Website Redesign: Your Official Guide

Experts share how to approach a website redesign

Published on Jun. 28, 2023
Website Redesign: Your Official Guide
Image: Shutterstock / Built In

The Internet looked like a very different place when TaskRabbit last conducted a brand refresh about seven years ago. 

“The web was different. We didn’t have Web3. The accessibility standards were different, and what we found was the expectations of clients and Taskers have changed, and the business has changed,” said David Politi, product design manager at TaskRabbit, an online marketplace that connects users to freelance labor.

Tips for Starting a Website Redesign

  • Articulate the reasons and goals behind doing a redesign.
  • Assemble a team to manage the project. 
  • Plan the appropriate amount of time — usually at least six months. 
  • Conduct necessary research before starting.
  • Audit the current website.
  • Find examples for inspiration. 
  • Use key design principles.

Politi estimates that 80 percent of the brand refresh project revolved around research — conducting interviews, surveys and analysis to determine what factors were most important for TaskRabbit’s brand recognition and value proposition. Ultimately, TaskRabbit unveiled a new color palette and typeface that were more approachable and accessible.

“It always goes from research to strategy to design and then to development ... if you follow that formula, you’re going to be able to achieve a good result because you’re constantly doing the same due diligence every time.”

“What are the kinds of implementations and activators that we need to use to bring this brand to life?” Politi said. “The brand encompasses the entire feeling and meaning of TaskRabbit, and we needed to be able to apply it to app, to web, to desktop, clothing, out-of-home campaigns,” Politi said. 

Brand refreshes can be one component of a website redesign project — if a company is planning to update its brand assets like logos and fonts, it’s crucial to make sure those changes are reflected on the website too. 

“Website projects really follow the same trajectory, no matter who the client is,” said Al Harris, partner of strategy at Escape Hatch, a creative agency specializing in custom website redesigns. “It always starts with research. It always goes from research to strategy to design and then to development. So, even though the industries are so vastly different, if you follow that formula, you’re going to be able to achieve a good result because you’re constantly doing the same due diligence every time.”

For companies that want to undertake a full makeover for their sites, Built In spoke with web design experts on best practices for approaching a website redesign.

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Tips for Starting a Website Redesign 

Articulate the Reasons Behind Doing a Redesign

Don’t just do a website redesign for the sake of it. Does the website look outdated? Is it missing certain functionalities? Did the company’s direction change?

“In a website redesign, it is important to come to the table with a really good understanding internally of why we’re doing this,” Harris said. “You’d be surprised how many people don’t really have that figured out exactly.”

It’s crucial to articulate the end goal of the redesign. For example, if the ultimate goal is to drive new leads, think about how the website can help support this, Harris said. Will the website be utilizing advertising, or should there be updated written content? Maybe the site needs to be showcasing a completely new service offering.

“A website redesign is an amazing opportunity to do a lot of different things — to pivot your messaging, to potentially reach new customers, to reach new audiences, to create functionality that didn’t exist before that can provide value for your customers or for your industry,” Harris said.

 

Assemble a Team

Once it’s clear a company needs to do a redesign, it’s important to create a team to direct the project. This team will often depend on the size of the company and the number of different stakeholders. Whether the redesign itself is being conducted in-house or with an agency, there should be representatives from across the company whose departments will want a say in the final product — think representatives from marketing, engineering and sales.

“Engineering is going to have one perspective. Marketing will have one perspective ... You just want to make sure that all of those voices are heard and that you capture everything.”

“If you’re a solopreneur, it’s going to be you and whoever your support team is,” said Tauhir Jones, head of content and digital marketing at Karbo Communications who has led website redesigns for a variety of companies like SnapLogic, Splunk and Thoughtworks. “If you are a midsize to larger company, and you’ve got some maturity in terms of specialization of positions and roles, then you want a steering committee.”

Make sure that there’s a clear outline of the roles of each steering committee member. The DARCI project management framework is one strong option to help people understand their expected involvement in the project, Jones said. 

“Engineering is going to have one perspective. Marketing will have one perspective. Different disciplines within marketing will have different perspectives,” Jones said. “Your conversion rate optimization person is going to be looking at this project through a different lens than your lead designer. You just want to make sure that all of those voices are heard and that you capture everything.”

For startups that are relying on a lean team, make sure that any executives who are planning to help oversee the project actually have the bandwidth to be hands-on. Oftentimes, leaders might not have the time to dedicate to the day-to-day work associated with a redesign, which can slow the project down. Hiring a project manager or bringing in an employee from another team can help with managing the day-to-day tasks, Harris said. 

Think about who will be taking care of the upkeep of the website when the redesign is complete and involve them in the project. “What’s the internal need of the team? How is the media going to be managed, all of the bells and whistles that go into the site? Who’s going to run and operate a website after I’ve passed the baton to them,” said Nia Dara, website designer and founder of creative consultancy ndny studio.

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Plan the Appropriate Amount of Time

Think of a website redesign as a home renovation, Harris said. Expect there to be timeline changes as parts come in late or supply chain issues come up. 

“More often than not, timelines are shifting,” Harris said. “Do you have the time and the bandwidth internally to give us what we need to make you more successful? Do you have the assets you need? Do you need to do a photo shoot? Are you just now figuring that out? There’s a lot of little things that become really important in the course of a website redesign.”

Companies need to be thinking about all of the different components they want to change or address in a redesign, such as accessibility, SEO, graphics, messaging, functionality, or branding. 

For a medium to large sized company, six months is typically a good starting place to plan for conducting a redesign. Smaller companies should plan on at least a quarter, plus prep work leading up to that. 

 

Conduct Necessary Research

Make sure to have a good understanding of customer needs, industry trends and market conditions before diving into the project.

“Start with research and actually talk to your customers,” Politi said. “Talk to at least five of them. Share those recordings and insights with your team and really understand the needs and the motivations of your customers.”

“Until they are able to complete that homework, they shouldn’t move on to other steps, and you don’t want to come to engineers with a half baked concept for what you want.”

Look at your existing website data to understand user demographics and start thinking about how to best meet their needs.

“If they have an established website, it’s likely that they have some analytics that they can look onto and see what their audience needs are because different demographics, different age demographics might require different types of needs,” Dara said.

It’s important to have a clear vision for the project needs before embarking on the actual design process. For instance, the marketing team needs to be clear with its vision before asking developers to begin working, Jones said. 

“There’s a certain bit of homework that one should be doing before they embark on this journey,” Jones said. “Until they are able to complete that homework, they shouldn’t move on to other steps, and you don’t want to come to engineers with a half baked concept for what you want.”

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Audit the Current Website

A redesign isn’t starting from zero, so it’s crucial to take stock of the current website before diving into the new one. Think about conducting technical, design and page audits, Jones said. 

“There’s a more technical audit, like an SEO audit, which is more about what’s on your pages? Where are your conversions coming from? What are the KPIs for your website? You need to figure that stuff out,” Jones said. 

The design audit will involve evaluating branding and content assets to determine if they need to be refreshed at this time. The page audit is going to be taking stock of all the current pages on your website and determining what needs to stay, what needs to be removed and what needs to be added. Think about these questions during the sitemap review, Harris said:

  • Is the content itself still accurate and relevant?
  • Does my customer still care about this content?
  • Are creative assets (photography, graphics) doing a good job of showing what our business does?
  • Is the voice and tone we’re using still appropriate for our business and target audiences?

“A lot of times we want to bring the whole house with us. And a lot of times, yes, there’s a beautiful story that’s behind that, but it’s not necessary to bring everything. We want to focus on the conversation of what we want people to experience when they come to the site and how we’re there to serve them,” Dara said.

An audit can show that content that worked for the company in the past might not be integral to the company’s story anymore.

“When you walk into an art gallery, you don’t see all of the art that the gallery has. They have a whole warehouse full of things, but you see the things that they really want you to experience, and I think if you can consider your website a form of that, it can really go a long way,” Dara said. 

 

Find Examples for Inspiration

One of the best ways to figure out what a website redesign should look like is to find examples of sites from other companies for ideas, Dara said. 

“We’re getting a really nice opportunity to create a whole new conversation around their product, their service, even the way they tell their history,” Dara said. 

Examples are crucial, Harris agrees, but especially when working with an agency, the company needs to be able to explain why they picked these examples. Also feel free to look for examples outside of industry, too, he added.

“The context is also important,” Harris said. “It’s not just ‘I like this website.’ Is it the images? Is it the text? Is it the font? Is it the color palette? Is it the way it makes you feel?” 

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Use Key Design Principles

It can be tempting to imitate the top web design trends of the day. Flat design with white text on dark backgrounds remains popular for tech companies, Harris said, as are scrolling animations, lots of white space and illustrations. Everyone is pretty much over cheesy stock photos, too.

“So, go simple. Go clean. Let the content breathe.”

“Web 1.0 or Web 2.0 websites were very cluttered. They were very heavy, a lot of navigation tabs,” Dara said. “So, go simple. Go clean. Let the content breathe.”

Yet, sticking with fundamental design principles can go an even longer way in keeping a website relevant. These principles include focusing on the company’s user needs, keeping a consistent appearance through the website, prioritizing accessibility and keeping mobile friendliness in mind from the start.

Ultimately, web design is “art with function,” Jones said. Working with an experienced creative professional will help a company determine what design elements are best for a company’s specific redesign. 

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