Focus on goals, budget, and impact. Talking to your users to understand their goals and the usability of your product is the best way to prioritize decisions.

3 Questions to Help Decide If You Should Redesign or Start Fresh

February 2, 2012

When we begin a new project by doing a heuristics review of a client’s software or website, we often wonder if we’ll have to start from scratch. Should we try to maintain some semblance of the prior design and architecture or should we wipe the slate clean and rebuild?

The dilemma is a minefield that goes beyond the issue of the product design. It encompasses past investment choices, technology constraints and degree of improvement possible with a new design. It also should consider short-term business risk that may result from disrupting a user base.

Here are three key questions to consider when evaluating a project:

  1. Can you achieve business goals without a complete redesign?
  2. What are the budget and timeline?
  3. What will be the impact of changes?

A few more thoughts about how to consider these questions:

Can you achieve business goals without a complete redesign?

Always start by determining what the business goals are for the product and how the users interact with the product to meet those business goals. Are there changes that can make the current design framework achieve those business goals? In one instance, a product could be made more useable by reorganizing the information architecture without substantial changes to the content. In another case, it could be that changes to the navigation would help users complete business processes the product is meant to support.

We recently had a healthcare client that took this question to heart. The business leadership was crystal clear about the goals for the tool, who would use it and how – and yet the software met none of those needs. The design wasn’t really at fault. It was the entire product that didn’t do what the user needed it to do to meet the business objectives.  In that case, a fresh start was inevitable.

What are the budget and timeline?

If a project has a very limited budget, you may want to make feasible improvements to an existing product despite realizing the system issues merit a full overhaul in the future. Consider what stage of the timeline you are in. If the project is just kicking off with plenty of time to iterate through discovery, design and validation, go for it! On the other hand, if it’s crunch time, you may choose to attack the quick fixes that will enhance the user experience while keeping the project on track.

What will be the impact of changes?

A good user experience professional will help their business and technology partners understand the trade-offs between a new design and a revamp of an existing design. With a completely new design, the long-term payoff may be greater, but it could be offset somewhat by a need for very controlled communications and launch plans. You want to avoid alienating long-time users and super users of a product who’ve mastered the idiosyncrasies of a difficult design.

Users may be so entrenched that the new design should retain some characteristics that are out-of-date or inconsistent with common interaction design practices to ensure it remains familiar. If there is functionality that users love, it is better to know that and minimize the impact to the overall design than have a messy revolt on your hands when you roll-out the “new and improved” user interface.

Of course, these considerations all tie back to the people that can make the decisions much clearer and easier for you: Users. Talking to your users to understand their goals and the usability of your product is the best way to discover just how far you need to go to make your product work.