5 Things You Need to Know Before Redesigning Your Website

Posted: May 16, 2012

Tony Poillucci Vice President & Creative Director

There are a few inventions that have literally changed the way I think and behave. My iPhone (having access to my entire life in one device), Tivo/DVRs (haven’t watched a commercial in years) and command-Z (the ability to undo something, then do it all over again).

I LOVE ‘command-Z’!

It’s gotten to the point where I find myself looking for the command-Z keys in everyday activities. Spill coffee on my friend’s new white rug: command-Z! Stay up until 2AM watching 30 Rock reruns the night before an early meeting: command-Z! Post photos of that weekend trip to New Orleans on Facebook: command-Z!

Unfortunately modern tech isn’t quite there yet, and so we’re going to have to continue to go through life doing our best to avoid making bad choices … at least really big and costly bad choices.

At VisionPoint, we see our fair share of institutions come through our door who have recently been through a large, costly website redesign project and are in need of a ‘re-do’. For whatever reason, they spent a lot of time and money on a redesign project and ended up with something far less than desirable.

Since we can’t yet apply command-Z to these doomed projects, I thought I’d provide the next best thing:

5 tips on how to avoid costly mistakes in a large-scale website redesign project.

1. Let your business goals drive the project.

Don’t just redesign a site for the sake of redesigning it. You’re investing significant time and budget and you should understand what the ROI for your organization will be. Clearly define measurable business goals that will guide you to make good decisions throughout the project.

Business goals are things like:

  • increase applications of qualified candidates by XX% year-over-year
  • increase alumni giving to $XXXXX within 12 months
  • establish a brand and experience that attracts highly qualified leads

Business goals are NOT things like:

  • increase unique website visits to XX visits per month
  • create a better looking site

2. Pay a LOT of attention to information architecture.

Information architecture (IA) is the foundation of your website. In short, IA is essentially the process of organizing content on a website in a way that intuitively makes sense to website visitors. IA is central to the website redesign process, as it informs navigation, design, nomenclature, usability and technology decisions. IA deliverables include sitemaps, wireframes, and use cases among others.

The simplest analogy for IA is that IA is to building websites what blueprints are to building houses.

And while it might sound easy to do, it’s not. IA is incredibly important and deserves lots of time and attention from an experienced Information Architect. Get it right the first time or be prepared for endless phone calls from frustrated website visitors who cannot find what they’re looking for (or even worse, they just may leave your site quietly and never return.)

3. Use a designer that ‘gets’ the web and usability.

Your in-house or outsourced graphic designer may be top-notch. Their wall may be plastered with design awards and their resume full of accolades. But if the majority of their focus is on making your website look good (as opposed to on the finer points of user experience) your website will suffer in ways that cannot easily be undone.

Designing for the web (user experience design) requires an understanding of front-end code, information architecture, general usability best practices and even content strategy. This is not to say that your website cannot look good AND be usable. It should do both. It’s just that finding a designer with all the skill sets you need might not be as easy as you thought.

4. Have effective project management processes in place.

On track, on time, on budget. Nope, it ain’t sexy, but it’s one of the most important parts of your project. Before you get started, make sure you have standard documentation, communication protocol and processes in place. Every detail of the project needs to be documented and put against a timeline. All major milestones and client (or committee) feedback needs to be scheduled ahead of time. All resources need to be kept on track, and project budgets need to be adhered to.

Also make sure to choose a project manager who understands the process, can keep the team motivated, is easy to work with and who knows how to identify potential issues and pitfalls before they become problems.

5. Establish website guidelines and governance policies. 

Remember your old website (or maybe your current site)? The one that was a pain in the neck to manage, that never had fresh content and that allowed each department its own color palette. Hopefully that site will soon be replaced by a new one that is easy to use, has compelling content and is built on a technology platform that allows people within your institution to publish content whenever they’d like.

That last part about lots of people freely publishing to your website? Don’t feel bad, it should make you cringe a little bit. That’s because nothing can kill a shiny new website like flocks of well-meaning content contributors who have no rules to follow.

By creating and instituting a governance policy that establishes rules and procedures around how your organization manages and publishes content to your website, you’ll be that much closer to ensuring your new site doesn’t suffer the same fate as that of its predecessor.

What do you think? We’re always interested in your feedback and your own experiences. Drop us a line or comment below to let us know if these tips have helped you avoid the need to for a re-do.