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I am working on a new layout and visual design of an automotive platform. This platform heavily depends on an active community that contributes information such as write-ups, pictures and discussions (comments). I rolled out the platform almost exactly a year ago which has become a friendly and active community.

Now I realised that many people visit the website on their mobile devices. I didn't take this into account when I built the platform. I don't want to patch things but rather give them a real good mobile experience. I decided to start from scratch and build a visual re-design to present the existing information based on a responsive design which is easy to use on phones as well as on tablets. Obviously I don't want to scare existing members and regular visitors off. But at the same time I want to attract more people to use the platform. There's no way around it, the changes have to be put in place.

My questions are: What's the best way to prepare members and regular visitors for the upcoming change and implementing the redesign without making them upset?

What other issues could come up with a redesign?

  • Consider giving users a menu option to switch from the mobile version of the site to the full PC version – PhillipW Dec 2 '14 at 11:40
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Some options to consider:

  • Offer up a 'sneak preview'. Let people see the new version long before it's forced upon them. Listen to feedback as much as you can. Amazon does this prior to their redesigns.
  • Launch the new version but don't force it upon them immediately. Let people opt in/out of the new design for a period of time. Google's web apps often do this.
  • Invite in beta testers. Make it a 'prestigious' thing. Fine 10 popular site contributors and invite them to be part of the focus group. Engage them and make them feel like a part of the redesign. They'll then be advocates of the new design within the community before you flip the switch.
  • Remember that no matter what you do and how hard you try, some people will simply rebel against change. Be prepared to handle this group with kid gloves and try to win them over by making a concession or two to their complaints. You're playing politics here. :)
  • Definitely +1 for sneak preview/user feedback! – vzwick Dec 2 '14 at 10:07
  • I was thinking about a sneak preview but your idea of giving the solid base something like a premium status so they can test and the redesign as early adopters and give valuable feedback is a really good idea. I will show weekly progress ans sneak peek from now on. :) – Torsten McFly Dec 2 '14 at 11:21
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As far as the reasoning for redesign goes, your reasons are quite noble: you are thinking about your users. I am pretty sure users will appreciate that.

Mobile accessibility is a big plus. I would start with that, making a big pre-release note/post about this, and mention redesign only as a side-effect.

But if you really want to focus on communicating the redesign, here's the strategy for social channels I would use:

  1. To give people a heads up, I would post a lengthy post why the app needs to be redesigned, with couple images that highlight best features of redesign, I'd share something about the process and invite people to share what they think.

Redesigns are usually presented as a fait accompli, "take it or leave it", and users have no way to influence it. It can be upsetting. You could let your users make a minor decision — like choosing a color scheme. This will give users a sense of control over what is happening.

Another problem with redesigns is that they change workflows users are used to. If the redesign renders some features off, then make sure you explain your decision. However well explained, this will upset some users for sure, though. Imagine yourself riding the bus and the bus suddenly turns somewhere you didn't expect it to, without any warning. If the redesign only changes look/feel, make sure users know this — people will be relieved that the functionality is intact.

  1. All of this should be posted before the redesign, and there should be some follow up after the redesign, too. Talk about how people chose the best color scheme, what feedback you got and if you are happy with the decision you made. This way people will stay in the loop of things and you will avoid making them feel helpless.
  • Thanks for your feedback Zoe. That's really gold. I will use little bits of information and sneak peeks like your pre-poster suggested in social media (aka our facebook page) but do a lengthy explanation in our forums. The workflows will change - but for the better. I am going to implement Wizards that lead you through the steps (like adding a new car and its modifications to your virtual garage) for the first-timers. :) – Torsten McFly Dec 2 '14 at 11:23
  • No problem, Torsten. Good idea about the wizard :-) – Zoe K Dec 2 '14 at 12:00
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Drip-feed roll-out.

Remember when facebook used to make changes and everyone started groups protesting all the changes? I don't remember the last time I saw one of those. Why? They drip-feed their roll out. They start off with a small sample, gather feedback, iterate and then increase until everyone's included.

PayPal, Google/Android, Facebook...all the big guys on the cutting edge do it. Many plusses doing releases this way.

  • no huge reaction from everyone because they have to change and therefore reduced ability to gang up and force a change
  • get feedback and iron out bugs without affecting (and upsetting everyone)
  • as users get used to the new site management feel more comfortable, less scared and you're able to launch without pushing it back forever

Now this may look different for you and especially as you've said it's a community that may affect things (your users talk to each other vs. sites with no user interaction)

I would personally use A/B testing software (e.g https://vwo.com/) to roll it out..

So, depending on your traffic something like..

1 you're creating the new site for mobile users so that seems the obvious place to start. Roll out the site 50/50 for new mobile users, see how it improves things. Gather feedback -> Improve -> Release -> Repeat

2 roll out to all mobile users. Gather feedback -> Improve -> Release -> Repeat

3 roll out to new tablet users. Gather feedback -> Improve -> Release -> Repeat

4 roll out to all tablet users. Gather feedback -> Improve -> Release -> Repeat

5 roll out to all new users. Gather feedback -> Improve -> Release -> Repeat

6 roll out to everyone. Gather feedback -> Improve -> Release -> Repeat

Of note here is that you don't /need/ a responsive website. This advice may be too late but it seems like your desktop users are happy with your current website but you have an issue with smaller screens. This is a great article about how it's ok to have different sites and 'responsive isn't the only solution' http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/07/22/responsive-web-design-should-not-be-your-only-mobile-strategy/

For you that could look like keeping your current site as the 'desktop site' and for sub-10" tablets and mobiles showing the responsive site. Or perhaps your desktop users will love your responsive site. It just depends.

I would do the marketing/promotional/announcement stuff as well but break up your users so you're not overwhelmed with the response and you can stay in control!

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