10 tips for minimal-mayhem agency site redesign

Ian Lurie

If you run an internet marketing agency, you have one client you dread more than any other:


We launched a revamped Portent site several months back, then rebuilt this site a bit later. In 16 years, I think we’ve rebuilt our company site 8 or 9 times.

Portent (aka The Written Word) circa 1997

Portent (aka The Written Word) circa 1997

Some lessons I’ve learned:

  1. You’re a frakking nightmare. There’s no way around it. You think you know what you’re doing, and you can use Photoshop. The temptation to send your design team one godawful ‘design’ after another is irresistible. Resist anyway.
  2. You’re not a comedian. Telling your staff you don’t like the latest design and then saying “I’ll know it when I see it” before howling with evil laughter is not funny. Who knew?
  3. Define a primary goal. My primary goal for Portent.com was integration with ongoing teaching/marketing campaigns. That guided the entire process, and it helped my team immensely. Write down your goal, and revisit it regularly with your designers. If ‘win a Webby’ is the goal, yank out at least 35 body hairs, slowly, one at a time.
  4. Set constraints. Mine were: Sub-5-second pageloads; no Flash; WordPress-based; top-level links to primary services. Measurable constraints make a redesign sooo much easier. Design is highly subjective—try to add as much objectivity as you can. There’ll be enough hand-waving, trust me:
    Tracy's Art Direction

    Designer’s rendering of our COO’s attempted description of how the new site should look.
  5. Trust your team. I was pretty dubious about a lot of the choices my team made in this site design. But the finished product is magnificent. Don’t micro-manage every step. If you do, you may start finding beheaded Dogbert dolls in your office, and threatening notes on your monitor.
  6. Let go. Let your team push the boundaries a bit. Designing and building your agency’s new site should be the most fun your creative team has. If it isn’t, man, are you in trouble.
  7. Don’t let go too much. Given infinite flexibility, your team will take four years and produce a site that resembles a multi-giraffe collision. Set a deadline. And make sure you set the constraints I mentioned above.
  8. No mob rule. As much as you need to let the team do their thing, this isn’t Occupy Website. Someone has to be in charge. That’s you. You have to make and enforce choices in design, technology and content. It’s your agency. It’s your call. If you’ve hired well, this shouldn’t conflict with the rest of this list. Your team will produce stuff in synch with your goals and intent.
  9. This is about content. In 2000, a home page with random colored dots was cool. Now, it’s just screen poop. Design facilitates display of content, not vice-versa. Content includes images and videos, but not frilly stupidity. Every pixel should help communicate.
  10. Get the writers involved. For. God’s. Sake. Get the writers involved early. Hint: If your beautiful new home page says you do “consultating,” I’m not going to hire you. Because you may be an illiterate moron.

As a thank you for wading through that list, here’s a special treat: The first iChat brainstorming session for the new site. It’s between myself and my COO, who also happens to be our senior creative-type person. It devolved fast. Once we got into Beyond Thunderdome, I called a recess:


Portent's high-powered branding team in action

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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    1. You should ask around first, definitely. At the tender age of 25 I was called “rude and obstreperous” by a lawyer. A lawyer… My god…

  1. Another excellent post that made me crack a smile and is perfectly timed for the website refresh our agency has underway. What’s that about the cobbler’s children and practice as I preach, but not as I do?!

  2. “Just Have it Go” graphic is brilliant! I forwarded this post to my graphics guys and we both laughed at me for 15 mins. I am that guy but even more crippled. Over the years I’ve launched at least 50 sites and I still suck at successful development process. Without fail, we finish and then I’m already to go 5 other, better directions, why ADHD God? Why?

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