Anatomy of a Redesign

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Nick Haas
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We just took on the enormous task of re-designing our own website. This was hard to do in the sense that our previous site was a huge success. It was a lead machine, designed well, an SEO monster, and chock full of great content. But like all good things on the Internet, it needed an update. It had been several years since we had done a re-design; we knew that it was time. Four specific things kicked this project into gear:

1. Technologies have updated. Cue responsive design.
2. All offerings were not represented accurately.
3. The website was showing its age.
4. Upkeep / audit of site content was getting costly.

However, unlike last time we re-designed our site, so many things had changed here at Orbit. Our company has doubled in size, our expertise has grown, we have new leadership in place, and the projects we work on are more wide-ranging than ever.

This begged us to ask ourselves a question, “Is a re-design enough?” We are in the business of making websites, but so are a lot of other companies. We started asking “why are we different?”, “what makes us unique?” and do those answers translate into just a website re-design?

If There Is No Risk, There Is No Reward

We create a lot of “charters” around here, these “charters” are actually a documented process that our CEO Todd Gettelfinger brought into our teams. Basically they are a document list of very strong, thoughtful, deliberate and detailed questions that are meant to assess the value of anything.

It’s easy to say, “let’s do a re-design”, on the surface it feels like a no-brainer, however, there are plenty of business risks / rewards that need to be taken into consideration. Questions in these documents break everything down to their simplest forms. Questions such as “why this may not work?”, “what is the plan?”, “what are the concerns?”, “describe the business problems it will solve?”, etc.

In answering these questions, you can start to tell what the major risks, rewards are and start to get to the why’s. This was important as we needed to understand what we were up against as a team or it was doomed to fail. Here at Orbit we are highly deliberate and thorough in our thinking. Data, experience, and strong debates drive our decisions.

With a group consensus, we were to move forward with these goals for the project that made it of high value to us :

Goals

  • Effectively showcase all service offerings.
  • Update look / feel / usability / technology to modern standards
  • Update messaging to reflect who we are today.
  • Make the site responsive
  • Attract more all around business, converting leads in sales.
  • Gain industry cred for the organization and it’s employees.
  • Continuing education for Orbit.
  • Demonstrate Orbit culture and personality.
  • Make many areas easier and quicker to update.
  • Build company pride!

And there were a list of Concerns too…

  • Budget overruns
  • Multiple stake holder agendas
  • Blown schedules
  • Interfere with client work
  • Lose SEO juice
  • Alienate a customer base

As you can see, we had to be smart about how we managed ourselves, budget, schedule and our teams while worked on this project.

Improving By Doing
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Early on we made the decision that we wanted to do as much of this work ourselves as possible. We felt strongly about this for 2 reasons:

1. We have a team of talented, creative and savy folks here with a variety of skill-sets we could use.

2. We wanted to be the client. We wanted to do what our clients do and advise ourselves like we advise them. How else would we know where we need fixing? So this meant we were going to tackle all content creation, brand assessment, asset creation, photography and project execution ourselves and see what happened.

Before we even got to a project budget or scope we started with the steps below:

  • Solidify requirements concerning content, design, development goals.
  • Define marketplace and solidify company vision.
  • Develop a solid creative brief.

In treating ourselves like any client, we set everyone up to get on the same page about the entire project very early.

Brand Soul Searching

Begging the question, “is a re-design of our website enough?”, we wanted to go through a brand evaluation process internally to determine what might need a change. We put everything on the table. Logo, fonts, graphics, name, voice, etc. After hours of debate and research we concluded that our brand is strong. It has equity.

This exercise also reinforced that our people and our approach to web design is a difference maker. We decided to enhance the brand a tad by modernizing our typography, colors and associated imagery. We also wanted to put our people first using photography instead of illustrations. Our biggest challenge out of this evaluation was how to communicate the company we have become.

Finally! We Got Things Moving

Once the initial groundwork was set, we created a project plan, scope, schedule and assigned our team. We started on content creation and UX strategy right away. Following our normal client delivery process was important. This resulted in stronger team collaboration, which we knew from client experience was essential in making something that delivered content correctly.

Our Teams Are Awesome
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The overall design and development process was great. Our teams were stacked with work but they pushed through. Our Lead Designer Shellie Argeanton created beautiful interface designs. Our Lead Developer Andi Ruggles worked her magic to make our site come alive in ways we did not expect. Our PM Lauren Sandherr kept everyone on track, and also helped as a content contributor / editor. The entire team did an incredible job. They went above and beyond.

The Final 2 Weeks, Dunh…Dunh…Dunh!

The final two weeks before launch became increasingly stressful. The realization of how much content and loose ends we had to button up was daunting. We asked ourselves, “is this what our clients experience?” We have trained specialists, a team doing the work, are working as iteratively as possible, and it was still a lot to do.

Realizing this, we sat down and prioritized things that were essential. The tasks were assigned and we went to work. One of our recommendations to clients is to get their site live once it is good enough. But we do this for a living, so, when is it good enough? That was our dilemma. Over those last two weeks we buttoned everything up and on October 2nd at 1pm launched the new website.

The Challenges We Faced

  • Getting multiple stakeholders on the same page.
  • Content creation was a lot more work then anticipated.
  • A rush of billable client work during the design phase pushed back our schedule.
  • Budget creep.
  • Overlapping work towards the end.
  • Keeping brand, voice and site goals in mind as the project progressed.
  • Avoiding burn out.

The Things We Learned

  • Creating content is a tall task for a site of this scale. We have an entire team, some of our clients have 1-2 people who have little to no content strategy experience.
  • Our teams are pretty bad-ass. People from multiple departments rolled up their sleeves and worked really hard together to make this all happen.
  • Being more atomic and loose with certain aspects of the wire framing, design, content and development helped us move the project forward.
  • Our process is strong and works well to keep things iterative.
  • Non critical things can and in many cases should wait until after launch.
  • Communication could be more clear at times between us and the client.

How Do We Feel About The New Site?
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We are tickled! Our site is responsive, reflects our enhanced brand, packs an SEO punch, is visually awesome, easy to use, easy to update, strongly showcases our projects, services, advice, and personality. We learned a lot about ourselves and where we need to improve. All of this done in order to offer the best client experience we can.

Where Do We Go From Here

It’s not done, digital ink is never dry. We have phase 2 already in the works, then phase 2.1, 2.2 and so on. We are working on a maintenance plan to keep the site updated more iteratively. Many more great things are on their way. Come join us for the ride and hope you enjoy our new site.

 

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Comments (7)
  • Great write-up of your internal process. I love hearing your in-house experiences of concerns and lessons learned. Just as you outlined high-value goals, did you have any low-value goals? You mentioned budget creep and feature creep. It would be an interesting foil to see the low-value goals to help illuminate just how important the high-value goals are.

    • Great post, Nick!

  • Hey Matt, thanks and glad you enjoyed the post. Budget creep and feature creep were of higher value to us. All this being internal work, the overhead clock was ticking. We weighed many choices against these benchmarks to keep us on track. I would say we did not have any real lower value goals outside obvious site update benefits. Those were lumped into the higher value goals in some fashion.

  • First off I just want to say how happy I am to be making a comment on this gorgeous new blog. Ooooooweee, she’s purty.

    Secondly, I love this post and how honest it is. Something that I know many companies are scared of doing, “revealing secrets”. But that’s how things work here, we lay it all out on the table. From pricing, to process, to deliverables. Great summary, Mr. Haas. And I knew you’d sneak a few GIF or two in there for the fans at home.

    Can’t wait for the phase 2 features!

    • Thanks Kurt! Glad you enjoyed the post and the GIF’s.

    • I can’t wait for Phase II features too! Love this post – shines a light on how even the best teams have to work through challenges together. I’m very happy with the final (never final!) product! 😀

  • Nice summary. As an Orbit client, I appreciate that you’ve just been through what we’re going through as we get ready to launch. Exciting and stressful all at once!

 
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