Gerry McGovern // New Thinking

Redesign out, continuous improvement in

April 24, 2011 -- Gerry McGovern

Big redesigns are a very dangerous strategy. Continuous improvement of your customers’ top tasks is much better.

When Gawker Media launched a big redesign in February 2011, its traffic halved. That can happen because even when you do good things, people don’t like change. It can take them a while to adapt to the new environment. So, assuming for a moment the Gawker redesign was a good thing, have things picked up again?

“Turns out, according to Gawker's public statistics, things are much, much worse than was originally reported,” The Atlantic Online states. “Yes, the redesign cut traffic in half almost instantly, but instead of coming back, even more readers left the site behind.”

Several years ago I wrote an article about the obsession many organizations have with website redesign. Over the years, for every successful redesign I’ve come across, I’ve come across 10 disasters. So why do organizations love redesign? Sometimes there are genuine reasons, for example if the old structure just isn’t working anymore. But generally redesigns are done for all the wrong reasons.

We redesign because redesigns are projects. Organizations love projects. It is often easier to find $100,000 for a project than to find $10,000 a year to continuously improve the website. Why? Because organizations love to measure and a project is very measurable. It has a budget, a beginning and (hopefully) an end. It is a classic example of managing what is easy to measure rather than managing what is right to measure.

Another reason organizations do redesigns is because they’re fun. Continuously improving a website is really boring work. All these seemingly trivial little changes; it feels like you’re just grinding things out.

Continuous improvement implies lots of testing and observation of customer behaviour. This clashes with the ever present myth of Clint Eastwood design. That lone-wolf genius who comes up with the magic. That design agency that is just so cool. Everyone wants to be Steve Jobs. Continuous improvement is simply uncool. And it will never win you a prestigious design award (believe me, if you do win one of those, you really know you’re messing up).

There are three central reasons why we should move to a continuous improvement of top tasks model of management. Firstly, the world is a very complex place. It is extraordinarily difficult to get everything right in one big design. Much better to try a little and test. Test a heading, test a link, test an image at one size, then another. Keep testing and learning and refining.

The second reason is because we can. Before the Web it was incredibly hard to measure how people reacted to content. The Web is an amazing laboratory of content where we can observe how people are behaving and reacting. That’s an amazing opportunity for a content professional. We should grab it with both hands.

The third reason is about your career. Web redesigns may be good projects but they rarely deliver value. Continuous improvement delivers real value. We can prove that making a small change can make a big difference. We can show that a focus on quality delivers. If you can link yourself to quality and value delivery, then that’s a really good career move.

Gawker's Traffic Numbers Are Worse Than Anyone Anticipated

Resist redesign