How to redesign if your product looks crappy

Your site feels old, you got bored and want to try something new. How should you start? There are a lot of things to consider and the decision can be a leap of faith. A complete redesign is going to eat up a lot of resources and the outcome is still questionable. So the first step is to decide whether it is going to be a complete redesign from scratch or smaller, safer steps to go by. There is one thing for sure - you have to address the issue and take care of your online presence. I don’t think there is more room for iconic unchanged designs like Craigslist.

How to start?

Before even starting to think about anything else the first actual question that should pop into your mind: “Why do I want to do a redesign actually?”. Stating that your site looks old and boring is not a good answer. You have to explore problems, the real issues, get to the bottom of them and come up with real solutions. Are your conversion rates bad? Is customer support getting a lot of complaints? Are your users lost in the navigation?

Think about the issues, set up metrics and get information. It’s awesome if you can talk to you users or get some data about their behavior. Understand your users and don’t design for yourself. The other important thing is that don’t try change what’s working well. It’s also a good idea to meet with the whole product team to prepare for the upcoming difficulties.

Two forked road to decide about the redesign

Turning point

The next question is how to decide whether you need to start from scratch or not. The short answer is: you should avoid starting everything all over again. There are some special cases but a complete redesign takes immense effort and resources so think about this issue carefully. Usually, it’s better to change your product step by step.

If there is nothing to gain from this method, you can start from the beginning – for example:

  • Your product is so old that it is preventing you from doing important changes
  • The product became nearly nonexistent on the market
  • You have to make something new to pivot your product

But remember – everything is full of stories with spectacular failures. This is an older post by Joel Spolsky which sheds a little bit of light on the fact that there is nothing new under the sun.

Designing and developing a product is a complex process and it’s easier to test and validate your ideas with an incremental approach. Also if you got something that is stress tested and working you can’t throw that out of the window.

You need to get approval from stakeholders and users somehow when you plan to do a redesign. Qualitative and quantitative data is essential to gather feedback and make the right decision about your product. A complete redesign is a huge thing so your users should know about it. Remember when people signed a petition because of a design change by Yahoo Mail?

Start of the redesign with a broken pencil

New beginnings

Let’s take a look at the other side of the process. What kind of problem is looming in the dark? First thing is that you have to consider is your users. Old habits die hard and hopefully, a lot of people are using your product regularly. This is your legacy and you should take care of your old users also. It’s time to gather data about your users and find the real problems that you have to solve.

You can use metrics, user tests, interviews with your existing user base. You can assess the issues, prioritize them and start to change the product step by step. By this incremental approach, you can focus on the biggest problems and your quick wins to instantly get feedback about the changes.

Some tips to keep in mind while you plan the redesign. The design process sometimes takes more time than it was planned. That’s why it’s important to prioritize and try to brace yourself for yet unknown problems. Try to start with harder or uncertain problems to get them out the way. Also, look out for your old users and their habits. It can be harder for them to adapt to the new design, make sure that they will find their way in the features too. There will be some of them who won’t use the product anymore but that shouldn’t keep you from going forward.

Another key thing is communication. Users don’t like new things and old habits die hard. Everyone has a garden path for the features they want to use and it can be annoying when they change this. This is why it’s very important to communicate the changes clearly and involve your users in them if you can (this can be done easier in an internal software than one for the public). Also, try to stick to features and choices that will stand the test of time, don’t dive in for fashionable solutions.

Tips and tricks for the redesign process

There are also some things that you have to deal with. Just keep these tips in the back of your mind when you plan the design process.

  • When you roll out a fully new concept or design, there is an instant sense of accomplishment. But nurturing your product is about taking care of it constantly.
  • It should be clear who is actually working on the project. A good team cooperating with the stakeholders always worth it. Just don’t forget that you are not designing the product for yourself.
  • Have a goal and data to back it up. Make your decisions measurable. Have no fear admitting if one of the ideas not working – just learn from them. Work on those A/B tests!
  • It’s also harder to assess the required time and resources for the project. There will always be a new problem or a delay to deal with.
  • If you make bigger changes, try to use a system that will be scalable (e.g. modular design approach).
  • Lose the mindset of making it done all at once. This is an ongoing and continuous process.

Summary

There are cases we at our UX company see when a complete overhaul is needed but usually a much more natural evolutionary design approach can work better. This approach is also faster and you can actually measure the value of it. It’s also good to work on your ideas and extend them. It’s much easier to accept that evolution is continuous and you always have to work on your product.

Do you have your own story to tell about a redesign project? I would love to hear your thoughts about the topic. Please share some wisdom in the comments below.