Aaron Schmidt’s new column at Library Journal offers a twist on convening the “Web Site Redesign Committee” I chaired for 3 years at SJCPL:
Website redesign projects take a long time, often more than a year. During that time, a lack of visible progress can lower staff morale and leave users with a stagnant, unimproved site for months at a time. Likewise, maintaining a current site and building a new one divides efforts. By contrast, small iterative changes can boost staff morale with frequent, demonstrable (if small) victories. Think of it this way: if you make a dozen modest changes—one a month for a year—you could easily end up with a site that’s better by leaps and bounds than what you’d be able to design from scratch in the same interval.
Now think of it from the user’s perspective: imagine getting in your car and finding the steering wheel has been moved to the back seat and over to the opposite side of the car. Moreover, the accelerator and brake pedals have been reversed. You’d certainly be confused, and the car would be difficult to operate, to say the least. Website redesign projects, even if they result in a technically improved website, are likely to affect adversely the heaviest users of your site. Consider the inevitable outcry that follows any change to the Facebook interface. Momentum plays a big part in usability, and people adapt to designs even if they’re less than ideal. Forcing them into an entirely new environment is jarring no matter how friendly the result. Fortunately, small iterative change spreads out the cognitive load required to learn new things on a site.