Resist That Advice

I’d like to touch briefly on a widely-circulated LJ post by Aaron Schmidt entitled Resist That Redesign. It is generally good advice – using iterative website design rather than relying on complete redesigns. However, I think the advice needs better context.

For one thing, most library websites are really outdated and bad. Comparing the design/development workflows of Apple and Google (nice!) or Amazon and Netflix (not exactly gems of design) to how libraries maintain their sites is apples-to-oranges. If a library has a flat-file website (Not a straw man: this is common in libraries!), performing a complete redesign/redevelopment is probably advisable. A “slowly evolved” CMS developed in-house at a library is likely to be slapdash, and there are tons of available CMSes that are well-designed, secure, free, and supported.

What’s not mentioned in the original post is that redesigns don’t have to be long, painstaking processes. Bad redesign processes are that way, but a sufficiently-experienced and talented designer can ease those woes. The solution for doing a good redesign is to have a good designer.

Likewise, iterative design isn’t always a breezy process, and it often isn’t design. Design needs control; website creative control is often lacking in library environments. What often ends up happening under the guise of “iterative design” is actually a patchwork; sometimes from having too many cooks in the kitchen, sometimes from having one crummy cook. We’ve all seen these websites; they start out clean and freshly-designed. Then someone pastes in a widget and it clashes with the design. Then comes more widgets ad nauseum until the site looks and works awful. As such, the solution for doing good iterative design is to have a good designer.

Library folks: don’t resist redesigns. If a well-designed website is important to you, hire a good web designer. Trust their judgment to decide whether the best course of action is to iteratively improve your site or to do a full redesign.