Evolutionary Redesign verus Revolutionary Design

By lalitsharma, 4 June, 2015
Evolutionary Redesign verus Revolutionary Design

If you have been considering overhauling your website to get rid of all the old elements in order to bring in the new, you may want to pause a little bit. This scheme of website redesign, also called revolutionary design has been around for a number of years. However, many site owners have been disappointed with the results of their work, finding out too late that the new design doesn’t appeal to clients. The reason for that is simple: frequently, site owners concentrate on how the site looks instead of redesigning based on the feedback given by users or analytical metrics. In such cases, it is impossible to know whether a redesign will translate to improvement of metrics compared to the old site, since focus is on the wrong thing.

However, you don’t have to trash the entire idea of redesign; through evolutionary redesign, you can achieve design goals in a controlled and tested manner.

What is Evolutionary redesign?

Coined from the term ‘evolution’, this is process of updating the design of a website in a controlled and tested manner by applying tactical A/B testing to examine effect of every design update on conversions and sales revenues. It’s the best method to apply to brands that are strong, but need to improve their core digital products e.g. websites or apps. Revolutionary design is more popular since it’s an older technique, and it sounds more exciting. Because most people erroneously deem the aesthetics of a digital product as most important, brands can feel lulled to think that as long as they utilize the latest design trends and make flashy interfaces, the market/users will be happy and the site will succeed. Most commonly, revolutionary design is under the direction of the senior managers in an enterprise. While the decision may be driven by an honest desire to improve metrics, most often site owners just want to look like the trendiest site on the block, buying into the maxim “New is always better”.

Reasons Revolutionary Design Fails

  1. Too much all at once – changing too many aspects of a website all together makes it difficult to identify which improvements are responsible for the changes in your revenue and conversions. For instance, you could implement a lead generation form redesign, but what happens if the page on which it’s placed causes an increase in the bounce rate?
  2. Deceptive victories – even if a revamped page causes increases in revenue and/or conversions, revolutionary design does not offer room to examine whether further changes would further improve conversion. Testing individual elements conversely allows one to find out whether further improvements would further increase revenue/conversion.
  3. It’s no cure-all – website redesign alone cannot fix a bad situation. If the business model is flawed or sales are declining due to a deeper problem, redesign can only temporarily mask the problem.
  4. Lack of UX knowledge – the average designer concentrates on colors, drop shadows and font, paying little attention to how a design would impact a site’s bottom-line. Even the more experienced designers cannot predict accurately how the redesign would affect user interaction with a site, which makes most revolutionary design projects fail on their release.
  5. Ignoring user feedback - revolutionary designs are seldom driven by user metrics or feedback; rather, it’s about trying to keep up with the latest technological advances and looking better than someone else. Without determining impact of change on the actual users of a site, you’re more likely to goof.
  6. Ignoring analytics – conducting a full-scale redesign without conducting analysis will hardly result in the kind of change site owners imagine they are investing in. Prior to the design project, conduction of careful analysis is important using the site’s metrics to determine specific areas that need improvement.
  7. Slow – major redesign projects are time-consuming and expensive, especially with bigger brands where changes must get approval from multiple levels of management and developmental cycles are generally slow.
  8. Irrevocable – once the design is live and running, it’s difficult to take back major redesigns after you determine the general impact to/reception by stakeholders is undesirable.
  9. Risk to SEO – major redesigns can drastically affect a site’s current standing in terms of domain authority and rankings. This translates to drops in revenue, traffic and conversions. This is because designers and strategic teams do not fully consider the impact of addition, removal and massively changing pages has on a site’s standing on Google. Recovery can take months, even years.

Two Revolutionary Design Disasters

Yahoo Mail

Obviously trying to emulate Gmail, Yahoo released two redesign updates within a few months of each other. This resulted in massive user uproar, including a petition with more than 40,000 signatories demanding the previous site back. Especially since the second update removed some vital user features like sort-by-sender and tabs. Even Yahoo employees switched away from their own email service.


The latest CNN website update was met with much contempt and controversy. According to the CNN team, the redesign aims at providing a better experience for its mobile audience. However, this has some at a cost to them. The homepage load times average 20 seconds, with larger images that reduce the headline numbers above-the-fold, making the page longer. In addition, the new desktop navigation has lost its intuitive quality. It is clear that Revolutionary Design is no longer a viable option in the present climate. On the rare occasion, major redesigns can work, but most often, they cause a ripple effect that’s difficult to recover from, especially considering the costs involved in the design process.

Why Evolutionary design may work better

Instead of shocking and alienating customers with a completely new UI/UX, the ER approach focuses on changing a single element at a time, focusing only on what is already broken. Too much unfamiliarity can be frustrating for users, who may turn away and never look back. ER is focused on analytical data and user metrics to identify which parts of a website need improving. While it’s sometimes slower than the revolutionary approach, the results are frequently much better. Front-end redesign can look amazing, but unless it is backed by indepth analytical metrics, it won’t affect site performance as dramatically as expected. Lastly, ER allows for fast rollouts of updates and improvements. The small changes can be tested, implemented and rolled out quickly, making for a series of small changes rolled out over a span of time, during which users have time to acclimatize to new aspects one at a time. This allows a site to be continuously improving user experience, which keeps users happy with the site.

Author Bio: Lalit Sharma is an SEO consultant who runs a SEO house called Ranking By SEO. He is specialized in link building and other SEO related activities. You can also find him on Twitter, Google+ and his personal blog.