When to Ignore the Advice of People Who Are Smarter Than You Are

February 1, 2011

One of our neighbors here in Cambridge is HubSpot, and in the book Inbound Marketing they advise their readers to not redesign their websites.

Your visitors […] think your web site looks just fine and are not particularly interested in your site’s colors or the type of menus used. Your visitors are looking for something interesting they can read and learn about […]

Perhaps they’re not as strident as Joel Spolsky was in his seminal work Things You Should Never Do, Part I, but they’re getting there. Redesigning your website is like having a money bonfire.

So Yeah, We Redesigned Our Website

Our business has changed substantially in the year since we launched: we’ve grown from providing a web-based textbook reader to offering a suite of tools for authors and educators. Our old website wasn’t just outdated: it was deceptive. People would introduce themselves to me and say, “I read your homepage. So you do X?” And I would respond, “While I understand why you have that impression, no, that’s not our business.” I felt like I was a marketer on the Douglas Adams account, promoting Mostly Harmless as the “The fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s Trilogy.”

What Has Changed

New Homepage

If you haven’t done so, please check it out for yourself. Here’s what you’ll see.

  • Emphasis on peersourcing and community. We’ve given author services equal weight with reader tools.
  • Focus on what’s important. We have twelve months of data on what our users care about. Links to our catalog of available textbooks: interesting. Links to a definition of beta test: not so interesting.
  • A new tagline. Thanks again to all who voted in our poll of a few weeks back. “Community-powered textbooks” does a great job of capturing what we’re about.
  • Simpler registration. It was too complicated before. Now it isn’t.
  • Aesthetics. Guilty as charged: while this wasn’t the reason for the redesign, we did some fiddling while we were in there. So you’ll see bigger, prettier pictures. And we picked a new display typeface, too; it’s the gorgeous slab-serif-with-humanist-influences Chaparral by Carol Twombly.

Comments? Please let us know what you think.

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