Awesome Website Redesign in Three Steps

by Cosmo Catalano

Occasionally, someone solicits my advice for a website redesign, usually with something along the lines of “hey, Cosmo—what are some websites you like that we can imitate?”

There are good intentions here, and there’s a time and a place for this sort of casual borrowing of ideas, but generally this is a bad way to begin the redesign process.

So what should you do? Glad you asked:

  1. Determine your objectives. What are the motivations for this redesign? When the redesign is finished, what should the new site have or do that the previous site didn’t?
  2. Figure out a post-redesign budget. What can you invest, in time and money, into keeping up the website each month?
  3. Go get some ideas. Start compiling a list of sites that do an elegant, appealing job of what you want in (1), and figure out if you can do it (or even improve on it) within your budget in (2).

Item one is critical. Too many redesigns are driven not by any purpose, but by an overriding sense that something has to be done. In many cases, something does not have to be done. Craigslist, Wikipedia, Google Search and a host of other useful, popular websites have been getting along just fine without much in the way of redesign since their inception.

Objectives don’t have to be grandiose or complex. All most meatspace businesses need from a website is a clean look and a solid search rank, so that when people look them up, they get to make their elevator pitch. Despite what SEO charlatans might say, if a company’s name is in their URL and page titles, and they’re not serving malware, search engines will place them at the top of the list.

Hard objectives also act as a check against feature creep, and for larger, more byzantine organizations, they give various stakeholders a defined period of time to weigh in. As an ancillary benefit, this provides the manager of the redesign a trump card against would-be, late-stage meddlers—speak now, or forever hold your peace.

You might note that in (2), I’ve focused on the budget for after the redesign, rather than the budget for the redesign itself. There are many reasons for this, but the biggest is that not being able to support the site you’ve built is a far greater threat than overspending on the one-time costs of redesigning the page. “Featured products” from last year send the message that no one’s home at your organization, and that’s the last first impression you want to make.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean (2) is independent of the cost of the redesign. In fact, (2) is often a product of what you spend creating a new site. If spending an extra $500 on automation saves you 15 minutes a day (~$5, if you’re cheap), the payoff time is three months—a solid investment. Run these calculations when fielding bids for the goals you select in (1), and be upfront with your developers about it.

Finally, in (3) remember that just because you like the look and feel of a site doesn’t mean it’s a great fit for what you want to do in (1). Vimeo delivers a gorgeous user experience, but it might not be the best for selling industrial widgets. It’s ok to have a site that looks kinda meh, so long as it delivers your business to visitors in a quick, intuitive fashion. Creating Awesome need not always involve fireworks.