Almost exactly a year ago I wrote what is probably my best design article on HubSpot, the 7 Ugly Truths a Pretty Website Can't Hide. It discusses how so many companies take the "lipstick on a pig" approach to redesigning their website hoping it will fix core problems such as bad content, poor conversion, and lack of customers.

Free Workbook: How to Plan a Successful Website Redesign

Most companies redesign their website at the wrong time, with the wrong mindset, and with the wrong expectations. Today I'd like to set the record straight on when a redesign is not the right move, and when it is.

When Redesign is Not the Solution

So many companies drift off course and proceed to redesign their website for the wrong reasons. Because their site is dated (often hinging on embarrassing), they convince themselves that a fresh look and feel will:

  • Fix their conversion rate problem.
  • Drive more social engagement.
  • Generate more leads.
  • Sell more product.
  • Rank better in search engines.

The truth of the matter is that these are all content (and maybe value-proposition) problems. A better look and feel won't significantly improve results on ANY of these objectives.

Of course, you can try to incorporate content and marketing improvements in a new design, which may help. However, if your core objectives are listed above, redesign needs to WAIT until you've planned and tested your company's strategy to achieve these objectives.

If Content is King, What is Design?

Jeffrey Zeldman says, "Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.”

We agree, saying that "if content is king, then design is the king's clothes." [TWEET THIS] Design comes into play after you've created all the right content and you need to wrap it up in a memorable brand experience. When the content is in great shape, that custom tailored suit just fits. And when it's not, it's really an exercise of putting lipstick on a pig. It might look better, but it won't go far in achieving your objectives. Remember, if the design is pretty but the right content doesn't fit, it still won’t convert for $#!%.

Don't Redesign a WIP (Work in Progress)

If your content is out of shape, put "the king" on a diet before you wrap him up in that pricey new suit.

A lot of companies think they can redesign the site while they craft their new message. This creates a moving target scenario. At best, it causes unnecessary revision. At worst, you miss your target altogether.

Everything about the design of your site, from the structure, framing of pages, and ultimate look and feel is about ensuring your brand message engages and converts customers. Content must come first.

Start with why. Next, craft your story. Then, wrap it up in a remarkable experience.

Experience is the essence of design. Design amplifies the value of your content (and your company), packaging it in an experience that is both intuitive and memorable.

Great designs are really simple, and that's what makes building them so complex. [TWEET THIS]

Examples of great design in my opinion include Duo Lingo, New Relic, Good Barber, and if I may be so bold, some of our own work.

7 Tests to Tell When it's Time to Design

1) Do you have the right content?

The best websites always have their entire website written out before they design it. Because quality design solves usability, navigation, and information architecture problems. You want to bring your best content to the design conversation day one.

2) Do you have a clear, concise, compelling, unique value proposition?

If you can't state clearly to your designer who you are, what you solve, and why a customer should spend even 5 seconds on your site in a passionate away, then your new design will probably not evoke the emotion and engagement that you hope. Get the script right before you start shooting the film.

3) Do you have adequate marketing budget?

Don't steal from your marketing budget for redesign. Assuming that your website exists to attract new customers, make sure design is a small part of that goal, not the whole strategy. In an economy where customers have all the power and lots of choices, your site redesign should enhance the experience of your Inbound marketing content, not limit it.

4) Do you have the right design team?

Often times the design conversation starts in marketing or sales, and by the time it gets approved by leadership, they bring in the same design team that created the nightmare you have today.

The truth is that if that design team knew how to create the right site for your company, they would have done it already. You need to make sure leadership understands the reasons for redesign, the process of redesign, and puts the right people on the right priorities when redesign finally happens.

5) Have you consulted your inbound marketing team?

Don't set out on a new site design without consulting the team responsible for driving traffic and leads. Your inbound team will have valuable input for the redesign of your site. Inbound Marketers aren't designers, but they know a lot about customer experience.

6) Are your redesign ideas based on assumptions?

If your plan is to launch a new website and see what happens, you're guaranteed to succeed... at seeing what happens. Because businesses operate in environments of extreme uncertainty, assuming that any set of ideas will work is a risky proposition.

Take the time to validate your new ideas before implementing them; it pays multiple dividends. If you adopt a lean launch approach to your redesign, you'll reduce risk, launch faster, receive valuable customer feedback quicker, and arrive at a more effective solution with far less waste.

7) Are you raising the bar high enough?

If you're trying to wow customers, then wow them. Don't settle just to get something done. Mediocre aim yields mediocre results. [TWEET THIS] If your brand is remarkable, your design should be as well. If you settle, you might end up being blamed for more problems than you solved.

Understanding the Purpose of Design

If there was one thing I wish every company could clearly understand before endeavoring to redesign their website, it would be the true purpose and power of design. So many companies think of design only as the look and feel of a website. "If it's pretty, it's good design," they think. The truth is that design is so much more than the look and feel, colors and fonts, buttons and banners on a website. Design drives the entire brand experience.

In order to effectively redesign a website, there must be a clear strategy going far deeper than look and feel. Content strategy is a key component of design. Business objectives are a key component of design. Brand essence and customer experience are key components of design. Design is as much about achieving business objectives as marketing is.

When companies realize this, they'll scope their redesign around addressing the right problems. This will radically change their design priorities. It will help them hire the right people. With the right people, you'll create the right plans, and finally, you just need to commit to following a proven process.

When companies commit to the principles, process and purpose of design, it inevitably leads to redesign success.

Blog - Website Redesign Workbook Guide [List-Based]

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Originally published Nov 10, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated January 18 2023


Website Redesign