Jakob Nielsen has a great new article up on his website – Fresh vs. Familiar: How Aggressively to Redesign. For those of you who may not know Jakob, he is considered one of the world’s foremost web experts, particularly in the area of usability. I’ll include an extended excerpt from that post here – it’s worth the read:
Why Insiders Want Fresh Design
You stare at the thing all day, years on end. Of course you think the UI looks tired. Count the number of “exposure hours” you’ve had to your own design. If you’ve worked on the same design team for a few years, those hours likely reach into the thousands. In contrast, your typical user has probably spent only a few hours looking at your design over the last few years. Remember Jakob’s Law of the Internet user experience: users spend most of their time on other sites. People usually spend no more than 2–3 minutes on a website, so even if they visit your site daily, they’d run up only 30 exposure hours over 2 years. More commonly, even loyal customers will spend less than 5 hours on your site each year. With so little time spent looking at the design, customers won’t tire of it anytime soon.
Why Users Want Familiar Design
The most important reason? Users don’t care about design for its own sake; they just want to get things done and get out. Normal people don’t love sitting at their computers. They’d rather watch football, walk the dog — just about anything else. Using a computer probably rates above taking out the trash, though. When people are visiting websites or using applications, they don’t spend their time analyzing or admiring the design. They focus their attention on the task, the content, and their own data or documents. Thus, people love a design when they know the features and can immediately locate the ones they need. That is, they love a familiar design.
So, should you redesign your website? The short answer – Not necessarily.
Far too many organizations blame their ineffective websites on the fact that they need to redesign. It usually goes something like this – “Oh, don’t judge our website too harshly, it’s 3 years old and terrible – we’re working on a redesign.” The problem with the “oh we need a redesign” statement is that it assumes that websites are static – that they are “born on” a specific date, and pretty much stay the same until the next redesign. But websites are NOT static – they are dynamic. They should be evolving and improving constantly.
The real work of a website isn’t in designing it and writing the initial content – the real work begins the day you launch. That’s why we begin every website project with a Discovery Phase. Part of this process is to understand the true issues with a website against the stated goals of the organization, and to provide our expert recommendations on how to address the issues. We do not recommend redesigns to every organization for the very reasons Jakob outlines above – many times the most effective thing we can do is to work within the existing website design to create compelling content, improve usability, information architecture, etc.