Perform UX research for a website redesign

Business Benefits

Decrease friction and improve visitor engagement and conversion rates.


1-2 months before the redesign will go live, organize one-hour meetings with stakeholders in business, engineering, and design teams to understand the project from the stakeholder’s perspective and identify how they define success.

Break down stakeholder interviews into four topics:

  • Why are you doing a redesign at all? Make sure your understanding is shared by stakeholders.
  • Who are the users? Your site can’t be user-centered if you don’t know who your users are. Because stakeholders are not users, they often have an incomplete perspective about what users need. However, getting stakeholders’ perspectives can broaden your understanding of the market and identify patterns among users.
  • How will success be defined? Uncover what each stakeholder imagines success will look like. Is it higher usability metrics, like task completion and conversions, or something beyond analytics, like revenue?
  • What has already been decided? Every project has constraints; you need to uncover what’s beyond your control. For example, what is the deadline for the website launch? What technology will be used to build it? How many developers will work on the project?

When it comes to communication, decide:

  • Who is the primary decision maker on this project?
  • How do we want to communicate through this?
  • Who will be the key point of contact?
  • What are our deliverables?
  • What is the timeline?
  • How will we manage regular intra- and inter-team communication? For example, scrums, stand-ups, and weekly meetings.

Starting with the navigation at the top of your homepage and working down to individual pages, build a master list of all content on your site and each general and specific topic.

The main idea of doing the audit is to build a series of increasingly specific silos for your content:

  • Evaluate the type of content under each navigation item. Look for topics that merit a new subgrouping. That’s your next level of classification.
  • Repeat that exercise until you’re down to the specific page titles. Once there, you’ve more or less reached the maximum level of detail.

Use tools like Screaming Frog to crawl your entire site and enumerate all of the pages, if your website has thousands of pages. This method will also keep you from missing pages that aren’t in your navigation.

Employ a UX design expert to use a framework like Jakob Nielsen’s model to evaluate the site, and produce a short report that includes problem and recommendation categories for each heuristic.

Jakob Nielsen’s model includes these heuristics:

  • Recognition. Instead of having to recall past information, like what an icon means, users should be able to recognize the context of each element.

For example, readers can easily recognize the icons in Inc.com’s top nav.

For example, Robinhood uses a simple dominant whitespace homepage with no distractions.

  • Consistency. For a website to be user-friendly, it has to be consistent. That means all elements behave the same way across devices and on all pages.

For example, Digiday’s site maintains a consistent experience across mobile and web devices.

  • User Control. Users need autonomy to navigate your site and control their experience. People should be able to visit relevant sections of your site without unnecessary barriers, and they should be able to backtrack in the middle of any given process, like an ecommerce checkout.

Nike’s website has large buttons where users can edit items in the cart or remove them altogether. The URL in the upper-left hand corner provides an easy way to see more items as well.

4 weeks before the redesign will go live, talk to your customers face-to-face, using a script with simple, practical questions such as What are your favorite sites and apps?, How do you currently do [main action related to your site]?, or What did you like the most about the website?

Speak with people who actually use the website to get rich insights about how they interact with it and how a redesign can improve it. Use the talk to learn more about customers’ goals, challenges, motivations, and the context in which they use your website.

Use a good script that includes the questions you’re going to ask, the order in which you’re going to ask them, and what you expect to learn from each question. Circle back those answers that don’t provide the insight you need, to ask the question in a different way. Encourage storytelling whenever possible. Get customers to recall a particularly important moment to secure more specific answers. Always ask simple, practical questions, as in the examples below.

Ask participants about their lifestyle and preferences to build rapport, with questions like:

  • What does your typical day look like?
  • What are some of your favorite websites and mobile apps?
  • What is your opinion about [your product’s industry]?

Ask participants industry or website questions to get insights into customers goals when using your website:

  • How do you currently do [main action related to your website]?
  • Tell me about the last time you [completed an action related to your site].
  • What did you find frustrating about that experience?
  • What did you enjoy?

Ask user experience questions to find out ideas on how to improve specific parts of your website:

  • What did you like most about the website?
  • What did you like least?
  • How could the website improve?

After you complete your interviews, ask yourself: Do answers contain consistent patterns? Does each interview contain tons of new information?

If new information keeps bubbling to the surface, recruit more participants until their answers have established patterns.

Set a maximum of 15 user interviews.

Use information from the interview process to build personas that give you a detailed, in-depth view of the challenges each audience segment faces when they use your website.

A persona needs to explore goals, frustrations, rational, and emotional needs. The main goal of using personas is coming up with a more effective design.

For example, if the CEO is frustrated by a lack of information about your service, then it’s probably a good idea to design a FAQ page or service-page widget they can expand for more information. You won’t get those insights by knowing how old he is or how much money he makes.

Prepare use cases for how users complete specific goals on your website, then simplify those workflows.

A use case is a step-by-step description of how users complete specific goals on your website. Because a redesign attempts to solve a known issue, a use case can develop an optimized workflow that should make the experience easier and increase the conversion rate.

List out the steps of the workflow. Usability.gov offers an excellent example of a simple use case that walks through how a housekeeper does the laundry.

Use the feedback on what people find frustrating about your site to identify redundant or confusing steps in the process and cut them out of your use case.

Start usability testing with design methods like wireframing and prototyping, where you first create low-fidelity wireframes to show to users and stakeholders, then use their feedback and eventually turn the wireframes become a clickable prototype.

Put all your research to work during usability testing. Everything you’ve learned until now informs the choices you make in the development of an initial wireframe and clickable prototype. Use subsequent rounds of review and testing to obtain generative and evaluative feedback to refine your design.

Conduct your first usability test 2 weeks before the website goes live, although the timeline depends on how long you allot for development. Usability testing only takes 2–3 days in the design phase, but it should continue after the website goes live.

Run usability test sessions of 30-60 minutes remotely or in person, recording video capture of the screen, and audio of the user vocalizing their thoughts as they interact with the site.

To set up a remote usability test, you need the right software to record video and audio of the test session. Write a test plan that includes two sections:

  • Use the first section to give users context for the testing, explain that you’re recording the test, and emphasize that you’re not testing the person but the software, so finding mistakes is more than welcome.
  • Use the second section to set 3-5 tasks to participants, aligned with the main goal for the site to complete during the testing. Write out specific questions you want to ask during these tasks and include them alongside the tasks.

Encourage users to vocalize their thoughts with audio recording as they interact with your prototype. This will give you further evidence when something is confusing or when users react positively to the design.

Calculate and compare usability metrics for each iteration of the project, to see which changes help users to complete tasks more quickly and confidently.

Important usability metrics include:

  • Completion Rate. The percentage of participants who are able to complete a task. If a significant number can’t complete a task, go back to the drawing board.
  • Task Time. This measures how efficiently people are able to complete a task. The quicker the task time, the more intuitive the process.
  • Clicks/perceived effort. Clicks can indicate the complexity of a task. The completion rate may be high, but if it takes a lot of clicks to get there, there’s room for improvement.

Most usability testing software reports these stats natively in the platform.

If you plan to outsource part or all of the research and testing process, look for a design agency or team with a repeatable process they can adapt from project to project.

If you’re considering hiring a design agency to tackle your redesign project, here are a few things to look for:

  • A research-first approach. Research is the lifeblood of successful UX design. If someone can’t articulate their approach, they don’t know how to do it.
  • A portfolio of UX work. A lot of graphic designers claim that they’re comfortable doing experience design when, in fact, they haven’t the slightest idea. Make sure whomever you consider has a strong portfolio of experience design work and can explain that work in detail.
  • A collaborative perspective. UX designers must approach their work with empathy and a sense of collaboration. If a designer is overconfident or doesn’t take an inclusive position, chances are they’re going to push their ideas instead of those gathered from customers.