By Cheyenne Heaslet
Nothing sells the right first impression than a well-planned website. It exudes to clients or random visitors a feeling of professionalism and trustworthiness. It offers insights into a company’s heart and soul. It tells the story of a brand with visuals and words.
But there comes a time when a website redesign or update is useful, if not necessary. While a reorganization of information keeps a site fresh, interesting and easy to navigate, it’s crucial to stay true to the client’s brand.
When redesigning a website, there are many questions to ask themselves, not the least of which is “why?” Dealing with a more fast-paced consumer brand, the “why?” could be something as simple as a need to stay fresh and appear forward thinking.
Fashion retail sites such as Gap.com change their design annually and sometimes even seasonally to follow trends in both aesthetic and function. Think of the difference between a fashion based website in the summer that eventually turns to winter.
The “why?” with these types of brands isn’t always a major overhaul, but the focus is typically to make a new presentation easier for the user to adapt to, while also giving the appearance of a new direction.
Other consumer based websites, such as Zildjian.com, redesign with similar reason, but will also take on a new look with the announcement of a new product or branding such as a new symbol line or technology, much like they did when the L80 was introduced.
While redesigning in other industries, like manufacturing, the “why?” is almost always focusing on the function over appearance.
Jayne Wilks, web designer for pipe manufacturer Cantex Inc., said in an interview that while having a “clean, easy to navigate” page is of paramount importance, the reason for redesigning is typically to employ new features that make their existing page easier to read and navigate.
“Our clients are used to our site […] we’ve kept the layout consistent for a while,” Wilks said.
In industries such as hers, where the business stays specific enough, making the clients feel at ease with their use offers ease to the designer as well. Designers like Wilks generally use time-tested approaches to their interface, and only intervene when another tried and true method presents itself.
Another question for designers that fits into the “why?” is, “for what?” or “for whom?” is the site? Again, Wilks said the intention should be to make the site accessible to your existing user base as well as new visitors.
If the user base is consumer-driven, then designing or redesigning needs to be with the demographic or audience you seek in mind. When rebranding, it’s important to show the direction the product or function is taking the site.
Apple Computers has rebranded itself a few times, and each time their website takes a new turn. Earlier this decade it showcased its line of laptops in a straightforward fashion, with photos of it appearing on a scrolling dock much like the one in the Finder folder. Now, with its phones being its most celebrated product, Apple has shifted to swiping tiles that resemble its iOS interface. This is done to have the product they believe you came to see up front, while also appealing to the consumer’s personal attachment to the device.
Finally, for prospective designers, “how?” is another useful question. Much like building a website for larger industries, there are practices to avoid when designing a site on your own, and mistakes that could wreak havoc while costing you money and/or time.
Lack of foresight for your website could lead to poor organization, confusing navigation, or a number of other blunders that plague inexperienced designers and their potential user base. Fortunately, it’s not impossible to get by on a few Google searches and a subscription based website builder such as Squarespace.
Engineering firm Design Tribe Innovations is a startup that uses Squarespace to cut out expenses that one would incur if you relied on contracting a web designer. Founder David Frank wasn’t experienced in web design before using the builder, but explains that in pursuit of creating a better page what he’s learned has made him more conscious of the decisions he must make.
“I wanted to make something cheap that also had a domain, but I was still afraid of it looking cheap,” Frank said. “[…] I read up on what I should look for, watched some videos on YouTube and had most of the site running within a weekend.”
In 2017, there are websites for just about anything. Staying up to date on a site is important, but it doesn’t have to be costly. Taking time to learn about design can save money and ensure the owner gets exactly what he/she wants out of it.
Eric Koger designed a website for his company, ModCloth, which offers handcrafted clothes to consumers at reasonable prices. He learned html and design through months of research and began to design his website.
“It took a long time to figure out html, which was just half the battle,” Koger said. “It takes a lot of work and willingness to learn, but because of that, I will never have to pay someone when my website needs updating.”
Koger said he feels a sense of freedom knowing he’s self-reliant when it comes what his website looks like and the way it navigates.
“I am in complete control of what customers see and how they interact with my website,” Koger said. “I am able to train employees on how to work little updates within the site, which is much better than having to outsource from other designers.”
Designing, and the eventual redesign of a page is no easy task. After the mission of becoming knowledgeable about who it’s for, and determining why the site is being made, it also takes dedication to learn how to design and when to redesign.
Anyone could have the knowledge and position of Jayne Wilkes or the perseverance of David Frank with practice. Web design has never been as accessible as it is now, and as long as the designer is asking him or herself the right questions, their users will have all of theirs answered as well.