The Golden Rules of Site Redesign

As many of you know, Some Random Dude was redesigned earlier this month. The redesign of this blog was a tremendous effort that took months of part-time work to get from inception to launch. The process was overly-arduous for a plethora of reasons — I was determined to design and plan in a way that would prolong the longevity of the current site and push off next redesign of this site as long as possible. In doing so, it strengthened my belief of four basic tenets when going through the redesign of a blog or any other content-driven site. I have tried to apply each four of these rules to the new redesign which have already made the site much more manageable and enjoyable and worthwhile. I thought it would be worthwhile to share my experiences.

If You Are Going to Redesign, Then Redesign.

When most people think of redesigns, they think of the visual aspect. For many sites nowadays, the visual piece is just one of many layers comprising the whole. A redesign needs to far exceed merely refreshing the interface. There are no doubt times where that direction is appropriate. However, under normal circumstances, if one is to devote the serious commitment it takes to redesign a site with even a decent amount of content, it should be for something worthwhile. Redesigns should be about big ideas, not just improvements but overhauls, upheaval of weak elements. Not to bang on the Apple drum, but when they redesign a product, they redesign the hell out of it. Visually refreshing a site is fun, but like Cameron Moll’s Good Designers Redesign, Great Designers Realign article suggests, it just is not worth the time. Rather, spend the time to come out with the strong ideas that will make a refresh unnecessary.

With this site, I took a long look at the content I had been producing, spent around a month thinking about what was important and then attempted to reshape this site based on ideas that I had been toying around with but never had the time to implement. The ideas would have never fit into the the rusty, bandaged-up site that was my old blog. If I was going to do it, it would take a rethinking from the ground up. For myself personally, anything less would not have been worth the sacrifice in time and effort.

Making Your Life Easier Will Make Your Audience Happier

That statement when flipped, however, is not always true.

As a general rule, I think most content-centric sites (such as blogs) should put the publisher on equal importance to the audience. As a content publisher, there are two established and proven goals almost everyone tries to attain — quality and quantity. The more content you publish at a higher quantity, the more successful your site will be under normal circumstances. The ease and flexibility in publishing content is directly related to the success of a site. Most people write content in their spare time as a hobby or side-project. The harder a publisher makes it on one’s self to publish content, the less likely quality content will be published on a constant basis. Inevitably, without quality content, the value of a site is highly questionable, no matter how good the architecture, structure and visual design. I cannot stress how important it is to take your habits and daily rituals into account when going through a redesign. Think about ways you can streamline the publishing process or create tools that automate the simple, yet annoying processes. The more you can standardize, automate and delegate, the more you can concentrate on actually creating content.

As I mentioned when introducing the site, this blog is as much an aggregator as it is a personal blog. Other services such as Tumblr, Delicious and Twitter make it excruciatingly easier to publish specific types of content than any “out-of-the-box” blog software around. I already spend a good hour or two everyday surfing through design blogs/sites — it just made sense to publish the things I like and want to share.

Do Not Create Rules You Will Not Be Willing To Follow

It is very easy to make a site look good in Photoshop with perfectly formatted copy and cropped images. The problem is, things change when you get the design out of a perfectly controlled environment and into a world of browser incompatibilities, time constraints and typographic widows. All of the sudden, keeping your design in line with your vision will be much more work than previously thought. The trick is to have an idea where those breakdowns could occur and ask yourself if you are really willing to take the time to make it look as you should. If the answer is even a doubtful ‘yes’, scrap it. There is a good chance it will come back to haunt you otherwise. Some of these rules are things you will have to commit to for years, just remember that.

With the new site, I spent a lot of time finding or making tools that would either automate elements to a degree of quality I was happy with or I removed the idea altogether. In the long run, it made much more sense to me to spend an extra month finding a way around having custom elements than it did to take the time out to do them on a regular basis.

Redesign To Remove the Need To Redesign

This goes hand-in-hand with the first rule. Redesigns are inevitable, but they do not need to be habitual. If you see yourself using the site in the long term, then you should plan for the long term. A redesign should think 10 steps ahead of the initial goal in order to avoid the next redesign as long as possible. Any redesign should have a significant emphasis on improving the overall organization of information, a serious plan for data migration and thoughts on forward compatibility. In a sense, a redesign should be already planning for the next redesign. The more you take into account now, the less problems you will have on the next go-around. If you do not take on those issues, you are essentially moving backwards.

One of the reasons why this past launch took so long was my absolute lack of planning when first creating the site and a continual neglect for any global structure or organization. It was, by far, the biggest mistake I made in the last realization of the site. Due to all those years of short sided thinking, I am still working through compatibility issues with the new site and will most likely continue to do so in the weeks and months ahead. The plan, however, is to work through them this time so I do not ever have to work through them again. But isn’t that what a redesign is for?

17 thoughts on “The Golden Rules of Site Redesign”

  1. Great article! I am in the process of redesigning my site and much like yourself I am looking at starting from the very start and creating something lasting. So if you have a spare minute it would be great if you could check out my site and let me know what you think I could do to improve. Thats also long as you dont mind 🙂

    Tweeting the article by the way. Really helpful!

  2. nice article, made me think a little more about my site redesign, especially the part about planning for 10 steps down the line

    ps safari has problems with this form: the text in the boxes overlaps the text I type

  3. I too want to redisign and had not formulated any reasonable thinking process about it. Thanks for this article, hopefully now I will.

  4. Some very good points in here. I’ve been mulling ideas for a site refresh for a couple of years now. The biggest problem is that I have several YEARS worth of archived data that was all built on custom databases and hand-rolled code at a time when I was still learning the ins and outs of PHP and mySQL.

    The front-end isn’t the problem in a re-design. The BACK END is a major issue. Because in order to do some new things and take advantage of modern technology (Lots of stuff was written in the PHP3 era), pretty much a full re-write would be in order, and a move to something like WordPress or Joomla (which could serve about 90% of current needs) would require manually converting 10’s of thousands of database entries.

    It’s relatively difficult to do big overhauls on a fairly NEW site … but when you get into one that’s a decade old, and has great archives, it’s an order of magnitude worse.

  5. Drive-by comment:

    I didn’t have to read your article to know that I should give it a pass. I just looked at your design. 😉

    a) Horizontal scroll at 1072 pixels give me some clue about YOUR monitor resolution, combined with no left margin at lower resolution makes for cramped reading.

    b) Poor degrading of JavaScript features (overprinted input and text-box text that won’t go away, plus – won’t know till I hit the submit button, but I’m *guessing* that – comments won’t work either)

    Tsk … tsk.

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