So what exactly goes into a website redesign? It’s unfortunately not as easy as waving a magic wand and watching all your problems vanish. A complete redesign takes time, and there’s a significant amount of testing that is needed to ensure everything works properly.
To help you get a better idea of what your website redesign will entail, this chapter will explain each step in the process, why it is done, and how it benefits the finished product.
A kickoff meeting is usually held to discuss the goals of the redesign, what the new site should look like, and any other pertinent information that your designers or agency should know before starting their work. This initial meeting ensures everyone is on the same page, and that the team knows what the redesign should look like or what is expected of them.
This kickoff meeting may involve a question and answer session, examination of analytics data or customer feedback, a review of other websites that have desired components, an explanation of desired features, and so on. At the end of the meeting, the designers should have some ideas about the kind of work they will perform, which will help lead to the next step.
Sketches or Rough Mockups Created
Next, the design team or company you are working with will typically discuss their findings and ideas internally. From this they may initially produce some rough sketches of the design’s functionality or appearance. These sketches or wireframes will serve as the groundwork for more detailed designs, or mockups.
Mockups typically look very much like the finished product of a redesign. Although not functional, mockups usually directly lead to the visual development of the site design. At this stage, a number of people may work together to produce the mockups, including user experience (UX), graphic designers, marketers, and so on.
Note that some web design companies may only present one mockup, while others may present several. Giving the client or site owner options may help them narrow down what specific functions or features they do and don’t like.
After the mockups are finished, they will be presented to the decision makers. There may be significant revisions to the mockups, or they may be accepted as-is. Once the mockups are presented, reviewed, and modified, they will be approved for development.
Creation of a “Staging Website”
At this point, a demo, test, or “staging” website will be created. This site will essentially be a duplicate of your existing website, but will be at a different URL that is inaccessible to anyone without the correct credentials.
This staging website will be used to gradually implement, change, and test the redesign. By duplicating your existing site, this will ensure that the new design works properly with your CMS. Note that some site owners choose to change their CMS during the redesign process, which we’ll cover in chapter 6. In this case, the staging server has a dual purpose: to test the design and the new CMS.
At the beginning of the design implementation, only a few people may have access to the staging site. Agencies typically give their customers access once the redesign is “stable,” or at least close to being finished. If you are doing the redesign in-house, you will likely have access the entire time.
New Design is Built
The redesign build process may only take a few days, or it may take several weeks or even months. The length of time needed to perform the redesign depends on a number of factors, but usually website size and complexity plays a part. A large ecommerce store with a thousand products will take much longer to redesign and test than a four page site for a local store.
Testing is Performed
Once the new design is completed, testing will begin. Again, this may only take a few days, but design testing can last a week or two, especially if there are a lot of factors to review.
During the testing process, as many employees as possible should access the staging server and review the new design. This will not only allow anyone who will be working on the site to become accommodated with it, but also give your team a chance to find bugs or other desired changes.
You should never skip the testing step. Without thorough testing, you may never find critical bugs that cause your new design to display improperly in certain browsers, or that the new call to action buttons on your pages aren’t functional. Little things will be missed, no matter how much attention to detail your designers have, so do what you can to contribute to extensive testing of your site.
Once the testing phase is completed, you’ll be ready to launch!
Optional Step: Soft Launch
In some circumstances—for example, if the site being redesigned is very large or popular—there will be a redesign “soft launch.” This usually involves the new design being rolled out, but not announced, so that it can monitored under normal conditions. This soft launch may take anywhere from a few hours to a week or two, and gives the team time to identify and resolve issues without unnecessary attention being drawn to them.
If your website doesn’t have an enormous amount of traffic, you can probably skip the soft launch step. However, if your brand’s website is very popular (and the announcement of a redesign will result in thousands of extra visits), you may want to utilize a soft launch to give your team a chance to both experience the “live” website and continue to resolve issues. Sometimes the only way to identify bugs is by rolling out your product, and a soft launch is a great way to do that.
New Design Launches!
On the day of launch, your completed website design will be moved from the staging server to your live, or production, server. If you are changing your CMS, you may take a different route, switching servers completely so that your test site is now the live one.
Once your new design has launched, you will likely spend the first few weeks continuing to identify and correct small bugs or issues, improve the design, and answer customers from customers or employees. Even a thoroughly tested site will still have some small bugs, so be prepared to act on them quickly.
This, in a nutshell, is how the website redesign process usually goes. Although there may be some variants or unexpected pauses, you can use these steps as the roadmap for the process.
Now that we’ve explored what a redesign usually looks like, let’s look at the two ways you may choose to change the way your site looks and feels: by redesigning on the same CMS, or by switching to a brand new one.