How to Use an Iterative Design Process For Your Website

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  • 1/12/2021
    For as long as humans have been making stuff, they’ve been improving stuff. Flint and steel became matches, matches became fluid lighters and fluid lighters became rechargeable electric lighters. This concept of iterating a design for improvement is as old as human ingenuity, and it didn’t take long after the invention of the internet for us to apply the concept of an iterative design process to websites, too.
     
    The process of making continuous improvements is important for any consumer facing product, websites included. If you’re sick of blowing up and rebuilding your site every time you feel dissatisfied with it or your audience isn’t responding to it, then this process is definitely for you.
     

    What is an iterative design process?

    An iterative design process involves making continuous improvements to your site rather than doing a full redesign. These improvements can be technical, on the structural back end of a site, or visual, on the user-facing front end. The point of iterative design is to make changes of varying degrees, see how they perform and then either keep, tweak or remove them entirely. 
     
    With this baby step approach to improvement, your site is continually updated and performing to your satisfaction, or at least performing closer to your satisfaction with every edit. It’s a great happy medium approach to site design.
     

    The benefits of iterative design 

    There are several key benefits to implementing an iterative design process for your website, including the following:
     
    • Continuous improvement: There are constant ways to enhance and improve your site without having to invest in a full-scale redesign project. The process is never really done so you have room to make and test small tweaks and build off your success over time. 
    • Cost efficient: A full site redesign is costly and involves several team members for creation and feedback. Iterative design takes place on a smaller scale and involves fewer team members, meaning you’re conserving valuable time and resources.
    • Instant change: Your website is an investment, and site redesigns should be fairly few and far between. With iterative design you don’t have to wait until your next redesign to make any changes you’re passionate about seeing. Instead, you’ll have a process in place to implement and test your ideas now. 
     

    Disclaimer: Not all site explosions are bad

    We know we’ve made it seem like website redesigns are something to avoid, but far from! Iterative design just means you don’t have to change your entire site on a yearly basis. Every website can use a good redesign around the 3-5 year mark. 
     
    Design and UX both evolve and can get stale and outdated after just a few years. Visuals start to feel boring or overused and UX slips behind the pace at which the internet evolves. Improvements for both also go hand in hand. Constantly improving UX can leave design feeling disjointed and new design updates can require big UX changes. 
     
    Iterative design is not a forever solution to an outdated site, but it has its merits. A facelift is necessary every once in a while, but the project becomes less daunting if you know it’s coming and can plan ahead.
     

    The three-step website iterative design process

    So you’ve decided iterative design is for you, huh? Like everything in a good workplace, you’ll need to create a process that works for you and get the right team members on board. Remember, a good iterative design project manager keeps the team on deadline and sticks to a schedule. If no one takes charge of the process and makes sure it happens on a cycle, it can easily fall by the wayside. 
     
     
    By the way, the iterative design process is, in fact, a cycle. These three steps should repeat over and over between site redesigns. 
     

    1. Launch

    Either you’ve just launched a brand new site or implemented a brand new site feature. Congratulations! This site (or site feature) should be created with your goals in mind and should encourage your audience to take action that helps you reach those goals. For example, if you want your audience to fill out a contact form, you may have decided to add a larger, brighter call-to-action button with a new font leading to the contact form on your product pages.
     
    Green light your new feature, and then keep an eye on it for a week or so to make sure there are no big errors that affect its performance. If it’s running as intended after a week, sit back and give it time before moving into the next step. 
     

    2. Test

    Choose a set period of time to let the new feature perform. We suggest anywhere from three to six months depending on your audience and site traffic. Then, pull the appropriate data showing the results of your test. See how the audience is interacting with your site by tracking metrics relevant to your goals.
     
    Let’s go back to the contact form example. If you want the audience to go to the Contact Page and fill out the form, you want to monitor:
     
    • How many people viewed your Contact Page
    • How many of the people who viewed the Contact Page were new users
    • The time they spent on the Contact Page 
    • Where their attention was drawn on the page and their path to the page
     
    You can use heat mapping tools like Hotjar to determine which site elements drew the most audience attention. You may find that many people are clicking on your new product page CTAs or that they’re largely going unnoticed. Take all your data and head into step three. 
     

    3. Evaluate

    This is where your problem-solving, detective skills come in! Take your data and cross reference it with your goals to determine if your new features helped or hinder your efforts. If they helped, great! Can you improve any further? If they didn’t work out as intended, it’s time to brainstorm some creative solutions. Should you have placed the new CTA button elsewhere on the page? Should it be a different color? Should it stay pinned to the top of the screen when the user scrolls?
     
    Evaluate your results and pull in your UX and design teams to determine your next iteration. Then the cycle rinses and repeats. Proceed back to step one and implement your ideas. Then test, evaluate and try again infinitely on the metaphorical ferris wheel of website iteration.
     
    We hate to be the ones to break this news to you, but no website is perfect right off the bat. Show us a site that receives a 100% conversion rate and millions of visitors in its first week and we’ll show you a whole pack of flying pigs. (Fun fact: The name for a group of pigs is actually called a “sounder.” Look it up!)
     
    Instead of completely redoing a site that doesn’t resonate, the process of web design iteration helps you make adjustments based on your goals. It’s the best way we’ve found to continually sharpen your site into a fine point. 
     
    There’s no need to blow up the wheel before you reinvent it! Let the experts take a look at your site and learn how iteration can make all the difference. Click here to reach out. 
     
    About the author::Joe Cola, who sadly has no connection to the world famous brand, Coca-Cola, is the Art Director at thunder::tech. When he isn't designing, Joe loves going to the zoo or the metroparks. He also considers himself a "dinosaur expert."
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