The Web is full of success stories. To balance things out I’ll share 5 case studies of website redesign failures (including the story of one of our colossal fails). Let’s start with how we redesigned one of our services and lost almost half of user engagement in the process.
Before Website Redesign
For the last 3 years it looked like this:
This demands some explanation.
Apparently, it took us a few years to realize that the best time to fulfill a need is right as it arises. Just like people forgetting to buy milk while shopping, they forgot about the menu link when they needed an icon.
After Website Redesign
- Add 2 new features – fast track orders and custom orders
- Replace an old design, making it minimalistic and modern
- Save our designers time they wasted on administrative tasks
- 50% drop in user engagement for requested icons
- 50% drop in user engagement for votes
- I was forced to conduct usability studies
50% drop in user engagement for requested icons
People requesting icons need to know 2 things:
- Does this “request” thing really work?
- When will they get their icon?
- Number of votes
- Text hint “votes” below the number
- Both number and text are enclosed in a square, forming a symbolic representation of an empty icon. I have the feeling that someday there will be an icon instead of digits and “votes.” It’s a very smooth, tiny detail, but has such an impact on the overall impression.
- Some number
- Some text
50% drop in user engagement for votes
There is only one big question here, What am I voting for?
The new interface forced users to click every request in order to see its description. Every time.
Quite easy. We need to bring back the “queue” effect.
For starters, here’s a short to-do list:
- Properly indicate votes
- Bring back descriptions of requests
- Making it all visible as soon as people landed on the main page
Digg established itself as one of the most popular social bookmarking websites of the 2000s. But seeing a rapid growth of Facebook and Twitter in 2010, Digg decided to switch focus from social bookmarking to social networking.
Basically, they wanted to make it easier for users to share content with their friends and follow what their friends have shared.
The problem is, by 2010 most people already had accounts in the major social networks and they saw more news than they could gobble up.
One of the early-adopted users summed it up pretty clearly.
This drastic change in core logic was not taken kindly by the users, and according to reports by Hitwise Intelligence, Digg’s traffic plummeted 26% in the U.S. and 34% in the U.K. Digg called it a “bumpy start” when they sent a message to its community.
By 2012, things had gotten so bad that Digg was sold for $500,000 having been previously valued at around $160 million in 2008. Quite a hit!
Digg made a strong comeback under the new owners, but it’s interesting to theorize what might have happened if Digg didn’t decide to change their strategy which resulted in the redesign of the service.
Marks & Spencer
The British retail giant spent two years and a whopping £150 million on developing a new website. The initial reviews were good. Customers acknowledged a new focus on great visuals, the magazine-style editorial which looks great on tablets.
However, there were also customers who were far from impressed with the new design and they raised concerns at both usability and performance issues. Like this person, for example:
There were other complaints as well:
- Having to re-register on the website
- Couldn’t reset passwords
- Navigation poor experience for tablet users
- Lack of detailed product information
- Preventing a customer from completing the selection of a delivery option
Abovementioned issues led to an 8.1% plunge in sales, which resulted in a £55 million loss. In total, Marks & Spencer lost over £200 million.
In 2015, CNN rolled out a new website design. According to CNN Digital Editor In Chief, the new website will cater to its readers on social media and will become more mobile friendly. The new design will also put emphasis on pictures and videos.
Sounds great on paper, right? But in reality, the website redesign was met with a lot of negative feedback from its readers. CNN even had to close comments at some point after readers vented their discontent with the new design.
So, what went wrong after a new CNN website went live? Well, a lot! First of all, technical issues. The new website took about 20 seconds to load since they started using larger images. This also led to another problem – the website consumed 20% CPU to display its homepage.
To add to the technical issues, there were several usability issues as well. The emphasis on larger images resulted in fewer headlines appearing above the fold, thus displaying less content than before and forcing people to scroll down a lot. This wouldn’t be a problem should the load time of new content wasn’t such a pain. Some readers also reported the navigation was not intuitive at all.
Rob Griffiths in his article goes into more details comparing new and old CNN website designs. His verdict on the website redesign, “Pretty? Sure. Usable? No.”
In 2009, Target decided to part ways with Amazon, ending their decade-long relationship. The retailer wanted to regain control over its online sales. Two years later, in 2011, Target presented a new website design.
As we saw in the example of Marks & Spencer, two years of website development doesn’t guarantee success. There were many usability issues with the new website that led to customer’s disappointment.
Since when it is a good practice to show “out of stock” products first?
Item details vs. Item specifications, what’s the difference?
So, why after two years of development a new website was riddled with so many basic but unforgiving errors? Well, in the press release Target revealed that more than 20 technical partners had been working on the development of a new website. That’s far too many. Miscommunications could happen since different companies were working with different parts of the website. Lack of testing considering how many issues were on a rookie level.
What saved Target from a big disaster is their chain of brick & mortar stores around the country. Had they been an online store only, their losses could have been more significant.
What Should We Learn From Redesign Failures
Most of these websites went through radical redesigns, which are often referred to as revolutionary redesigns. We’ve seen many companies apply these revolutionary redesigns in the recent years, often resulting in traffic drop, conversions decrease and eventually profit losses.
Following aspects contribute to failures in revolutionary designs:
- Confusion. When you roll out a new website, your customers are confused. There are simply too many changes at once that make them freeze and figure out what to do. You ask them to learn a new user interface from the beginning, and it is not why they visited your website. It’s like you were going to buy a new chair and someone started to teach you how to make one.
- Aesthetics. Most designers are obsessed with typography, color palettes, and other aesthetic elements of the website. They overlook actions that users take on your website, which brings us to the next point.
- Lack of user feedback. Without a proper testing and valuable feedback from your core audience, you simply design in a vacuum. So it becomes impossible to predict what’s going to happen when you roll out your redesigned website.
- Analytics. No matter whether your redesign is a success or a failure, you will never know which decisions led to changes to purchases, downloads, sign-ups, etc.
- Gut feeling. Don’t even have to comment on this one; it’s a big NO-NO! The redesign should be treated as a strategy. Don’t listen to your gut feeling or over rely on design “best practices.”
- Time. As we saw, no matter how long your website was in design & development stage, or how many people worked on it, this is not a recipe for success.
How To Avoid Redesign Failures
Now that we know which factors contribute to website redesign failures, what do we do to ensure our new website rolls out smoothly?
The answer to this question is evolutionary design. There are many benefits to evolutionary approach:
- Risk management. By introducing incremental changes and constantly testing them you reduce the risk of failing.
- Focus on analytics. When you place focus on data analysis of your design changes you take control of crucial user engagement metrics such as conversions, sales, etc. Data analysis eliminates the guess factor. You can now tell for sure whether an update contributed to increase or decrease of certain KPIs.
- Speed. Small incremental updates can be tested and applied in a short period compared to big radical changes.
- The power of user feedback. Designing for an end-user rather than designing using “best practices” and gut feeling is the way to go. Always concentrate on getting feedback from your active users, so you know how to serve them better.
Words of wisdom: If you decided to do a redesign of your website, do it right, do it evolutionary. Learn from mistakes of others rather than your own, because they might be very costly to your business.
An elaborate redesign in an exceptional solution to old problems, if only it’s not too late. Check out While I Was Redesigning a Boarding Pass, Paper Got Old.
If you’re tired of redesigns just like me, have fun reading Don’t Listen to Users and 4 Other Myths About Usability Testing. Even if you’re not into usability, it has some amusing pictures.
About the Author
Andrew Burmistrov is a usability specialist of Icons8. He started his career as a phone support specialist, telling jokes while customers were rebooting their computers, then moved to usability testing and occasional writing.