Friday, December 17, 2010

You Need to Redesign Your Product

Iterate, iterate, iterate. If there is something that I hear from lean startups more than “pivot” and “fail” it’s that iterating on your product is the way to improve it. And I absolutely believe that iteration is critical to making great features and products.

The problem is, sometimes just improving what you’ve got isn’t enough. Every so often, from a UX perspective anyway, you just need to throw everything out and start from scratch.

I’m not necessarily talking about reskinning the site with a new visual design, although that sometimes has to be done. Sometimes you also need to completely reorganize and refocus everything about your product’s user experience.

Of course, this can be incredibly expensive and time consuming, so it’s not something that you want to do unless it’s really necessary.

Here are a few signs that you may need to do a complete product redesign:

There’s No Room for Your New Feature

A big part of lean startups is coming up with lots of new feature ideas and throwing them in front of users to see what sticks. Another big part is killing the features that don’t make the cut, but that can be hard to do.

There comes a time in the life of every lean startup where they have a new feature that doesn’t quite fit within the navigation and structure of the rest of the product.

Often this new feature is not quite a pivot, but it may be the first step in that direction. Maybe you’re adding a social component to an ecommerce application or you’re adding games or a marketplace to a social site.

Or maybe you’ve just run out of room on your front page, and you simply can’t add another widget.

Whatever the reason, when you have a new feature that you can’t logically fit anywhere into your product, it’s probably time to do an overhaul, or at least a reorganization. It’s probably also a great time to go through and kill some of those underperforming features in order to make room for the new stuff.

You’ve Added a “Miscellaneous” Section to Your Navigation

Ever been tempted to add a section to your product navigation called “Misc.” or “Other” or “Stuff”? Yeah, we’ve all wanted to do it. DON’T.

Having a catchall in your product or site’s global navigation is a really good hint that something is terribly wrong with your information architecture. It may also mean that you have one or more features that don’t fit in well with the rest of your product.

This may mean that it’s time to rethink what your product offers to people or start killing (or spinning off) features that don’t fit. By focusing your offering, you will find that those random catchall categories magically disappear.

Your Users Aren’t Finding the Features You Already Have

You are measuring the adoption and user engagement for all of your current features right? So, you should know if there are features that are underperforming.

The important thing to remember is that sometimes features don’t do well not because they’re bad features but because nobody can find them in the confusing mess that your product has become over time.

You can figure out which it is by talking and listening to current users. If they’re constantly asking for features that you already have or if they get very excited when you describe existing features, you know that it’s time to do a product redesign so that they can find the things that you’ve already built for them.

Your Visual Design is Attracting the Wrong Audience

Sometimes a visual design change can make an enormous difference in attracting the right audience. If your product is meant to appeal to working moms, but in reality appeals to 15 year old gamers, you may just need to do a complete visual redesign.

The best way to test this is to get your product in front of some people in your target demographic who aren’t currently users. Just see how they react to it. Do they recoil in disgust? Do they appear disinterested? Do they say things like, “Oh, that’s not for me”? Then it’s probably time to reskin your product.

New Users Don’t Understand What Your Product Does

Another common problem with unfocused products is that new users just don’t get the value proposition. It may be tempting to try to address this with clever marketing messages or help pages or video tutorials, but this rarely fixes the real problem.

The real problem is frequently that there are simply too many things going on for new users to immediately grasp what the product can do for them. They start to explore, but they quickly become lost in a sea of unrelated features and inconsistent navigation.

By redesigning the UX, you can focus the navigation and features so that a new user can immediately understand what the product does for her.

Your Product Has Become Wildly Inconsistent

When you design and ship each feature separately, both the visual design and interaction can become really inconsistent. Button placements migrate, “Submit” becomes “Go”, and even navigation conventions can change.

Do this enough times, and it can feel like you’re looking at dozens of different products, which is extremely disorienting for your users.

This doesn’t always require a full redesign, but it does require a sweep of your entire product in order to make visual and interaction design details consistent and coherent.

When It’s Not Time

Because complete product overhauls can take a lot of time, it’s not something you want to undertake lightly. It’s not a panacea for a product that’s just not working.

I’ve frequently seen people who were simply out of ideas for engaging their users say that they needed to “redesign the whole thing” out of frustration or lack of vision.

But if your product has grown organically into a big, sprawling, inconsistent mess without a clear purpose or focus, it’s time to bite the bullet and redesign. Your users will thank you.

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