Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

How to do a successful application redesign

Malin Sofrone
Jun 10, 2018 · 3 min read

Summary: In order to create a great application redesign, analyze what works and what doesn’t, create a vision, create a new design and implement it in small steps while checking the impact along the way.

Imagine you’re coming back from work. You’re still thinking about that project you’re working on. You’ve just opened the door to your house, you coming, only to discovered that someone has rearranged your entire furniture. Everything is in another place than what you remember from when you left the house. The rack for shoes in the hallway was moved. Your wardrobe where you keep your house clothes, is now somewhere else. The entire furniture in the kitchen, rearranged. Knives, forks, salt and pepper are not where you knew they were. In the bathroom, all the toiletries are placed different.

That’s how it feels, most of the time, when an application is redesigned, to the people that use it every day. The usual arrangement has changed and now more effort is required to complete the job. That’s why I usually recommend against a redesign and implementing it very fast. When I was starting out as a designer, I was taking pleasure in redesigning things. It gave me a sense of progress and a great satisfaction of doing things in a new way, which I was sure it was a better way (even though I didn’t know if it was or not).

Any big redesign is a bundle of assumptions. The more assumptions, the bigger the risk. And the bigger the chance of inflicting effort on the side of the people using it.

Here’s what I recommend instead.

Analyze the current situation

Every application has things that work and things that don’t work. While most of the time a redesign is created as a result of things that don’t work, it’s very easy to forget or miss what works for the people that use it. Not everything has to be redesigned or changed. Observe the people that use it, make a list of things that work and keep them as they are and adjust only what needs adjusted.

Create a vision

Once you have created a list of things that work and those that don’t, it’s time to craft a vision. Write down a description of what the vision is for the redesign. What attributes describe it? Is it about the visual, interactions or overall experience? Discuss and create a shared understanding with those you work with. By talking with others, the implicit becomes explicit, which increases the chance of having a clear and coherent redesign.

And of course, define what success looks like and how to measure it.

Create new design

Having a vision written down based on discussions, it’s easier to start the actual redesign. The vision and analysis will serve as guidelines throughout the process. They will facilitate for decisions to happen faster and with more clarity.

Implement in small steps

It’s very tempting to make the shift immediately. To push the button and change everything at once. I’d suggest instead a gradual change. Break down the redesign into smaller releases. First ship a small part and observe how people react. Ideally some testing has already happened so there should be just a few surprises. And then continue with releases in stages while observing the impact. This gives the users a chance to adapt to changes over time.

Measure impact

Throughout the release stages and also at the end, impact should be measured based on the original bets, assumptions and success indicators. How has the experience changed of the users? Have the initial problems been fixed? What are the unintended consequences?

Most of the the time, there isn’t a clear end of a redesign and a start for incremental improvements. They are intertwined. In particular because no redesign fixes everything and doesn’t have unintended consequences.

A great part with incremental changes is that the risk is minimized. And makes it easier to react to unforeseen reactions. And although not directly visible, small changes added together can be a big change.

Malin Sofrone

Written by

Product manager and user experience designer. Love to share what I know and learn from others. Into long distance cycling.

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