It's probably impossible to redesign a website without ruffling a few feathers. But here are a few ways to build consensus and keep the uproar to a minimum.

If you’re thinking about redesigning your website, you’re about to piss someone off.

It’s too soon to say who or how, but it’ll happen.

You’ll probably change the content on your site and how it’s created. You’ll almost certainly change the structure of your site along with its design. You may bring in a new content management system, and that means re-training. You’ll create an entirely new experience for site users. 

Every one of those things will mean that everyone who interacts with your site will have to adapt to fairly significant changes. There are bound to be people within your community who aren’t happy, and they’re going to let you know. Believe me: you will know.

You can’t avoid this, but here are eight ways that you can minimize the fuss.

  1. Listen to your community: widely and early. Inviting various constituents to weigh in on the project is obviously an important step in the creation of a new site. You won’t be able to act on every suggestion, but you’ll have everyone at the table. Contributors and users will begin to perceive the redesign as something that you’re doing with them, not to them.
  2. Share the numbers. Hopefully you’ll be making data-driven decisions throughout the redesign process. If you know that 60% of your site visitors never make it off the homepage or that only 20% of online applications are being completed, I think it’s smart to share that with your internal community. You’re asking for their support, so tell them why.
  3. State your priorities. One of the things that often comes out of a redesign is a clarification of priorities. If you’re a museum, your site can drive visits and support development, but you’re probably going to lean more heavily on one than the other. It’s only fair to give internal teams a sense of where the bulk of the attention will fall.
  4. Translation, please. You know what CMS, CSS, and CRM stand for, what a breakpoint is, and the difference between organic and paid search marketing. That doesn’t mean your colleagues know. Nor does it guarantee that they’ll stop you and ask. Make sure you clearly explain jargon as you go. Again: team effort. Everyone should understand the process. (This is also just good manners.)
  5. Put your expert out front. There are people on your team who are more likely to listen to our team. Or any other third party that you bring into the project. As many times as you’ve told them that responsive design needs to happen immediately, they’re going to hear it differently coming from an outside expert. It’s not fair, but it’s true.
  6. Explain your rationale. If you decide to take your site in a significantly different direction from a design standpoint, don't just throw a radical new design over the wall and hope for the best. You’ve made thoughtful decisions: explain them. Bring your community on the journey that you’ve taken. It’s not a democracy, but a little time spent building consensus will go a long way.
  7. Remember that everyone has a job to do. Every person you work with is mindful of the greater good. They want the best for your school or your museum or your lobster farm. But each person also has an individual job to do, and they all want to look good. Explain how the changes to the website will help them specifically. Make it personal.
  8. If all else fails, have a thick skin. There’s never been a website in the history of the web that brings unparalleled joy to every single person who uses it, and yours won't be the first. But remember that a lot of the people you’ll hear from wouldn’t have been happy with any change, and probably aren’t in your target audience set anyway. (That goes for external reviewers, too, by the way.) Have confidence in the decisions you’ve made and, if you can, keep using metrics to back them up.

You can create a safe, comfortable site, and you’ll probably ruffle fewer feathers. We think it’s a lot more interesting to create something that tackles your objectives boldly and with style. Managing the ruffled feathers may require extra care and attention on your part, but it’s worth it.

Share on Twitter or Facebook Published June 2nd 2014