If you’re wondering what a design audit is and how you can do it yourself, then this article is not for you. 🙂 This one is.
Today, I’m going to assume that you already know some things about design audits and that you’re even considering doing one, either on your own or by outsourcing.
However, a proper design audit is a fairly big investment. That’s why we’re going to discuss a few crucial points before you decide whether or not you want to do it and how you want to do it.
We’re going to talk about:
- When it’s the right time to do a design audit and when it’s not
- Whether you should outsource it or do it yourself
- The main benefits of a design audit – just a quick overview
- What you can expect from a design audit – based on my example
- Painful questions
- Growing and improving
- Don’t get a design audit if you’re not ready to implement the results
When should you conduct a design audit?
In my experience, you can divide the main reasons for doing a design audit into two main categories:
- Redesign or rebranding
If you’re a product or project manager, design lead, or even a founder, do you keep asking yourself the following questions?
- Why aren’t people signing up for our product?
- What’s stopping users from completing key user-flows, like on-boarding and checkout?
- Why don’t users understand how to use a feature?
- What’s confusing people on a certain page with a high bounce rate?
- Why do we spend so much time fixing new features after their release?
If the answer is yes, then you should strongly consider doing a design audit.
Any of these questions (or similar ones) might mean that your design is inconsistent and inefficient. However, you won’t know this for sure until you conduct a design audit.
“But we can only check the design or website in question,” I hear you say.
True. But if the design is flawed, it’s most likely not limited to just one page. My clients are always surprised after they get the results of their design audit to see how many inconsistencies, missing elements and leftover subpages are discovered across all of their content and materials. If you strive to offer your users an excellent experience, such questions should signal the need for a thorough analysis.
Growing and improving
You should also get a design audit if your company is undergoing changes like:
- Switching from a design agency to an in-house design department.
- Expanding your design department by a few designers at the same time.
- Redesigning your website, application, product, or brand.
- Adding an important feature to your product.
- Expanding your product line or adding new services.
You can see where this is going. A well-done design audit is one of the foundations of successful growth and improvement.
It’s a reality check – one that will let you know what’s been working well and which departments need to be improved.
Expanding and developing without a timely audit can leave behind a horrible mess, especially if every department does things its own way. Not only does this impact customer experience and satisfaction, it will also cost your company, as you’ll see a bit later on.
Don’t get a design audit if you’re not ready to implement the results
Getting a design audit is a great first step towards fantastic design and the many other benefits that come with it.
But you need to know what you’re going to do with the results and findings. Have a plan and make sure that everyone is on board with it! Your company should be ready to invest in excellent design. That doesn’t just mean fixing the flaws, but also improving your design process with a design system, better roadmaps, UX copywriting, etc.
If there’s someone higher up who’s going to look at the findings and decide that it’s too much work to improve the design, then it’s best not to get the audit in the first place.
It’s not a magical tool – it’s the first step of a process. It definitely pays off in the end, but you have to put in the work and your company needs to be ready to do it.
What are the benefits of a design audit?
Conducting a design audit can provide you with a complete evaluation of your business’s functionality at every stage of growth. It helps you to manage your visual and UX design and usability, as well as maintain a uniform tone of voice.
The audit itself forms the basis for further improvement, such as the development of a design system.
Following the findings will allow you to create a better, more holistic user experience and consistent design that aligns with your company’s branding and goals.
This will result in higher user satisfaction, as there’ll be little to no disconnect between their expectations and the reality once they find your product.
Such consistency builds trust with your audience, but users aren’t the only ones who benefit from a design audit. A design audit and a potential design system also help to establish internal consistency and trust.
What will happen business-wise once you implement the results of a design audit and possibly create a design system based on them?
- You’ll waste less working hours. Designers will be able to pull consistent elements from the system. This alone will save the company a lot of money, as we’re talking about a recurring loss and not just a one-time event.
- Designers will have more time to focus on improving your users’ experience and your product.
- There will be fewer design files scattered around and less confusion about the final version of a certain element.
- Your design process and workflow will improve, leading to more efficient design and fewer meetings.
- Consistent design will lead to higher conversion rates, especially for users who are brought to your page through marketing campaigns.
When used correctly, a design audit and its results are an investment that keeps on giving.
Why should you consider outsourcing a design audit instead of doing it yourself?
A design audit can obviously be conducted by yourself or one of your designers. I even wrote an article on how to do it.
But there’s usually at least one of the following problems:
- Your team is too close to the product, which makes it hard to be objective. This is especially true if some of the flaws are a result of your team’s work.
- Your chosen auditor doesn’t have time to do a comprehensive audit.
- It’s a big task that requires commitment. If the person is also working on various daily tasks, it often gets delayed or is done half-heartedly. An audit like this isn’t really helpful, and it can even be misleading if the person doesn’t want to create more work with your findings.
- You’re not sure that anyone on your team has enough experience to spot most of the design, UX and UI flaws and inconsistencies.
That’s why it’s a good idea to get a fresh set of eyes to review the usability, information architecture, visual design, messaging, and content of your product and website.
Once that’s done, an experienced expert can give you actionable recommendations and tell you what you can do to reach your business goals, whether it be conversions, user engagement, satisfaction, or something else.
What can you expect from a design audit?
Let’s go through some aspects of a design audit using my typical design audit template. Here’s what my audit generally includes:
Style guides and design system
Homepage and navigation
Category and product pages
User profile pages
Press and media materials
Metrics and KPIs
Now let’s take a closer look at some of the different parts of my design audit.
CRO stands for Conversion Rate Optimization. It includes various elements such as optimizing landing page designs, testing different versions of content, enhancing visual experience for better content experience, and improving UX.
As you can see, a huge part of CRO is connected to design. This part of the design audit can quickly show you where some of the big problems lie and how severe they are.
CRO increases both the value of each visitor and your profits, so improving conversion rates in any way you can is always a sound investment.
Style guides and design elements
Me: “You’re using 17 different fonts and 33 different CTA buttons across your website and products.”
My client: *surprised yelp* “Wow, really? 33 different buttons? Holy…”
That’s something I hear pretty often when I’m presenting the audit results!
Most businesses think that their design and brand language are fairly consistent, but an audit will usually prove them wrong. Different departments and different designers do things in their own way.
Having an overview of everything that your brand or company is using can be a rude awakening, but it does demonstrate the importance of a design system and help you to develop a good one.
A functional review of various pages
Here’s where the years of experience really come in. While a page may look just fine to most people, a seasoned design expert can quickly identify where there’s room for improvement.
These suggestions are a result of countless usability tests, which have allowed me to see what clear and efficient design really means and how it works.
Diving deeper into certain issues
Sometimes, short comments are not enough and you’ll want an audit that explores certain issues in more depth. It’s important that your team understands why they are fixing a specific aspect of your UX and design.
Developed by Nielsen and Molich in 1990, heuristic evaluation is a standard usability testing method where an expert examines the interface and judges its compliance with recognized usability principles (the “heuristics”).
It’s a very useful thing that most design audits should include, as it compares the user interface to certain principles of good practice and lets you know what you can (and should) improve.
If you want this Google template for Heuristic evaluation, get it here ->
Competitive benchmarking is the process of comparing your company against a number of competitors using a set collection of metrics. In a design audit, these metrics are unsurprisingly based around design.
Competitive benchmarking provides you with an overview of what your company is doing well and what competitors are doing better. This can guide your improvement plan and give you ideas on how to improve certain aspects of design.
A design audit can also estimate where your team is losing time. I usually include at least these two:
- How much time is wasted on UI design.
- How much time is wasted via dev handoff.
This estimate is based on duplicate yet different elements and the whole design-to-dev process.
If a design audit results in a new design system, you can measure how much it increases efficiency. I usually do this by sending a survey to designers, then observing how quickly they can pull an element from the system instead of designing a new one or searching for the final version of the design file.
There are other areas covered by a design audit, but the ones mentioned above are some of the most important and practical ones.
Hungry for more UX articles?
? Oh hey, I’m Romina.
I am a Design Strategist who holds a Master of Business Administration. I have 15+ years of career experience in design work and consulting across both tech startups and several marquee tech unicorns such as Stellar.org, Outfit7, Databox, Xamarin, Chipolo, Singularity.NET, etc. I currently advise, coach and consult with companies on design strategy & management, visual design and user experience. My work has been published on Forbes, Hackernoon, Blockgeeks, Newsbtc, Bizjournals, and featured on Apple iTunes Store.