A Word About Unsolicited Redesigns

The Internet gives designers a soapbox like they’ve never had before, and that’s a wonderful thing. One of the most entertaining uses for these soapboxes is the unsolicited redesign, a kind of public demonstration of talent in which a designer overhauls a well-known Web site or digital product and shares it with the world at large. There is no invitation required or expected, and the same goes for credentials — anybody can undertake a creative reworking of any Web site, regardless of their experience or professional status. The only real qualification is whether they can produce something that they can substantively argue for as an improvement over the original. If the redesign is full of good ideas, well-executed and persuasively reasoned, the world beats a path to your door.

In the past week I’ve been asked numerous times to respond to one such unsolicited redesign that’s achieved not insubstantial notice within design and technology circles — a reworking of a site that I was closely associated with for some time. It’s a redesign that contains some genuinely good ideas and is executed professionally. But the argument that the redesign’s author makes is not quite so persuasive, mostly because it makes some rash assumptions, misses some critical realities and, perhaps worst of all, takes a somewhat inflammatory approach in criticizing the many people who work on the original site.

I’m purposefully not identifying this person or the project or providing a link back to the redesign itself, mostly because I think it’s counter-productive to continue to reward this effort with more unwarranted attention. To me, it felt less like constructive criticism than link-baiting, and so I have tried to avoid making any public comment.

I will say this, though: unsolicited redesigns are terrific and fun and useful, and I hope designers never stop doing them. But as they do so, I also hope they remember it helps no one — least of all the author of the redesign — to assume the worst about the original source and the people who work hard to maintain and improve it, even though those efforts may seem imperfect from the outside. If you have good ideas and the talent to execute them and argue for them, the world will still sit up and pay attention even if you take care in your language and show respect to those who don’t see things quite the way you do.