When I was heavily involved in web design projects, I noticed an annoying trend. Too many websites were being completely overhauled, meaning their original design was trashed completely, new ideas constructed from the ground up, and every old notion thrown out the window.
Wait — is this a bad thing?
Of course not. Fresh blood is a necessary ingredient to forward momentum, but it’s a catalyst that should only be called upon under rare circumstances. When a website’s entire infrastructure and design is discarded, it tends to leave a blank slate (well, maybe not completely blank). But many, many good elements are trashed in favor of something fresh. Those good elements might be obvious, like certain pages and design traits that were working, or maybe they were a little less obvious, like hidden visitor trends that just needed some sussing out.
My point is, website overhauls should not be done on the fly. Websites should follow an evolutionary chain whereby the ineffective elements of one iteration are eliminated and the effective elements rolled into a new iteration that also incorporates new ideas based on past trends. Wiping the slate clean nukes everything, the good and bad, and leaves very little to work with — and that’s a tough challenge to create a website from!
Websites Should Be Evolutionary
Working in evolutionary stages is not a new concept, especially when talking about design. Car manufacturers do it all the time, and it’s actually very interesting to me to see how a car design progresses. Take the Toyota Corolla as an example.
The graphic above showcases the evolution of the Corolla. As you can see, the car actually doesn’t really change too much, aside from cosmetic updates about every six or so years. However, you can see where big leaps in the car’s evolution occur. For example, in 1983, the Corolla is upgraded with front-wheel drive. Then in 2000, the car’s exterior is reconceptualized. But at its root, the Corolla of 2006 is the same as the Corolla of 1966. It’s a four-door sedan that is economical and efficient. Never did the engineers and design team scrap everything they knew about the Corolla and throw it in the trash. They learned from previous iterations and improved.
Websites should be treated with the same approach. Instead of trashing everything and saying, “forget this, let’s start over,” there should be an appreciation for the past.
Below is an example of a website I’ve been involved with since its inception. The site started in 2004 as a tiny stock market information source. From 2005 to 2009, a blog was added and the traffic to the site exploded. In early 2010, WordPress was built into the foundation of the site. Shortly thereafter, a subscription model was introduced, requiring users to pay for access to content.
What started as a small site with zero revenue transformed over the next ten years into a profit-producing resource that hundreds of investors rely on. And during this transformation, you can see in the design that small evolutionary steps were taken. At no point was everything discarded in favor of a new direction. Rather, feedback from users, new business ideas, and traffic data drove the evolution.
Start with a Baseline
If you’re involved in a project that is the victim of constant overhauls, then make an effort to establish a baseline. A baseline is an iteration of the site that you can begin the evolution. Each iteration thereafter should then incorporate forward momentum based on feedback from prior iterations.
Too many times do website owners shoot from the hip rather than look at the data and trends. Not liking the way something looks is a subjective opinion not based on fact. The facts should lead to site iterations. Stop reinventing the wheel or that’s what you’re always going to end up with — a wheel!