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.