Blog March 19, 2018

What Familiar learned from redesigning our website

Ian Crowther

Welcome to Familiar’s newly relaunched website! As of this writing, we’ve just relaunched our site. One new feature of it is this blog, where we intend to periodically provide some insights into how we work, issues we’re exploring, and solutions we’ve found to challenges that frequently arise for our clients.

Our redesign was the perfect opportunity not only to rethink the way we present ourself to potential clients, but also to work with ourselves both as client and as consultant, something we rarely get to do. We learned a lot about being a client, and some of the lessons below may be particularly interesting.

Narcissus Caravaggio 1594 96
A website redesign is a great opportunity for institutional self-reflection.

Timing is (almost) everything

The previous version of Familiar’s website launched in 2014, and we decided in late summer of 2017 that it was time for a redesign. 

But why now? 

First, we had our studio schedule firmly in place for the next few months, and noticed that team members who would be involved in early stages of a redesign process would have time in their schedule to get the ball rolling. Second, we’ve taken on significant design-related technical changes in our stack in the last six months: we wanted both to show off some new capabilities, as well as the opportunity to use a self-directed project to stretch our new skills a bit more. Finally, and maybe most importantly, we realized that our sales goals would be better met by a site that communicates more about what we do as a studio, and our previous site wasn’t fully in alignment with our current sales goals and strategies. More on that in a second!

Plan your project around resource availability—staff time, budget, goals. If you can’t work on the site or don't have a reason to, it’s not likely to succeed.

Decide on your goals early, figure out how to meet them as you go

The whole process of redesigning our site started with a collection of notes put together by members of our team that wrote out a number of goals for a new site. We sat down together and discussed everything and have kept a condensed list of those goals in mind throughout the whole process of conceiving the new site, even if our approach to meeting those goals has changed along the way. 

One big example: we wanted the new site to do a better job of showing that we have longstanding relationships with a lot of our clients. We provide ongoing support on all our sites and in many cases come back after an initial scope of work is complete and work together again on new features—either something that didn’t fit in the original scope, or a new project entirely that’s come up after launch. We had a set of narrative case studies on our previous site (which we carried over, and you can view here), but explaining the ins and outs of what makes a project special isn’t necessarily enhanced by breaking it out into a strict timeline. 

We did consider having time-based, modular case studies, but ultimately decided that maintaining them that way would be too onerous and reading them would be too much of a chore for prospective clients. We decided that our new Archive section would help to not only highlight the breadth of the work we’ve done over the last few years, but also our commitment to our clients. 

Our new goal was important, but it wasn’t the only thing we were trying to achieve, and we actually ended up addressing it in ways we didn’t anticipate at the beginning.

Make sure the work is distributed

We knew when we started that we were going to be reusing a lot of the written content of our previous site—we’d written about a dozen case studies over the last few years that weren’t going anywhere, and there’s also just a lot of infrastructural content on a site like this that doesn’t necessarily need to get written from scratch all that often. But at the same time, we were pretty ambitious, knowing that there was already some foundational content to lean on. 

For one thing, check out this blog that you’re reading right now! For another, we knew we were adding an Archive section, and collecting the information to create it was a challenge. We also wanted to write new case studies for more recent work, gather testimonials from some of our clients, reconsider our approach to generating assets, and expand the scope of the projects we were representing on the site. Not to mention redesign and redevelop the whole site on top of a fresh CMS instance and using some cutting edge front-end frameworks we’re still learning, like CSS Grid.

That’s all obviously a lot of work, more than any one or even two or three members of our team could handle alone. We have a lot of experience guiding our clients through the process of reworking their content from the other end, but we don’t usually have to do it ourselves. But for the most part, it’s been pretty straightforward. 

We took our time, we trusted members of our team to take on specific tasks, took opportunities to actively cooperate, and we talked over decisions together so that it never got the a point where any particular team member was underwater.

Plan as much as you can, don’t plan more than you can

We go through a dozen website relaunches a year, and it’s still pretty daunting for us to take on the task of relaunching our own. We have a pretty good idea of what we’re getting in to, and a lot of experience navigating this process. That’s not always true of our clients, who don’t usually do this for a living. 

Even with our years of experience, we only planned out so much at the start of the process. We figured out more or less who was going to be responsible for which broad group of tasks, we itemized a list of things we probably had to do before we could do anything else, but everything after that we really only roughed in. Why is that?

Approaches change
We knew that as we went, we’d be challenging some of the assumptions we started with, and that meant we’d need enough flexibility in the schedule to circle back on elements of the project we decided to try again.

Tasks waterfall
A website redesign, especially one that requires the editing of legacy content and the generation of new content, is a complex process. A number of tasks that can be completed independently, but there are still milestones that depend on each other and it’s normal for elements of the project to depend on each other.

Other things come up
While our website helps support that business, keeping it up to date doesn’t directly impact our core business, which is client-based. We knew that over the course of the redesign, everyone involved in the project would have other responsibilities, and that sometimes they would take priority from the redesign. 

Each of our periodic project checkin meetings included time to map out next steps in more detail. Being flexible throughout the project helped us to navigate it together and succeed, without having to be hold ourselves to decisions we made before we had all the information we would have at the end.

Interested in hearing more of what we have to say?

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