8 steps to effectively redesign a website

After being assigned to redesign an existing website, most designers prefer to start with a clean blank slate. When a designer starts from scratch, they run the risk of losing key elements that add a positive contribution to the website as a whole. Designers should heavily review the website before redesigning to ensure they not only protect the client’s ability to access and amend the site, but to keep certain aspects of the brand’s image intact.

Here are some steps that can help you evaluate a site before you redevelop it and fight the temptation to scrap the existing website as a whole:

The client-side

1). Does the client want a different CMS?
Non-technical people get too comfortable with their way of “getting things done,” no matter how inefficient or outdated it might be. If a website is old, it’s probably using an outdated CMS. Would you be able to show the client that a new CMS can help them get things done faster, make their lives easier, the website better, or save them money?

2). Can the server support your design?
In many cases, you may not have an environment that supports your language of choice. For example, you might want to use PHP but your client’s host runs .NET. You might have to discuss moving the site elsewhere. You might also find that your client’s IT department dictates these things and the entire thing is out of your control.

3). Will your technical solution save the client money?
The client is looking to get a return on their investment. Your design is a “technical solution” and it needs to solve a problem. If you can’t solve the problem or improve on their current website on some level, then you have to be able to make the call whether the changes you need to make are actually worth their while. It’s okay to say, “I’m sorry, I’d love to do that, but I’m unfamiliar with PHP…”

4). How much legacy data does the client have?
A large-directory type site can have an overwhelming amount of data. A manufacturer, a tool company, or any type of company that sells small parts, could have thousands of items that they have built up over time. You have to account for this data in your new design. Sometimes, the client is happy to hire someone to do data entry for a few months to accomplish this goal. In other cases, you’ll have to try to work with the old data or suggest another plan of attack that works within their budget.
The tech-side

5). Review the site’s architecture and user interface
In the past, all designers were told to design above the fold. Everything was about the fold. Bad design involved all designs that required the user to scroll down. That isn’t the case anymore. Good design is geared for your specific user. Evaluate the key demographics that the site will target. Do most users access the site through a mobile device? Do the majority still use IE7? Use Google analytics to help you figure this out.

6). Access to source files for compiled solutions
Most designers hope that a client was provided with the code and resources that were used to build the site. However, that’s not often the case. Try to see if anyone has access to the source files.
Don’t forget about critical information in the existing site, like Google Analytics or metadata. The site might be the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen, but it might be doing really well with search engine optimization. You don’t want your redesign to mess up anything “good” the existing website has going for it.

The design-side

7). Adhere to the brand’s image
Websites that belong to a global brand will have specific guidelines. Some companies are more flexible than others. Even small websites might have guidelines that you need to work around. You should always abide by these rules.

8). Is there anything worth salvaging?
There’s no point in getting rid of something for the sake of it. If the site contains great images, there’s no reason you should trash it. Recognize good design when you can, develop it, and make it even better than it was before.

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