Change and Risk

With change comes risk. Simple enough, except that failing to change can be a bigger risk as your business stagnates, gets overtaken, is left in the dust by your competitors. So perhaps it should be taken as a given that a company should be somewhat introspective. Regularly evaluating the performance of individuals and the organization and striving to be better than ever before at whatever it is you do.

Change happens very quickly on the Web. Even the best websites become outdated very quickly as new and better technologies and best practices are developed. What was great in 2002 is often regarded as tired or dated in 2005. This can be unsettling to a company that invested heavily in a site only to find that it must be thrown out just a few short years later. To this designers and developers who are used to the fast paced nature of the Web generally only shrug and say “deal with it”.

Reducing the Shock

One way to mitigate the shock that comes with a massive redesign is to change gradually in bits and pieces. The key to doing this is to have a comprehensive plan for change that can be implemented gradually rather than all at once. Of course, sometimes this cannot be done for one reason or another, but many gradual changes can add up to a wholesale redesign over the course of weeks or months.

This means that a business can manage the scope of the changes, alter plans to respond to feedback, and manage the cost of the project by implementing core features first and cutting back on the bells and whistles later if needed. If you’ve heard developers talk about “Extreme Programming” and wondered if that meant they did it while jumping out of planes and drinking Mountain Dew, this is really what they were talking about. For a new website this means launching the site quickly and adding to it as you go. For a redesign this means making lots of small to medium sized changes that add up over time.

You’ve Got to Keep ‘Em Separated

Talk with your designer or developer about how they are separating the parts of the web site they are building. Good programmers and designers these days spend a lot of time on concepts like the separation of content, style, and functionality on websites. What this means is that your text and meaningful images (content) are kept separate from the page layout, color, and decorative images, which is separate from and scripts or code that might be a part of the site. The reason being that you can change each part independently with less effort (and thus cost) as needed. If your designer is on top of these things they should be able to use Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS, to modify things like the color the text in a paragraph or a visited link on every page in your site rather easily.

It’s not likely that you’ll understand most of what they say when you bring this up unless you’ve hired a rather unusually clear spoken developer (most geeks are bad at this) or you are unusually well versed in the web jargon they start throwing at you. However, they should be able to walk you through the basics of what they are doing in this area and reassure you that something is being done to separate content from style or functionality on the site and it is generally correct.

Biting the Bullet

In the event that you must do a complete redesign of your site and a gradual change is not possible (be sure it has been explained why a gradual change is not a good option) or ill advised, you should suck it up and go into the redesign with some enthusiasm and energy. You have an opportunity to start fresh. Think of all the little things about your old site that you wished you could change and look at this as a chance to really wow your visitors with a sudden, dramatic change. Then talk to your developer or designer about how you can apply the same Extreme Programming principles to the launch of the brand new site.

You may want to warn your visitors before the change and then replace your old site with a simple version of the new one. Then you can gradually build up the new site, rolling out new features and content with great fanfare. Make your constant additions and improvements part of your marketing. Instead of apologizing for what is not there yet, focus on what is and celebrate each addition to your shiny new website.

Have questions or thoughts about updating or redesigning outdated websites? We’d like to hear them, feel free to add a comment to ask a question or share your stories or advice.

Kevin Hall
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