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News - Approaching a Redesign

This entry looks at how to approach redesigning a website, and in particular looks at research and analysis during the initial stages.

It is a given that with a large task you must break it up in to smaller, more manageable, tasks. This not only helps you focus, it also makes the whole task feel more achievable.

Research & Analysis

Tools needed: Google Analytics, Pen & Paper, and Patience.

This is arguably the most important stage of the entire redesign process. A small mistake here can have huge repercussions further down the line. Take shortcuts or rush, and you could be blindly heading very far in the wrong direction. This is the time where you need to answer some broad questions and be able to back it up with data. For me, Google Analytics seems like the obvious choice to be able to sift through and find the useful information you need. If you don't have this installed on the website you're redesigning then please stop and go install it before you go any further. The more data you have access to, the better.

The following questions are by no means extensive, but are rather there to prompt you to think further about the sorts of routes you should be taking early on in the redesign process. I prefer to use pen and paper at this stage, purely for the reason that I can easily sketch out user journeys and annotate my findings quickly.

1. Useful Questions

What do people come to the website for?

You need to take a step back here and think of the ultimate goal of the website. When people hit the website, what are they expecting to see and be able to do quickly and easily? If it is e-commerce site, then they are coming to shop and want to buy items with ease. If it is a radio station website they, more often than not, want to listen to your live stream above all else. If it sounds like I'm stating the obvious - I am, but this is what you need to constantly be doing to keep you focused.

Take the answer to this question and make sure it is on every document that you're going to use throughout this whole process - the last thing you want to do is lose sight of this answer.

Can they easily find what they are looking for?

We now know what people are coming to the website for, but once here, can they find what they want? To quantify this you'll want to head in to your Google Analytics control panel and begin to delve in to the user's behaviour. One very useful panel to take a good look at is Behaviour Flow. This allows you to look at the direction of user traffic, and the percentages of through traffic and drop-offs. Make note of the most common user flow. Is this where you'd expect the user to go? Is this the journey you want the user to take? If the answer to either of these is yes, then you're already doing well. If the answer is no, then start to think about how you can mould and concentrate your user flow to places you want them to go.

Is the most popular page what you want it to be?

Once you've got a better idea about whether the user can find what they're looking for easily, there are further considerations to be made. Be careful here, the direction you want the user to take and the direction they are actually taking may be very different. Use your initiative, decide whether your information architecture should be reimagined to benefit the user's most common flow. After all, making the user journey as natural and fluent as possible is one step towards producing a usable design.

Do the most common journeys have any strange paths?

Some of your user's behaviour flows may surprise you. One example I saw recently was users kept coming back to the homepage of a site, when there was clear navigation to guide them towards other sections once they'd left the homepage. You could find that users are landing on Page A, moving to Page B , and then back to Page A. You want them to move on to Page C where all the other useful information is but they keep going back to Page A to find their way around. User's don't always act in predictable ways, and you need to spend some time working out why. Perhaps your navigation isn't clear, or perhaps the user couldn't find their way to Page C, without first going back to Page A.

My advice would be to define your ideal user flow. Which pages should the users visit in your priority order? Make a decision, and then make it as easy as possible. Use large call to actions in the right places, and use a clear and descriptive navigation.

These analytical questions soon start to form themselves as you begin to think deeper about the user's behaviour and movements. As you think of meaningful questions that fit your situation then make sure you make note of them, as they're likely to become useful in the future.

2. High-level Individual Page Analysis

After you've got a detailed idea of your user's behaviour and flow on a broad scale, it is then time to take a closer, more fine-tuned, look at specific pages.

Once inside Google Analytics, head in to the Behavior section and then to In-Page Analytics to get a better idea of how your users interact with each individual page. A useful Chrome Extension, from Google themselves, will make this process much easier. Use this extension to view statistics overlaid on your pages and see what users are interacting with, and just as important, what they're not interacting with.

See the section you have towards the bottom of your homepage, with the large call to action? If that only has <5% click-through rate, then seriously consider either removing it or increase its prominence (if that's the goal you've established for this section).

3. Information Architecture

Now you've got a good idea of the common user flows and a detailed understanding of the most common user interactions on your pages, you can begin to think about potentially remoulding how your information is laid out. Be this on a whole site level, or on an individual page level.

I'd recommend taking a look at Usability.gov, and in particular their Information Architecture section for an introduction to this subject.

Sketch out your new informed information architecture with confidence, knowing that you've analysed your pages and even specific sections. This will give you a good start on wireframing and will allow for you to prioritise content and make the user journey as easy as possible.

Summary

Thorough research and analysis is crucial. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do people come to the website for?
  • Can they find what they want?
  • Is your most popular page correct?
  • Do the most common journeys have any strange paths?
  • How can we guide users to the right areas in our priority order?
  • Which parts of each page are users interacting with, and not interacting with?
  • How can we alter our information architecture to drive users to the correct places? What information can we remove?

This list is by no means extensive and should only serve as a starting point when approaching a redesign. I'd be interested to hear about the processes you use when initially approaching a redesign.