The Digital Redesign Process: Smarter, Faster, Stronger
By Peter Prestipino, Editor-In-Chief
There are few things more stress-inducing than redesigning a website.
With so much to consider and address - from the user experience to the indexing of pages for search engines - it is not an endeavor that is taken lightly by the digital community.
Fortunately, millions of websites are redesigned each year (likely many more) so there is some precedent. Processes have emerged that anyone can - and arguably should - follow if and when the notion to retool, rework and reorganize a website strikes.
While there is no one best formal process for a redesign (since all websites are different), let the following serve as a foundation as you build new...again.
Break it Down, to Build it Up
No website redesign should begin before enterprises understand (1) what they want to change, and (2) what should remain the same. This phase requires a range of research tactics including user surveys, heatmap analysis and interviews with key stakeholders. The aim is to understand what is expected, what it will take to achieve success and the resources available to make it all happen. The aim is to break down the redesign into the most manageable pieces, so that it can be rebuilt with those elements most meaningful to the success of an enterprise.
Analyzing the Competitive Landscape
It has happened to the best of us; a company redesigns a website only for a new trend to emerge just a few weeks or months later, or for its competition to launch its own redesign that surpasses it in every way.
While there is little designers can do to ensure the latter does not happen to them, they most certainly can make an effort to stay on top of the trends in their industry by performing a competitive analysis.
Don't Forget the SEO
With a majority of a website's traffic sourced from search engines these days, ensuring that pages remain indexed (and hopefully improved) should be a top priority as a website is being redesigned. There is a long list of considerations to address, so Website Magazine has put together a guide, "SEO-Focused Website Redesign" available online at wsm.co/seofocusdes.
Every effort should be made to analyze other brands' strengths and weaknesses, as well as to identify opportunities to capitalize upon and approaches or techniques to avoid. While a designer won't have access to details on a competitor's performance, even a cursory glance can provide insight into what is likely working and what is not. A company should not proceed with a redesign until it knows for sure that the site being developed does not at least meet the standard set by others.
Prioritize Information Architecture
Websites today can evolve into digital behemoths with thousands of pages (if not millions in some rare cases). This makes information architecture a key consideration when redesigning a website. After the evaluations are compete, physically (or virtually) drawing a diagram that takes into account the needs of audience and personnel should be the number one priority.
Learn how to create natural and intuitive information architecture for your target audience that accommodates a range of needs and behaviors at wsm.co/iaguide15.
With much of the hard work out of the way, designers can do what they do best - design - but it is important not to work in a silo. Fortunately, inspiration can come from many places (including competitive analysis), but idea collection and curation should be a daily task for designers to stay up to date.
One of the most popular practices is to develop inspiration boards for key elements including navigation, color, typography and complete sites that are visually compelling. Drafting with Wireframes Understanding what information needs to take center stage is important, but it is even more important that there is a flow to the website; and there's no other way to do that (outside of figuring it out as one goes along) than to wireframe the entire site.
Wireframes essentially provide an outline of a website, which makes it easy to understand not how content will be organized but how that organized content works together.
Open the Feedback Loop
Designers know a great deal about creating the optimal user experience, but they too must remain open to the possibility of change and so must continue keeping the feedback loop open. Fortunately, there are numerous tools to help manage the feedback received: wsm.co/morefeedbackpls.
Wireframes also offer an opportunity to think through problems and get approval on broader concepts, helping to visualize how individual site elements fit together and providing a sense of the flow of each page and how everything relates.
Developing Mockups & Prototypes
Wireframes are useful, but as a redesign nears completion, stakeholders will need to see the new site in action, which means designers must release mockups and prototypes that showcase nearly finished products in a real environment. Explore suggested tools for developing mockups, prototypes and wireframes in a "Master list of Tools & Resources for Digital Designers" at wsm.co/deslist15.
The Optimal Start Time
Redesigning a digital presence takes a lot of effort. With a moving target and so many considerations that must be addressed, it's important to have processes and procedures in place to manage this initiative. While these certainly aren't the only steps to take in a website redesign, they will enable enterprises to design smarter, faster and stronger.