Thoughts on Monthly (Mini) Redesigns

It all started with a harmless idea. What if I made a mini-redesign, every month, to co-incide with the release of an installment of themed pictures? Maybe that would garner some attention to the installments section at the heart of Noscope.

By mini-redesign, I mean adjust backgrounds, colours and possibly layout to quickly update the look. So far I’ve done no less than three of these mini-redesigns (they’re all available in the preferences section), and now I’m starting to think it wasn’t such a good idea in the first place.

It’s not so much the look / design of these alternate styles that cause the problems. It’s the fact that the biggest challenge for anyone designing for the web is to make clear to the viewer: where one is, why one is there, what’s been seen already and what remains to be seen.

Now a set of new clothes doesn’t necessarily make a completely new person, but web-users are fleeting and impatient and if confused, they can always surf right past you to Digg. Like all human beings, they fear change, even if it’s just a small change.

Think of any re-branding you’ve seen in a company. Adobe acquires Macromedia. Quark get’s a new logo (again). These efforts are always accompanied by a huge campaign elaborating and explaining all aspect of the transition. Essentially they’re saying “don’t be afraid, we’re still pretty much the same, love us”.

As a weblogger who cares, you should approach a redesign in the same way. Warn your users a redesign is forthcoming. Don’t do a “live redesign”. Once the day arrives, explain, elaborate and in big bold letters say “this is still home, don’t be afraid, keep spending your time here”.

Alternatively you could not do a redesign, and simply improve on what you have. Make tiny changes, structural changes, navigational changes… changes that users might not notice right away, changes that when noticed, will feel like “improvements to what’s there”.

The urge to throw out the old and bring in the new can be great. When it happens, you have to ask yourself: do I care? Personally, I thought I didn’t.

10 thoughts on “Thoughts on Monthly (Mini) Redesigns”

  1. Jonas Rabbe says:

    I must admit I love the freshness. The overall design is still in place, and it gives something new to look at. I am the type of person who gets bored with the status quo in less than 5 minutes. I spend my life continually waiting for something new and fresh. I’m glad you’ve dared to do this.

    On the subject of redesigns, Chris’ recent changes with canvas has got me totally stoked for trying something completely different for my own site, “unfortunately” my own site is so far down the priority list that it is only popping up on the horizon by now. Just gives me more opportunites to work out my ideas.

  2. George says:

    FWIW, I really love the mini-redesigns (especially February’s) and felt that the site was still very strongly and clearly Noscope/yours when I came back. And you definitely achieved your goal of featuring your installments in a much more prominent way.

  3. khaled says:

    I’m going to agree with George here. That’s what made it special and cool. To see what you’re getting up to. It’s a really unique way of showing your installments that’s for sure.

    Most people (including myself) have a main image that’s a rectangle and thumbnails on the side, or whatever. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just that in that landscape you stand pretty tall and pretty high. The question of course is whether or not you feel it’s actually worth the effort that you’re putting into it all. I can’t really answer that, but I can say that I really like them and it’s always a good source of colour inspiration :).

  4. Joen says:

    Jonas Rabbe said:

    On the subject of redesigns, Chris? recent changes with canvas has got me totally stoked for trying something completely different for my own site, ?unfortunately? my own site is so far down the priority list that it is only popping up on the horizon by now. Just gives me more opportunites to work out my ideas.

    I agree, Chris did a really good job on that. I don’t think he realizes that himself. Looking forwards to seeing your eventual revamp!

    George said:

    FWIW, I really love the mini-redesigns (especially February?s) and felt that the site was still very strongly and clearly Noscope/yours when I came back. And you definitely achieved your goal of featuring your installments in a much more prominent way.

    khaled said:

    I?m going to agree with George here. That?s what made it special and cool. To see what you?re getting up to. It?s a really unique way of showing your installments that?s for sure.

    Jonas Rabbe said:

    I must admit I love the freshness. The overall design is still in place, and it gives something new to look at. I am the type of person who gets bored with the status quo in less than 5 minutes. I spend my life continually waiting for something new and fresh. I?m glad you?ve dared to do this.

    Well this sort of changes things.

    First of all, thanks, I appreciate it.

    Secondly, I’m glad my experiments here haven’t left you all confused. The fact is, I like it a lot.

    Still, I stand by the gist of what I said here; redesigning is a bump in the road for end users, and should be approached differently the way I’ve done it.

    I’m thinking the lack of confusion here might be because you are all part of my “core audience”, you’re all power users, and possibly you could return to the “safety of a feed-reader”… What if it was a less patient viewer?

    khaled said:

    Most people (including myself) have a main image that?s a rectangle and thumbnails on the side, or whatever. Nothing wrong with that, it?s just that in that landscape you stand pretty tall and pretty high. The question of course is whether or not you feel it?s actually worth the effort that you?re putting into it all. I can?t really answer that, but I can say that I really like them and it?s always a good source of colour inspiration :).

    Thanks.

    Oh it’s worth it, trust me. Furthermore, the installments were never really about you (you meaning all potential viewers). The initial purpose was to get better, teach myself and get some much-needed routine. Then it became comfortable, and an outlet. Now it’s a refuge from corporate country.

    As for the effort of the mini-redesign, it really is no more than that. I change the background image, the colors, it’s really quickly done.

  5. Your point does indeed still stand; the site will lose the immediate recognition factor with normal users. I do think however that you can give them a tad more credit, as they’ll probably skip to the content anyway. It’s not conclusive evidence, but I have noticed that the clickthroughs from the horizontal css article have stayed pretty much the same throughout these past months – meaning that the weight users give to the content on a page should stay pretty much the same. Not where I’m going with this, but I do believe the (changed) ‘branding/feeling’ of a site has less influence on the responsiveness to the content than you might think.

    As far as coolness goes – boy oh boy have they been good, of high quality, imaginative and inspirational in the way that makes you think instead of making you copy. Which is a good thing.

    So many thanks for these Monthly Mini Meanderings of style.

  6. Jonas Rabbe says:

    Also, you have the very recognisable logo and header type, which you’ve kept quite consistent in all the mini-designs. As long as you have the prancing horse on the bonnet it’s still a Ferrari, no matter what the color.

  7. Chris says:

    Terribly late to the party but I’ve had the link to this post on my desktop for weeks cause I knew I wanted to say something.

    As long as you have the prancing horse on the bonnet it?s still a Ferrari, no matter what the color.

    Agreed. It’s still Noscope. It’s not like you change the colors and put up some faeries and suddenly I’m befuzzled. The URL remains the same as does the logo. Also, there’s a feel to what you do. I can tell without checking when I’m reading Joen or Michael or whoever I happen to be reading. There’s a discernible fingerprint to the flow of the post.

    As for scaring off new people? They wouldn’t know you just changed the design from a month ago. And, they’ll figure it out eventually. I don’t necessarily come her for the ambience. I come for the coffee.

    Taking the caf? metaphor a little further. I like the people in the place. The coffee is warm and not terribly close in taste to sewer water. If the proprietor moves the couch and changes a poster I don’t suddenly lose contact with my place in the fabric of space time.

    So, do what you want. I think it’s pretty cool.

    On a totally side-related note:

    Jonas:

    On the subject of redesigns, Chris? recent changes with canvas has got me totally stoked for trying something completely different for my own site,

    Joen:

    I agree, Chris did a really good job on that. I don?t think he realizes that himself.

    You’re gonna make me self-concious.

  8. If the proprietor moves the couch and changes a poster I don?t suddenly lose contact with my place in the fabric of space time.

    Sure, but it’ll throw off your flux-capacitator 😉

  9. Ricardo says:

    Joen,

    are you going to do a complete wordpress theme someday? I think it would be a great idea…

    Maybe could be based on your favourite installment – which is difficult to choose only one, or the opposite: cloudy clean, and focused on texts and daily photography.

    thanks

  10. Joen says:

    Ricardo,

    I’m way ahead of you.

    Fauna Theme is based on my previous design, and my Intermezzo installment. Beta 5 is ALMOST there, and after that it’s only RC and Final remaining.

Comments are closed.