A hand moving an element on a whiteboard with wireframed design elements for a website

Avoiding the Redesign: How to Constantly Improve Your Drupal Website

There’s always a desire to start from scratch. Whether it’s the development team saying that the architecture is fundamentally flawed, the design team looking to add a new brand system, or the leadership team looking to make a big impact or justify a budget-spend, starting a digital project from scratch is appealing. 

And sometimes starting over is justified—for example:

  • A website based on an unstable content management system that is impossible for the marketing team to update
  • An organization that is pivoting and needs to completely rethink its digital strategy
  • A brand that truly needs a revamp because it doesn’t reflect your values

Starting a web project from scratch is definitely the best option in some scenarios.

But I love the challenge of iterating on what’s there. And in so many cases it’s a better choice. Here are some ways to build continuous improvement into your digital maintenance and improvement plan for your Drupal website:

Design refresh for the win

It might be overused but I love the phrase “design refresh”. The concept of taking the brand that your customers and staff know and turning into something that brings delight. Or taking a brand that is too limited and flat, and providing more depth with an image guide, complementary colours, or new design elements. 

Just because a designer five years ago thought that a pixelated pattern would make you seem modern, or that a black-and-white colour palette would make you seem sophisticated, it doesn’t mean you are stuck with these choices. 

Refreshing the brand can simply mean adding more options to how colours, fonts, and images combine. Or it could mean swapping out previous graphical elements or styles with ones that are more mature, give more breathing room, or are adapted to the new audiences you find yourself speaking to. 

A refresh doesn’t have to mean redesigning your logo, building a new website, and reprinting all that swag in your supply closet. It can start with a fresh set of digital components that you can roll out organically. If the front-end of your Drupal website is built following best practices, you’ll be able to improve things like colour treatments, typographical choices, and other patterns without a complete overhaul of the site.

Switch to content components

Everyone these days talks about modular or molecular design, creating design systems, and adopting page building tools. If your website was built more than five years ago, you might feel like you’re missing out. 

Read next: Speed Up Front-end Development with Drupal UI Patterns

Being able to construct engaging content and not being limited to a title and text box with which to express yourself is a frustrating limitation. Switching your website over to using content components to build important landing pages doesn’t have to mean starting from scratch with a new website. 

CMSs like Drupal allow you to add page-building tools into your content editing toolkit retroactively. So you can start replacing those lengthy blocks of text with more effective and imaginative content, so you can actually tell the story you want to tell.

Revisit taxonomy

Organizing the spice drawer on a rainy day is one of my favourite activities. And, just like organizing your taxonomy, it’s a rewarding task that will make it easier to find the right spice (or the right content) when you need it. Reorganizing your spice drawer doesn’t have to wait until you move to a new home. And tidying up your taxonomy doesn’t have to wait for a huge content revamp or site redesign.

In fact, having a well-organized taxonomy system will make your site revamp easier when the day comes. Analyzing which keywords users actually want to search by, the ones that pop into their head when they go to your site, and making sure that these are clear and prominent in your information architecture can be a painstaking challenge, but it’s worth it if you want to get the most out of your content. 

Here are some good ways to quickly get started:

  • Run a content audit with Screaming Frog
  • Look at your analytics
  • Review the vocabularies and terms you have set up in Drupal
  • Decide on a set of terms to tag your content with that will bring the most value when users are searching for your content

Add missing integrations

Often the content or feature your website is missing doesn’t need to involve replacing what’s there right now. It might just mean adding a missing piece or integrating a set of content that currently lives somewhere else. 

You might be surprised at how easy it is to add new integrations to your website post-launch. With Drupal, simply adding a module and creating a new content type could mean that you go from a static corporate website to displaying and selling products that bring value to your customers. You can use a combination of Migrate and Views to pull in content from a third-party API or database. For example:

  • Here's an integration we built with a CRM for membership renewal - This integration was built as a separate module and can be added in post-launch.
  • We built a custom integration for Tourisme Quebec that pulls in tourist listings from a variety of sources
  • An integration with HubSpot - for launch you might have just embedded some forms, but post-launch you could add true API-level integration for more customized form options.
  • Chatbots are a really easy integration to add at any time because the integration with Drupal just involves a JavaScript snippet, while most of the customization you can do through the chatbot service. 
  • JSON:API to push your content to an app or another platform

Adding new features doesn’t have to result in a Frankenstein’s monster (or a pizza as we say in Quebec). The result can be modular and forward-thinking, so that you don’t have to build the new integration again from scratch when it is time to revamp your site.

It’s never too early to ask your users what they think 

I find organizations I work with often want to wait until after the big revamp to do user testing—and I understand the instinct. You want to put your best foot forward before asking for feedback. 

But in fact, the best time to do user testing is now. Getting some input on how users actually interact with your site, what they’re missing, and what your competitors do better, will help you with iterative improvements and build up a knowledge base about your key audiences that will help you with that future site revamp.

Some easy user testing you can do:

  • Comparative testing between your site and your competitors’
  • Tree testing your existing menu navigation with an alternative
  • Testing of key landing pages
  • User interviews to identify your users’ most important goals when interacting with you 

It's never to early to start iterating on your website.

When you're not convinced that your site is achieving what it needs to, it’s easy to jump to the site revamp, but a long-term strategy of improving what you have can not only save you the cost of a complete overhaul, but will also mean that you’re building in organizational practice of valuing maintenance and sustainability. So that when you are ready for that revamp, you make the best choices and get the most out of the process.

When clients come to me asking about moving to Drupal 9 from Drupal 7, I always recommend making improvements as part of the upgrade. It’s an opportunity to make improvements at the architectural level, and to transform your content using an automated approach, which can save your team a lot of time. But you don’t need to wait until that big upgrade project to make improvements. Often the best approach is taking it one step at a time.

We’re increasingly focusing on long-term partnerships rather than one-off redesign projects, because we believe in iterative development and continuous improvement.

If you're looking to get ideas & skills to start your own Drupal site refresh, check out our UX for content creators course.