In February, Ad Age launched the most ambitious redesign in its history.
Less than nine months year prior, it seemed an insurmountable prospect with a slim time frame: every AdAge.com template would become responsive (so long m.adage.com!), our homepage would be ripped up and built anew; our article templates would become a clean and clear as an Alpine spring; our navigation would be pared down dramatically; we would be introducing a new tiered membership model … oh, and we were to perform the same magic on our sister site, Creativity too.
In the end, we got 95% of it out the door for launch. It was an awesome achievement, and the results speak for themselves: we have a far better product, and it performs better on nearly every metric. Among other things, bounce rates are down on articles and the homepage; users are having an easier time finding major landing pages and finding stories on them to read; and users are having an easier time finding what they want on search results pages.
But at a time when Ad Age and everyone else has become accustomed to continually testing incremental changes, it’s clear that this type of all-at-once, wholesale redesign requires some enormous leaps of faith. We had voluminous data on how users used the old site, and lots of ideas about how to improve the experience, but there was no way to test out ideas: you just had to pick one and see what happened months later!
This is obviously the most significant drawback for this type of project, and not every organization would tackle it like we did, but it’s worth pointing out two major strengths of this approach:
You need to spend a lot more time contemplating and defending your assumptions. If there’s a lot riding on big decisions you’re making during the planning process, and you’re not going to get a chance to fix them for a long time, you’re forced to examine them in a deeper way, probe their weaknesses, and figure out the most effective way to bring others to your side. For everyone, but product managers especially, this situation offers some of the best learning experiences you’re going to find in the skills you need every day.
For well-established products and organizations, a wholesale redesign is a great process for rethinking a whole canon of accepted wisdom. It takes a lot of concerted effort and creativity among a lot of different people in different departments to pull off a major redesign, and being able to get a lot of different people together to devise new holistic strategies is a huge opportunity, even if it’s just a way to change mindsets.
For us, one of these big changes was our “product cards.” In the redesign, we wanted to reduce UX clutter by removing our “right rail” sitewide, removing what had once been a once prime piece of real estate for different departments. To serve this same purpose, and serve it better, we created a system of promotional locations that were closely tied into the content, both visually and contextually. Ripping up our site templates and starting over again gave us the breathing room to conceive and tackle an idea like this and build consensus around it.
We’re becoming more iterative and nimble every day here, and I’m not sure what the process will look like when we tackle a giant overhaul like this next time. But I do know that the experience and planning processes that came about during this project will be an important part of it.