Tales of a website redesign
Ask any designer and they’ll tell you that designing their own site is always the hardest. Having the skills somehow gives you so many options, hence making the whole process that much more agonizing. I started my website revamp back in December thinking it’d be a fairly straight forward process, and would take a week or so. WRONG! I should actually be thankful it only took me a month and a half to get it together.
Just because you have more experience under your belt doesn’t make a “simple redesign” any easier. I find the deeper I get into my career and more senior I become the challenges raise with it, as I think more critically and ask more questions.
From a portfolio to engaging storytelling
Having gone to design school, I’d always approached my website as a portfolio site showcasing the projects I’d worked on before. I realized somewhere along the way that became kind of flat and wasn’t telling the story of the kind of projects I’d actually been doing, and more importantly, the kind of work I wanted to be taking on. Also, the internet has evolved a ton since I was in school, so it was time to think differently.
I’ve always prided myself on the fact that I was a designer who can write. In recent years, I’ve become fascinated by storytelling, studying it in film and product design. I knew I needed to weave my story into the narrative of my work. I also am not just a “designer” these days. I wear many hats and try to combine my skills in unique ways, so I needed to find a creative way to connect the dots and communicate the many things I have done, or could do to help clients in the future.
When you have a business, you also have to sell
I also needed to sell my services. While this may seem obvious, it’s something that is easy to shy away from for fear of too much marketing. The need to sell became even more obvious to me after teaching content strategy in UX design and taking Marie Forleo’s Copy Cure class this fall. Even though I was working hard to tell my story, I also needed to reframe the site with the user in mind. I needed to speak to potential customers, not at them. And it’s really not about selling at all, it’s about making it easier for people to find the services they need.
Reworking the copy of my website was an amazing exercise in figuring out what I want to be doing in my business. It was also really hard and involved a lot of chipping away, tweaking, and refining content. It felt never ending, and in a way will be never ending. Because unlike the Roman ruins I visited this fall, a website is a living, breathing entity, and there will always be room for updates. The site may be live, but I already have ideas of changes I want to make.
Do the work and leave time for things to go wrong
Even with all the tools we have today, it doesn’t stop you from having to do the work. In some cases, it’s even more work. Early in the process, I got stuck having to relearn how to use the website tools, and developed a knack for using them in ways they were not intended to be used! There was a lot of un-learning, and unintended roadblocks. It became apparent to me in 2019 that digital housekeeping is something that we can’t take for granted.
I could have thought about and perfected my website forever in a mock-up, but it wasn’t until I actually started doing It that anything actually happened. Seeing content in context made me think critically about my direction and what I was actually saying, and how the visitor to my website would encounter the text. Often it was technical limitations that I had to change my original direction; frustrating at first, but also I tend to do my best work when dealing with “creative constraints”.
The link between design and content
One of reasons I enjoyed my Masters in Publications Design was the focus on the integration of word and image. Throughout this process I was reminded just how much design and content are interconnected. There’s a growing trend with content strategists to do “content first” before even thinking about the design. It can mean working on content before designing anything, but really it means not letting content be an afterthought. Content is what helps guide the user through an experience. It’s also way stronger if it’s written with the experience in mind rather than having to fit content into boxes that don’t really do much to enhance the experience.
When it’s your own project, you have the luxury of working on both content and design like they’re in conversation. In my process I realized there was very much a dialogue of how the pieces were working together, moving text and visuals around. My navigation (information architecture) changed names a dozen times. Rather than forcing something into a category, it was important to figure out what I was actually trying to achieve.
Growing and adapting with the process
You become your own worst client making changes and tweaks that weren’t part of the initial scope of work. Sure, it may take you longer, but it’s worth it in the end. Leave time for tweaks. They take far more time than you ever think, even the small ones. It’s often these super small changes that really make it come together. Design is in the details.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of actually getting in and working on the site to make sure it works. No matter how many hours you spend thinking about it in your head, it means nothing until you start working in the actual medium. As I worked I often had a blank piece of paper next to me and marker pens to sketch out ideas. The dialogue between paper and digital kept me thinking critically about content.
I’m glad I didn’t stick to the initial goal of updating my website in a week. It would have been fine, but not have accomplished what it really needed to do. As frustrated as I got at times, it also was because I was challenging myself to create my best work. It may not be the easy path, but it comes with its own rewards.
Don’t worry, the sentiment that I want to completely start over again always exists. That’s the thing about creative projects. There’s no one way of doing things. There are infinite ways, so while I did draw inspiration from a few places, I also wanted to create a new website that’s completely my own. I saw it as an opportunity for my business. Often I explain to my clients that the main investment is up front. Doing the work up front and taking the time to do it right will save time down the line. It will also create a baseline that’s easier to update in the future. I applied the same principle to myself.
The thing too about creative work is that you don’t always see the work behind the scenes. I find it gets messy, with highs and lows, and that imperfect process is key to getting to the best results. It means you’re asking questions and pushing yourself. It sucks at times, but it gets you to a higher level. I have yet to encounter a creative endeavor that takes less time than I expect. Often it’s a series of tiny changes that get you to the interesting place. And the kicker is that the final result looks easy and effortless. But to get to that point, you have to remind yourself how much work really did go into getting to that point.
I never would have been able to complete what I’ve done with my site in a week. Even if I had a month uninterrupted, it would have been hard. What I really needed was the exercise of working on it, stepping away, percolating, and thinking things through.
Success doesn’t mean hustling 24/7; it means having the ability to step away when you need to. Creative projects are their own beast. Embrace the process. When you conquer it, take the time to pause and reflect (see: this post). It’s good to have the reminder next time you do something of the sort and you encounter a few roadblocks along the way.
You can check out my new and improved site at anneditmeyer.com (you’re already here, but I encourage you to explore a little). Keep checking back, because it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’m going to be updating as I go (the beauty of digital!).
I also have lots of ideas for classes and workshops—both in person and online. So sign up for my newsletter where you’ll be the first to hear about new endeavors I’m launching. And it’s also where I share my favorite inspiration every week.