Workshop: Iterative Website Redesign – Micro Goals in Action

In addition to presenting about Giving Your Content Legs at the Penn State Web Conference, I also gave a two hour workshop about Iterative Website Redesign.

All too often I see higher ed institutions treat the Web as a print document, set it and forget it for two year then pump a ton of money into “publishing” a new site. My (our) approach is different, we are making design, copy and code changes every month based on how our visitors are using the site. This workshop was intended to introduce iterative redesign, the methods behind it and how to actually get started today.


Complete website redesigns are a thing of the past, it’s time to think beyond the launch it and leave it mentality. Learn how to discover the pain points of your website and successfully correct them. This interactive workshop will walk you through your site as an end user. Learn about A/B and multivariate testing mechanisms, how to create effective tests, and how to publish results to build credibility and authority. This workshop will be hands on with the ability to take away a process to build upon.

Take aways:

Any website you manage shouldn’t be thought of as a “project”, website’s don’t have end dates. You have to think of your website as a business, treating every visitor as if they physically came into your shop. The experience they have is the layout and content of your site, why not optimize it for their needs.

Most higher education websites are not completely broken and it doesn’t make sense to scrap a site every two years. Take all the knowledge you can from your existing site and make incremental changes to optimize every section of your site. Using free tools you have the ability to pay attention to your visitors in their natural environments.

10 Replies to “Workshop: Iterative Website Redesign – Micro Goals in Action”

  1. Hi Nick,

    I am a huge fan of iterative design; some of my best friends are iterative web designers. Seriously, it is the way to go when you already have a solid (doesn’t have to be perfect) university web presence in place. But I’m not sure I agree that web redesigns are a thing of the past. Perhaps when we’ve all gotten to a certain baseline, they will be passe. But there are colleges and universities whose websites are “bad enough” that tweaking around the edges and even applying iterative design principles won’t be enough.

    And, while I agree that we shouldn’t think of websites as projects, there are elements of project management (like milestones and deadlines) that support comprehensive web redesign work in a university setting. In fact, a certain momentum comes from a project approach because typically, the default “let’s send it to committee” response at least frees you from some campus bureaucracy and can even result in one-time funding to hire an external partner. So, you can sometimes use the project phase to get the exceptional web presence you need; then you maintain and enhance it with a more iterative process (for design and content!)

    I think iterative design only works when based on an acceptable foundation and we’re not all there yet.


    1. Susan,
      Thank you for your comments. By no means do I think the redesign is extinct, I just think institutions rely on it far too often than they should and not “growing” in between redesigns. I guess I should have left this slide in that explained when a redesign is necessary.

      *Reasons for redesigning*
      – Users goals not being met
      – Bring the site into a central identity
      – Institution or department has new goals/initiatives
      – Reaction to a change in the marketplace

      You have to start with a solid base in order to increment, otherwise you’re trying to turn a toddler’s painting into a masterpiece one brush stroke at a time.

      As far as committee work is concerned it is completely necessary to jumpstart the process. I can tell you we wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for a web committee. If we would have tried it alone or incrementally we would be no where close to today. The committee not only moved us in the right direction, gave us the time and resources to really think about the big picture but most of all built credibility throughout campus. This credibility has allowed us to make these incremental changes over time.

      The workshop I gave was meant to give insight into developing your self (team) by using deliberate practice. Being able to make small mistakes, successes and iterations every week builds a better understanding of your users and what works on the web. This keeps the web experience in everyones mind at all times and in the end the web is an experience, not just a landing page. Learning to fail small and often gives insights into the web that can’t be taught while doing a complete redesign every few years.

      Four years have passed since our major redesign and we are now contemplating doing it again. We have learned a lot in the past years and the site now needs to adapt to new institutional goals. Going into this new redesign (realign), which will have milestones and deadlines, we are now better equipped to create an experience through our insights.

      I’d love to talk about this more if you’re interested.

  2. We. are. kindred. spirits. Thanks for the even more in your comments. They are dead right in my view.

    Hey, we completed our major redesign three years ago with some exceptional work by mStoner. And, gulp, we are threatening a refresh. Let’s talk more. I’m happy to share what we have and would like to stay in touch as you all get started down the same path.


  3. When it comes to the organization of a website, I hear of a lot of schools turning to micro sites for different departments. Is this a fundamentally flawed approach or something that is necessary for different academic departments to appeal to their prospective students?

    1. Kevin,
      It’s a double edged sward, a balancing act between the needs of the department and the institution. In my opinion there is no one template to rule them all but at the same time customizing everything can make an institution feel disjointed. It really depends on how the institution wants to be perceived. But the user experience shouldn’t be negatively impacted by the “uniqueness” at the departmental level. Just my two cents.

  4. Typo in the first sentence of the Description paragraph, “think” vs “thing.” Or was that intentional?

  5. I am currently in the process of creating a website for my alumni association and I’m kinda stuck on what to do next. The website has all of the necessary information that I want it to have it just doesn’t have that wow factor that I’m looking for. My question to you is do you work on website or do you know anyone that would be willing to give me a hand in putting the final touches on it. I don’t have a ton of money but I am willing to pay for your service. I can be contacted via email at Thank you and have a wonderful day.

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