Three major companies have recently redesigned their websites – American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Amazon. I frequently use all three, so I was intimately familiar with the previous sites' user interfaces and overall usability.
The Amazon experience isn't functionally much different than it was before. But the design style is updated, it uses softer colors and is more open and clean. Although I won't go so far as to say it's attractive. It is as intuitive as it was before – but isn't more so. It's just more of a 2012 design – the "uncluttering" of website design.
Today, I think website mobility is the tail wagging the website design dog – we are seeing more websites that are taking on the simplicity of a mobile website. We like what we are seeing on our Smart Phones and iPads – and we want the same intuitive, speedy view on our computers.
American Airlines' new site design is frustrating and terrible. It is functionally inferior, all that was intuitive before was sacrificed for some ajax (hidden content) features on the interior pages, and certain incredibly useful features on the old site are now nearly impossible to find. The "click to chat" feature used to be prominent – now it's not.
A week ago, I spent 15 minutes looking for the flight "check in" button. I finally realized (not that anything on the site suggested this) that my Platinum premium status meant that the button doesn't appear until 24 hours in advance of my departure. It was 24.5 hours from wheels up so it simply wasn't there. Note that I had received the email from American saying "You can check in for your flight."
Kudos to AA.com, however, for doing a split home screen of Susan G. Komen pink and its signature red-white-and-blue during the month of October.
Finally, Southwest.com has improved some of its functionality, but not its design. To me, it's an 8-year old design – it's fat, bulky and unappealing. The one thing a visitor still can't do on Southwest.com is book multi-city travel. Pretty infuriating for frequent travelers to have to buy multiple tickets just to complete a multi-city itinerary.
Many law firms are budgeting for website redesigns in 2012. Because many of these projects were put on hold from 2008-2010, we are seeing a flurry of "get it done fast!" website RFPs.
Learn from the mistakes of these enterprise websites — in your desire to "be different than any other law firm website," don't sacrifice usability, adherence to the 2012 Websites Ten Foundational Best Practices and smart, visitor-friendly design. While I may have to continue using American Airlines' site because it's the primary carrier out of Dallas-Fort Worth, most visitors don't have to use your law firm website if they don't like it or can't find what they need. They just won't come back.
And after all your hard work and substantial financial investment, you don't want that, do you?