A Redesign Isn’t About Design

May 4, 2007

Topics: Web Development.

As often as not, when I’m confronted with a redesign project, the reason behind it is “I’m tired of this look” or “this just doesn’t look modern.” Well, that’s fine. After all, if you redesign your website, the reason for it IS certainly closely tied to the way it looks. However, in my mind, just changing the appearance of a site is not sufficient reason to do that kind of work.

A website redesign is about creating a better website.

One of the services I’ve done for people for quite a while is WordPress installations. These are people who already have websites and want to add a blog — I simply install WordPress for them and create a theme which clones the look and feel of their existing site. It’s not an incredibly challenging job, so I can offer it quickly at a pretty reasonable price point. (These projects have little to do with website usability or accessibility, and a lot to do with paying the mortgage, by the way. Don’t look for these sites. They’re not up to my standards in most other respects.) As a result, I’ve now been doing this long enough that I’m getting the occasional blog redesign. Businesses have had their main website redesigned, and they’re coming back to me to have the blog matched to the design.

Sometimes, this can be a very depressing task. It’s not necessarily that the old site was fantastic — but my central principal behind ANY redesign project is to improve the site. It should have higher quality code, better accessibility, better search engine optimization, better marketability and a better design.

And sometimes, these redesigned sites just don’t have ANY of these qualities. Why was the site redesigned? What drove this change? I know the answer, to some degree — a new marketing director may have been hired and felt that they needed to put their stamp on the site, for example. But it’s frustrating enough to implement WordPress patched into somebody’s sloppily coded, transitional, hack-filled CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) site — converting the same site over to a table-based site with nominal use of CSS and no Doctype at all 6 months later is just maddening.

This is why, when I’m hired to redesign a website, I always start the process by talking with the client about what we should improve. I want to make certain that we’re both clearly aware of all the diverse changes which will be made besides the most apparent shift in visual appearance. If a site hasn’t had a functional improvement as well as a visual improvement when I’m finished with it, I feel disappointed in the project. I’d like the site owner to understand the degree to which their site has been changed.

I don’t feel the need to go into a highly technical conversation on every semantic decision, of course. However, conveying a basic sense of the importance of accessibility, standards, usability and search visibility to the client (as well as any other -ilities that come to mind,) is something which I consider to be well worth the time.

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28 Comments to “A Redesign Isn’t About Design”

  1. A site’s redesign is a challenging process. The first task is to understand the reason why the client needs a “facelift”. After having the answer, the “how process” can be started…

  2. I like readability and usability first then design.

  3. Beware of the desire/trap of the over-designed re-design. The client wants a re-design and alot of designers and clients alike will over-design the re-design in the hopes that more is more. Sometimes the re-design was in order due to an over-designed original. Just my 2 cents. Found you from DIGG. Nice article.

  4. You most certainly can have an ugly (but usable) design, and make lots of money. Go ask Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.

  5. Have to confess…I’ve never spent much time on Fark. I can see those ads you’re talking about, though…pretty blatant.

  6. For a glowing example of how NOT to re-design a site, see Fark. I wish I had an example of the way it used to be, it was a very clean setup was easy on the eyes. Then they re-designed the site specifically to accommodate a giant square ad in the upper right hand corner of the page and now there is always a giant margin of totally wasted space running down the right hand edge of the page.

    I thought about installing a greasemonkey script to reformat it, but then I realized that it wasn’t worth it. Now I digg.

  7. I’ve generally found that a little patience and some time giving an explanation with solid examples will take you a long way with a client. Yes, clients are frequently ignorant of the development process. Well, that’s to be expected — it’s one of the reasons they’re hiring somebody else! Finding the way to make the questions crystal clear to the client is a burden of responsibility which has to rest on the shoulders of the designer.

    It’s the client’s responsibility to understand how their business works, and make the developer understand their business needs. Everybody needs to be involved to effectively share their expertise.

  8. @Viktor Tolbaum,

    No, the biggest challenge is, and has always been, developer ignorance. If developers spent some time understanding users and designing their products around the actual users need, it would be a lot better.