How to Build a Map for a Website Redesign
Many people assume that web design is always about creating a new website from scratch. Well, almost every organization of any size already has a website. Their primary need is to keep the existing website fresh and evolving with the latest technologies and the changing needs of the company. Therefore, more often than not, clients approach you to redesign their website.
Sitemaps come in handy not only in the design process, but also in the redesign process. By developing a sitemap of the current site, you can see the site in its totality and how the pages relate to each other. You can also see where usability problems lie, and you can get ideas for a better design.
Deconstructing a website
So how do you create a sitemap for an existing website? You build it by picking the site apart to see how it’s made. Here are four easy steps to get you started:
Start with the home page.
Go to the home page of the website and look closely at all the navigation sets on the page. On a large piece of paper, draw a box at the top for the home page, and below that, draw large containers for each navigation set you see. Within each container, draw all the navigation links for that set. For example, within a “Footer” container, list all the footer links. This list helps you stay oriented in the site as you pick it apart.
Identify the main categories and subcategories.
Click all the navigation links and see where they take you. Do they have subcategories? If so, draw them as extensions of their main entry. You may be surprised to discover that some important content is hidden, while other content is duplicated and found under multiple navigation entries.
Look for database interactions.
Keep an eye out for pages that rely on a database. These are easy to spot — look for pages that collect data. The data is obviously going somewhere when the user submits it. Also look for pages that have a funky URL. If the URL has a long string of weird characters like $ and ?, it’s a sure sign of a template page filling itself with content from a database.
Also, ask the client how many databases the website uses and for what purpose. The client may have a CMS (content management system) for all images and text, have a database for products and prices, and a separate database for customers. Most likely, you need to incorporate these existing databases into your redesign. If not, you need to know how your client plans to upgrade those systems.
Finishing the sitemap for a redesign
Completing the sitemap for a redesign involves the same process as creating a sitemap for a brand-new site — use your set of symbols and line art to fill in the detail of what’s happening in the site. In a redesign process, you don’t have to get too detailed in your deconstructed sitemap — save your energy for the redesigned sitemap. The purpose of making a sitemap for the old site is to give you a better idea of the site’s current information architecture. It serves as a good point of discussion with the client so you can ask a lot of questions and formulate ideas for the redesign.
Here’s a sample list of questions to ask the client:
What do you like least about the site now? Find the root of the current site’s problem by probing to see if the information architecture of the site or the content needs revising. Maybe both are fine, and the client just wants a new look to the site or to add new features.
Should any new content be added, or old content removed? If you’re adding or removing a great deal of content, the site’s information architecture may need a substantial redesign.
Has the site’s purpose changed? Many times a company has an existing website that was originally designed to act as a marketing piece, but now must act as a revenue-producing business machine. If so, you are faced with a substantial redesign of both content and architecture.
Has the company changed its focus or market positioning? In such a case, the site’s content and navigation, as well as its look and feel, may change drastically. When you design sites like these, you are almost starting over from scratch.