Read this before you redesign your website

Does this scenario
sound familiar?

You work at The Great American Museum. In the middle of a monthly staff meeting, Jasmine from Visitor Services mentions that she’s hearing from visitors that they can’t find times for holiday hours and details about upcoming exhibitions on the website.

Once the website topic comes up, everyone starts to jump on the bandwagon.

Adam from education wants to make the school tour information easier for teachers to locate; Monique from marketing says they’ve been developing new content for the site, but aren’t sure where to put it. Everyone else nods along – it’s no secret that the website has become cluttered and confusing.

Then someone suggests a redesign. Yes! That sounds great. It’s been 4 years since anyone touched the design and this could definitely improve the “user experience”.

You go through the design and development process. It ends up costing much more than expected, taking way longer, and involving months of meetings and internal arguments about blue vs. green, who “owns” what, and where things should go.

Finally, you launch the site, tell all your friends about it, splash it on your newsletter, post it to Twitter, and thank God it’s over. Now everyone is totally over it and would rather find a new job than go through that again! But then…

After a couple weeks, you hear from visitors and employees that they still can’t find anything on the site.

The number of calls coming into Visitor Services with “obvious” questions hasn’t decreased at all and on top of all that, there’s still no system for adding new content, so when Carolyn in IT finally gets around to adding the new page you requested, it’s not clear where to put it, so she just makes another link in the homepage image-carousel and calls it a day.

This situation is so common that it’s accepted as normal.

It’s hard to decide where to start fixing a problematic website, so it’s easy to assume that visual design will solve all problems. Besides, design is sexy! It’s fun to get a makeover.

But that’s like decorating a hotel before setting up an entry desk, labeling the rooms, and putting up signage, then calling it a grocery store and throwing open the doors to let your guests figure it out for themselves.

Especially if you have a very content-heavy site, or an online asset library that things have been thrown into over time, all you do with a redesign is make a really good looking mess!

The good news is, there is a better way to do this, and it’s called Information Architecture!

IA can…

  • Make it easy for your site’s visitors to find what they’re looking for, quickly
  • Match the nomenclature your visitors use rather than museum-speak
  • Ensure all stakeholders are heard and included in the content decisions thus reducing headaches and internal arguments
  • Provide user-based input so decisions can be based on research rather than the loudest opinion
  • Provide a true financial return that isn’t a band-aid
  • Have a long-term impact on the effectiveness of your website and organization as a whole
  • Save time and frustration internally down the road
  • Improve many aspects of the experience for your users: usability, findability, accessibility, credibility, etc.
  • Lower the cost of future redesign
  • Give you an idea of the content in your site so time isn’t wasted duplicating what’s already there
The next time your organization is discussing a redesign, talk to an Information Architect first to see if you could use IA as a standalone or as the first step in a larger redesign process. Learn more about our IA services and how we can help you!