The user interface (UI) is the vital connection between man and machine and, if you’ve developed an application or system, it no doubt formed a fundamental part of the development process. However, user needs and desires change over time, as do best practices and trends. Eventually, while it might have been perfect to begin with, your UI is going to need to be updated. The question is knowing when the UI is still fit for purpose and when it is time for a change.
Why Do You Need to Update User Interfaces?
If your system or application is working just fine, it might seem that updating the UI would be a waste of time. However, making changes can create some significant benefits. While there is no point in changing the look and feel of your product just for the sake of it, the fact is that any product with longevity will need some updates at some point.
Updates to the user interface (UI) are a great way for developers to breathe new life into user experiences, solve issues and generate ideas for the future. However, updates aren’t always something that can be done overnight and, depending on the size and reach of the interface, can take a considerable amount of time and support. That’s why it’s vital to evaluate when a UI update is the right way to go.
5 Signs That It’s Time for a UI Update
When it comes to UI updates, it’s not really a question of whether they’re needed but when. The decision will be based on your product, the market and the expectations of your users. With that in mind, there are several signs to look out for that might suggest it’s time for a change.
1. Your User Base Has Changed
It would be easy to assume that your users when you launched your product have remained constant. However, that often is far from the case. As your user base grows and evolves, they have new needs. In time, that can mean that the interface you initially created no longer serves the same purpose.
2. Engagement Rates Have Dropped
Analytics are key to identifying when it’s time for a UI refresh. You’ll want to look out for things like low engagement, reduced user acquisition or retention or low conversion rates. It might be that the site isn’t selling like it used to, in spite of traffic remaining constant. If changes aren’t due to seasonality, it’s time to consider a refresh.
3. Your Users Are Facing a Common Issue
Another thing that analytics can show you is whether your users are often getting stuck or abandoning tasks. You can also pick up on this through your customer service or support teams. What’s more, with feedback from these teams, you can understand the real reason why your users are experiencing issues and make informed decisions about what updates would be most beneficial for them.
4. Your Company Has Changed Significantly
The UI design must align with your brand guidelines and support company values. If you’ve gone through a rebrand, acquisition, market pivot or leadership change, it may well be time for an update. That said, updates should never be done in an effort to appease stakeholders or meet revenue goals. The priority of the user interface should always be your users.
5. You’re Falling Behind the Competition
In a rapidly evolving digital landscape, an outdated interface can quickly become a competitive disadvantage. New competitors can win customers over by having something flashy and new. However, while it’s important to try to remain relevant in the marketplace, it’s vital to ensure that usability comes before flashy new features.
The Different Types of UI Updates
When it comes to updating anything, whether it’s a mobile application or a bathroom, there isn’t one way to do it. You can give things a quick lick of paint or completely renovate. The same spectrum of updates is relevant for the UI. Once you’ve decided that an update is necessary, it’s time to drill down into the details. There are two main types of updates:
- Refresh – these are style updates that don’t impact the underlying structure or functionality of the system in question. This could be an updated colour palette or a new style for supporting assets. The updates can most certainly breathe new life into your product, but they still leave your users with familiarity. A refresh can enable you to reinvigorate stale experiences and address accessibility and usability.
- Redesign – not all issues can be solved with a fresh coat of paint. Sometimes there is a bigger problem and the cohesion of the solution has been compromised by temporary fixes along the way. A redesign is a more thorough update where the foundation of the whole system is reevaluated. Instead of considering colour and fonts, the whole user journey and how everything fits together is evaluated.
Compared to a complete redesign, a refresh can offer quick wins; it costs less, is faster to implement and can be rolled out gradually. What’s more, a front-end developer and designer can manage the updates without the need for back-end support, again reducing cost and effort. A redesign is a lot more involved with more stakeholders, more time and indeed more budget needed. However, the benefits of redesigning from the ground up is that it offers a completely fresh perspective. You’re able to explore and implement solutions without the constraints of an established system.
Tips for Updating the UI
Before you embark on updating the UI, you should define goals, KPIs and success metrics. Ensure you know what factors will make your UI updates a success, whether it’s increased engagement or a reduction in support tickets. Without clearly defining your goals, it’ll be hard to know how successful your updates have been. During any updates, you can save a lot of time by testing and iterating along the way. Smaller releases are often much better than major updates and give your users time to get used to upcoming changes, not to mention giving you a chance to gauge their reactions and address issues sooner rather than later.
Whether addressing issues, improving an experience or expanding features, UI updates are a necessary part of maintaining a digital product. Work out what you need, ask the right questions and respond to feedback and you’ll be on the right track.