How to redesign your web app as a startup

Backstory

Ta-daa!
This is it. What do you think?
I was secretly working on this for the last year and a half. I think it’s exactly what you need.

When you run a lean software business it’s never a good time to redesign until it comes to the point where your survival depends on it.

When brought to the table а redesign is often “nice to have”. One’s thought is always “Let´s first do this other important stuff and when the devs have some free time we can refresh the design.” It’s most often cosmetic when someone decides to do a redesign. It’s about aesthetics and subjective opinions.
Or it’s about survival — we have to do something or we will out of business in 2 months.

I will argue that there is a middle ground where redesign is strategic, intentional and incremental. There is also a repeatable process that can even be applied by a lean startup.

Challenge

Make your software more profitable by improving the UI/UX design without losing momentum. Keeping momentum is a key ingredient here. When you get to the point where your product starts making money — suggestions for radical changes are never received well. In these cases, you have to be very deliberate. Before starting to design, you need to evaluate your current situation.

Opportunity

Done right, the opportunity can be massive. Significant product growth can only be achieved by product innovation. Increasing sales and user retention, reducing support tickets and churn can all be solved by a deliberate redesign.

I know what you are thinking — we have a stable version, now we just need more new leads that we convert to users. You are probably right, but what about if this new traffic doesn’t convert? You need to do your research. It could be a marketing problem. In that case, you need to work on your positioning or on communicating the benefits of your product better. However, if the marketing doesn’t solve the problem, you should consider a redesign. You might be missing out on an untapped opportunity.

Risks

Redesigning does not come without its risks:
1. It creates extra work for you dev team that slows down everything else
2. You can confuse and upset your existing users
3. As a result, you can go out of business because of the above-mentioned reasons
I’m sure you can list many more reasons but I think you get the picture.

Solutions

Been a small startup there is always a shortage of people or skills. So what I’m going to describe below are bare essentials. Things that at least you need to be aware of and in best case scenario you actually do.

Have a goal
Think about this redesign from a business standpoint. What is the problem in your business you are aiming to solve? You need to look at this holistically. How will this affect every component of the company? You need a designer on your side that can grasp this concept because focusing only on the user experience may harm your business.

Measure it
The other thing you need to think about is how to determine whether or not the redesign is successful. One way to measure success could be a 15% increase in new signups after the redesign is applied. Make it so that you can numerically compare the before and after.

Team insights
If you are thinking about it already, that’d be the first clue. That means you’ve already received feedback from users or your team saying that something is wrong. Before you act, collect info as much as possible. Start with team insights– people that are close to the users and the product. Ask them to notice any patterns of user behavior. This is the bare minimum in measuring the problem before you start redesigning.

Analytics
The next step (with can bring a small amount of friction) is looking at the analytics. If you use analytics, you see what users are doing. This can be a bit abstract if you are not trained to analyse data but you have to look at and write down your findings. You can use is later for a cross check.

Talk to users
An activity that requires the smallest amount of effort in this aspect is to implement a short questionnaire that you can send to your power users. What better than to get them on the phone? You can ask them to follow up on the questions and learn more. How do you know what to ask? You can Google “How to conduct user interviews”. This is a big topic, so I might cover it in a separate article.

UI/UX assessment
This whole article is basically me selling you a Design Audit. I do this internally for some of my clients and now I offer it as a separate service. There are other designers or studios that do this type of assessment in some fashion. It’s basically a thorough examination of the UI and UX of your product, screen by screen. It includes a plan and suggestions for improvement based on best practices and past experience. Getting a professional outside perspective can be sobering in some cases.
The worst case scenario would be you not learning anything new. However, you would still receive professional confirmation that your design works well. No, I take that back. The worst thing that could happen is if someone gives you bad advice and points you in the wrong direction. Nonetheless, I believe if you’ve been in this business long enough you can spot that sort of situation and deal with it.

Prioritise tasks
When you have all or some of the above aspects down, you should be ready to plan your moves. Start with tasks that require the smallest amount of effort and will possibly have the biggest impact. This could be things related to polishing the UI or maybe moving around some elements on the screen (so-called cosmetics). Don’t be fooled, cosmetics could be powerful. They give you confidence and make you stand out in the eyes of others.

However, if you want to keep the good impression you made with the cosmetics, you need to think about UX. This can be a daunting task since you are messing around with the flow of your existing users. I believe if you get the cosmetics down you can directly apply them on the live server. That way, you won’t receive that many complaints from your current users. If you’re changing the UX this could be a tricky one.

When you are planning to apply UX improvements that require structural changes to the main task flow, get in contact with your power users. Tell them what you are planning to do. Show them an image. Better then, show them a clickable prototype. Get some feedback. Iterate. Make them part of the process. You do it for them after all. After you validate your UX with them and your team, communicate the upcoming changes to all users. Shoot an email to all of them. Write a blog post. Give them time to react.

If you optimize the UX of a single feature you can probably get away with rolling it out straight to the live server, especially if it is based on user requests. This goes without saying, but keep a copy of the old version just in case.

If it’s a big overall redesign consider rolling out the new version as an option and give the users time to adapt. Create additional materials and support that can help facilitate the switch. This can be a lot of extra work for your team. What would be the other option, though? To keep doing the same thing and expecting different results?

Assign resources
After discussing with your team, assign a person responsible for leading this project. In a small team, this could be the designer, lead developer or sometimes even the founder. Their main goal should be to keep in mind the business goal set at the beginning and to guide the execution with this single focus.

Conclusion

It’s not perfect. It’s even presumptuous to think I can solve a problem of that scale. I’m just a designer after all, but I believe you can even skip steps from this process and make it work better than a random redesign. Am I right?…probably not.

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