.NET redesign tips

web-redesign tips

.NET mag has some helpfull tips and advices for those who have websites, and wish to redesign them! This is only a very helpfull source for who wishes to have a website too!

So take a look:

Most designers would jump at the chance to revisit their work but what is the right motivation for a site redesign and how should the process actually work? .net puts you in the know

Even if you get it right first time, there are plenty of reasons to take a fresh look at an older site. For a start, the web is changing. Again. Consider the web circa 1994 – design didn’t even come into it for those of us struggling to view grey, graphics-free pages using Mosaic. Today’s Web 2.0 revolution promises an epochal shift in user-expectation as significant as that caused by the introduction of streaming media, WYSIWIG web design applications or Flash.

There are other factors, too: accessibility, for one, and, of course, the time-honoured tradition of corporate re-branding, which is as good a reason for redesigning a website as any other.

When it comes to redesigning, there is a clear divide about how websites should be handled: is it better to patch-up any problems and give a quick coat of paint to the original aesthetic or burn the whole thing down and start again from scratch?

To redesign or not to redesign

Ultimately, the level of redesign required depends on how well-designed the site is in the first place. A poorly designed site that makes use of tables, deprecated HTML, lacks accessibility features for disabled users, doesn’t work properly or is simply horrendous to look at will need something rather more comprehensive than a makeover.

“Good designers redesign, great designers re-align,” says the respected new media designer Cameron Moll. Moll, who contributes to webzine A List Apart (alistapart.com), explains that some sites can be redesigned comprehensively and immediately while others need to take a more gradual approach: “You have to understand and evaluate the users’ switching costs – will a full-blown redesign shock them? NationalGeographic.com is undergoing a phased redesign at the moment. You can go through the site and see how some areas have the new design and some, the older one. They’re doing a live redesign in pieces, which may not work for everyone.”

When dealing with well-established brands the process is likely to be a much more protracted affair because such work has extra considerations. Damian Cranney, managing director and co-founder of Frank (www.frankbelfast.com), explains that if you’re not working on everything from the branding upward, dealing with someone else’s design is going to be a certainty: “A lot of the time you’re inheriting other people’s work and this is the most frustrating part of any redesign,” he says.

A question to ask of any site undergoing a redesign, or any client interested in pursuing one is: what is the motivating factor? The answer will often define whether a site needs a simple revamp or a complete re-imagining.

When it comes to motivations for redesign, there are good reasons and bad. Good reasons include a company or product re-brand or a desire for marketplace re-positioning, updating to web standards or implementation of much-needed new functionality. Bad reasons might include keeping up with fashions, or even just a vague notion that a site needs to be changed – something rather different from knowing through business experience that a site is underperforming or is just plain ugly.

“There are two camps,” says Moll. “One typically relies on aesthetics with someone deciding ‘It kind of looks old’. That kind of emotional response to aesthetics brings about the redesign. The other focuses on strategic objectives and user-needs to decide that ‘our demographic has changed’ or ‘the market has shifted’.”

Stuart Avery, joint managing director of Bristol’s E3Media (www.e3media.co.uk) explains that his clients approach redesigns very rationally: “A redesign can be triggered by a branding change – some of our clients, such as Triumph, have gone through this – others may have under-performing sites. Also, there are patterns of design and usability that people get used to, particularly in ecommerce,” he says.

Accessing the users

A growing factor in web design is accessibility. In the early days of the internet, this wasn’t an issue – disabled users simply were not catered for. Today, things are different. Patrick Lauke, webmaster at the University of Salford and freelance designer at splintered.co.uk, says: “A site should definitely be redesigned if the current one isn’t up to scratch – there are both legal and moral reasons to do so.”

Designers in the UK need to be aware of compliance issues surrounding websites because the Disability Discrimination Act (1994) has now been amended to cover websites. “Basically, it comes under the provision of goods and services,” says Lauke. “The code of practice, which came out later [than the DDA (1994) itself] does specify websites. They have to be accessible to the visually-impaired, deaf and hard-ofhearing.” All of which is perfectly laudable, but what, exactly, does ‘accessibility’ mean? “A lot of it is common-sense, really. If you provide audio content, for example, you should also provide text transcriptions,” says Lauke.

There are collateral benefits to making accessible sites: market expansion, of course, is one but there are others. “If a university lecture is made available as a text transcript, it can be used for quotations much more easily than an MP3 file,” says Lauke.

Lauke flags the growth of podcasting as a problemarea for accessibility: “For some people, it’s so much easier to put on a mic and talk rubbish instead of typing it.” Here Lauke is echoing comments by Andy Hertzfeld, one of the original designers of the Apple Macintosh computer, who feels that podcasts go against the very nature of how information is presented online. One major benefit of offering a transcript is that, unlike audio content, text transcriptions are fully searchable and will be indexed by search engines.

“With web-accessibility, I see a parallel with access ramps in architecture. That’s not done purely for wheelchair-users. It has other benefits, for example, delivery of goods,” says Lauke.

There is a danger that the DDA (1994) – and similar provisions elsewhere, such as Section 508 in the United States – may be used by unscrupulous designers to make a quick buck by forcing redesigns on clients. Clients should not have their hands forced, at least not by designers, when it comes to accessibility. Instead, if a client is not convinced about the need for accessibility, explain to them that a standards-compliant site is not only an ethical imperative, but will also create greater market opportunities. After all, business people think in business terms.

Surfing the zeitgeist of redundancy

When it comes to motivations for redesigning, an oft-quoted response is desire to keep up with the cool kids – trend following.

Trends are all very well, but there is the danger of becoming too obsessed with ephemeral fashions. A newly designed site may look good today, but if a designer becomes obsessed with following each and every passing fad they may well awake to find their work the visual equivalent of Sigue Sigue Sputnik.

Cameron Moll is suspicious of redesigns motivated by trends: “This goes back to redesigning merely for aesthetic reasons. I think it is harmful to redesign to just keep up with trends.” For Moll, such redesigns are not just unnecessary, they also risk not fulfilling clientand user-needs: “This is allowing external factors to dictate what you do,” he says. “I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to adapt to trends. Apple does a great job of not only adapting, but setting trends, but to just slavishly follow is not very creative.”

In a sense, obsessive style-watching is a failure of imagination. Certainly, to begin emulating ‘what’s hot’ in a purely robotic fashion is to start out on a journey that’s likely to end at the dole office, but, conversely, it’s impossible to not be influenced by what you see – nor should you try.

When Moll says, “Good designers redesign, great designers re-align”, he is playing on the old adage: good artists copy, great artists steal. Reportedly coined by Pablo Picasso, this comment itself has been purloined so many times since then it’s now routinely attributed to all manner of people and has been regurgitated by virtually every media commentator you could care to mention. In truth, Picasso probably didn’t even say it, though he did note that artists should be aware of other artists’ work – and this is an important point.

Keeping-up with every passing fad in web design is a fool’s errand, but knowing what other people are doing – and being inspired by it – is just good sense. Plagiarism is bad, but inspiration is vital.

Stuart Avery explains that his company E3Media keeps an eye on the web design world: “We have a creative database of sites that people, internally, think are cool. We also try go get out and about and see design in the real world.”

It’s not just other designers you should keep an eye on, though. As a rule, designers should keep their eyes open and pay attention to the world around them. Damian Cranney from Frank says that he gets inspiration not only from works of design, but from the world around him – and his clients: “It could come from a conversation, something the chief-executive says in a meeting with you, it can come from the company’s location or the way they work. Inspiration can come from anywhere.

“We find trends occur on a micro-level – a year ago we found that a lot of clients wanted content management systems for sites that would be updated daily, now we’re finding that people are, once again, wanting really cool-looking sites.”

Frank’s unapologetic, design-focused strategy is not necessarily suited to every client, which is something that Cranney freely admits: “We’re not focused on search engine optimisation – that term makes my head explode. A website is an affirmation of what you hope people think of you,” says Cranney. “I believe that design, though an inherently commercial activity, is about employing visual images to solve communication problems. The media are deployed to say something. Some people wax lyrical about the business-to-business aspect of things or site optimisation. Well, that’s for the marketing department to consider and it should all be in the brief. The designer has to produce a working design of cultural significance.”

Cranney is here exhibiting some good business sense: all designers are different, as are clients, and all will bring different things to the table. In order to succeed, it is vital to know your clients and to play to your strengths.

Value judgements

It sounds so simple: a successful website is one that works. But how on earth should a website be evaluated? From a prosaic and purely functional perspective? Or should you grapple with the more nebulous area of aesthetics?

It’s difficult to make value judgements on aesthetic issues, but not impossible. One problem is our criteria for quality have changed and the notion of a ‘correct’ design has been exploded. Nevertheless, judgements must be made.

An amateurish site will be easily identified – bad design of that order is easy to spot, but there’s more to aesthetics than avoiding the use of corny type faces and dodgy images. The aesthetic of a site should be judged by the needs, desires and expectations of its users. Technically, both the Guardian and The Sun are the same kind of product: newspapers. However, they take rather different approaches to design and layout, approaches that can be seen as clearly on their websites as they are in the actual newspapers themselves. In short, keep the audience in mind: there’s no point employing the simplicity of Die Neue Typographie if your client is a discount superstore.

Beyond the rarefied realm of art, there are other methods of distinction and qualification that a successful designer must employ. For a start, most sites function as part of a business. A typical pitfall in the redesign process is to become over-involved in art issues or side-tracked by colour-schemes or obsessed with technical details and forget to keep an eye on the bottom-line: does the site do what it is supposed to?

This happens time and again in web design. It happened with frames, it happened with Flash and it happened with streaming media. Now it’s happening again with AJAX. Cameron Moll explains: “AJAX came along and suddenly there were two camps. The first group thought: ‘we’ve got to put it everywhere’ and the second decided: ‘it’s useful but to use it for the sake of it is poor judgement.”

There are methods by which a designer can assure success – clear and frequent communication with the client is one and site-testing is another: “We have a level that we want to achieve,” says Avery. “Alongside that we perform user-testing.”

Thanks to today’s sound-bite politics, focus groups have a bad reputation, but if a site is to face heavy traffic from the public they’re virtually essential – people often approach websites in ways that no designer could ever think of and a focus group should help show where any otherwise invisible problems lie.

The best way to avoid mistakes is to stay on track and the best time to judge is actually at the beginning and throughout the project. Damian Cranney explains: “That kind of judgement happens at the beginning – you set the objectives and come back to the client, showing sample projects. At that point, set up a meeting to discuss these things. Therefore, the judgement is made by the client as you go along. The feedback at later stages should simply be things such as changing images.”

Ultimately, though, there is one over-arching objective in any redesign: the new version must be better than what preceded it. Keep this in mind and you’re set for success.

Original post here 

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