A UX designer sketching out a wireframe in a notebook

How To Conduct A UX Redesign

Cynthia Vinney

No matter what context you work in as a UX designer, at one point or another, you’ll probably be asked to redesign a user experience. At the start of your UX career, you might even conduct an unsolicited redesign to help build up your portfolio.

Either way, you might find yourself redesigning a website, an app, or the interface of a device. No matter what you’re redesigning, though, your process should follow a similar series of steps and encompass a similar set of questions and concerns.

In this article, we’ll cover the following topics:

  1. Redesigns from refresh to complete overhaul
  2. Reasons to conduct a redesign
  3. Steps for conducting a UX redesign
  4. Showcasing redesigns in your UX portfolio
  5. Key takeaways

Let’s jump in!

1. Redesigns from refresh to complete overhaul

UX redesigns can have vastly different degrees of complexity. On the one hand, the product may simply require a visual refresh to make it seem more modern and visually interesting. If this is the case and no noteworthy user experience changes are needed, the UX designer’s job may be to simply review the art director’s work and ensure nothing about the user experience is broken by the aesthetic overhaul.

You might also be tasked with redesigning the user experience for a specific part of a product’s user interface. For example, perhaps the users of a specific website are having trouble navigating through a shopping cart or finding information on shipping and handling. If that’s the case, the UX designer’s job is not only to redesign that piece of the user experience; it’s also to make sure the redesigned interface fits in seamlessly with the original interface and doesn’t break any links or other functionality on the product.

So if you’re redesigning the way a user books a table on a restaurant’s website, for instance, you need to make sure users can successfully navigate to your redesigned reservation system and that they can navigate away to a different part of the website once they’ve completed their booking.

Finally, a product might require a complete overhaul. That means the UX designer will be responsible for understanding every single piece of information that must go into the redesign and how that information fits together. Then the UX designer must determine how to improve upon the prior design while avoiding changes that are so radical that they confuse and frustrate the product’s existing users. It’s a tough balancing act that requires attention to detail and a deep understanding of users’ goals.

2. Reasons to conduct a redesign

The very first question a UX designer should ask clients or stakeholders about a redesign is why they want to conduct it. There are many legitimate reasons to conduct a redesign, according to the Nielsen Norman Group. These include:

  • The site looks outdated
  • New branding needs to be implemented
  • Technological advances have made the site seem antiquated
  • The site isn’t optimized for mobile or social media
  • The information architecture of the site is a mess and many links are broken
  • The user experience is confusing and there is no unified structure
  • Analytics show users have trouble doing what they need and don’t stick around

While the first two reasons on the list may simply require a visual refresh, the others involve important UX changes.

However, sometimes a client or stakeholder will request a complete UX redesign simply because they look at their product’s user interface all day and are bored. This can lead a client to focus on the things they don’t like about their product’s user experience. On the other hand, users probably feel differently. Users are creatures of habit. And since they’re spending far less time with a product’s user interface than the client, they’ll typically see the familiarity of the UI as a positive.

Consider this: If Amazon.com completely overhauled its website in order to make the website seem more innovative or interesting, but in the process changed how to find items, how to add them to your shopping cart, and how to check-out, what would be your response? If you’re like most people, you’d be frustrated. You already know how to complete tasks successfully on Amazon. Anything outside of an incremental change will make that more challenging and time-consuming. No matter how cool the newly implemented changes may seem, most users won’t be impressed. Their goal when they go to your website, app, or other UI is to complete their task and meet their goals in as little time as possible.

So if a client or stakeholder wants to completely rehaul a product’s user experience but they don’t have a good reason for doing so, you as the UX designer must make sure to advocate for the product’s users. This could mean discussing other options, like a visual refresh or small UX changes with your client.

One way or another, it’s essential to make sure any changes you make, even on a complete overhaul, are not made for the novelty of the changes. It can be tempting to be as creative as possible. However, you’re better off understanding what users are already familiar with from the product (based on their mental models) and implementing changes that respect what your users like while mixing in some new but understandable evolutions.

Unsolicited redesigns

If you’re a fresh-faced UX designer just starting out, you might also conduct a hypothetical—or unsolicited—redesign. This is a great way to put your newly acquired design skills into practice, and also gives you a case study to add to your portfolio in the absence of a real client project.

An unsolicited redesign is, quite simply, a hypothetical project of your choice . Perhaps there’s a particular website you use regularly that you think could benefit from an overhaul, or a certain app that could be upgraded with a few simple tweaks. Just like a “real” client project, you’ll redesign the experience and document your process from start to finish in your portfolio—just like Priyanka Gupta does in her unsolicited redesign of the Sephora iOS app. Just remember to clearly state that you’re not affiliated with the company in any way, and that you haven’t actually been hired to conduct a redesign. Otherwise, the process is the same as for a real UX redesign. Let’s take a look at that now.

3. How to conduct a UX redesign: Step-by-step
 

1. Understand existing users

In an ideal world, all UX redesigns would start with user research and analytics. Analytics for an existing product will help you understand how users are currently using the product, and identify the biggest pain points they encounter based on how long they use the product and how many screens they visit. This also gives you hard data that will help you make specific recommendations for where to focus the efforts of your redesign.

Whether you have access to analytics or not, you should perform user research on the product you are redesigning. As Nielsen Norman’s Hoa Loranger explains, “Your old site is the best prototype for your new site.” Make sure you take advantage of that by learning from the existing product. Gather user feedback on what they dislike about it, while also making sure to ask about what users like about the current product. All of this information will help fuel your redesign.

2. Understand business goals

It’s essential to understand what the business wants to get out of the redesign. What do they know about their existing users that can help you conduct your redesign? The UX redesign solution should be specific to the business’ goals while keeping user needs in mind. If the business wants to make it easier to navigate to specific information, increase page views, or complete more sales, the user experience must be designed to support those goals by making it easier and more beneficial for users to do those things.

3. Competitive analysis

Another source of information for a redesign is competitor’s products. Take a look at competitor’s UIs to see what they’re doing that’s different. What works? What doesn’t work? Are there innovative solutions that you can borrow that will better engage your users? Are there things they’re doing that you want to avoid?

In addition to researching users’ reactions to the product you’re redesigning, you can also perform a study to see how users respond to competitors’ products. Explore how users interact with the interface and navigate through the user experience, including what they find clear and easy to use and where their pain points are.

4. Redesign

After gathering data from the existing product and competitors and ensuring you understand the business goals for the project, you should be ready to start redesigning in earnest. You’ll often want to start with a site map of the redesigned information architecture. You’ll also want to make sure you understand the various ways users may work through the site to meet different goals by creating user workflows. Once you have a handle on these top level issues, you can start wireframing and creating prototypes for the redesign. Ideate on potential user experience options until you come up with a solution that works best for both the business and users.

5. User testing

Finally, test your redesign with users, preferably users of the previous iteration of the product. Get feedback on what they like about the new design and what may frustrate them. Keep in mind that any redesign is likely to ruffle some users’ feathers. But user testing will help determine if there are any real usability problems with the redesign. If there are, continue to iterate on the redesign until the user experience is working the way it should.

4. Showcasing redesigns in your UX portfolio

While it’s not essential, it is valuable to include at least one redesign project in your UX portfolio. To most successfully showcase a redesign, make sure you can explain why the redesign was done, what your solutions were to the challenges presented by the client, and why you decided to implement any noteworthy features. Showcase the redesign process in the order it was conducted—from studies on the previous and competitors’ sites, right through to user workflows and information architecture overhauls to page-level redesigns—in order to tell the story of the redesign. You don’t have to include everything, just enough to make sure the process you went through is clearly represented. Your goal should be to clearly communicate to someone looking at your portfolio how you improved on an existing product with your redesign and the journey you took to get there.

5. Key takeaways

Now you have a clear process to follow in order to conduct a UX redesign—be it a real client project, or an unsolicited redesign for your UX portfolio. To sum up:

  • Redesigns can run the gamut from a visual refresh to a complete user experience overhaul. 
  • The most important question to ask before starting a redesign is why the client or stakeholder wants to conduct it.
  • There are many reasons to conduct a UX redesign including a product that is no longer optimized for new technology, convoluted information architecture and a confusing user experience.
  • The kind of redesign that is undertaken should be based on user needs, not boredom on the part of clients or stakeholders who work with the user interface regularly.
  • A good UX redesign starts with studying the existing UI, as it is the best prototype for your new product.
  • Make sure you understand your clients’ business goals and how they can be seamlessly integrated into the redesigned user experience.
  • Research competitors’ products to see what works and doesn’t work about their UX. 
  • A UX redesign should consist of a variety of deliverables including user workflows, site maps of the information architecture, wireframes, and prototypes. Iterate on the new design and perform user testing until the user experience is working as it should.
  • It’s ideal to include at least one redesign in your UX portfolio that tells the story of the challenges of the project.

Now that you know how to approach a UX redesign, you might want to learn more. If so, you’ll find the following articles useful:

What You Should Do Now

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  2. If you are interested in becoming a UX Designer check out our UX design course (you'll learn the essential skills employers need).
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Cynthia Vinney

Cynthia Vinney

Contributer to the CareerFoundry Blog

Cynthia Vinney is a freelance writer, researcher, and designer. She has worked in UX for a number of top interactive firms and advertising agencies performing research and creating designs for major brands. She holds a PhD in media psychology.