Eightyone Design Logo

When is it the right time to re-design your website?

After reading David Aireys blog post ‘Why are designers never 100% satisfied?’ we got thinking about our own online presence and whether it was still saying and doing what we wanted it to. The current version of the Eightyone Design website is now about 18 months old and I wonder whether it is time for a rethink.

The branding and visual style of the site is still in keeping with our offline branding (stationary, business cards, etc) so we are not thinking about re-branding, but a lot has changed over the last 18 months so when it is time for a website re-design?

When we designed and built the flash based Eightyone Design website, its purpose was to be a very simple, basic site that would showcase some of our portfolio. We wanted to keep it simple so opted to have four sections to the site:

  • Home Page – with a brief overview of who we were and what we did.
  • News Page – to feature small news stories.
  • Portfolio Page – a simple image viewer showcasing some of our portfolio.
  • Contact Us Page – for our contact details and a email contact form.

We chose to build the above sections into a small and simple flash based website so we were able to animate and add some depth to the simple content. The only exception was the news page which used php to pull an RSS feed onto a html page in order for google to better rank the content.

The Current Eightyone Design Flash Based Homepage

Then came the Search Engine Optimisaton. With the site being completely built using Flash, there was little to no content for Google and the other search engines to rank. We set about building some static HTML pages in order to provide some textual content and also to provide an alternative version of the site to be viewed if the user did not have the Flash player installed.

So this seemed to work OK and we started getting some good page ranking from Google. But now, 18 months on, we are starting to question our current website design.

Since the launch of the Eightyone Design website we have launched our own Graphic Design Blog which has been receiving some good traffic since switching to WordPress to power our content. The blog is allowing us to break out from the local area in which the majority of our clients are based and potentially expand our target market. I also wonder whether using a Flash based website is the most effective way to showcase our work. There is also the problem of Google v Flash. Also, the current design does not feature much information about Eightyone Design.

Our original thoughts for our online portfolio was that is should be more of a gallery than a website. However, this has caused us to only show visuals of our work without any description on the design process of the projects. In his article ‘Creating The Perfect Portfolio‘, Collis Ta’eed explains the importance of an explanation of a design project:

If you present your portfolio with explanations of what they are looking at, how the work solved the business needs of the client, and any other salient details, the viewer is much more likely to understand the value in your work. Remember that many leads won’

t have a design background, and may not fully appreciate the work or the effect of good design.

This would hint that our current site does not fully explain our services and how a potential client can benefit from them.

So now to my question, When is the right time to re-design your website? And to answer this I am asking for your help.

The Options

As far as we see it, there are currently three options open to us for redesigning the website. The first is to move the blog articles to the home page and make the site more of a blog site with our portfolio accessible through a navigational link. This would offer more content and keywords on the home page of our site and hopefully increase our page ranking for search engines. There are a few Graphic Designers sucessfully marketing themselves in this fashion (David Airey / Just Creative Design / Graphic Design Blog) so maybe this could be the way forward? However, our little blog is by no means as popular and as busy as the blogs I have mentioned (and the ones I haven’t) so would this be a bad idea to place emphasis on the blog rather than our portfolio? There also seems to be many of these sort of blog sites popping up and I wonder if it would cause us to ‘blend in with the crowd’?

The second option would be to use a magazine style WordPress template that would feature both portfolio items and blog articles on the home page. Themeplayground have posted a list of Magazine themes in their article ‘The Best WordPress Magazine Themes Available’. I particularly like the look of the Mimbo Theme and the Revolution Theme. Using a magazine would give greater prominence to our blog articles than our current design (which currently only features a link through to the blog) and would allow the user to decide what they wanted to see, portfolio examples, info about our company or blog entries. However, my one criticism of magazine style templates is they can be somewhat overwelming with no clear emphasis. I sometimes don’t know where I want to go first.

Mimbo Magazine WordPress template

The third option would be to redesign the site using html rather than flash. This would allow for greater search engine optimisation without changing the current priority of our portfolio over the blog. Again, there are many successful graphic designers using this format to great effect (Truly Ace DesignTracey Grady / Spoon Graphics). However, the one thing I do feel about our current flash based website design is it does look somewhat different to other sites and does carry through our branding very effectively.

So there is a fourth option. We could carry on using our existing design which seems to have ‘earned it’s keep’ over the past 18 months. We have found many new clients through our website so are we being overly critical of our little flash site? There are many graphic design agency’s using flash based content (Toast Concept / St Lukes / We are Collective) so should we carry on as we are?

Conclusion…sort of?

As with any graphic designers online presence, our website needs to showcase our portfolio in order to appeal to the widest range of clients as possible and I am unsure that the current design does this effectively. 

We are looking for thoughts on our current site design and format. What do you like about the site? What do you dislike? Do you think it appeals to potential clients? And also any ideas you have to improve the site.

We will be following this up with another post showing our initial ideas for the redesign based on your comments.

Posted by Steve

Share this: del.icio.us / Digg it / StumbleUpon / Tweet This / Share on Facebook

If you enjoyed this blog article you can subsribe to FREE updates from our graphic design blog by email or RSS

Posted on Sunday, August 3rd, 2008 at 2:01 pm
Posted In Branding, Featured Articles, Web Design | Tags: , ,

20 Responses to “When is it the right time to re-design your website?”

  • Toon says:

    WordPress is a great way to go, as you know I’ve just updated my portfolio site to wordpress not really for Search Engines as such but just for ease of updating.

    I was very nervous about taking the step as I’d never used wordpress not even for a blog site but once I got the hang of it, I’d advise any designer to give it a go and see if it works for you.

    I like some of the newspaper style themes here especially for photography sites etc.

    http://graphpaperpress.com/

    Some outstanding grid based portfolio themes.

    I really like the style of your site, nice clean layout and colors etc. My only change would be to try and use a larger grid layout to fit more info in the screen, much like the examples above, you would have your latest design project as the ‘center piece’ almost that viewers would see straight away and this would update as you add more work, but also in the side columns some more reason work.

    If it helps in anyway the theme I went for was for one reason only, I wanted a first time visitor to be able to preview 10-20 pieces of my latest work without having to go anywhere. Just on the home page you would have the latest piece at the top featured and as you scrolled down smaller boxes showing recent work also.

    Hope this helps a little in your decision.

  • David Airey says:

    Mimbo’s definitely one of the best magazine-style themes I’ve come across, and I’ve thought about using it more than once.

    As for this site, one quick alternative, which shouldn’t be difficult to implement, is to add a horizontal navigation as well as your current vertical sidebar nav. This will offer visitors an extra way to browse your most important pages.

    Some form of imagery on your homepage (other than the logo) may help brighten it a little.

  • Steve says:

    Thanks for the replies.

    Toon, Thanks for the links to the other templates. Some of these look really good. I like the idea of having our latest design project at the centre piece of the home page. One of my main concerns with the current site is that when someone hits the home page, all they see is our branding and no examples of our work. I think you are right to want to show of examples of your work without without having to go anywhere.

    David, I really like Mimbo. It’s definitely the cleanest Magazine style template I have seen. I like your idea of incorporating extra navigation to the top of the page. I know this is something you have used to great effect on your site, highlighting and re-emphasising the places you would like your visitors to go. I think adding some prominence to our portfolio on our homepage would make it a bit more interesting rather than just seeing our branding / colour scheme.

    I am interested to hear what your thoughts are on the use of Flash?

  • Toon says:

    Flash always looks nice, I still worry about the SEO with it at times, photography sites are the only thing I’d use 100% flash for.

    Someone posted a free mag style theme today with a little work could be style to a good use….

    http://test.bloggingzone.info/

  • David Airey says:

    I’ve never used Flash, mainly because I don’t know how, but Toon’s point about SEO is a valid reason not to spend time learning, especially when blogs lend themselves so well to client communication and feedback.

  • Steve says:

    Toon,

    Thanks for the link, I will take a look. The SEO thing is exactly what I am worried about with using flash for the main part of our site. When we launched the site, it was as more of a portfolio site (much like a photography site) and this is why we built it in Flash keeping it simple yet effective. However, 18 months on we have now added the blog and some other sections to the site so to me it feels like a bit of a mash up of a few sites put together (maybe I am being overly critical?).

    David,

    I have just commented on your blog, I like the new colour scheme and design.

    I agree with blogs lending themselves to client feedback etc. That is why I want to bring the blog onto the home page somehow. Not sure if I am brave enough to move the whole site to a blog site? SEO is a problem when using flash. We are using the SWF Object (http://blog.deconcept.com/swfobject) which uses javascript to embed the flash over some HTML content which allows Google to crawl the content that is underneath (and also allows users without Flash to see something if they land on the page) but I am still questioning whether this is the best way of doing it. At the moment, I consider the people who visit our blog to be designers and not potential clients, but I know you have said many times that the majority of your clients find you via your blog. So it is having the confidence to expose the blog to clients as well as fellow graphic designers.

    Steve

  • Tracey Grady says:

    I think there is an argument for using some Flash in your website if Flash is part of your stock in trade. However I’m a strong believer that any website should be built and should work based on its XHTML/CSS. Flash may be considered as a design component, but the initial layout must be done using XHTML/CSS.

    I use Flash for websites and animation but I haven’t put any on my site yet because I went through a major redesign earlier this year and I wanted the layout and the construction to work without reliance on Flash. For similar reasons I don’t have any illustrations on my site yet: I wanted the design to work without them first, then consider how I’ll incorporate them later. It’s great to have the window dressing like Flash or great graphics, but if you pare them back then what remains should be a solid design layout, look and semantic structure that still works.

    I like the use of Flash on your front page, where the layout elements slide together. It’s simple and smooth enough that someone visiting the site several times won’t get sick of it. It’s small enough that it doesn’t need a pre-loader. I also really like your logo but at the moment I feel that my eye gets drawn away from it because the word “welcome” is so big (too big).

    I agree with David about Mimbo being an attractive-looking magazine theme. However, I share your thoughts about magazine themes generally being a bit overwhelming on the eye, and therefore not easy to navigate through.

  • Steve says:

    Hi Tracey,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I have to say that when we designed the flash site, we were doing so to advertise Flash design as a service. However, since this we have completed very little Flash based work and this is one of the reasons I am starting to question this decision. I think you are right in saying that elements of Flash can be nice but that the design should work without all the ‘window dressing’.

    Also, thanks for your comments on the use of the large ‘welcome’ used on the home page. It’s funny that when you look at things too much you start to get used to them. It was only when I read your comment that I just looked at the home page and I see your point, it is a little over bearing! The use of the text in this manner is duplicated across to the contact page but I think is slightly less distracting as it is in the grey section of the page rather than the main content area. We also use this style of text on our business cards (but not quite as large – an example can be seen on our post ‘How easy is it for a Graphic Designer to Brand themselves?’ – http://www.eightyonedesign.co.uk/blog/2008/06/how-easy-is-it-for-a-graphic-designer-to-brand-themselves).

    I am still undecided about Mimbo (or other magazine style templates) for the reasons you state. I note that you have decided to keep your blog away from the home page and would be interested to know your reasons behind this?

    Steve

  • Jacob Cass says:

    Hi Steve,
    I just pulled one of your comments out from my spam box on JCD and it asked for some feedback on your site… have you decided or leaning towards any strategy yet?

  • Tracey Grady says:

    The larger text on the business cards works well because it’s the visual element that you want standing out, and the logo is on the reverse side so it’s not competing for attention.

    The reason I chose a theme for my site which features a non-blog layout for most of the pages (including the front page) is chiefly because I didn’t want a blog-style layout on every page. I wanted greater control over the design of the site. It’s for this reason that I actually resisted using WordPress for my site until this year, when I was satisfied that it had developed enough and there were the themes available for me to have this kind of control.

    Most visitors come to the site through the blog, via social media and Google searches. However I felt it was important to have a front page which outlines my business, and to which I can direct people through my own promotional activities (business cards, etc). In time I may decide to place excerpts from recent blog entries on the front page; I’ll decide that when I do a site review in a few months’ time.

  • Steve says:

    Hi Jacob, Thanks for coming and having a look. We are still undecided as to what direction we intend to go. We are currently waiting for a bit more feedback before we proceed and would appreciate your thoughts, likes and dislikes of the current web design and what you think is important in a site redesign?

    Tracey, I agree with the text working better on the business cards as it is not competing against the logo for attention.

    Thanks for sharing your reasoning behind you own website, it is interesting to get a different perspective. Would you consider having portfolio pieces on the home page?

    Steve

  • Jacob Cass says:

    The simplicity and colour scheme is fine however I think the current website doesn’t encourage interactivity as much as it could… Every page seems to be the same and doesn’t make me want to explore. The Mimbo magazine theme is nice :)

  • Steve says:

    Thanks Jacob.

    I agree that the current site does not encourage interactivity. That’s why I am leaning towards a Magazine style theme as it would allow the user to decide where they want to go by offering a summery of everything right on the home page.

    Thanks again.

    Steve

  • zumojuice says:

    I think a website should be a reflection of two things:

    Where you’re at as a designer – something that showcases your work in the best form for that work. If you’re print, the form should be simple and portfolio in nature, If it’s web, it should practice what it preaches
    and validate/seo etc…

    The needs of your audience. Do they need another designer or by shifting your work into a different sphere, can you indicate your point of difference? In terms of form, do you visitors stay on the current site, where do they go. The best form of strategy will lots of web things is trials. Try something out, even if its on a linked in ‘new page’ and get feedback.

    Take facebook – the new design is a massively new step forward, but many are unsure because they are so used to the previous version BUT this new version if perfectly fitting for the audience…

  • D856C says:

    Most companies redesign when they get tired of their own site. Wrong.

    When should you redesign? One intriguing idea is ….never. Read the article Good Designers Redesign, Great Designers Realign

    — Realign when you have better data about users. How about observing users as they attempt to complete a task? You’d think otherwise but there’s no law against conducting user testing.

    — Realign when your world view changes. Like the insight of Search optimization, not search engine optimization

    — Realign when you have developed a coherent new content strategy

    — Realign with a major shift in market realities or positioning changes

    You’ll get bored a lot quicker than users will. And users like consistency far more than many designers imagine.

  • Steve says:

    Thanks for your comments.

    ZumoJuice,

    The most pages viewed on our site are the blog articles. This is the reason I began to think about a change. At the moment the blog is kind of hidden at the back of the site but as this is the area that gets the most traffic I am considering combining the two and having a home page that not only shows our design portfolio (or at least the best examples of it) but also shows recent blog articles etc.

    I do think you are right though – try it out. Something I may just do as a trial.

    D856C,

    I love the concept of realigning as opposed to redesigning. I suppose the ideas I have for the site are more of a realignment rather than a complete redesign. I am happy with our identity and branding but, as I said above, the blog is getting some good traffic so I am thinking about using this to market ourselves to potential clients outside our area.

    Thanks again,

    Steve

  • Dot Design says:

    Some good advice here, I’d recommend WordPress for its ease of use, SEO friendly and like some have said it promotes people to interact with it, via comments etc. I’ve used it for a little while now and haven’t got a bad word to say about it!

  • Steve says:

    Hi Gareth (Dot Design),

    Thanks for your thoughts. I too do not have a bad word to say about WordPress. This is one of the reasons I am thinking of re-designing our current Flash based front end of the site to incorporate WordPress. This will make it much easier to update than our current set up.

    Steve

  • Kate says:

    I like the look of Mimbo. Reminds me of Form Fifty Five a little bit…

  • Mimbo is one of the best magazine type themes available..

Leave a Reply