How To Introduce A New Website Design

If you own or run a website with hundreds, thousands or perhaps even millions of daily users and you’ve ever made a change to the design and / or functionality, large or small, you’ll be well aware that change does not come easy. People simply don’t like change, even if it is for their benefit (or so you believe, anyway).

At the same time, however, NOT redesigning your website leaves you facing two problems. Firstly, staleness. A site that has looked the same for years will begin to look tired, will be overtaken by competitors in the same niche and will begin to lose pull for its readers and users. Secondly, technology. The speed of development and innovation in web design and development right now is quite frightening. If a company doesn’t keep up they will be failing to provide their users and readers with what they want, whether it’s back end / CMS upgrades or front end page load speeds and interactive elements. People are demanding more and more from websites and they WILL go elsewhere if they can’t find it with you.

The natural conclusion to this is that websites do need to be redesigned and ‘upgraded’. Regardless of whether people like change or not. And they don’t. Witness the outcry when Facebook tweaked their layout or, to a lesser extent, when Twitter launched ‘New Twitter’. The lesson to be learned there is that although there might be an uprising to begin with, with hatred being spewed via every communication channel you can imagine, over time people will get used to things, accept them and, if you’ve really done it right, grow to love them.

To stay ahead of the game you will need to update your site. So how can you make the painful process of a relaunch that little bit less painful? Let’s take Facebook and Twitter as two examples of how to go about it.

Facebook, in their overwhelming dominance, simply come up with and make changes. They don’t tend to justify it until after the event, they don’t enter into much discourse over it and, it seems to me at least, they don’t worry at all that it will drive people away. They do it, they hunker down and weather the storm, then emerge and bask in the sunlight provided by the knowledge they were right all along. So far, they have been right for the most part. It’s one approach to take but it’s a risky one, especially without the power of a Facebook in your niche.

Fluid Creativity Facebook Page

Twitter took a slightly different approach with ‘New Twitter’. They gradually rolled out the new design and functionality to their users and they gave them the option of sticking to the old version (though that will soon be dropped). Why did they do this? No doubt there were technical issues but I think that taking this approach allowed certain users, particularly powerful and influential users, to try it and advocate it to “the masses”, making the transition that little bit easier. This worked fairly well for Twitter, as various polls at the time showed. For entities with a user base the size of Twitter, this is a sensible way of introducing change, but not everyone (ok, hardly anyone) has that, making it a difficult one to implement.

So how about this approach from TechCrunch? Would this work for you?

Having spent several months redesigning their site after their acquisition by AOL, TechCrunch put it live on Monday 11th July and posted a very good blog post from the lead designer explaining the creative process, the changes made and WHY and his personal feelings about it. Nevertheless, TechCrunch knew full well they were going to get hammered by their regular readers, hence the title of the blog post: “Redesigning TechCrunch: We Picked This Logo Just To P*** You Off“.

They were right. They received a torrent of abuse and outrage (literally hundreds and hundreds of negative comments), especially over the newly designed logo. They were clearly well prepared, however. They’ve followed up with several more blog posts:

Not to mention subtle mentions of their own redesign, linking back to the original explanation post, in articles on other site redesigns, such as Pandora’s.

The result? From reading comments and ‘judging the mood’ on Twitter et al, there has been a genuine calming of the situation, an increase in advocates of the new design and logo and a warming to the open, honest and often self-deprecating tone TechCrunch have used. No, it hasn’t prevented (often extreme) criticism – nothing could – but it has helped deflect some of it and it has helped win some people over.

So the next time you’re considering a redesign and upgrade of your website but you’re worrying about the reaction of your regular visitors remember this: you can please some of the people all of the time but none of the people all of the time and if they are truly loyal to you they will stick around, even if they kick up a fuss at first. If you’ve done a good job they will eventually even become advocates. Worry less about the reaction and more about the reasons you’re making changes in the first place and who those changes are for.

That’s what we’re doing right now as we’re working on a complete site redesign here at Fluid…

UPDATE: TechCrunch have added one more blog post which pretty much backs up my closing my point here.

  • Written by on 14th July 2011 at 09:57
  • “Fluid Creativity is an award-winning, multi-service digital agency based in Manchester.”
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  • Cleveland Web Design

    Usability is all about making the visitor’s experience a good one on your site. Things should be easy to read, easy to access and most importantly, easy to understand. 

  • Cleveland Web Design

    Usability is all about making the visitor's experience a good one on your site. Things should be easy to read, easy to access and most importantly, easy to understand.