Purposeful Design

A look at what's involved in redesigning a website

Using purpose to redesign a website

- 5 minute read

In recent weeks we've been working on updating customer websites as many customers pivot their businesses in response to Covid-19. Part of this work has included full redesigns of two ancient (by internet standards at least), websites.

The websites in question have done really well, in one case just over a decade old. After peeling back a few layers of duct tape we could see they had been covering a few large cracks, but for the most part the websites worked in modern browsers and were producing conversions.

One site was running on a custom CMS built by a third party. The code was creaking under the load but in fairness had done well considering it was never intended to last this long and didn't get the updates it should have due to historical ownership changes. Many older websites fall into this beyond maintenance category, which can be problematic from a security and stability perspective, but all too often a commercial reality for small businesses. We'll explore this issue in detail in a future article.

So maybe now you're thinking well why redesign if it's still working? That figured into the business thinking for sure, why change what's not broken?

The answer is of course purpose. This could be any combination of business, audience, technical or even legal requirements. In this particular case the website needs to target the same audience, but more specifically the younger end of that audience in terms of age. The portion of the target demographic now includes many who have grown up living on their phones and rarely go near a desktop computer for personal errands. A website that is not fully mobile responsive is not an attractive proposition to this demographic and in turn increasingly less likely to produce conversions. Factoring in that Google and other search engines are all mobile first, means having a website that doesn't play nice on mobile increasingly counts against in search ranking terms.

Making an existing site mobile responsive involves a fair bit more than squishing a design to fit, even if the redesign is to be based on a similar visual as the original website. User experience at all breakpoints is key to conversions - and its normal the experience will differ subtly across devices. Often older websites look a little soft focus on today's higher density screens, so optimising graphics for both the visual and load times is another key area.

Experience also means accessibility, which a decade ago was not given nearly as much weighting as today. Underscoring how far this area has evolved, in some parts of the world an accessible site is now a legal requirement, which could easily be a marketplace a business competes in or sells into. Accessible for those uncertain means accessible by assistive technologies, such as screen readers, so that the visually impaired can also experience a website. Again Google et al will take this into account when ranking a website.

Security considerations also played their part in redefining purpose as both of these older sites had suffered defacing incidents. These incidents were due simply to vulnerabilities resulting from old code running on older technologies. Fortunately these incidents were minor in terms of damage and able to be remedied rapidly, but the impact on brand confidence from a protracted incident of this type should not be underestimated.

Technologies have changed a lot in a decade too. Performance, caching, security requirements and development techniques along with the underlying languages have all evolved to new heights. Harnessing these well will consistently deliver a much richer experience than a decade ago. Updating the code to make best use of the best of today is going to help give some longevity to the new site.

For the redesigns we've migrated the websites to a new CMS. This gives the customer a modern, powerful interface that better utilises the features available in modern browsers. SEO is, as ever, a set of constantly changing goalposts, however the core essentials continue to revolve around quality structured content, so migrating to a CMS built with a deeper focus in this area makes sense. It has also in this case meant developing a new set of templates. Often redesigns require template refactoring rather than writing new, but our remit will always completely depend on the purpose of the redesign.

Content migration into the new CMS also gave us an opportunity to refactor the content in terms of hierarchy. This is to improve both human readability and so the search bots can find their way through and complete their indexing tasks that bit quicker.

The change of CMS also gives us a flexible, extensible and maintainable system so we can keep the wheels turning for the next decade (ok hopefully not that long!), without the duct tape.

It's been super interesting working on these redesign projects and looking at how we did things back in the day. Every so often projects like this come along and make us stop and reflect on just how much change there has been in our industry. While we experience change on a daily basis it's usually at an incremental level so it's been really refreshing for us.

We thought for a bit of fun we'd dig through the archives and unearth some of the things we worked on a decade ago so that we could look at our own progression and see how we'd approach similar projects through today's eyes. We couldn't find a single project that offered a richer experience then than it could today, if we were starting fresh. Websites, like good cheese and wine, can improve over time but not without being subject to the proper conditions and care. Redesigns as part of this care, done well and for the right purposes, will help a business flourish.

So much has changed since these websites were first built, happily for us and the businesses we create for, the better.

If you're thinking about redesigning your website, whatever your industry, whatever your purpose, get in touch today and let's talk.


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