I think we call all agree that waiting seven years before redesigning and refactoring a site is too long, but that was the task a new, small design team I joined in 2010 faced at Travel Republic. Whilst those who had preceded me had done their best to keep the site looking contemporary, the code had inevitably become bloated and dated. The backend worked well, and the online travel agent was both popular and profitable, but the frontend desperately needed to be made afresh.
Armed with a few mock-ups from a design agency, which enabled the directors to sign it off, we set about the task with relish, cognisant of the need to publish as soon possible. It’s not often you get the opportunity to completely start from scratch but it was liberating and allowed us to modernise both the platform and the user experience.
We were late to the party really, according to the Office for National Statistics 30.1 million UK adults already used the Internet every day or nearly every day, almost double the estimate in 2006, and 31 million UK people had bought or ordered goods or services online that year. Although 73% of UK households had Internet access, speeds were still very variable and, by today’s standards, incredibly slow. Fortunately, perhaps because I started making sites via a 56k dial-up modem and hated paying for slow loading sites, I’ve always tried to design sites with load times in mind: I always like to keep the number of images to a minimum and let CSS multi-task both layout and style where possible.
The end result actually only took less than five months to make because everybody was working together and task driven. Although the site was both wider and longer than before, and with larger imagery, page loading times were halved.
We were confident that we’d done a good job but, as is always the case when launching a redesign of an already popular site, everybody is a critic! The business was happy with the result, but how would it be received by the public? We got our answer the following month when, unknown to us in advance, a leading Internet magazine, Web User, awarded the new design a five star review – “Superb. Impossible to fault in terms of design, content and features. Bookmark now!” This was made even sweeter as a review of RyanAir’s redesign in the same publication won just three stars!