Most websites will at some point in their lifetime require a makeover, either due to newer methodologies in web development or due to user changes in tastes on the site, or maybe even just because some manager wants to try out their favorite color patterns. On previous websites that I've worked on, I've gone through about 4 total site redesigns, and 1 redesign for one of my own personal sites, and they are time consuming and expensive tasks. Managers meet and discuss color palettes, designers fire up their image editing tools, front-end designers create the html/css, developers integrate that into the project, and QA reviews the process. Repeat as necessary. On average, with probable back and forth, it's a project that will span a few months. So with that investment that the company is making, why is it that most redesigns nowadays focus 33% on fonts, 33% on colors, 33% on responsiveness, and 1% for anything else that the the website might actually require. Here's a common redesign pattern that I've run into too many times.
This is a redesign pattern that I've done many many times spanning different organizations. Depending on the websites framework it can take a large amount of time and offer little to no value to both the users and to the site owners. A fresh coat of paint on a run down old car isn't going to improve it's worth if it doesn't drive.
Does The Website Need A Redesign
The most important question to ask before you begin on that long journey. Is there a purpose for the elements being redesigned, or is it just for laughs and giggles. If the answer is the latter, like I've heard before, then it's probably not worth the time and effort. If perhaps your website traffic seems to be getting lower, or some parts of your website that you feel are beneficial don't receive much attention from your users, then maybe it's time to start redesigning some components. More often than not a website probably requires attention in other non design components and not in the shade of yellow of the navigation.
When To Redesign Your Website
take my website...please
There are times when a new look makes sense for a website and where you need to sit down and actually plan the changes. If the change will improve user experience and/or monetize for you then it's probably worth doing. If maybe you have a very difficult website to navigate and use and users are confused as to what is where, then it's time to redesign.
If you've had it for a while and you still get excited when a new visitor visits it
if you have a website with a good amount of content and just aren't seeing results, maybe it's time to start taking a look at how you represent that content. No harm here if you mess anything up. The beginning of a websites life is a great time to experiment to see what users navigate towards.
If parts of your site sit undisturbed by human eyes
maybe you spent a good amount of time building an awesome feature on your website and your analytics still says 0 people have visited that page. Then maybe it's time to promote that feature a little more.
If you're introducing new functionality to the website.
the older a site is the more features it will undoubtedly gain. If you introduce a new mail system for example, you will need to intertwine that somewhere on your site for users to make use of.
Many people believe that changing a websites color and theme and deleting elements will give users a fresh new experience. In reality you're just throwing off your current users in the hopes of attracting an imaginary horde of possible new users sometime down the road. Most websites have enough trouble running daily operations, and throwing this on top of it will only impact that negatively.
Tracking Success Or Failure
Without good solid data analysis, the results of the redesign can be easily skewed. For example, a large redesign close to the holiday season, assuming that your website does well during the holidays. This happened to me at a previous job. We had just completed a 100% "redesign" leading right up to Christmas, which is the websites busiest time of year. As such the redesign was seen as a huge success. With further investigation, from me, that particular season wasn't any more extraordinary than the previous years. In fact, it was actually down from the previous year. However, the 4 layer cake model of managers all celebrated the 4 month long design process which led to even more design changes down the road. So with good metrics and statistics you can clearly find out if all your hard work was worth it or if you should be fired.
The Design Is Part Of Your Brand
It's always important to remember that the color/theme/layout of your website is part of its brand on top of the content. If you're website becomes successful then it's design/color/layout have done their job. Color is important definitely, as it helps identify your website. It's why Amazon will always have a tangerine/orange feel to it, Youtube - Red, Best Buy - Blue and Yellow, etc. But it's important only BEFORE your website takes off. If you have a hideously colored site that puts off users and your traffic teeters on collapse then it's probably not a problem to change the color scheme and give the site a new feel.
I used to work on a website that had one particular animal as its logo for years upon years. It had it's own "personality" if you will. It changed outfits during holidays and even had it's own sayings. It was decided that the website needed a new fresh look due to lowering traffic, mainly seasonal as the website saw decline the same time each year. A new animal was brought in to replace it. No sayings, no style, no anything. It wasn't even the full animal, but more like an outline of an animal. It felt like a 100% different website. The more established the website the more difficult it becomes to make serious design choices.
My Current Redesign
I recently started once again on this journey that is the redesign, and with lessons learned this time around, I'm attempting to reduce the amount of wasted effort to a minimum. I would normally start by firing up the old IDE and opening the project and creating a new MasterPage or Layout and fiddling around with moving controls around. This time around, no IDE required. I currently keep track of my design ideas using Google Drive. I have 3 laptops which are used at different times for different reasons, and it's nice to have all my design drawings in one place easily accessible.
My current design
In version 2.0 of my website I'm attempting to resolve issues I found with user activity on the website, mainly that there were very few things that users could do on the site. News is still top, but user interactions will be more exposed to each other. While it looks like very few simple changes, well, it's because it is. It isn't a visually drastic change. I've combined elements into more succinct modules, removed areas that users didn't find any use for and simplified the way that communication takes place on the site.
While redesigns can be beneficial for a website, it mainly depends on the reasons for it. Simply changing colors to spruce things up probably won't effect your new traffic or your current traffics engagement. After you determine the "why" then the "how" should take up the largest amount of time. Adding/removing elements can be both a plus and negative without tracking the right metrics from your active users. So "why", "how", "track", "implement". It's definitely a much better approach than "currently blue, next will be fuchsia".