Completing a website redesign or branding overhaul is kind of like having a child. I’m a man, so of course I have never birthed a baby, as my wife loves to remind me anytime I complain about anything resembling physical pain. Even so, during this web update I experienced extreme emotions: distress; intense agony; and then when it was all done, a sense of love, pride and satisfaction so deep I can’t explain it.
I admit I might be exaggerating somewhat, but you get the idea. Web design and logos can be scary and difficult to change, but progress must happen. The Internet moves too quickly to remain stagnant.
Why I redesigned my site
Inevitably, technology progresses and creates new ways for users to experience brands online. In recent years, advances in blogging platforms, social media integration, search engine optimization (specifically, page speed) and mobile optimization have changed how sites operate. Design trends like responsive design, parallax scrolling, sticky menus and infinite scrolling also have changed how customers find what’s current and trendy. Our personal tastes change, too, and should be reflected in an updated web presence.
To summarize: Technology trends and my personal preferences changed, and I needed to solve a few pain points:
- My old web design didn’t work perfectly on phones, meaning a large portion of visitors had a less-than-perfect experience.
- I’ve added a ton of new site content over the past two years that wasn’t clearly represented through the site. I now have a specific path for users to travel: Plan, Learn, Grow.
- My old theme had a bug where I couldn’t preview a post before publishing. I needed to stop wasting time in my blog workflow.
Why I redesigned my logo
I noticed that premier brands like Disney, Microsoft, Sony and Design Aglow (affiliate) have black, easy-to-read name marks in their logo. This design feature puts emphasis on the brand name and can be served in any format — from business cards to social media avatars.
My old logo had a few problems:
- I wasn’t thrilled about how it looked, which hurt my own confidence in my brand.
- The colors conflicted with color schemes of other sites and social media.
- The font didn’t feel modern or top-of-the-line.
- The “spark” icon had too much emphasis.
I ended up with something simple, modern, elegant and fun — the attributes I was shooting for.
How my homepage changed over time
Most website redesigns focus on refashioning a homepage. This is interesting because homepages are less important now than they have ever been. They no longer are the first online step in a client’s journey with you. Instead, most people will visit your site through a search engine, social media site or email newsletter; therefore, they access your website first on a “deep page,” like a blog post or session gallery.
My homepage gets less than 5% of my total page views.
If you ever want to embarrass yourself or just have a good laugh, use the Internet Archive to look back at your old website designs. I didn’t realize how much things have changed until I looked back in time.
2009 (year 1)
In 2009, I learned a website doesn’t need to be perfect in order to start a brand. I posted a WordPress site in one day without a budget, logo or headshot. My goal was simply to get started and not wait.
If you don’t post anything until it’s perfect, you’ll never post at all.
My niche was intently focused on the topic of search engine optimization for photography. In this small market I quickly and easily became one of the best. I felt it better to be #1 in a small market than struggle in a large market.
Elements of the 2009 design:
- Simple WordPress site
- 2-3 page site
- Focus on products rather than articles
- Minimalist, with no color or photography
- No logo or branding
- Default web-safe font
- No headshot or About page
- Mobile was not a consideration
- Focus on a very specific niche
A year passed before I had a friend of mine create a logo and take a my headshot. I asked him to design an owl because I liked owls; unfortunately, owls had nothing to do with my audience or products. My headshot was of me looking away from the camera and not smiling. In retrospect my headshot and logo should have been the first two things I invested in. I dedicated a large part of my marketing efforts to growing an email list.
Elements of the 2010 design:
- Logo (not professional)
- Headshot (not professional)
- Email newsletter
- RSS Feed
- Full-length posts on homepage
After two years of experience in the photo industry, I had generated enough demand and name recognition to expand my focus to “photography web marketing.” Design elements of the site were uncoordinated and lacked a defined color palette.
Elements of the 2011 design:
- Broader focus
- Additional products
- Self-designed product images
- Color (not professional)
2012 (year 4)
My fourth year of business finally focused on my customers instead of myself. If only I had done a business plan first! I had a professional designer create a logo, site background and color scheme that reflected my clientele. I spent a considerable amount of time writing blog posts about educational resources in order to build trust and brand loyalty.
Elements of the 2012 design:
- Professional logo and color scheme
- Designed around the audience
- Content marketing approach
- Social media integration
- Text on feature images for improved social sharing
- Post excerpts on homepage
By my fifth year in business I had a prominent position in search engines, partners, an audience, and the opportunity to venture into a more competitive market. I was able to expand to the level I had wanted from the beginning: a full-fledged photography business (not just SEO or marketing). The name, logo and site design were carefully planned.
Elements of the 2013 design:
- Broad focus area
- Professional design and branding
- Website flyins and popups to attract subscribers
- Longer homepages with stacked sections
- Not yet mobile friendly
In 2014 many sites shifted to responsive design in order to be mobile friendly. Navigation menus became thinner and a Pinterest-style grid was in vogue.
Elements of the 2014 design:
- Responsive design
- Thin top navigation with mobile-friendly menu/navigation
- Grid layout for posts on homepage
- Pinterest friendly images and share buttons
2016 (8th year)
My new design changed the logo to be more elegant. The site is more minimalist, with accent colors instead of background colors. It was designed specifically for mobile users.
Elements of the 2016 design:
- Mobile-first strategy
- Sticky top navigation follows you down the page
- Parallax scrolling on homepage
- Larger images in posts
- Focus on real-life photography instead of stock photos
- Mostly black-and-white logo
- Clear navigational path for users (Plan, Start, Grow)
Hopefully this look at my stumbles and process the past few years gives you some humor and a dose of optimism that web design is an evolution that will never be perfect. If you haven’t changed your design in a few years, it might be worth a second look.