It's not Istanbul Yet If you’ve never heard The Four Lads (or They Might Be Giants) sing “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” you’re missing out on a great swing song. The lyrics basically dance around the fact that Constantinople was renamed Istanbul, but also how even New York was once New Amsterdam, saying things like “People just liked it better that way.” and “It’s nobody’s business but the Turks.”

Eventually you’re going to look at your website and think that you need to redesign it. In ages past, I would say things like ‘What would Amazon do?’ to indicate how people generally should not redesign their entire site. But those ages are long past and now, if you want to redesign your website, it’s an accepted standard of life. Both the code running your site and the look and feel of it have to be updated more than with just a slap of fresh paint.

Now that everyone’s accepted the fact that sites will update and change, the trick is how to make a change without forcing people to wonder why Constantinople got the works!(See? The song title had a point.) You can’t just assume your user-base is going to magically divine how everything works and know where to go to do things, after all.

Obviously you can make a blog post that explains where everything went, but eventually that will fall off your front page. So you could also make a new ‘page’ for your site features, and hope people saw that. Toss in some customization on your 404 page (and maybe some clever .htaccess redirects to send people to the right place), and you should be okay.

Should is the key-word there.

Science has proven to us that people like what they like, and changing it is a sure-fire way to cause problems. And once people make a decision that they like something, they will grow to actively dislike anything else. That’s why you get rabid Apple vs Windows fanboys. (Read The science of fanboyism by The Tech Report.)

At its crux, that is why bigwigs tell you not to redesign your site. Not because new layouts are bad, but because people are used to your site and, probably, like it the way it is. That tells me that when you make a change, and you will, you need to do it in a way that looks similar enough that while things have changed, the ‘feel’ remains the same.

The feel of a site is a terribly nebulous thing. The ‘feel’ has to be right for you, because if you don’t like your own site, you’ll never use it. The ‘feel’ has to be right for your target audience or they’ll never use it. Anyone who tells you they know all the answers, by the way, is lying. There’s a reason big companies hire folks to do tons of studies before changing the UX (User eXperience) of a site, after all. Generally speaking, as Matt Mullenweg said recently, “The software is wrong, not the people.”

Have you ever felt like a fool because you can’t remember the 16 special clicks and drags to get MS Word to do something? It’s not you, it’s the product. Your website is your product, and if even one person complains and says ‘This isn’t right!’ you need to stop and think about it. I’m not saying you have to change it, but I am saying you have to consider their point of view. Get out of your monkey house.

What it all comes down to is simple. If your site isn’t easy for your intended audience to use and understand, they won’t. If you change your site to something new and different and they don’t like it, they’ll leave. You need to understand what makes your users tick, and cater to them without kowtowing to their every whim. Sometimes learning that balance will make you take the wrong path. That’s okay. Mistakes are things to learn from, so don’t fear them.

On the subject of ‘big’ changes, there is a time and a place for them. When you look at how Amazon, Apple and Microsoft looked in 1999 and compare them to 2011, you feel like they’re the same sites, only grown up.



For the most part, color schemes are the same and so is layout. But if you were to jump from one to the other, it would feel like a big change. In reality, the move from 1999 to 2011 was all done in steps, slowly and carefully, so as not to jar the user too much out of their comfort zone.

This doesn’t just apply to site design. The GAP logo changed recently, and was universally panned. It was so bad that GAP actually had to change their logo back. Pepsi changed their logo and got more hate than Coke did for New Coke. (Actually I don’t know if anyone cared about the Pepsi logo. We drink Coke in my house.)

Some of the changes were pretty bold, and they all drive home the point that you do need to make changes. But they also remind us that the changes must be recognizable. “People just like it better that way.”

Reader Interactions


  1. Great article! Featuring some very good advice for web designers.

    I’ve seen plenty of web site redesigns that fall victim to scope creep – people want to fancy up their web sites, and in the process end up making them much less usable. The Twitter redesign is one example I can think of – I’m still using “old Twitter” because I find it much simpler and more usable than “new Twitter”. I have seldom seen redesigns that remove functionality to make things simpler for users – but that’s the direction I would attempt to take when doing a web site redesign. Of the three examples you’ve given in your article, both Amazon’s and Apple’s current web sites appear, to my eye, to be simpler than their 1994 counterparts.

    I’m looking forward to more interesting posts! All the best.

    • That’s the cool thing πŸ™‚ Amazon and Apple added way more ‘things’ they do but didn’t overcomplicate who they were. Amazon is no longer just books, but everything. Apple sells an OS and hardware. But in their changes, they didn’t forget who they were, what they did, and most importantly, who they serviced.

      Microsoft, on the other hand, had to fess up that they weren’t JUST an OS for companies, and had a harder road. But they also succeeded.

  2. I hope that the WordPress folks are reading this.. I’m getting a bit tired of all of the changes to the back end. I don’t mind changes to make it faster, but these UI changes seem unwarranted. Granted I haven’t been part of the internal discussions, so i don’t know why things have to change.

    But just little things like moving the “Search Engine Blocked” message from next to the title to the dashboard.. really annoys me.. It’s a small thing… but it gets me every time. When they first introduce though.. I was over the moon. Shows to tell you that changes are inevitable and users simply have to suck it up.

    • Due to the draconican laws of my office, I can’t partake in the IRC meetups (IRC is blocked, and I’m usually commuting when they happen). But I do read them after the fact. The UI changes in WP’s backend make logical, and logistical sense, given the direction they want to take the app. Moving things off the header and into the Admin Bar (which may be a great place for it, now that I say it…). The search engine move was simply for style. Once they reduced the header, it no longer ‘fit’.

      Of course there’s a plugin to put it back in:

    • Good to know about the plugin. I never even thought about looking for that.


  3. After reading this blog post, I think the take-away is “if you are going to make changes, make INCREMENTAL changes.” Look at the Pepsi logo. The current logo is very, very different from the 1898 logo, but is recognizable compared to the most recent logos.

    • Yes, very much so πŸ™‚ But remember, a gradual change helps the regular users. The people who come by every two or three years would be gobsmacked by Microsoft’s changes, and yet I suspect still feel at home with Amazon’s.

  4. I don’t recall the Pepsi changes getting “a lot of hate.”

    • As my (intended to be humorous) footnote stated “Actually I don’t know if anyone cared about the Pepsi logo. We drink Coke in my house.”

      We do drink Coke, except for one family friend who loves Pepsi. I actually heard about the redesign from him, in a lengthy email about how it looks like those obese people from Wall-E. My lack of factual citation was a hint that I was making a small (bad) joke πŸ™‚

  5. “In reality, the move from 1999 to 2011 was all done in steps, slowly and carefully, so as not to jar the user to much out of their comfort zone.”

    This isn’t true. These sites did not have a version of their 2011 site designs they were aiming toward in 1999, and they didn’t make slow and careful changes over twelve years so as not to jar their users too much out of their comfort zones. Instead, they changed their designs as they saw fit between 1999 and 2011, in many cases following trends at the time, and simply ended up were they are today. Evolution doesn’t start with the final design of the elephant and work towards it.

    Also, it is “TOO much out of their comfort zone”.

    • *sigh* I hate when I typo stuff I know. Thanks, I’ll fix that ASAP!

      While it’s true they weren’t aiming at the 2011 versions of their site (and realistically, no one ever is looking that far ahead) they were looking at their audience. They paid attention to what worked and what didn’t, what people liked, and they kept their ‘feel’ the same. That’s partly how you keep your web-brand intact πŸ™‚ The point is more ‘each change was small.’

      Unless you have a total paradigm shift (like Windows has), very rarely will companies totally turn everything on its ear and redesign everything from scratch.

      Heck, I should write up what happened to Serena when they tried that …

  6. Some good points made up here. Thanks for a good reading.
    And it seems to me like you have got a typo in old version of websites heading description. I’d expect there 1999 instead of 1994, just according to your text.

  7. Chris Zacharia says:

    Sorry to disappoint you but Constantinople was not renamed to Istanbul simply cause the Turks like it better that way but simply because after the fall of Constantinople and the Invasion of the city from the Turks they decided to give it a new name similar to what they did in the Invaded part of Cyprus which is still not a republic and is not seen as a republic by any other country of the world.

    The Turks invaded Constantinople changed the name to Istanbul, took the holy church of Saint Sophia and turned into a mosque.

    I don’t want to become racist so Ill leave it here; but please be cautious when you post stuff like this cause many people have lost their homes and their belongings.


    • Chris, you need to listen to the song. If you think I’m being a racist (or am ignorant) for quoting those lyrics, you may as well stop reading my site now.

  8. Chris Zacharia says:

    Believe me I know the song better than anyone else and its as racist as the people that refer to it.

    Thinking that the solution is people not reading your site just because you can post whatever you want is the same as me saying I’m going to hack your site and post whatever I want on it and its only my business because I like it better that way.

    The song itself is blasphemy as invading peoples homes and saying that its only the invaders business is at the least an attitude that belongs to the jungle.

    Please be cautious when you publish posts like that as people that come from families that have lost their homes won’t really consider coming back to your site.

    • The solution is this: If you don’t like what I say, go away.

      I’m sorry you can’t see past my usage of a popular song to point out aspect of webdesign and brand display, and are stuck on the perceived racism in a song (which by the way, a google on ‘Istanbul Not Constantinople Racism’ came up blank), but that means you won’t enjoy what I write or how I write it, so you’re better off elsewhere.

%d bloggers like this: