Designing vs. Redesigning a Website

I’ve made a breakthrough in determining what the best kind of client is: it’s those getting a website redesign.

I’ve had two clients recently fall off the face of the earth because they were starting a business fresh and needed a website. I had another person call me from Muncie, Indiana the other day claiming he had invented a new detachable sound-proof wall. He sounded almost desperate in his plea for a website and only offered 40% of his profits. Sorry, but I can’t pay my light bill with hopes and dreams.

I’m sympathetic to that, sure, but people looking to start a business often have two problems:

  1. They’re really tied up in a lot of nitty details and everything is extremely important to them.
  2. They have no money, so if the site doesn’t magically make a million dollars overnight, it’s (somehow) my fault.

For some reason, people know that when they start a business, like a restaurant, they’ll have staff costs, they have to buy plates, food, glasses, silverware, tables, etc. Just because your business is going to operate mostly or completely online doesn’t mean you won’t have costs. Don’t think that because a business is online that it’ll be free or super cheap.

The best clients are those looking for a website redesign. They already have an established website that, while not good or just outdated, they’re not happy with it for some reason. So, now I know what not to do. Generally, it’s because the prior developer flew the coop and they’re sitting ducks.

Redesigning a website for a business usually means they have some cash flow, they can afford it and won’t be haggling over how to get a website for $200 and they have an understanding of their market – something new businesses and startups don’t have.

Redesigning a website is also easier because we can use the existing content as a guide and can tweak it accordingly since we’ll have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t. The most satisfied and best clients I’ve worked with are usually people redesigning a site. If only I could find a way to work solely as a “website flipper”, I’d leap at the opportunity.

Website Nightmares: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library

I’m a fan of libraries. I wish they’d hurry up and get on the eBook bandwagon so I could get titles on my Kindle, but that’s another post. The Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library is regarded as one of the largest and best in the nation. The same can not be said for its website. In fact, not a lot can be said for many public library websites that I went digging around on.

To their credit, IMCPL’s website is quite functional. So much so, it’s pretty obvious it was designed by developers. It’s all there, but that doesn’t mean I don’t find myself getting irritated by things on their site. And, I bet they’ve done quite a bit of work to support ADA guidelines, too.

The current site

They’re some key things I don’t care for:

  • The image slider has 7 slides to it that all scroll too fast. Probably because they were trying to show people all the content, but it makes it hard to read. I did away with it all together.
  • The page, as in where the content actually exists among all that blue, is small. It feels very cramped.
  • The colors are clearly straight from a committee. I don’t think IMCPL really has any serious feelings toward their marketing colors, at least from what I see. In fact, I don’t really see them doing any marketing, which is a shame because a majority of this city has probably never used their branch library (I have a book about Pixar on my desk now and a book of notes from Mitch Daniels on the way from the Irvington branch).

The Redesign

Here now, is my redesign work in under 60 minutes (my standard redesign period for these little experiments):

Known Issues & Other Thoughts

  • Maybe there needs to be a way to login to your account on the homepage. I didn’t put it there because I suspect they probably have issues with people signing in at the libraries, on public computers, and forgetting to sign off. It’s a feature, not a bug.
  • I’m not satisfied with the location of the RSS / Bookmark / Facebook / Twitter buttons. They were an afterthought after I noticed they actually have those things listed on the current site in teeny tiny text in the footer.
  • I split up the image slider by just putting images around on the site. I’m not sure if that was a good idea or not.
  • Yes, the logo is blurry. I wanted it bigger but obviously don’t have access to an EPS of it. And, I’ll add one real personal thought: I’ve never seen a more unimaginative logo for such a large, public-facing organization.
  • I thought these colors were relatively more inviting and warmer, as if you wanted to go read after seeing them. There’s some texture built in that’s probably hard to see on the screenshot, too. The texture lends to the appearance of paper.
  • The bookmark motif on the left side of the page is interesting, I think. Part of me wouldn’t mind seeing some depth to the design to make it look like it’s on a stack of papers in a book, but I decided not to push my luck (or time).
  • They actually have more room now. Quite a bit, actually. They could insert more new movies, books, downloads, etc. to feature in the middle of the page or re-arrange some items to fill the thing with new arrivals, al-la Amazon.
  • When you hover over a page name in the menu on the left, a little highlighter mark appears underneath on the hover state.

As always, you can vdownload and view the source in native PNG format.

SquirtBait – Before and After

I particularly love re-designing old websites. One of my clients recently bought out another company and they wanted a separate web site and didn’t have access to any new logos or photos. They were looking for it to be quick, too, because they don’t want to invest a whole lot in marketing until they know it’ll take off. The old site also had everything inserted as an image. Every bit of text was just a flat JPG. Here’s the old site:

The redesigned site I made in about an hour looks like this:

Indianapolis Power and Light Website Redesign

As part of my Website Nightmares, first up is Indianapolis Power and Light, with a website that appears to have been largely committee-driven. Some of the issues here include:

  • Search box relegated to the bottom of the page.
  • No direct login box to pay your bill, the #1 reason why anyone would visit this site.
  • A lot of repeating links and text that waste space. They’re at least 3 links on the homepage to show power outages (which is somewhat silly to have online because how would you check for an outage if you’re without power?)
  • The site uses frames. A lot.
  • The site is squished into a frame size that’s way too small and is top-left aligned to the browser view window.

Here’s what the site looks like now:

Here’s my 1-hour redesign:

You can download the PNG source file, with layers.

They’re many other issues with this site, such as poor URL structure, and they’re also problems with my redesign, but it’s a start in just under an hour.

Website Nightmares

They’re a bunch of websites out there that occasionally list “The top 5 worst websites” or “The worst web designs of 2010”, and they’re the most atrocious looking things you’ve ever seen, like this, this and this.

I don’t like these kinds of posts. How would you like it if you took your car to a mechanic and found them laughing at you because you bought the light blue wiper fluid and not the dark blue? People know what they know and because someone makes a crappy website doesn’t make them terrible, it just makes them unskilled. We should embrace these people and help them on their way.

That said, I’m starting a new blog series titled “Design Nightmares” where I’ll run across a crummy website (and those aren’t hard to find, especially the ones that most anyone would agree are lousy) and redesign it in as close to 60 minutes as I possibly can. I’ll re-make the layout of the site and publish a layered PNG file. You can download it and mess with it yourself if you’d like.

Whether the sites improve with my layout or not isn’t completely my concern. Instead, I want to improve my own design aesthetics and help make the web a better place where I can.

First up, Indianapolis Power and Light Co.