Redesign or Realign?

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Wednesday 5 May, 2010
by Ana Tandora

Gucci, Prada, Versace, Christian Dior. What do fashion designers have in common with website designers? They both follow market trends. Updating your website to follow the online design trend can seem like updating your wardrobe to follow the latest fashion trend. But there's a danger here - aesthetics are key in the fashion design world, but should you ever redesign your website for purely aesthetic reasons? In this post I discuss how to decide if your website needs a redesign or realign.


Realigning a website refers to the tweaking or restructuring of an existing website. It can involve visual updates such as colour and layout changes. So what's a redesign? This quote I found from an interesting article called Good Designers Redesign, Great Designers Realign by Cameron Moll sums it up in one sentence:

The desire to redesign is aesthetic-driven, while the desire to realign is purpose-driven

I was recently involved in updating the visual presentation of the Civic Video website. The client was happy with the content that was on their current website, but wanted to freshen up the look and re-organise the content in the visual hierarchy.

Simple background images, colours, text updates and images gave the Civic Video website a new face lift. But the key to the site update was that content elements were shuffled around the page to make it easier for the user to locate important information on the home page, and to incorporate more useful options in the navigation toolbar at the top of the page. A return user would probably have thought that the website was redesigned, however a closer look would have revealed that all the same elements were on the page but were made clearer or placed more emphasis on with a new colour shade.

Images of the Civic Video website before and after a realignment
The layout of the navigation toolbar at the top of the Civic Video website was updated in the realignment process, but it included the same navigation items before and after the update.

There are many key factors that might indicate a need to realign a website. I've noted some of the more common reasons to realign a website below:

  • Usability
    How easy is it for users to reach their goals using your website? For example, you may have recently created an electronic newsletter on your website and put the link to your newsletters under the News > What's Hot > 2010 News > eNews section of the website. But wouldn't it have been nice to have a nice new shiny 'eNews' button on the home page with a subscribe now email field?
  • Visibility
    Visibility in a search engine is important, but so is the position of your site in the search engine or directory. What's the use of your website being listed as the 456th item out of 111,154,451 results in Google. Who even spends that time looking at the 3rd or 4th search result page? I know I don't. If I can't find what I'm looking for in the first or second page, at least, then I try another keyword or phrase. Proper use of SEO techniques can greatly improve a visitor's chances of finding your website in the top 10 search results, and doing that might require some structural updates to your website.
  • Content has changed
    Since the common adoption of content management systems to operate websites, it has also become common for the content of a website to grow steadily without the overall website presentation being updated. If there are three new sections of information on your website and a hundred more pages, it's likely that visual presentation of your menu system is becoming strained, or that your home page could lead to the key functions in your site more effectively.
  • New functions
    Perhaps you've introduced some new functions to your website - e.g. the capability for users to log in to your site for personalised service, or new e-commerce features such as online payments or donations (if you're a non profit organisation). Rather than simply tacking these functions on to your website by squeezing in some new buttons or navigation items, a general update to the overall presentation of your site might help to balance their effectiveness with other existing functions.
  • Shifting market trends or user needs
    Perhaps it's been a year since your new product or service was launched, and more of your customers are asking for technical support than product sales info. Or perhaps your competitors are all focussing on lifestyle advantages of their products (instead of technical features) so your website should change accordingly. It's unlikely that you'll need to tear your website down due to either of these pressures, but you might want to bring different content onto your home page, or subtly change the graphics you're using.
  • New marketing efforts
    Although many websites are now designed with the flexible needs of evolving cross media marketing campaigns in mind, you might need to do a little more than drop a new graphic into your home page to really punch the new message home. Or if your presentation is interactive - e.g. if it includes video, polls, online forms, social media elements, or other interactive features - there might be a need to modify your home page and some of your website templates to include new visual components.
  • Compatibility
    If your website was developed many years ago and worked perfectly in Internet Explorer 6, that may not mean that it will be forward compatible with the current web browsers. Also, if your site was designed for a particular screen resolution in mind i.e. 800x600 pixels, how would your website look on a 24" screen? Probably small and hard to read. As technology develops so does our need to make existing websites compatible with new technology. There are methods used to determine what software/hardware your users have when visiting your site. One of easiest methods is to use Google Analytics. "Google Analytics is the enterprise-class web analytics solution that gives you rich insights into your website traffic and marketing effectiveness.", You can read more about web statistics for your site in one of our other posts, Turning Statistics Into Analytics, the Measure of Success by Dan Payne.
  • Accessibility
    I found this paragraph very interesting from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) accessibility site: "The Web is fundamentally designed to work for all people, whatever their hardware, software, language, culture, location, or physical or mental ability. When the Web meets this goal, it is accessible to people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive ability." Does that sentence sound like something your website can do? Older website designs in particular can hamper some peoples' ability to access the content on the sites.

What About a Redesign?

So if redesigning (as opposed to realigning) is all about the visual aspects of your site, are there any good reasons to redesign without considering realignment? Maybe there are a few:

  • Your company branding has changed
    Therefore you would need to redesign your site with updated logos, colours, font styles etc. Sending a strong, clear message about who you are and what you stand for makes visitors want to connect. If your site doesn't reflect the identity and ideals (brand) of your organisation, it's time for a change.
  • Out of date / Keep it fresh
    Just like fashion, the visual aspects of websites date. What was all the rage a couple of years ago is now seen as "eww". Also, the widening exposure of new technologies like animation and video, or new web browsers with stronger visual capabilities, offer new opportunities to present exciting visuals. Or perhaps regular visual updates to your website are appreciated by your audience and generate excitement or goodwill toward your brand.
  • The aesthetic is in the cause of functional problems
    Sometimes a visual design that looks great on the surface can make it difficult to update content in certain ways, e.g. website colours might conflict with new marketing ideas, or a font in the main menu might mean you can only fit five items across the page when you need six.

But when I look at these reasons, they all seem to point to purpose driven reasons to redesign your website. Come to think of it, I don't think I've been involved in any design projects while I've been at DDSN that weren't purpose driven. Well, I guess we're re-aligners, not re-designers.

I Want to Redesign, Do I Need to Realign?

The way websites are built has changed very quickly and will continue to change. If you are leaning towards a redesign you will want to work on your foundation first. What's the reason behind your desire to redesign? Realigning can help you to quickly meet your shifting goals, give you a new look without monumental changes and allow you to easily track the results using your existing website analytics data.

Sometimes realigning might lead to redesigning. Or you might decide a purely aesthetic update to your website is what you want. In those cases, go ahead and redesign! But if you think of the difference between the two you might not need to go as far as you think.

Which ever direction you head in, you know you can count on the team here at DDSN to help you out.

Until then,

Happy Thinking!