Enemies of UX and how to kill them: #4 Website redesign

Website Redesign Lipstick on a pig

Know your enemy and know yourself, and you will win a hundred battles without defeat… Know neither your enemy nor yourself, and you will succumb in every battle.”

– Sun Tzu, The Art of War


A website redesign is the solution to every problem… or is that the problem to every solution?

Are conversions down? Website redesign. Is your customer support team rude to customers? Website redesign. Do people hate your company because it leaked mercury into the Amazon River and created poison-spitting toad people? Redesign that damn website!

Launch your shiny, new site as soon as possible—no time for user research or any of that long-winded, digi-mumbo jumbo.

And when that redesigned website fails because it confuses or annoys users, at least you’ll know it was signed off by all 50 department heads.  


The Website Redesign

High-minded ideas stitched together unevenly to create a digital reimagining of Frankenstein’s Monster.


  • Frankenstein’s Monster
  • Chocolate-covered droppings
  • Lipstick on a pig


Often found: 

  • In businesses, appealing to desperate executives
  • In markets, not appealing to desperate customers


  • Rat King – an easily-eradicated cluster of small pests
  • Nessie Monster – a rarely-seen giant that wreaks havoc beneath the surface
  •  Cthulhu Rage – a cosmic power requiring only a glance to induce insanity 


A surgeon that goes around poking in people’s brains, without first understanding the problem and how she plans to solve it, would be banned from her profession.

“Don’t worry… I’ll just move a few folds around and see what happens.”

Why do we think it’s OK to go overhauling sites, deleting things and moving buttons without first understanding our users and what their problems are?

How do you know whether you’re pulling out the knife or plunging it deeper inside?

OK, people’s lives aren’t at stake… but people’s livelihoods often are—just ask the agency that redesigned a financial services client’s website, sans testing with users.

It got sacked.

The biggest danger of a website redesign is there’s no logical basis for believing it’ll solve unidentified root causes. But there is a high probability it’ll add to them.

Here are some other dangers of website redesigns:

Skull and crossbonesBAD PR

…because your customers will shout about your terrible website. As will competitors. As will any bored Internet user.

Skull and crossbones


…because no one wants their neck on the guillotine, they’ll turn on the first person they can… sowing seeds of discord across the business.

Skull and crossbones


…because you’ll spend time and money trying to fix the new site, and lose money from the customers it drives away in the meantime.


A lack of creativity

Square peg, round hole

It’s funny how the most drastic solution can often be the most attractive to humans. Broadstroke assumptions. Absolute conclusions. Topped with boundlessly optimistic expectations.

A drastic solution is attractive because it doesn’t require logic—something is causing you trouble and someone is telling you they’ll get rid of it completely. That sounds pretty damn good.

So, when a company is suffering and no one has the patience, creativity or skill to identify and remove the cause, a website redesign becomes the ultimate one-size-fits-all solution.

Taking shortcuts

Taking a shortcut

The thought of the man hours, arsenal of digital tools and hired expertise it would take to investigate poor website performance bores most execs stiff.

“We want results and we want them now. Do we really need to spend all that time, money and brainpower on fixing a damn website?”

On the surface, replacing the whole website seems cheaper than spending time understanding root causes and fixing those. But tailors nail the reality of the situation when they say, “Measure twice, cut once.”

Businesses are more likely to “measure none and run out of material”.



Everybody’s doing it… so why the heck not you?

You can even plan a sexy marketing campaign around the relaunch of your site. Ohhhh… just like the one that cool startup did after it got millions in Series B funding.

The problem is we underestimate how thoughtless crowds can be. We overlook the likelihood that everyone’s doing something only because they see everyone else doing the same thing, with no one actually knowing why any of it is happening.

A website redesign can be a good thing—if the website is the problem (a different matter from the website having a problem).


How many times have you heard people use the terms “rebrand” and “redesign” interchangeably? A lot, if you’re me.

This is dangerous and erroneous.

Your brand is the sum total of experiences which make up the impression left by your company on an audience. It is intangible.

Your brand is something your audience, not your business, owns—therefore, you cannot “rebrand” in the way most people think.

A redesign is simply about how your website looks and, while website experience contributes to the brand, it does not represent its entirety.

Making your website look slicker won’t make people forget that you charge hidden fees and never pick up their calls.

But we like to believe it can. So when people say they’re “rebranding” their site, they’re often willing to (incorrectly) believe this will let them reprogramme people’s impression of their company.

Weaknesses… aka how to defeat website redesigns

Being long in the tooth

Long in the tooth

Once you’ve seen one website redesign go up in flames, it’s unlikely you’ll repeat the mistake.

And the longer you’ve worked in marketing, UX or any other digital-related field, the more likely it is that you’ve seen at least one redesign flop. I certainly have.

It’s on those of us who’ve been stung before to alert everyone else of the dangers posed by this unwieldy beast.

Start by asking tough but simple questions—e.g. “What outcome are we trying to achieve and have we looked into why we’re currently unable to achieve that outcome?”

Customer honesty

Customer Honesty

Just talk to them—they’ll give it to you straight!

As explained by our customer marketing manager, Clare Burroughs, company employees are often oblivious to the real issues causing customers’ pain.

When you give customers a meaningful avenue of dialogue—through user research, feedback calls and surveys—your business strategy will be better oriented.

Maybe your marketing team is under-educated about your product. Maybe your product is too complicated. Maybe your pricing is all wrong.

Maybe it all has nothing to do with the design of your website.

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Sometimes, there are simply no redeeming features

I must admit there are times when a redesign is called for (I’m not part of some like… anti-website redesign cult). These include:

  1. When your website is built on an outdated system that doesn’t let you deliver functionality which your customers need.
  2. When your product or service changes so radically that your website ceases to be factually accurate or suitable for your new audience.
  3. If your website looks like this, burn it fire and start from scratch. It’s what’s on the inside that counts but come on… there are limits.
  4. When you’ve radically and fundamentally improved the day-to-day of how your business serves customers, and want to shed the skin of your old, inferior self. Note that the tangible improvements must *precede* the redesign.

By the way, we ran an entire #uxchat on the subject of when you should and shouldn’t redesign your site.

And now you’ve been empowered to avoid the pitfalls of website redesigns! Praise Cthulhu! I mean… uh… scratch that.

(P.S. Definitely not be part of a cult.)

Still mad? Check out the other Enemies of UX!

Timi is a London-based copywriter and full-time marketing sceptic – there are now more unvalidated opinions out there than ever.

He became a UX testing enthusiast after seeing its power while working at TUI – the world’s largest travel, leisure and tourism company. He then joined WhatUsersDo to sharpen his UX knowledge and work side-by-side with the field’s best and brightest.

2 Responses to “Enemies of UX and how to kill them: #4 Website redesign

  • Hi Timi, nice post. Agree with pretty much everything you say but would also point you to this: http://www.lingscars.com, apparently one of the most successful car retail sites in the UK.

    • Hi Chris, thanks for the comment! We actually used Ling’s Cars in a previous article as an example of exactly why “best practice” is overrated when it comes to things like this. In fact, I would argue that sites such as Ling’s Cars only serve to reinforce the fundamental point of this article—that website redesigns should never be undertaken just for the sake of it, or on the basis of apparent surface level issues such as aesthetics without first understanding how this change would impact more important metrics such as sales, usability, etc.

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