Friday, August 22, 2008

Website/intranet redesign or realignment - is there good reason for change?

My team's web designer forwarded me the article Good Designers Redesign, Great Designers Realign from A List Apart earlier this week.

It looks at the justification behind design decisions - whether to change the design, layout and information architecture of a website or product - dividing it into two camps.

Redesigners - who base their decision on emotional responses to aesthetics.
It’s been 2 years since our last redesign.
Our current stuff just looks old.
A redesign would bring new traffic to the site.

Realigners - who based their decision on strategic objectives and user needs.
Market trends have shifted. Should our website be adjusted accordingly?
Our users’ needs have changed. Do we need to adapt?
We’ve added 3 new sections and a slew of new content to the site over the last 12 months. Are we presenting content as effectively as we can?
Our current website does little to convey the strength of our product offering.
Does our online presence enhance or devalue our overall brand perception?
I don't believe the line is ever that clear cut, sometimes aesthetics are used to sell strategic changes and sometimes vice versa. I also do not agree that realigners are 'better' designers (for whatever value of 'better').

However I do feel the article does touch on a key factor for management, of websites or any other system or people, perceptual versus objective truth.

Often as web managers we are the closest to our own sites, seeing blemishes that are less visible to others. On the other hand we may also accept and overlook fallacies and faults that others perceive as major flaws. It's a little like being in a relationship. We often simultaneously see more and less in our partner than others can from an external perspective.

Therefore when deciding whether to make design or IA changes it is crucial to step outside our own emotional engagement and seek the views of our audiences, our peers, management and neutral parties.

Otherwise we may - knowingly or unknowingly - be primarily driven by our own personal views or emotional responses, while publicly justifying changes based on organisational goals or audience need (or simply on the ultimate reason that 'it looks better').

I can think of times in the past where for personal or organisational reasons I've redesigned a website or intranet simply due to aesthetics. I can think of more times when there were reasons driven by audience needs or organisational realignment.

I can also remember times when I made aesthetic choices, but justified them as strategic decisions.

These are the decisions to be guarded against as they are, in my view, the most likely to lead to errors of judgment.

It's about being honest with yourself and understanding your own drivers.

Do you operate as more of a realigner or redesigner?

What would your peers say?

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