Nearly 2 years ago now National Rail redesigned their website, something that got them to the top of my list of best redesigns for 2009. Since then the team behind the National Rail website has been working to take steps forward, from slight tweaks in style to new functions being added to their systems. Once examples of this incremental update / redesign is the latest update to the "journey planner". The update includes adding the ability to search for local stations via your own postcode, quite handy for many who may have 2 or 3 stations near by, such as those commuters in Manchester City Centre! They've added the ability to view slower trains, where it is cheaper - this is handy for those who aren't in a rush and are happy to spend an extra little time for the saving of maybe £50 at times! They've also continues to listen to customers and added prices to the journey page - something long overdue. Add to this the website still looks amazing two years on, and will do for another few years at least and National Rails becomes a gleaming example of why most websites do not need a total redesign every two or three years!
These updates, as you may have guessed or seen, are just one of a series of incremental updates National Rail have made since the redesign. Each making the service better and more useful, National Rail is now the hub for information - user's don't spend hours looking around for info on trains - and importantly can now track where there train is and whether it is on time.
Incremental or Iterative Design, is a process which most companies will never have heard of. It's the process, as the name suggests, of continual improvement to a solution. Most companies looking at their own product lines, will throw away a solution in favour of starting again - the aim to build bigger and better. But this is wasteful and more costly.
It is the same when thinking about websites. And this is why I've used National Rail as a great example of how to do things properly. Incremental Design is about making the most of what is, then improving it continually. Whilst you may think "this means a larger cost over x years" ... well it doesn't have too! The redesign of a website from scratch can cost many thousands (say 10k), incremental improvements (maybe) every few months may cost X (say 1k) but that X every 6 months to improve your service and be better than your competition makes more sense over say 3 years (at 6K) than a huge outlay of a full redesign. It also means you don't need to budget for a huge outlay and can help improve your business cash-flow.
In addition to the above, incremental design is important for customers. If you are seen to stagnate and not improve or update (the same with updating blog content) customer may go elsewhere and your brand can be undermined.
the Catch 22
Unfortunately, not all websites can be improved by this process of incremental design though. Some websites are just so old and worn, or use antiquated code and this means the more economic and effective route would be to simply redesign the whole site. Any good web designer worth their salt would explain if this was the case, and if not would explain maybe one or two "on going" strategies to take forward with the company and website over say 2 years. - just something worth baring in mind.
Many thanks to the Chief Execs Blog of National Rail for use of the above image.