I’ve never been overly keen on unsolicited redesigns — you know, when a designer or agency takes a popular website and shows you how it should have been done. Especially common as student projects, tools to fill out a portfolio or simply agency self promotion, I’ve rarely seen anything more than eye candy. Of course it’s not all bad.
The good stuff
Radical change (or in the case of unsolicited redesigns, a proposal for a radical change) has it’s place. Presenting a new vision for a product we all know and use provides us with a healthy dose of inspiration and debate.
They let an individual or small group of designers flesh out a set of new ideas without constraints.
They allow novel ideas to be thought out and visualised, even if they would be impossible to implement.
They provide a space for a designer to experiment and develop their skills away from the atmosphere of client work.
Even objectively bad redesigns may have the following positive outcomes:
- They start a conversation.
- They show a hunger for better design.
- They can provide inspiration for new things to try (or to avoid).
The not so good stuff
- The purpose of an unsolicited redesign is often to showcase the talents and ideas of a design firm or designer, more than to improve the project in question.
- They rarely ask users what they want or need and often don’t take into consideration the complex community issues that large sites have.
- Any serious redesign requires some degree of usability testing and validation from users, which are not carried out on most unsolicited redesigns.
- Designers rarely consider how hard a redesign would be to actually implement and real world issues like budget and time are of no concern.
- They rarely consider past work: how the interface has evolved, or why certain design decisions were made.
- They often fail to appreciate that large websites are multilingual and global, rather than US-centric, English-only or even Latin-only.
My advice on redesigning stuff
Don’t necessarily start with an existing website or feel the need to work on something just because everyone else is. Find a real world problem (product or issue) that currently needs our work. Propose how design thinking could add real value.
Don’t be afraid to show sketches or wire frames. The design decisions made at this stage hold more value than surface decoration.
Make sure you clearly describe what your design attempts to improve upon. Why does this service or product need redesigning, who will benefit and what goal will it help achieve.
Design with real data. Avoid stock photography and ‘lorum ipsum’ because, you know, they never appear in a live site. Oh Ned!
If you have the time, create a working prototype. Demonstrate how something behaves in the browser rather than just making a picture of it. And don’t be afraid to focus on small details. Show how a tiny change could improve a service or product drastically.
Be aware of the self promotional nature of what you’re doing. Especially in regard to how you present your ideas and opinions. There have been a number of popular redesigns of late that have done more damage to a designers reputation because they were misunderstood.
Finally, remember to do justice to our profession. It might be tempting to create eye candy but take the time to focus on what makes design valuable. Present yourself as a ‘designer’ that your peers will be proud of.
Ok, over to you. Go redesign something!