Re-skinning a website and the importance of good design

4 years ago

Michael Maddison (Designer, Sage One UK & Ireland)With the recent refresh of our Sage One website and blog, Michael Maddison (Designer, Sage One UK & Ireland) explains the benefits of re-skinning a website and how good design can improve usability.

Re-skinning a website

The job of a web designer often involves ‘re-skinning’ which involves updating the appearance of a website with new graphics and styling giving it a new look and feel.

Like repainting your house, a re-skin is meant to make an otherwise tired looking site look fresh and new while the back end platform, data structure and architecture of your site (or your staircase, television and bathroom furniture to continue the house analogy) remain unchanged. The HTML gets an update as the new look and feel is implemented, but by re-skinning, the core functionality isn’t changed.

A re-skin is often a quicker, cheaper and more efficient option than to re-build a site from the ground up and has the advantage of allowing for swift change without the full cost and resource requirement of a rebuild.

Another benefit of re-skinning is that it reveals all the areas of a site’s functionality that need attention and allows the developers to become more familiar with the code, often removing the need for code reviews and evaluations that would be required as part of a rebuild.

However, just because you give your house a coat or two of paint it doesn’t change how many bedrooms you have, give you satellite TV or make your friends want to come and visit you more often.

When planning for a re-skin it’s always good to ask what we’re hoping to achieve by doing this? This often highlights any issues such as poor navigation, page flow, content and features, which can be addressed during a subsequent rebuild.

Sceenshot of the new-look Sage One websiteScreenshot of the new-look Sage One homepage

When should you do a re-skin?

A good time to consider a re-skin is when there are significant changes to content & functionality. Not only is it an opportunity to improve the site aesthetically and its usability, it will also help highlight the new content and features, and if done well, increase the chances of it being received more positively.

But a re-skin makes the most sense when, as is the case with Sage and Sage One, an organisation is refreshing its brand identity. Even then a re-skin isn’t just about making it look good and easy to use. A designer has to consider who they’re designing for (audience) and what kind of emotional response they’re hoping for. Any design, whether good or bad and in whatever form will provoke some kind of emotional response from the user.

Visual design is much more than just a nice paint job. Not only does good visual design help improve ease-of-use, it should also help promote a positive emotional response and connection to the brand.

Websites that look easier to use have a higher probability of being used, whether or not they actually are. In a similar way to a person’s immediate perceived attractiveness measurably influencing how people treat them, first impressions influence long-term attitudes about quality of a brand. These perceptions influence any further interactions and are difficult to shift.

More usable but less-aesthetic sites often suffer a lack of acceptance that ultimately make its usability redundant as people attribute less value to it on account of its poor visuals.

We, as human beings, make decisions based on our emotions and designers have to take every opportunity to try and give our customers a warm fuzzy feeling when visiting our site. However, good visual design is only part of what makes a great user experience much like the colour of your walls is only part of what makes a house enjoyable to own.

The problem with re-skins is that they can sometimes be a means of attempting to cover up more serious problems with the site and can be used as a quick way to attempt to improve a poor user experience. Careful consideration must be given as to when a re-skin is appropriate and when a total rebuild would be better.

Rebuilding a site

Rebuilding includes re-skinning, but also includes redeveloping the core architecture of the site, which is riskier and more resource intensive. It is typically done when the back end of the system is so broken or outdated that a re-skin is not possible, or more features need to be added than the current architecture allows.

Functionality, usability and perceived value are all vitally important and without them a strong visual is little more than wallpapering over the cracks.

In summary a re-skin is a great way of bringing a website up to speed with new branding, updated offering and improving your user experience, but when you’re thinking about a re-skin, make sure your site is structurally sound.

We hope you like the new look of our Sage One site and blog and would love to hear your feedback below or on Twitter by including the #SageOne hashtag in your Tweets.