Thursday, 11 September 2008

How to redesign your website

We've just relaunched iJump's new site, which has been a pretty exhausting exercise, but well worth it.

While we haven't been perfect in our execution, there are some lessons in the process I thought it worth posting here:

  1. Work with a designer who has vision and is genuinely creative. We had a pretty open brief, but we did make sure we knew what the brief was about. The good thing is, it's not just a website redesign, it's an entire rebranding. We started iJump on pure imagination and little else, so this is the first time we've involved a professional, highly creative designer.
  2. Rapidly prototype, rapidly iterate. Just like Ideo does with products, move fast and loose when you're introducing new things. Also, keep it simple. Don't get lost in the details until you've figured out the core elements of your site. As you'll see from the new iJump site, it's a little bit simpler than our old one, which had plenty of features but a lack of focus.
  3. Keep the same CMS if it's humanly possible. No-one fully understands how Google ranks your site, but the longer your pages are around, the more trustworthy they are to Google and other search engines. We managed to incorporate the design Joi did with our WordPress content management system, thanks to the genius that is Hamish Campbell. (And how did I meet Hamish? Through Twitter! Who says it's not useful.)
  4. Decide what your site helps people to do first of all. Then work out how to accomplish that. That's the great thing about working with a designer, and the weakness of working with templates. Templates were designed with someone else's goal in mind; sometimes there's an overlap with your needs, most times not.
  5. If you're working with separate designers and developers, like we were, keep the channels of communication open, and respect their time. That means carefully digesting what one party says, and bringing together key things to communicate to the other party. We kind of did this ... other times it got a bit hurried and it was really helpful to be able to chat with Joi and Hamish online.
  6. Make sure your designers/developers have a broad understanding of HTML and CSS and whatever programming language your site is in (in the case of WordPress, PHP). I don't know much about all of these, but I really appreciate a) Joi's designer Sam, who creates beautiful, clean HTML and CSS that looks just like the graphical mockup we were sent, and b) Hamish, who did some great detective work when we had some weird bugs in implementing the site. Open source software's weakness is that it can get pretty complicated. It helps to have someone who understands the underlying principles, not just a particular package.
  7. Write your copy iteratively. First, work out what you want each page to say. Then, where do you need to link within the site? Then, what is the big idea of the page? Is there a word or phrase that sums it up? Make sure that word is repeated a few times through the text, to make that page search engine friendly.
  8. Check all your links. This is hard, and can be really crazy if you have a wordpress plugin that automatically "fixes" some broken links. Problem solved, but we're still finding a few of those broken links.
  9. Get feedback regularly, and from a variety of people. Pay the most attention to the people who are in your target audience.

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