A while back the Gawker network redesigned their line-up and the Internet revolted. It was bad, very very bad. The design, the usability, the technical implementation—it had people scratching their heads.

Yesterday TechCrunch launched a redesign and, well, it’s not quite ‘a Gawker’.

New TechCrunch Logo & Website Design

We used AOL Paint, which comes free on the AOL CD and has this sweet UltraLogoMatic2000 feature.

To their credit TechCrunch recognised the inevitable backlash and posted several witty, self-deprecating (at the same time ‘fuck you’) style posts in true TC fashion. An entertaining and on-brand launch that threw a proactive punch towards the change haters. As anyone in the design industry world knows: people don’t like change.

The problem is how do you separate real feedback from the hate bandwagon? More importantly—because design feedback at this stage is irrelevant—how do you actually launch a large scale refresh without the expected onslaught?

TechCrunch came out with a strong ‘don’t care’ attitude, but that’s not a universal solution and it will never play to everyone’s taste. It also doesn’t change the fact that the new design really isn’t that good. There’s a telling quote from the launch article: “After our eighth rejected visual design…”. Eight rejected designs? Now granted, I’ve never lead a design project under the gaze of a giant like AOL, but surely if a project gets that far it’s undoubtedly suffering from disastrous managerial hands? Personally I’m indifferent to the new design. As a website it’s no better, no worse than the old. It’s just different.

Avoiding Change

What’s the solution? You have to avoid the need for drastic change to begin with.

Continually access and iterate; don’t allow your website to get behind. That’s not to say you should create a redesign and then release elements slowly, I’m saying you should never need a major overhaul of the same website and brand to catch up. Websites aren’t like physical products. Updates should be frequent and fluid with no identifiable steps between versions. Take a leaf from Google’s book.

Designers like to call this realigning (as oppose to redesigning). But it’s more than that; recognise changes in technology, users, content strategy and popular trends and react to them quickly.

The old TechCrunch had fallen behind. It looked like a website from a past era (just a few years on the web timeline). When this happens bureaucracy creeps in and the dreaded redesign leads to the same inevitable result. The real issues aren’t addressed and any changes are purely subjective.

What if you do fall behind?

You play catch-up, you release too much and you take the criticism and move on. Just avoid ‘a Gawker’.