the yard stick then one would be redesigning all the time I think. I’m sure there are aspects of a site that need a refresh at least every 12 months.

    1
  10. 10

    Didn’t we just recently see a whole slew of articles recently about how you shouldn’t just redesign? From people like paul boag etc?

    This seems contradictory to that message.

    0
  11. 11

    I’d say that a “good design” should last longer than 12 months, if well conceived in the first place. A website with a simple and clean skin will always have more longevity, but I would concede that some parts of this would also need “uplifting” after a 12 month cycle.

    It’s a tough call, but definitely if site visits are down, and all other reasons are mitigated then the design could be playing in to this.

    Food for thought!

    7
    • 12

      I think the 12 month refresh is more for experimentation than necessity. It makes it so you can easily evaluate a design based on the stats of the year before. No site is perfect so a consistent refresh is good.

      This should not include radical changes though.

      0
  12. 13

    I couldn’t **disagree** with “It’s Been More Than 12 Months Since Your Last Refresh” more. Redesigning for no clear reason is a bad idea and has sunk massive ships like Digg. If you aren’t going to add in significant value to the user experience through functionality, then redesigning is being done to simply keep the appearance of ‘productivity’.

    12
  13. 14

    About the 12 months graph… key words: “refresh” is in the heading,” and “not necessarily an overhaul” is how he finished out the graph. Sites like Square (squareup-dot-com), Mint and Evernote continue to switch up their home pages as they find better ways to explain who they are and what it is they do. I think the point here of “aesthetic improvement” is plainly legit.

    1
  14. 15

    I find that as time goes by and technology changes, there are parts of websites that are no longer optimized for the best possible viewing. Older technologies may cause lag time and because people form an opinion of your website within the first three seconds of viewing, you want to be able to capture their attention immediately. Additionally, if you are in an ever-changing industry, the information on your website might be dated driving viewers away.

    0
  15. 16

    “Metrics are down”
    From my experience, people can override a bad design if the content/service is good/easy to use.
    And sometimes, even a redesign won’t help (myspace.com).

    0
  16. 17

    Interesting Article, but I most certainly disagree with the twelve month refresh. I’ve seen many web applications/sites that have done a re-design just because “it was time” and they ended up looking worse than before. Admittedly, I’m a web programmer, not a web designer… But I think even most web designers would agree that if it’s not broken, it’s stupid trying to fix it; this most certainly applies to re-designing something just because “it’s been a while.”

    As a senior level programmer managing multiple enterprise-level web applications, I can say that there’s no way my team would ever be able to push out new designs/interfaces every 12 months. With each new interface comes possible bugs and unforeseen problems; you’re basically inviting instability into the application. So it’s always a line of compromise between re-design vs stability. We’re expected to maintain stable applications. It’s just dumb putting your team through that every 12 months. The rest of the points in this article seem practical and attainable.

    1
    • 18

      I think you are taking this much more drastic than it reads. Changing up some graphics, colors, home page feature placements, etc are more along the lines of a refresh than a total redesign.

      0
  17. 19

    Maybe you should redesign your blog Jeff? I don’t know about your metrics but your blog definitely “looks old”. More to the point, you don’t even have a own design!

    The necessity of a redesign heavily depends on the environment of the website. A website designed for social media has to be in a continuous transition. A well designed website for presentation of a company can easily last for years.

    0
  18. 20

    Like most others I strongly disagree with the 12 month guideline, in fact it goes directly *against* common usability advise. That is, if the current site is already usable, don’t touch it for the sake of touching it.

    1
  19. 21

    I gotta agree with the others. You should never re-design for the sake of it. Even if we’re talking a refresh.

    If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. If anything, in this scenario a refresh should be avoided because as we all know the result can be you actually alienate your audience and damage the website.

    0
    • 22

      Constant evolution calls for regular updates. And refreshing the site every year is a fine standard because life never stands still. It can give you great insight on what works and what doesn’t as long as you have analytics to check the effects of the refresh.

      0
  20. 23

    Adeniyi Moses Adetola

    December 9, 2011 4:03 am

    I agree to all the points. I have just refreshed my site for wrapping up 2011.
    Thanks for the article though.

    0
  21. 24

    Off topic: Can someone tell me what style the shadowing on the Win some, Lose some image is. I’ve always loved this.

    0
  22. 26

    It’s never time to re-design a web site for no reason other than age, in fact to do so could cause irreprible damage to your brand.

    You have to question the point of a re-design, if it’s just to change the asthetic you’re wasting your time. The average user never makes a decision positive or negative based on the visual design. If a web site serves the purpose for which the user went to it then it has achieved what it must. Case in point: Amazon – if that web site visually remains the same I could care less, rather it is their product range and price that will effect my buying. I’d prefer it if they didn’t mess with the deign too much, it maks it hard to find this, much like my local supermarket which has just moved everything, now I get frustrated shopping there because I don’t know where anything it. Re-designs are rarley initiated by users, instead they are often forced by management and eager designers.

    3
  23. 27

    Great points made here, one thing that people always seem to forgot is to really test the new design, don’t just throw it up and hope that it will perform better, you need to track it’s performance and be willing to make changes needed if they are required.

    As Jezz and others have said above, there is no point redesigning just for the sake of it, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t be running split/multivariate tests to improve your conversion rate.

    Watch your metrics, always be testing, don’t redesign for the sake and good luck!

    0
  24. 28

    i’m getting alot to your useful write-up and following one by one step. thanks for sharing

    0
  25. 29

    I’m all for the design-for-the-sake-of-design but should I redesign after roughly twelve months regardless of wether something’s working or not?

    0
  26. 31

    I have found that when I develop a new skillset for my personal portfolio that it’s time for a redesign/overhaul. I also tend to redesign my site approximately every 3 months due to the change of trends.

    -1
  27. 32

    Andrew Richardson

    December 10, 2011 9:40 am

    While the design of a site matters a lot (usually more in a UX aspect than anything aesthetic) you do NOT need to redesign it every 12 months. It’s actually a big time sink and a waste of money.

    Usually what needs to be done ever 12 months is a reevaluation of what is the most important content on the site. Go over analytics and see if you can find any places you are hemorrhaging viewers and find out why.

    “Looking old” isn’t a good excuse either because it good design is based on the brand identity. If the brand identity looks dated it probably wasn’t well designed in the first place.

    Most of these issues addressed are mostly because the site wasn’t designed well in the first place and it sounds like you aren’t really giving a great value to your customers by redesigning their site often rather than creating designs that are versatile and stand the test of time.

    2
  28. 33

    as much as i love a good redesign to our own sites to feel ‘new’, it’s often 3 times the work we initially imagine…so just like to add, perhaps small changes every 3-6 months is a better idea than a 12 month approach, if the core structure is converting then this will help evolve the site and content without scaring / pissing off regular clients (the flip side of a big change aka tech crunch)…and SEO on big changes are often secondary, well at least for our design frenzies: )

    0
  29. 34

    I’m sorry but to say a redesign is required every 12 months is neither true or practical. To review your visitor behaviour and adapt to that is sensible but picking an arbitrary time period makes no sense. Poor advice.

    3
  30. 36

    unfortunately, I don’t have any technical design skills to create a blog template. So, this is why I come to “smashing Magazine” get my free blog templates for my WordPress blog for my other domain URL :-)

    DrewryNewsNetwork.com

    -6
  31. 37

    Nice article, I’ll add “when your strategy has changed”, because when it happens, it has influence in everything. And maybe is relative to “Your Users Tell You It’s Time”, because sometimes design doesn’t works because you are missing something when you’re focused on your target.
    Thank you!

    0
  32. 38

    X Studios Web Design

    December 12, 2011 10:05 am

    These are all valid reasons. Especially considering how fast web trends change and advance. The metrics, as mentioned should be the main deciding factor though. Considering how intensive a redesign can be, I think 12 months maybe a bit too soon.

    0
  33. 39

    This is a great topic about the 12 month redesign. Typically Clubs and Bars need a refresh every 7 years, but I dont think this holds true to portfolio sites.

    I tend to agree with this, but the last round of redesign I decided to plan on being current 6-8 months ahead of the game. I built my site with CSS3/HTML5 so it would be viewable on iPads and phones, and stay current. Any good designer should be aware if they are current or not.

    Plus who is looking at your site? Recruiter, job hunters, these people don’t really care what the site looks like, but what is on it.

    Thanks for Posting this.

    0
  34. 40

    I’ll second many comments on the 12-month life cycle. My experience has more to do with institutional websites, but it points towards 3-4 years.

    In addition to design trend cycles, this coincides with major technological shifts (CMS/HTML versions for instance). I am not forgetting budget cycles :)

    What are the durations you typically observe?

    0
  35. 41

    I’d like to see if the author of the post replies to any of these comments and, if so, what he’d say.

    0
  36. 42

    Website Design Fan

    December 15, 2011 10:06 pm

    Redesign seems to be something drastic. It only means that the website is no longer doing what it’s supposed to do. I’d go for minor design tweaks now and then though.

    1
  37. 43

    A redesign JUST because it is 12 months or whatever since your last one can be a BIG mistake.

    There are plenty of people out there who HATE change. Some of them will be your customers.

    4
  38. 44

    Strategic objectives and user needs are the best reasons to consider a site overhaul.

    0
  39. 45

    Nice article, the tip of a very big iceberg. Simply the ‘getting design feedback from end users’ warrants an article on it’s own, possibly a book.
    Bottomline: don’t redesign too heavily at once, because you’ll loose on trust and current userbase.

    0

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