Refine, don’t re-design I’m sure this saying has been said. I’m sure I read it in Steve Krug’s seminal UX how-to guide Don’t Make Me Think. I’ll be damned if I can find it to block quote with any certainty.
Wherever I heard it, it stayed with me. Unsurprisingly, as this motto has been with me through my drink and drug addled 20’s it’s origin story is mostly lost and certainly confused. But throughout my offline DM days and into my digital CRO days I’ve always thought it to be a truism not often repeated. a K.I.S.S rule for the CRO’ers and UX’ers.
From a users perspective
Users flipping hate change. You ever been on the Internet when Facebook changes it’s layout and everyone goes on it to cry about it like Zuck’s ceremonially sacrificing the last unicorn? It’s hell. For a few days, then they forget about it. Most users will learn to get around the new layout, learn how to do their old tricks the new way and ignore anything new or gets in the way of them repeatedly Liking things.
Facebook is one of those exceptions to the rule though. They have tremendous lock-in with near ubiquitous use. I may not tend to use Facebook myself, I do my shouting into the void via Twitter, but I still have an account.
Does your site have this tremendous lock-in value? Congrats, you probably run something that can be loosely defined as a social network. I’d class email client in here. Anything that keeps users connected to other users has this value as we tend to prize keeping touch and we tend to have routes of communication. No, it’s far more likely that you have a website and owners of a website should make large changes strategically and fully backed by insight.
I have a website why should I refine it based on UX rather than just redesign it with all my grand ideas?
Apart from the fact they are probably shit from your active audiences perspective? If your site has any frequently recurring users your site no longer belongs to you. You have an unspoken partnership with your users and if they don’t like your decisions they will go elsewhere and they will forget about you very, very, quickly.
Large changes that haven’t been conversion or user tested invariably lead to issues. The main one being you usually see less of whatever key metric you judge your site by. The problem is what are the issues that caused said drop off? With large scale changes it’s impossible to tell. Least of all because any form of visual refresh causes some cognitive dissonance for users, let alone changes which include page architecture changes. Which they ALL do. There is nothing more heart breaking than putting in all the effort of a refresh and seeing conversions plummet.
People don’t want to do this though. It’s the longer route, it needs more rigor and, bottom line, to do properly it would cost more. But even costing more should be caveated within the short term as a site that has been tested to perform better will always be generating more conversions.
For me I would run a series of AB tests on any wireframed changes to page layout on an existing layout, measure results and repeat a few times. THEN apply new visual styles, where possible without presenting branding conflicts, and test again. Positive results equal a “progress onwards with testing other aspects of site” card otherwise back to testing layouts.
I can see that frustration could creep in with a cycle of constant testing and repeating but for me, I always think for 90% of business this their front of house, their store. If this was my store I would be investing maximum resources, time and care to ensure users are enjoying using my site as easily as possible.