There comes a time in most digital products' lifecycles when a decision is made to undergo a redesign. Maybe it’s getting too many customer support issues, has a bad rating in the app store, or is just outright outdated, ugly, or clunky. Maybe it was originally designed by the engineering team or a product manager that knew what kind of features should be included, but not a great sense for how users wanted it to work or look.
These are common issues that are valid and worth addressing with a redesign, but before the decision is made to jump in and give the product a facelift it’s important to step back and understand the root of the problem. Simply hiring a visual designer to overhaul a new front-end UI in order to make it look modern and visually striking is most likely not going to be the answer.
You have to make sure you have the right team in place, asking the right questions and solving the right problems.
To do this, it’s helpful to think about redesigning a digital product the same way you would think about renovating your house.
You may think you just need new cabinets and paint job, but that’s not going to solve your problems.
Sure, you want that kitchen to be updated with new finishes and a fresh coat of paint to make it look more modern. But what the engineering-minded installers and contracted painters won’t realize is that when you first built that kitchen, you didn’t have any kids and your priorities were very different than they are today. You didn’t cook as often, so you decided to splurge on the fancy espresso machine that’s taking up half of the space on the counter. Now, you don’t have any room to prep your meals and resort to chopping your vegetables on the dining room table.
The last thing you want to do when redesigning your outdated software is just put lipstick on a pig. It’s easy to walk away with a smile on your face and a false sense of achievement because the new color scheme looks amazing and the updated dashboard charts make you feel like you’re in a NASA control room.
Yes, these small changes might help the product look more enticing to a customer during a demo, but after they use it for a week and all of the flashiness wears off, is it really doing anything to improve retention rates? If not, they’ll be back to chopping onions on the dining room table in no time.
The last thing you want to do when redesigning your outdated software is just put lipstick on a pig.
A few touch ups and a paint job will give your already functional renovation that extra kick to go from 90% to 100%, but you’ll never make it to the initial 90% if you don’t address the real issues first.
Design is a loaded term.
More than a few times, I’ve seen companies fall into the trap of assuming a ‘designer’ is the right person to take care of anything visual for the company. They might hire a UX designer with the intention of them building out their product and thinking more comprehensively about the overall user experience, but then ask them to begin making illustrations for the website or marketing materials. I’ve also seen the opposite problem, when companies hire a graphic designer to fill out their visual marketing needs, but then quickly transition them into working on the product and new features.
The issue is that designing for users and designing for marketing require very different skills, and should be approached with different goals in mind. I’ve seen talented designers transition from graphic design to UX design and be able to design a UI that is both beautiful and highly functional to users, but it’s not something that happens overnight.
Designing for users and designing for marketing require very different skills, and should be approached with different goals in mind.
Asking a graphic designer with no background in UX to design a product would be like asking an interior designer to plan and design the layout for an entire hospital. Most likely, this would result in a really great looking hospital that is a logistical and functional trainwreck. On the other hand, you probably wouldn’t ask an architect to pick and choose the pillowcase fabric and colors for every couch in the building, although there are probably plenty of architects out there with fantastic aesthetic taste. One designer can have an expertise in both front-end (UI) design and UX, but each take their very own, and often very different, set of skills.
Don’t over-invest in the wrong resources.
When re-building your dream house, you wouldn’t want to go with the cheapest architect in favor of a bigger or more expensive construction team. If the reason for renovating in the first place is due to constant issues stemming from poor construction, you might over-invest in engineering and think that building the most solid foundation possible will be the best approach.
Sure, you might end up with a house that was built in a shorter time and have a solid foundation, but once you step inside you’ll quickly realize that the living room doesn’t match the kitchen, the bathroom is too far from the bedrooms, and you don’t have nearly enough storage space to hold all of your things.
If your software is overrun with engineering bugs and faulty workarounds, your source of these problems might just be a poorly designed product. Good UX and product management will make your product easier to build, easier to test, and easier to fix down the road. It eliminates unnecessary complexity and streamlines workflows to simplify the overall experience into an easier to manage product in the end.
Over-investing in graphic design might leave you with a beautiful product that is difficult to use, which will frustrate your customers more than the initial paint job will impress them. Over-investing in engineering might leave you with a functional, solid product, but it probably won’t be solving your customers' problems in the best or most efficient way. So what is the key to a successful and meaningful product renovation? A combination of great product management and UX design.
A good product management and UX design team will ask the right questions and get to the core of how a successful renovation can be achieved. They will make sure the project is being approached from the right angle and be at the helm to make sure you aren’t over-investing in the wrong resources or going down a rabbit hole that isn’t going to bring you the right value for the amount of effort applied. They’ll focus on the user, the business, the real problems you are trying to solve, and ultimately be the rockstar architects that your renovation project needs.