More and more, I'm seeing designers and user experience specialists talk about how it's so much better to let a design evolve over time, along with the content of a website, rather than investing in one-off redesigns or design updates. UX designer Paul Boag has started writing about the life-cycle of website redesigns in his blog, Boagworld:
"You know the pattern of website redesign. You launch a new website, and for one shining moment, it is perfect. Then the money dries up, and people move on. Slowly over time, the neglect takes its hold. Content becomes out of date, the design starts to look dated, and the underlying technology ceases to be fit for purpose."
The reasons are strategic and practical. For visitors to clients' websites, it's a better experience to have a responsive design that reflects how people are using the site. After a redesign, I'll watch which pages people go to, and where they're clicking, which lets me make small incremental improvements. And because I often include writing in a creative package for web design, it means that I can make subtle adjustments to refine a headline or the copy so it's more effective. Being adaptive about website design is like the iterative circle that startups use to launch, test, learn, then apply what's learned in the next version.
For clients, its intrusive to the organization's leadership and staff to go through a major design refresh. Not only does it have a big impact on brand, by now organizations have developed a lot of legacy content and there are issues arising with migrating, updating and renewing content strategies that affect creative teams and management systems. For clients, Paul Boag shows in his visualization of the effectiveness of a website with periodic redesigns that the lift of an improved user experience after a redesign is followed by a decline in effectiveness post-design – coming just as designers have access to the information from which they can learn what users do and don't want.
It's easy to work with in-house teams in monthly meetings to guide the design and content along after the redesign launch. When I work with smaller organizations without an in-house design team, I'll check in on the website weekly. That way I make sure that all the aspects of the redesign continue to align with the client's goals and objectives.
While it's a different kind of fee schedule to work like this, it's affordable. I've noticed that smaller clients are more comfortable with paying a one-time fee for a website redesign, content strategy or new content program and lass inclined to an ongoing arrangement until the benefits are explained to them. When I show that keeping their website up-to-date with the kinds of gradual design and content iterations is as responsive to the expectations and behaviours of their visitors as how a key employee answers the phone or emails, it starts to make sense.
The speed of change in tech is affecting what people expect when they visit a website. People expect timely content as static or dated design or content looks more like a neglected, declining business than a busy business. I try to show clients how their websites are valuable communications and brand-building tools that deserve the kind of attention they devote to making their offices run well.
In a Starbucks recently, I overheard two women talking about a new website one of them just had hired a designer for. She was upset because the designer saw an on-going relationship after the initial design launched and she had expected she'd paid for the perfect website that wouldn't need work once it was up. Without knowing how the misunderstanding happened, I can see how both sides felt they were justified and was sad that the designer hadn't communicated the value of continued attention better; sadly, the client seemed to feel that she'd been cheated.
I've found that taking the time to talk about goals and expectations up front help both me and the client get on the same page to get the best results. I've recently changed my fee schedule to charge different rates for strategic and design work. Increasingly, I want spread out what used to be a big one-off project into a more responsive on-going relationship with clients, so they can see how well their website is working for them and have a say in how we might tweak the design, messaging or content.
Small-to-midsize companies and nonprofits with website that show they're constantly evolving are showing that they're alive and responsive to the people they serve as well as the external influences that affect their success.
Brenda van Ginkel
Every brand that is making a difference to people or the planet deserves to stand out and be noticed. I write about creative direction and brand strategy for entrepreneurs and those supporting them, packaging concepts with messaging for growth and audience engagement in a crowded, noisy digital space.