Design Evolution vs. Redesign: What’s Best for Your Website?

Have you had a business pivot that makes your existing website irrelevant? 
Sick of your website and want a do-over?
Feel like it’s not connecting with your target market?

Traditionally a web redesign meant a complete overhaul of your website completed in one major launch. However, more recently the trend has gone towards gradually evolving and improving the design over time. 

With the traditional approach, a redesign was very dramatic and climactic with all the positives and negatives that go with it. While it was great for promotion and building excitement, it could also turn stressful, time consuming and expensive. 

Obviously, there are some cases where a large sweeping overhaul is the best fit. For instance, we recently worked with Kevyn Aucoin, who was transitioning to an e-commerce site from a purely informational website. In a situation like that, there are so many new pages and elements that are being added that a completely fresh launch of their website made sense. 

However, in many cases a more gradual approach makes more sense. An example is Trophy Skin, who already had an e-commerce website when they approached us. But their design wasn't very polished and it was off-putting for their target market. We broke their redesign down into monthly milestones so that over the course of six months we completely updated their website. That way they could test and optimize the website as we went along and gradually evolve it into a much more polished and elegant presence. 


Advantages to Evolving Website Design

There are a few reasons that account for this trend's increasingly popularity:

1. More Complexity

First off, as the web has evolved, websites have become increasingly complex, so doing a traditional overhaul is more complicated, expensive and involved than it was previously. There's more to be designed, written, tested and . . .

2. Better Testing

As businesses rely more on their websites for marketing and driving revenue, there's more on the line if a website redesign goes wrong. A gradual evolution of the website allows for real-time testing and quickly identifying elements that are hurting your conversions. If you've redone the entire website, it's much more difficult to track and analyze what the specific issue is. 

3. Easier Budgeting

Another advantage is that it's much easier to budget, as each iteration will use fewer funds stretched over several months rather than a large lump sum, which is often prohibitive. 

4. Less Time-Consuming

Doing any redesign is fairly resource intensive for the client too. There are extra meetings, gathering of materials, giving feedback, reaching consensus . . . it's a major undertaking. However, if you opt of the more gradual approach, this can be a more manageable side-project for your team.

5. Less Potential for Customer Backlash

Sometimes customers can be quite attached to your old design and may react negatively if they perceive a sudden, large pivot. However, most small incremental changes pass under the radar and do not create a backlash.

6. Builds Momentum

For start-ups in particular, it can be good to view the website from the point of view that it's a work in progress. I've talked with so many companies who can't even get their initial website up because they get so bogged down in complexities and wanting it to be perfect. I'm a big advocate for just getting a site up and evolving it as you go.



All that said, obviously there are some downsides to evolutionary design, rather than doing an overhaul.

1. Slow

Probably the most frustrating part of evolving a website is the lack of instant gratification. If you've fallen out of love with your website, it can make you yearn to see the sweeping changes of a traditional redesign.

2. Bad for Business Pivoting

If there's a radical shift in your business strategy, it's probably worth looking at a complete overhaul, rather than trying to do it gradually. A bad situation is to end up with a Frankenstein website that's neither your old design nor your new design. If the change is relatively minor, it's not as noticeable, but with a major redesign it could become an issue.

3. Not as Promotable

The big, exciting launch just isn't as dramatic if customers have already seen the website gradually changing over several months. If you want to make your redesign an event and use it for promotions, it's probably better to go with a more traditional approach.


Overall, I think that doing evolutionary redesign is a very positive trend, especially for small businesses that might not have the budget or internal resources to handle a huge design overhaul.