I’d like to talk about redesigns. Specifically, the unsolicited kind.
Unsolicited redesigns are when a designer takes it upon themselves to redesign a site for free without having been asked by the company. I recently did a quick Quora redesign myself, and it prompted me to explore this topic.
Case Study #1: Zappos redesign by Metalab
One of the main problems with unsolicited redesigns is that if you’re not careful, you’ll risk coming across as an arrogant know-it-all who thinks they can do a better job in a couple hours than a whole design team did in 6 months. This is what irked people about Metalab’s Zappos redesign. Calling the current website a “confusing mess” was probably not the most humble stance they could take.
But isn’t that arrogance justified? After all, their redesign did look much nicer than the original! Just look at all these pretty gradients!
However, the comparison is unfair. Unsolicited redesigns don’t have to deal with the same realities as the real deal.
Case Study #2: Facebook redesign by Jonathan Moreira
First of all, in most cases the redesign is only a static mockup. Can you really tell if the end result would be enjoyable to use? For example, Jonathan Moreira’s Facebook redesign looks awesome, but maybe that big black bar would get overwhelming in regular usage, or maybe the gradients and shadows would attract too much attention and make it harder to focus on the content.
Case Study #3: New York Times redesign by Andy Rutledge
Second, in most cases redesigns can side-step business realities. For example, Andy Rutledge took the New York Times site as an example in his “News Redux” exercise (cached article). He achieves a clean and fresh look, but does so by doing away with a lot of ads that are probably necessary to the site’s survival, which would require changes to the company’s business model. Although in this case I agree with those changes, in the real world the design team probably doesn’t have the power to make them.
[Note] I initially wrote that Andy had ignored business realities, which isn’t true and is not what I meant. Sorry Andy!
And even if your version simply is better, maybe designers in the company are dealing with some other factors (politics, bureaucracy, etc.) that make it impossible for them to improve the design. Of course that shouldn’t stop you from volunteering a solution, but you should at least acknowledge that the problem is probably not lack of skills on the designer’s part, but simply different priorities inside the company.
Case Study #4: American Airlines redesign by Dustin Curtis
This is apparently what happened with Dustin Curtis’ redesign of American Airlines. Dustin acknowledged that the existing site’s main designer was pretty good, and the poor state of the site was due to other factors.
Case Study #5: Quora redesign by Sacha Greif
So where does my own Quora redesign fit in?
Well first of all I tried to stay humble. I explained every design choice, and I let people vote on each of them. I never assumed that my version was objectively better, I just wanted to see what people thought of it.
And I also tried to keep close to the current’s site aesthetic and goals. There’s nothing wrong with being fancy and creative, but I feel it’s just too easy to achieve a meaningless “wow” factor when you’re taking liberties with a brand and going all over the place with colors and fonts.
I find it a much more interesting challenge to produce something that might conceivably be used for real. This is why I kept the same colors and fonts, and even kept the exact same width for the main content feed to make the hypothetical transition smoother.
So altogether, I think unsolicited redesigns can be a net positive, provided you keep a humble attitude. After all, there’s nothing wrong with throwing ideas around and debating different solutions to the same problem. As a community, we should encourage that kind of exchange and not worry so much about hurting the sensibilities of established designers (I’m sure they can take it!).
So let me know what you think about this. And I’d love to get your feedback on the Quora redesign, whether it’s good or not!