Website redesign? Three tips from a top web developer

GateHouse Media began the process of relaunching newspaper sites on its new website template, designed by Garcia Media’s Mario Garcia, earlier this year.

We asked Director of Digital Development Operations Christopher Hister, who has been on the front lines of the relaunch, for his insider thoughts on what he learned during the GateHouse Media relaunch and what companies should keep in mind when thinking about doing their own site redesigns.

1. Be responsive 

With mobile consistently on the rise, it’s crucial for newsrooms to deliver their content to all devices. Let’s face it — readers expect the same content they read on their desktop during lunch to be available on their phones or tablets when they get home. For this reason, any company taking on a website redesign needs to be fully responsive.

Responsive web design (RWD) is a modern technology that allows the user’s experience to remain the same, regardless of the device they’re using. So, whether you’re on your phone, laptop, or tablet, you get the same website experience. This is key for audience loyalty and engagement. Helping users develop familiarity with your website is a lot easier when the website remains consistent.

2. Don’t reinvent the wheel — just use the best wheels

Back when I was a junior developer, my boss told me, “never use code you find on the internet; it’ll just make things harder.” There may have been a time when this was true, but the internet has evolved quite a bit since then. Companies like Google, Twitter, Mozilla, etc., have put significant time and resources towards creating web tools that make things easier for all developers. If someone’s already perfected something we need, why redo it? If it does what we need, it’s fast, it’s efficient — why reinvent it? The answer is simple — you shouldn’t!

Before we started any work on the core redesign code base, we did a deep dive through the top bells and whistles available. After properly vetting these tools, we were able to cherry pick exactly what we needed, ultimately minimizing the time spent on development. If you can spend less time on basic development—development that’s already been done by the experts — then you can spend more time on hyper-custom solutions for your organization.

3. Learn from past failures 

Whether you’re working on a small start-up site or involved in a massive companywide redesign, you’ve likely experienced or will experience failure at some point. This often scares developers, causing them to miss opportunities and fall short of their potential. It’s important to think of everything you’ve done in your career as a learning experience. And, when it comes to development, if you haven’t failed, you haven’t learned.

It was our failure in page speed and load times that taught us how to improve. Now we have sites that load in 2-4 second — some of the fastest delivery times in the industry. It was our failures in UX that taught us exactly what the readers wanted from our sites. Now we’re graded at 95-98 percent based on recent Google Pagespeed UX tests. Failures will happen; they’re inevitable. But each one is just another opportunity to learn.

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