Cameron FrancisJanuary 31,2014

Mistakes To Avoid When Researching A New Site Design

Category: Web Design

Prior to your initial meeting with the stakeholders for a new website design or a site redesign, you need to get prepared by researching your client’s business and the demographic they serve. Additionally, if your client currently has a site, examine its features and content.

In the initial meeting with your client you will establish the requirements and goals of their new site. If you took the time to become informed with regard to your client’s business, you will be able to better comprehend your client’s needs and ask more informed questions.


What is your approach for researching a new site design? Do you adhere to a pre-defined process or do you take an intuitive approach to asking the fundamental questions like: “What is your site about?” “How can we improve it?”. Your approach likely lies somewhere in between the two extremes. It probably varies somewhat depending upon the project.

Be sure that you avoid the mistakes that follow to ensure that you will provide your clients with valuable insights during this crucial stage of the project.

Critiquing Existing Visuals Prior To Assessing Current Site Structure And Content

In an ideal scenario, your client would provide you with an objective assessment of an existing site’s structure and content in the project’s brief. For numerous reasons, this does not often occur. The client may just assume that this is your responsibility. Even so, if the client does produce this information for you, it is likely that they will not have an objective point of view, and neglect some important factors.

For a site re-design, you need to assess all of the existing content. This not a large task for smaller sites, but for a large site that is sorely in need of a redesign, this can be a daunting task, with important information that may be buried within a structure that is not SEO friendly.

Additionally, it will be to your benefit to assess and even chart, the structure of the existing site. It may not match the charts that your client currently has on file and your design perspectives may unveil resources your client was not aware they had.

Criticising Existing Visuals With The Intent To “Out Perform”


If you are focusing on the manner in which you will outperform the existing site’s previous designer, your focus won’t be on satisfying the business need of your client. You were not present to witness the previous design process and you have no concept as to what precipitated their design choices. The scenario may have evolved since the time of the previous design and it is possible there were issues they encountered that you have not yet encountered. Evaluate existing visuals in order to understand the continuum. As a new designer you should try to avoid discarding the positive aspects of the existing design. How do site visitors identify with or relate to the existing design? What is your client attempting to achieve with the new design? The existing visuals are a reflection of the self-image of the company as it was. Your task is not to do away with an inferior design. Your job is to find out what part of the design is not adequate at present, and help your client create a new business identity.

Ignoring The Existing User Community

Ignoring-The-ExistingYou should do more than simply listening to the client’s description of their user community. If you do so, you may be missing an important opportunity. At times clients are guilty of viewing their user base in a manner that is not an accurate depiction of what is actually occurring. As a new participant in the design process, you have the ability to take an objective view of the existing site. You may even want to sign up as a site user and engage with the existing user community. In this way you can get better insight into the culture and subculture of the existing users and learn something about their demographics. Are there any users that figure prominently in the culture of the site? Who are the valuable content contributors? Are the efforts of these content contributors facilitated or inhibited by the current webmaster?The answers to these questions can influence your design. Your design concepts can address the manner in which the UI can be enhanced to be supportive of important contributors and encourage the desired behaviours.

Neglecting To Examine The Existing Site’s Analytics

ignoring-analyticsIt’s very important to examine the analytics of the existing site. Even if some data is furnished in a brief, it can be helpful to delve into the details a bit further. Of course this is provided the existing webmaster is collecting analytics data on the site. Based upon your review of the site, you may have some pre-conceived ideas regarding the efficacy of the existing call to action and the navigation design of the site. However, users sometimes respond in ways that you may not expect. If the existing site has numerous returning visitors, their familiarity with existing site features and quirks could be upset by sudden changes rather than taking a more incremental approach. This can occur even if your changes are obvious usability enhancements.In this regard, this is an instance in which your fresh objective perspective may be detrimental. It is easy to misinterpret site analytics, particularly when you have no experience with the site and are not familiar with the history of the business and the site. Be wary of what you discover and try not to rush to any conclusions at first. If you re-examine the analytics as the project progresses, it is likely to provide you with some new insights.Don’t wait until the end of the project to study the analytics. Make sure analytics are in place from the start. The existing analytics will serve as a useful benchmark, and you can use them to suggest further site improvements and measure the effectiveness of your changes when you launch the new site.

Blindly Following The Directives Of Your Client

Blindly-FollowingYou should suggest a minimum of one unspecified feature or functionality in addition to those proposed by your client. Frequently, hidden within the specific requests made by your client there is a larger request that is not so well-defined.If your client states that they want a calligraphic typeface, like Zapfino, this may reflect an unspecified desire of the client to create a business identity that conveys luxury. This give you an opportunity to provide your client with options that may better fulfil their request.Your research can come into play here. For instance, you will want to examine if the “luxury” concept is well regarded and accepted with the client’s niche, and also investigate design concepts for other luxury brands. If you carefully listen to the directives of your client and you are able to add additional value, they are likely to listen to your ideas. Well researched and thoughtful design concepts are likely to gain acceptance by your clients and they will enhance your professional reputation, as well.


Design research is a process that can occur throughout the course of a website redesign. This tends to occur organically as various questions and issues arise. However, the issues listed above are pitfalls that can occur from time to time and some of these issues may have had an adverse effect upon you in the past.

If some of these research issues resonate with you, you should be sure to integrate the solutions to them in your own design process. If you are currently in the midst of a site redesign, this may be a great opportunity to improve upon it.

Author: Cameron Francis Cameron Francis is the Director of eTraffic Group. He has been engaged in all aspects of online marketing for the past 8 years. He is actively involved in SEO, Paid Search, Social Media Optimisation, and Web Design.
  • Spook SEO

    Your post is highly appreciated. These essential reminders prior to researching on website redesign are truly effective because they actually are benificial. These tips make us aware what to consider, especially what to avoid before starting a plan. It is like a self-review and awareness before plunging into the real work thus minimizing errors.

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