Nintendo’s long-running Mario series has afforded them quite a bit of time to get Mario “right.” Early on, they didn’t have the technology to do anything fancy in games like Donkey Kong, but they worked with what they had. But you can see that as the years passed, Nintendo took their previous work and iterated on it.

Nintendo was wise to ship something and not worry about exactly what Mario’s nose would look like in the end. As you can see, his nose got rounder as time passed. But it got to be that way in small, calculated steps, with a ton of trial and error.

How this applies to web design

The typical lifecycle of a website goes like this:

  1. Invest up-front for a design. You love it at this point. Everyone involved feels great.
  2. Build out the site and its content. Almost done!
  3. Take a break from this website business for more pressing issues. It is done after all, right?
  4. 12-18 months later, get tired of the design, so start over at step one. Here we go again. But this one will be so much better!

I call BS. Think about this: wiping the slate clean often does not prove that you’ve learned anything from the process. And if you’re a new manager stepping in to manage an existing website, think twice before throwing everything out the window for a massive redesign project.

A successful website should be maintained continuously in an iterative fashion, just like the Mario design. The Web isn’t like a print brochure where once you send it to the printer, you’re done and stuck with it. You can make changes on the fly and try things out. And you should be doing that.

Scrappiness: work with what you have

I’m not calling for a complete redesign every few weeks. That would be costly and disadvantageous for your business. I’m talking more about Mario’s nose: an evolution if you will.

  • Examine what you have: analytics data, advertising data, usability testing data.
  • Talk to your customers.
  • Pick the weakest part of your site and improve that.

New techniques and design trends will also surface. Evaluate them one at a time, figure out if you need them and where best used, and add them in one at a time. The technology in the 8-bit NES afforded fewer advantages than today’s Wii.

You’ll save time, money, and a costly redesign project in the future if you keep up with it all continuously. If you can’t commit to this, then don’t invest in a website to begin with!

Having a “master plan” is no excuse for a massive redesign project

Let’s make one final point clear. Some of this sounds short-sighted, and it can be if you don’t have a plan.

If you feel like you have a “master plan,” a “vision,” or whatever, I have a challenge for you. Plan out how you can get to your vision iteratively rather than in one giant uber project. Which elements can you change one at a time in bite-sized chunks?

Your team of implementers will thank you for not overwhelming them, and your business will thank you for consistently showing visual progress. Don’t hide away for six months to a year to redesign the site. Business must go on, the website must be maintained, so any redesign efforts should be lumped in with that.