red paint can with dipped paint brush

In a recent article from TheAtlantic.com, staff members discuss the recent redesign they undertook to update the website, making it more aesthetically pleasing and more accessible to its readership. Bob Cohn, editor of Atlantic Digital, writes,“Midway through the process, in fact, we sought to avoid referring to the project as a redesign at all. That seemed to trivialize it, suggesting a facelift or a fresh coat of paint. The goal, we realized, was more strategic than aesthetic.” The article focuses on the goals the team set out to accomplish over the course of the project, which got us thinking about the nature of websites, and why an attention to design, user experience, and, of course, strategy is so important to keep in mind each day, not just when there is growth or change in an organization.

The Atlantic had already been through a redesign in 2010, making one wonder if that effort fell short of expectations. But website technology is fast moving, and two years can be an eternity, especially for a site like TheAtlantic.com, whose audience expects a dynamic, rich experience. All companies need to recognize that websites are living, breathing entities that must constantly change and evolve. Using this example, we’ve listed a few takeaways for any company undergoing a website overhaul:

1. Highlight the strongest content: Everyone seems to focusing on content marketing these days, and if the strongest content your company has developed features online video, highlight the richness of the visual content by making it the focus of your website design. It should be the first thing visitors see upon arrival since this can establish your brand or company as a thought leader. Whether your content is in the form of a podcast, blog, whitepaper, or all the above, it should be prominently displayed throughout the homepage.

2. The designers at TheAtlantic.com recommend staggering ads throughout the homepage, rather than placing all advertising on the right rail, which is standard. Ads should be displayed throughout a homepage, so visitors will see them as they scan the full page, rather than ignoring the right rail because they are used to seeing ads there. Even websites that do not include ads can take advantage of this recommendation: they can avoid relegating all cross-selling features and call-to-action banners to the often-ignored right rail.

3. Ensure that page layouts are dynamic and easy to change. This way, the pages can be kept fresh and respond more easily to new content types.

4. Strategy trumps aesthetic: Find solutions that support your brand strategy, and the visual expression of them will fall into place.