Unfortunately, times change. Those image rollovers that you used to think were innovative are now horribly outdated and your competition seems to have redesigned their website about every six months since yours went live several years ago. It's time to redesign.
It sounds like such a great project that it couldn't possibly go wrong; but trust me – the best of intentions can sometimes lead to costly business mistakes. The entire redesign process would take several of these articles to properly explain, but I'd like to talk about my four basic rules to remember before you start the process of a website redesign:
1. Determine exactly what you want from your new website and be realistic.
A website redesign project can be as big or small as you want it to be. Sometimes the written content might be fine and a freshening of the interface is all that's in order. Other times some web applications might need to be developed to take online orders or allow members to log in.
No matter what you decide you need, remember that everything that you do needs to accomplish your businesses' overall goals of increasing sales and retaining current customers. Anything outside of this might not be necessary.
Also, don't be afraid to do things in phases. A lot of my web design clients do things this way because it allows them to focus on immediate needs first. For instance, a client might have very poor search engine rankings because their old website was poorly developed and their tags are no good. But they also want user forums where their clients can discuss issues and ask questions. We might do two phases for a project like this. The first would get their website up to date with the latest search engine optimization techniques, and once that is done and the Search Engines are re-indexing their pages, we will develop the other features that they want on their site, such as the member forums.
2. Choose a Designer wisely.
Choosing the right web designer is obviously a huge part of your website redesign project. Even large corporations with a creative department will outsource this job to an outside firm a lot of the time. The right web designer will display creativity, but will also be sensitive to the context in which their designs are going to be viewed.
For instance, for a high-priced law firm in Manhattan, a singing, dancing animated character, executed in Flash, would not be the right way to go. Make sure that the web designer has made work that fits the client's personality and vision, and not the other way around.
A lot of clients that come to my firm inquiring about a web redesign want to see only work that is in their industry. I think that finding a designer that 'knows' your industry is a valid one, though a good designer will put the time and effort to learn an industry. To me, it's more important that someone has the sensitivity and understanding to be able to work with any industry. Sometimes firms that specialize in only one industry begin to suffer from 'tunnel vision' or possibly even lose their creativity altogether because they are no longer challenged with learning new things.
Either way, taking an extensive look at a web designer's portfolio will tell you a lot, and you might want to call a few references as well.
3. Don't give in to fads and eye candy.
As a web designer, it is my job to keep up with the latest and greatest software, plugins, trends and design ideas. While some of these are great tools, with every project that I tackle, I need to ask myself: "Does this tool – as cool as it looks – accomplish what the client wants to accomplish?" A lot of times it does, sometimes it doesn't. For instance, I am a proponent of Flash because of the amount of interactivity and interest that it can add to a static web page. But it only works when it is used properly and when it fits with the rest of the website. There are some times when animation, sound or video will just not work.
4. Remember why you're doing it in the first place.
You are redesigning your website because your company wants to increase sales and retain current customers. If every single feature of your new website does not contribute to that, you need to reconsider why you are doing it. It's not enough to just have a facelift every once in a while. A good website redesign can be costly and unless it is directly contributing to the growth of your company, you could easily put your marketing budget to better use.
The best website redesigns are the ones that take a company's ideas and vision and portray it in a way that is attractive, easy to use and memorable. The features you add to your website that truly benefit your potential clients and current customers are the ones that will pay off tenfold in the long run.
Best of luck in your website redesign process.