One of the most memorable, and biggest mistakes I made as a young product manager was to redesign a pack.
The product was an old fashioned, relatively low value product on supermarket shelves, it had a small niche to itself, and the sales ticked over, pretty much unaffected by promotional activity of any sort.
The pack was truly horrible.
Over the years , as suppliers of the display box had come and gone, the original photo had morphed into a messy amalgam of unrecognisable shape and conflicting colour to the point that it was not easy to recognise what the product inside might be, and if you did, it seemed unlikely to me that any reasonable consumer would consider buying it.
So, I did the obvious thing, at least it seemed obvious.
I contracted a designer, who did a great job of redesigning the pack, new photos, layout, recipe ideas, the whole five yards, so it looked clean, fresh, appetising, and with a bit of a flourish in womens magazines (this was the early 80’s) we relaunched the product.
The unexpected, unthinkable, happened.
Sales stopped, literally, dead in the water, nothing, nada, zilch.
Panic stations were manned, as while the volumes and profile of the product were low, the gross margins were outrageously high, and I had just shot the goose.
Not having any budget for research, I did the next best thing, which turned out to be the best thing, another lesson I have kept and reused, and reused.
I lurked around in supermarket isles for a while trying to talk to consumers of the product, and begged the field staff to do the same, to try to understand the reason for the abject failure of the new design.
It was rapidly clear that while consumers had no love for the old pack, they also thought it was rubbish, but they recognised it, bought it by habit, and when the design was so radically changed, they simply did not recognise the new pack as the same product, assumed their regular purchase, that had done the job for them well despite the packaging, was out of stock and moved on.
We changed the pack back, with a couple of subtle improvements and sales recovered immediately.
The point here is that I am sometimes faced with a client wanting to completely redesign their websites, they get sick of the old one, it is dated, unresponsive, not mobile friendly, and so on, and it seems like a good idea, and it almost always is.
However, I relate my pack story, and seek to persuade that many incremental steps that create an evolution of design that takes people with you is better than a big jump that risks losing some of the rusted on followers, those to whom you probably owe the bulk of your profits.
Now, you do not have to lurk in supermarket isles to assess the impact, you can conduct a series of A/B tests, to maximise the impact of the changes as the evolution journey winds along, a journey that should not end, just seek to deliver a superior experience.
BTW, the old product is still on the shelf, and having just googled it, the design seems fairly close to my memory of the brand, spanking new design of 30 years ago that so nearly truncated my marketing career.