Have you ever wished there was a way to determine if your website’s UX/UI design is delivering the value it’s supposed to? Enter: The design audit.
A website design audit is an in-depth analysis of your site. It considers everything from usability principles to visual storytelling. For UX designers, conducting design audits are a way to ensure that your work effectively supports both user and company goals. They provide essential insight into pain points, allowing businesses to fix potential issues before they become bigger (and costlier) problems down the line.
As a junior designer, approaching your first design audit can feel overwhelming. Consider this blog post your ultimate guide: We’ll walk through exactly what design audits are, how to know when they’re needed, and round off with some practical steps for a successful website design audit.
- What is a design audit, and why is it so important?
- 3 key benefits of design audits
- How do you know if a website needs a design audit?
- How to conduct a design audit in 7 steps
- 3 best practices for your first design audit
- Final thoughts
What is a design audit, and why is it so important?
There’s a lot that goes into the creation of a website. From UX principles to UI elements, a well-crafted website is the lifeblood of any organization. But without continuing to assess the effectiveness of those designs, all that hard work could fall short of real results. This is where design audits come in.
A design audit is an analysis of all the visual and technical elements of a website, app, or digital product. It looks at things like:
- Visual elements (colors, typography, branding)
- Information architecture and navigation
- Content (including forms and links)
- Search engine optimization
- Usability and accessibility
- Responsiveness/mobile compatibility
Going beyond just looks and aesthetics, a comprehensive design audit will evaluate your site against user research, competitor research, and the latest industry best practices to ensure that you’re continuing to meet the evolving needs of your user base.
The end goal? Reduce friction and drive sales and conversions.
3 key benefits of design audits
Let’s look at three key benefits of design audits at a glance:
1. Improve usability
Usability and accessibility standards are constantly changing, and a design audit can ensure your site is usable for all users. This could involve making sure the navigation structure is intuitive, or improving the information architecture of each page. By making it easier for users to quickly find what they’re looking for, there’s a higher chance each visit will turn into a conversion. To read more, check out our guide to accessibility in UX design.
2. Refresh branding
Organizations often iterate on their brand identity; from the mission and vision to the product itself. A design audit can also help you refresh outdated branding and strengthen brand identity across the board. In addition to a fresh, eye-catching new look, a brand refresh is a surefire way to gain an edge against competitors.
3. Improve positioning
In addition to strengthening brand positioning, a design audit can help you improve your site’s positioning on search engines like Google. This means that when people search for terms related to your website, they’ll be more likely to find it near the top of their search results page—which will drive more traffic and ultimately lead to higher profits.
How do you know if a website needs a design audit?
As you might imagine, design audits are no small feat. They’re sizable investments that require time and resources from multiple teams across the business. So how do you know when a design audit is really needed?
Let’s look at some of the indications that your website needs a design audit:
Declining user engagement
If you’re noticing traffic, session time, and conversion rates declining (and bounce rates shooting up), this could be an indication that users are having difficulty navigating your site—or that the content is no longer relevant to them. A design audit can help identify what areas of the website may need improvement to better engage users.
UX pain points
Some businesses use heatmaps like Smartlook for insights into how users are navigating the site—and where they might be having trouble. If the site features certain elements that users find difficult or confusing, they might be abandoning their session for a less complicated site. A design audit can help pinpoint these areas of friction for a smoother user journey.
If it’s been a while since your website had a new look, it’s likely the industry that the company is in has evolved over time, but the website hasn’t kept up. A design audit will see you revamp the look and feel of the site to reflect current trends, and the organization’s updated brand values and identity.
Discrepancies and inconsistencies
If the content and visual identity—such as messaging, illustrations, colors, and format—are inconsistent across each page of your site, users might get confused and leave without taking any desired action (e.g., making a purchase). Inconsistencies also undermine brand authority and come across as unprofessional, so it’s important to iron them out.
Bad website performance
If you’re noticing low-performance metrics, like declining conversion rate or slow load times, it’s likely a few things need to be tweaked for the site to perform better overall. A design audit can help determine where changes should be made.
How to conduct a design audit in 7 steps
Now that we’ve explored exactly what a design audit is and why they’re so important, it’s time for the fun part: Getting stuck in!
Whether you’re operating as part of a big design team in a major tech company, or auditing your own site as a sole trader, there’s no official way to conduct a design audit. But to give you an idea of what to expect, we’ve broken the website design audit process into seven easy steps.
Step 1: Define the goals of the design audit
Before you begin, it’s important to define what you hope to achieve with your design audit. It’s easy for design audits to spiral into bigger projects than they’d set out to be, so having specific goals will help you track progress during the audit—and measure success after implementation. These goals could include increasing conversions, improving user experience, or strengthening brand identity.
Step 2: Gather information about the existing website and its users
Once you’ve defined your goals, it’s time for the UX research stage. Here, you’ll find yourself asking questions like:
- Who are our users, and how are they navigating the website?
- Where are the points of friction?
- What does their user journey look like?
As part of this stage, you might look at quantitative data like traffic and click-through rates (which you can assess using tools like Google Analytics or Hubspot), as well as qualitative information from user interviews and surveys (tools like UserZoom and Maze are popular choices). All this data will help inform your decisions when evaluating how well the website meets user needs and organizational goals.
Step 3: Assess the needs of the users and the goals of the organization
The next step is to consider both user needs and organizational goals in order to decide which changes should be made to the site. What do users want out of their experience on your site? What features are most important? How do we keep the site usable while driving them towards certain actions, like making a purchase or signing up for a service? Asking these questions at this stage will help ensure that any changes made during your design audit serve both purposes simultaneously.
Step 4: Evaluate how well the website is currently meeting those needs
Now that you have gathered data about users and organizational goals, it's time to evaluate how well (or poorly) those needs are currently being met by your existing website. Are there any areas that require improvement? Are there any areas where you could make significant changes in order to better meet user needs or organizational objectives? Using the data from your user research sessions, you could run a design workshop to walk through each stage of the user journey and identify where the site could be optimized to drive conversions.
Step 5: Create new design standards
Now, it’s time to introduce new design standards across the board. These could include revised typography guidelines, updated color palettes, improved navigation structure—anything that would improve (or replace) what’s currently on the site for a better user experience. Depending on how complex or detailed those standards are, they may require creating style guides or even entire new design systems altogether.
Step 6: Implement the new changes
After identifying where changes need to happen, it’s time for implementation! What this stage looks like will depend largely on how many changes need to be made, and the nature of those changes. Some audits call for minor edits and updates, while others uncover the need for a complete brand and design overhaul. Because of this, step six usually takes the longest and involves the most cross-team collaboration.
Step 7: Presentation and review
After implementing all the necessary changes, you're ready to show off all your hard work! Make sure that everyone involved understands what changes were made, why, and how the updates will benefit both users and the organization going forward. Presenting the audit outcomes to the wider team will ensure that everyone can get behind the new and improved site.
This is also an opportunity to review the design audit and reflect on how it went. What did you learn throughout the process? What went well/badly? What would you do differently next time?
3 best practices for your first design audit
So there we have it: Seven steps to conducting (and conquering) your very first design audit! Design audits are an essential part of any successful UX designer's toolkit and a great opportunity to put your UX skills to the test. But they can also be incredibly overwhelming, so here are three best practices to keep in mind on the road to design audit success:
Documentation is key in any kind of audit—and design audits are no exception. This means keeping detailed records of the process you’ve followed, each update, and the original designs. It’s also important to have consistent naming conventions throughout your designs so everyone’s on the same page. Design style guides are a great way to keep track of design taxonomy, so other designers can easily implement changes down the line.
Use the right tools
Having the right tools on hand will make it much easier to conduct your design audit. This could include heatmaps like HotJar, which highlight areas where users struggle most often while navigating through a page. Additionally, project management tools like Trello and Asana will help keep track of tasks and deadlines.
Set realistic expectations
When beginning a design audit project, it’s crucial to be realistic about how long it will take and what resources you’ll need. Design audits often take longer than initially anticipated—so plan accordingly! While it may not be possible to complete everything in one go, setting realistic expectations ahead of time can help ensure that you’re still reaching your goals.
A website design audit is a critical tool for assessing the strengths and weaknesses of a site. They provide valuable insight into improving usability, branding, and positioning to drive more engagement and ultimately boost profits.
Understanding how to conduct a design audit will also give you a competitive edge in the UX job market! Employers always look for business-savvy UX designers who can balance user needs with business goals. Being able to ‘audit’ designs shows a high level of UX maturity that will undoubtedly be an asset to any product team.
If you’re looking to break into UX design with in-demand skills, why not check out our UX Academy? You’ll learn the fundamentals of UX/UI design under the mentorship of industry-leading designers, and walk into your first design role with confidence.