I think it’s safe to say that I spend more time redesigning websites for clients than I do designing new ones. During the past few decades, we’ve reached the point where pretty much every organization that needs a website has one. These days, new websites are for new organizations. The rest of us are in the business of tending to our existing websites.

It’s taken a long time for us to get away from the mindset that building a website is something akin to publishing a book: lots of hard work, but then you finalize it all and release it into the wild—no more tweaking required. It turns out that websites are more like gardens, always growing and changing, in need of regular weeding and pruning, and adjusting to shifting seasons. And like gardens, planning—and a healthy dose of foresight—helps ensure good results.

So, I encourage people to think about their websites like gardens with lifecycles—from planting to harvest to resting/planning and back to planting. In fact, if you look closely, large franchises use the “lifecycle” concept when they send posters or displays to local outlets: each promotional item comes with an “up” and a “down” date. That is, when to put it up, when to take it down. A successful franchise would never design a new poster for their Frappuccino or Big Mac, exchange high fives, and then walk away, having checked “poster” off their to-do list. The same should be true for a well-tended website. A redesign should be for “fiscal year 2017–2019”, or “spring 2018.” Unfortunately, the more common scenario is that a business works hard to launch a website they like, but then they wait until it’s painfully outdated before they begin the process of a redesign.

Take a few minutes to look over your organization’s website today. Does it work well among the ecosystem of other web experiences your target audience is having? Are you integrating the latest best practices into your website as they emerge? Or is your website stuck in the ‘90s, lacking the simplicity, intuitive structure, and clean layout of other sites?

As a designer, it’s second nature for me to critique any website I visit. But as a consumer, I suspect that the design of a website affects me much like it does anyone else. For example, when I learn about an organization doing charitable work that interests me, I head to their website, which influences my first impressions about how organized, clued-in, or effective they are. If I pause to think about it, here are some of the things I’m looking for.


I wrote a longer blog post about this issue, but the crux of it is that the website needs to look as good or better on a phone than it does on a laptop. Websites designed to look good and work well on small screens succeed, not just because mobile devices generate a lot of web traffic, but also because of design principles that enable small designs to work much better when they are expanded than for large designs to work well when they are contracted.


BakeryTake a moment to look at Mahzedahr Bakery’s website. On the landing page, you’ll find a massive screen-filling photo gently fading into giant photos of their products. And if you scroll to the bottom, you’ll find two more huge photos dominating the screen.

Not only is huge an option, huge is a necessity. As I described in a previous post, most web traffic is coming from mobile devices. What is huge on your laptop is finally big enough to see on a phone. With an iPhone 5, I may be two generations behind, but so are millions of users. And on my iPhone 5, the screen has the exact same dimensions as a business card. Photos that fill the entire screen on a laptop are business-card sized to many mobile viewers.

Increasingly, these photos aren’t photos at all, but rather videos. If you have the resources to acquire or create the specific type of video that works well as a background, it can help set your site apart.


Big TypeD Bnonn Tennant’s Smashing Magazine article, 16 Pixels: For Body Copy. Anything Less Is a Costly Mistake, is a great introduction to why bigger is better. We are still recovering from the old rule that we had to fit all of our most important content “above the fold” on our users’ screens. Yes, big text will mean that there’s less text on the screen at any given moment. That’s a good thing. Less text and larger text make it easier for users to read your text. Small text conveys a sense of scarcity; large text conveys a sense of abundance.


Not only do users see less text on the screen in any given moment—due to larger text—contemporary websites simply use less text. Author and web design consultant Steve Krug famously advises his clients to “Cut the copy by half. Then cut it by half again.”

Although not all websites can be so sparing with their text, websites such as joybird.com make do with such concise copy that many websites look bloated by comparison.


Parallax scrolling is easier to demonstrate than describe. But in its most basic form, it involves layers of a website moving at different speeds when scrolling. It can also involve elements moving or appearing based on how low or high they are on the screen, sliding in, fading in, or rotating into place.

It isn’t useful in and of itself, but this technology can be a hint that a website is up to speed when it’s incorporated into an otherwise high-quality design.


Theme HunkThis layout doesn’t fit all organizations’ needs. But if your website is reasonably compact, you might want to use a newer approach where the menu refers to sections lower on the page, rather than to different pages. This WordPress template by ThemeHunk does this beautifully. Such a layout can be much easier to navigate on a phone, allowing the user to simply scroll downward, skip unnecessary information, with no need to pause to find a menu option.


Another trend that many find helpful is sticky menus. These menus stay available at the top of the screen regardless of how far down the page you scroll. As a result, users have constant access to the menu and your logo is always in view. Oftentimes, websites feature a large version of the logo on landing, and then shrink it down to a smaller logo for the sticky menu, ensuring that the menu doesn’t occupy too much of the screen.


Historically, low-resolution screens made circular images look jagged, so most web designers avoided them. Perhaps just because high-quality circular images are newly available to us, they seem to present a fresh look and feel. They are often used in “Meet the Team” about us pages.

Staying on top of web design trends may not be your best strength. But by partnering with a design team (internal or external) to keep your website current, you help ensure that your audience experiences your company, your brand, and your products or services as professional, competent, and relevant to their needs. The sense that a website is outdated or behind the times is likely to convey the message that your business or services are also not quite up to par.

Make a plan with your design team to refresh and update your site on a regular basis. Once a quarter or every two years—whatever is appropriate for the scope of your work. You don’t have to reinvent your online presence each time you refresh your site. But you can be sure that big changes in website best practices will emerge at least every few years. And staying ahead of those shifts will keep your engagement with your online audience strong and clear.