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During Phase 1 of our current web project—a site with thousands of pages and 38 legacy web applications for several groups of users—we're focusing on content strategy and implementing a CMS. The web applications are "usability-inelegant" and they also don't share data between them (though they should). They are slated to be fixed in Phase 2. A simple example is illustrated (attached).

For Phase 1, one suggestion is to reskin the web-applications to match the look of the new site—no text changes, no layout changes, no workflow changes—just aesthetic/cosmetic/style changes.

The question we have is whether to bother reskinning the web-applications at all?

As far as we can tell, here are the pros and cons:

  • Pro: More visual connection of the reskinned apps to the site (visual brand). Possible minor accessibility improvement (higher contrast).
  • Con: User disappointment that the app doesn't work as well as the new site. Reduced user confidence in the rest of the site.

Does anyone have some heuristics around this? Could you suggest or point to a best practice? War stories welcome.

enter image description here

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Here is my war story...

I had to re-skin some internal UI simply for a big name client we were having. They needed it the next day. So I put my nose to the grind stone and just re-styled the UI. The effect turned out to be better than we expected. The Pro's you listed were true. The brand stood out more but also the perceived value of the product went up.

Take a look for yourself. Here are the old UI screen shots... enter image description here

enter image description here

and now here are the re-skins. Its more usable and the perceived value of the product went up.

enter image description here

enter image description here

So all in all, go for it. The User Experience will benefit and the value of the product will go up. The work is fairly minimal too. Good luck!

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Interesting. Your "before" and "after" picutres show that your UI has become much more perceivable. It looks like you did it entirely by reskinning, no layout or wording changes, and no interaction changes. Cool! In our case, the apps are really … a challenge. The gestalt principles, the organization, the layout—often all of the visual basics are wrong. Merely reskinning (font, background colour) won't improve how perceivable the UI is. And there's no CSS, so it's not cheap, either. In fact, in most cases, all we would be able to do is add a standard header and footer. sigh – JeromeR Jun 14 '11 at 18:11
+1. Great answer. Very clear demonstration of the value. – James Crook Jun 15 '11 at 22:06

A bit too long for a comment, so done as an answer... picking up on:

A site with thousands of pages and 38 legacy web applications


And there's no CSS, so it's not cheap, either

If that's the case, write a script to convert to css to ease the pain. It doesn't have to be perfect or AI-Complete to do you a lot of good.

Let's say the full makeover is going to take 90 days, and a reskin using a script+css approach can take 2 days. Then that's 88 days that users have a better experience - plus you get some more experience early of what kind of changes matter most.

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