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When designing a web service is it acceptable to change the layout over time?

For example when you first launch a service you may be introducing new concepts and relationships to the user which require some explanation. Would it be suitable to have explanatory information within the page? If so would it also make sense that over a period of time "most" users would become familiar with the concepts therefore this information could then be moved to a less prominent location?

Personally I have always been of the opinion that where possible you should avoid presenting the user with new concepts that are not intuitive, but because of the existing IA and content of the service I feel the above approach could be suitable in this instance.

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Don't forget about new users. Although the existing users may become used to the features and no longer require explanatory text, new users won't have the benefit of experience so may still find this information useful. –  JonW Feb 29 '12 at 11:19
    
Totally agree. Which is why I thinks its important to keep the information somewhere, but as for most users it would no longer be of primary importance, so it could be moved. Trying to cater for the majority of users without effecting the minority too much. Obviously I will base such a decision on the data as I have available. –  Sheff Feb 29 '12 at 12:01
    
"Web service" is a very misleading description. At first I thought you were talking about machine-to-machine interaction (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_service) and the evolvement of the API you provide. –  Jørn E. Angeltveit Feb 29 '12 at 12:04
    
...maybe "web-based service" or "web application"? –  Jørn E. Angeltveit Feb 29 '12 at 12:09
    
Apologies for the confusion, as you say I think web application is probably a more appropriate term. –  Sheff Mar 1 '12 at 13:56

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

This totally depends on the task/product and the user-group.

As a web developer, you think that your web-site is the center of the world and that your audience keep track of every change and content update you do. But that's not the case. In most cases, the users don't care. They just want to do what they came to do. Be it registration, buying stuff or finding information.
So I would say that in most cases, it's not a problem.

There is a case study, that documents how a required registration led to a huge dropout. Whereas the redesign to a quick-buy solution increased the sales significantly. I think this is a good example of successful redesign. You should also take look at some of the examples in this question: Case studies to help sell UCD.


That said, some services heavily rely on regular use and regular visits. Social media sites, for instance. Facebook, Google+ and perhaps Youtube depend on users that carry out the same task every day. These kind of sites should be careful with their redesign and only deliver thoroughly tested solutions.

You will always have some users complaining about new design and new features. Sometimes these complaints are justified, but more than often they are just another expression of the reluctance of change. This is an important factor itself, of course, and the user's subjective perception of the system (the satisfaction with the system) should always be taken into the consideration when you're about to deliver something. But if you've done the redesign the right way, then this will be a temporary phase.

Which leads us to the final point. As a vendor, you really need to know that you're doing the right thing. You must have conducted the necessary task- and user-analyzes, and you must have done enough evaluation (user testing, surveys etc) of the redesign. That's the only way to ensure that a redesign will succeed and not turn into a gigantic failure...

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