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Tweaking Your Web Site

Magazine article Online

Tweaking Your Web Site

Article excerpt

AS intranet sites grow larger and more complex, the task of undertaking a complete redesign becomes more daunting--not only is it costly to undertake, but by the time you are done, it may be too late for many of your users. A great intranet team usually has some members that are world-class tweakers. Just as you take your car to the garage for a tuneup with a top-notch mechanic, your Web site needs regular tweaks and tuneups to its design, code, and user experience. Tweakers are happy tuning your site until it merrily hums along.

What do I mean by tweaking? It refers to fine-tuning or adjusting a complex system, usually an electronic device, to use Wikipedia's explanation. Tweaks are any small modifications intended to improve a system. Tweaking marries play with intellectual curiosity. At its heart is the pursuit of making something better.

Of late, many of my projects at work could go one of two directions: a major redesign or a series of tweaks. Usually I opt for tweaking the site in order to get significant improvements rolled out the door quickly, hoping to delight and benefit site visitors. Often these tuneups involve deleting outdated content, perking up the design, and/or adding some social software tools to the Web site. Examples include a blog or blog headlines, Flickr photo galleries, and embedded YouTube videos. If all of these upgrades happened at once, it would amount to a major makeover. By rolling them out incrementally, the site is tuned up and improved bit by bit, without upsetting users.

I have certainly seen some projects that have opted to go the full redesign route. In one instance, the Web site languished and became outdated during the 2 years it took the Web team to make the case for a redesign. Once the redesign was approved and additional staff hired, it took 2 more years until the new design was launched. In the meantime--remember, we're up to 4 years now--the audience was underserved and unimpressed.

In some cases, a redesign is definitely warranted, but that route is too often fraught with delays, making it excessively time-consuming. I'm not knocking redesigns. They definitely have their place, but sometimes they are seen as the only route to improvement. When you need to step up the site and fundamentally change its focus, the information architecture, interaction and flow, or the backend content management system, you'll need to look at redesign.

TWEAKING OR REDESIGNING

Taking the approach of tweaking a site instead of redesigning it isn't just advantageous to the site visitors, it also benefits the site owners and content developers. Visitors enjoy learning new features and services gradually rather than suddenly confronting a completely different site that will take them time and energy to relearn. Even something that can appear innocuous, such as changing the background color, can jar users. eBay found this out when it changed its site background color from yellow to white in one fell swoop. After stormy letters of complaint, they gradually changed the background color to lighter versions of yellow until it was white.

Tweaking a site, rather than redesigning it, gives owners and content developers an opportunity to start working with new social software applications or new features in a way that they can begin to understand their potential with the target audience of their site. Few Web managers are ready to embrace a radical redesign--not just because of the time and energy involved, but also because they are not prepared to bet the farm on prominently incorporating new social software tools or implementing a radically new information architecture. To make a revolutionary change, most prudent Web managers would like to gain some experience first about how it will work with their organization and the audience.

ALL SHAPES AND SIZES

Tuneups come in all shapes and sizes. On some sites, it may be freshening up the design of a site that looks oh so last century, designating a new region of the home page for blog headlines or photos, or cleaning up code under the hood. …

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