Here’s an analogy: you save up money to build a house. You find the right contractors. You make sure the plans are perfect. You build your dream home. But no matter how perfect, over time, your house is going to need some maintenance. You’re going to want to repaint, stain the deck, and clean the gutters — maybe your family expands and you need to build an addition. What you don’t do is take a bulldozer and start over in three years.
But when it comes to website design, this has actually been the industry norm. Build a site, don’t touch it, and then completely redesign and relaunch the site again a few years down the road.
Thankfully, the industry is moving in a better direction by embracing principles of iterative design.
Instead of running with the set-it-and-forget-it approach where you launch, wait a few years, and then start from scratch — designing iteratively means that you’re giving your site ongoing attention and care. You never need to redesign, rebuild, and relaunch, because you’re releasing upgrades and enhancements on an ongoing basis. Your current website is your dream website.
Iterative design is not only smart, it’s fast becoming the new norm for big brands and forward-thinking companies. In fact, currently, 60% of Foster Made clients use our retained services for continuous support. But what does iterative design look like in practice?
There are two common scenarios where we practice iterative design at Foster Made. The first: we execute a complete site relaunch with a retainer to perform ongoing maintenance, upgrades, and feature enhancements. The other: launch a minimum viable product (MVP) site and map out the subsequent release of features and enhancements over time. Either way means an end to the costly three-year cycle once the initial site is launched.
Then, iterative design can accommodate any modification you need to make to your site. For example, you may want to refresh certain aesthetic elements like modifying a component or tweaking page styling. New features could be added or upgraded as needed. For example, search could be super-charged with advanced personalization for better ROI. Or, a checkout flow could be streamlined based on site analytics. And even the best, future-forward technology requires upkeep to maintain optimal performance.
Savvy companies are already doing this. The fact is, you don’t wake up one day and see that Etsy has a new site. At the same time, if you compared Etsy’s website five years ago to its site today – they look totally different. Big brands like Etsy, Airbnb, and Amazon make subtle changes gradually to minimize disruption and ensure the best possible user experience.
This leads me to the first major benefit of iterative website design:
If you feel a twinge of embarrassment when you send people to your site, feel like you need to apologize, or make excuses — “I know our site’s not great. We’re going to redesign it soon!” — you’re not alone. Although you could be doing excellent work and have a fabulous reputation, if your site isn’t keeping up with your brand, it could be actively detracting from it — and deep down you know it.
While there are reasons why a company might want to overhaul a perfectly good website (maybe they’ve navigated a significant rebrand) an overhaul is often the result of an unhealthy site in need of serious treatment. And unhealthy sites often have direct, negative impact on your audiences and bottom line. The brand benefits are clear: healthy is good, unhealthy is not.
Iterative design helps address those challenges head-on, working strategically to maintain a site that is fast, up-to-date, looks fresh, and can easily adapt to change. People these days expect rapid results and responsiveness. Market landscapes and consumer tastes shift just as fast. If your website is important to your business, it’s important to your brand — you need to be able to keep up.
Our process, when first embarking on a new project, involves extensive discovery, careful UX and UI design, and user testing. This is to ensure we provide the best possible experience for users and outcomes for our clients.
That being said, nothing compares with real data from real users interacting with your products in the wild. The fact is, user tastes change, sometimes unexpectedly. Site traffic may show growing or waning interest in a particular product or service. High bounce rates may signal a content-related issue. A new plug-in may revolutionize the check-out process. Or a performance review may identify an issue impacting site load time. Iterative design allows our clients to adapt to this new information, adding or upgrading features and fixing issues as soon as they arise to ensure the best possible user experience without lag time.
A process built around iterative design is guaranteed to save businesses time and money. For example, in the two scenarios I mentioned above, there is an initial investment in discovery where our team deep dives into a client’s challenges, opportunities, and users’ needs. With our retained services clients, we are able to build on this foundation moving forward. There is no need to start the discovery process from scratch with each new design enhancement.
Also, regular, ongoing communication is key. Good iterative design includes regular, recurring touchpoints. For example, as part of our retained services offering, we review site performance on a regular cadence using Google Lighthouse and Monsido. We also schedule syncs with our clients to discuss our website strategy and align on priorities. A dedicated Foster Made team meets with the same clients at least monthly, more often weekly or bi-weekly, to ensure their sites get the love and attention they deserve.
To bring it back to the house analogy, obviously, it is cheaper and more efficient to build a sturdy house with quality materials and then make repairs and improvements gradually over time, than to build a whole new house from scratch every few years. If you find good, skilled contractors who know you, your taste and your budget, and that you trust, even better! And if, in some fantasy world, they were on standby to address your needs as they arose — fixing the HVAC or adding a skylight — well, wouldn’t that be nice.
At Foster Made, we believe iterative design is smart design. It also just happens to be a practice we’ve embraced from the beginning. Combined with composable technology and lean UX design, it is the absolute best way to keep your digital products up-to-date, your brand relevant, and audiences happy — all without wasting unnecessary time and resources.