Taking the Time to Get It Right: The Valerian Website

A red sign that says wrong way hangs on a pole in a city.

We all know that things move fast on the web: same-day shipping, videos streaming in HD, and trends that move faster than most people can keep up with. ⏩ But not everything on the internet can move at a breakneck pace, and good website design will always be one of those things that just takes the time that it takes.

Getting it done fast ⚡

After a business transition in the second half of 2022, we needed to have a website up and running for Valerian and we needed it to be live, like, yesterday. 😅 We were well aware that we were rushing things, but we were in a position where we needed to have a place to point people or our funnel was going to dry up completely.

Dreams with a deadline ⌛

As a team, we did spend a good amount of time talking about what we wanted and didn’t want, and I knew the feelings and experience that I wanted our website visitors to have. We know how important a clear image of where you want to end up is to the whole website process. But we definitely felt the pressure and didn’t spend as much time refining our vision as we would have liked.

We tell our clients all the time that websites are never done. Your website will always need to be modified, updated, and finetuned to keep up with trends, security issues, and the way businesses run on the internet. So at first I thought maybe we just had a lot of changes and revisions ahead of us, but there’s a big difference between that idea and the reality of a website that just misses the mark. And I couldn’t get myself to move past it.

The decision to start over 🗑️ (kind of)

It was really difficult to look at all the work and time we’d already spent as a team to make this website exist in the first place and think that we would have to do it again. And it was discouraging to feel like I couldn’t celebrate our accomplishment because it felt like the whole thing was just so… blah. 😒

Technical debt 💻

One of the issues with our first site launch was that it wasn’t something I wanted to build off of, literally or figuratively. We hadn’t been able to do a lot of the things I wanted, and any new pages would be versions of the so-so thing we had already created. So much work would have to be done in the future to allow new pages to have the kinds of features I wanted them to have. It didn’t make sense to go into that kind of technical debt; I’d rather start over and achieve something that I could carry forward with ease instead of feeling like I was constantly trying to realize a dream that was out of reach.

Ideal clients

Another issue became obvious when I looked at our website and thought about the kinds of clients I was hoping to attract. Our website was out of sync with our ideal clientele, and it was obvious. I knew that attracting the right kind of client was crucial to our future success and my own ability to keep going and not burn out. Maybe the old website would have given us a full funnel, but it would have been clients that weren’t our ideal.

Keeping it on brand

At Valerian, we genuinely do prioritize the well-being of our team and our clients, and everything we do should give off that vibe. However, the first site just didn’t quite hit the mark. In fact, there were some elements that actively worked against that feeling, but I didn’t see that right away. I just knew that something felt “off” and I didn’t think we could move on until I figured out what it was.

In the end, it felt impossible to just say “good enough” and move forward. I told the team that we were starting over.

How we got it right ✅

To correct course, I knew we couldn’t just start at square one and try it again. After all, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is insanity. 😵‍💫 We needed to change it up if we hoped to get a better result this time around. 

Outside perspective 😎

One of the most important things we did was to bring in an outside opinion. For us, this came in the form of my longtime friend Al (you can see their current work at allisonsabrie.com). I asked Al to help with creative direction for the new website, a move that made sense since they’d designed our branding for us a few years back. It felt like if anyone would be able to take the brand and turn it into the website I was dreaming about, it would be Al. 

It was Al who pointed out that our website had a bunch of copy in all caps. They expressed that this kind of design made them feel like they were being yelled at, the exact opposite of the feeling of relaxation and calm that we were trying to convey. 😅 Once they pointed it out, it was all we could see. It was wild how aggressive the site suddenly seemed to us and how incredible it was that the whole team had missed that.

We often see how our own outside perspective helps our clients end up with better websites: it’s typical to hear “we had never thought of that!” when we dig a little deeper into something our clients took for granted about their own business. It was fun to realize that we weren’t immune to this phenomenon, and we’re eternally grateful to Al for helping us lower the volume a bit 🔈, along with all the other inspired advice they gave us.

Knowing when to “kill your darlings” 💀

In starting over, we also became aware of just how much copy we had on our website. It wasn’t bad copy—and we did end up reusing a good amount of it—but it was too much. It wasn’t until we were looking through other sites that had inspired me that Amy, our copywriter, realized that all these websites were way more pared down than the site we had built. In some places, we’d overexplained; in others, we hadn’t explained the right thing.

Amy talked about a phrase she’d learned in her college writing courses: “kill your darlings.” It sounds really intense, and it kind of is, but it’s also really necessary when you realize you’ve overdone it. It’s often the bits that you were most proud of or the things that you really want to hold onto that need to go. Amy cut a lot of her favorite bits of copy because they just didn’t serve a purpose on the new, pared-down website. There were design elements that I was really excited about that I had to say goodbye to because they just weren’t right for our brand and for our website. 

Reduce, reuse, recycle

We’d greatly reduced the words that were on our website, as well as the number of pages, but we didn’t throw everything out. A lot of copy got reused or reimagined in a way that worked with the new layout and design. ♻️ At the beginning of the process, it was easy to feel like everything that came before was a big waste of time and resources, but that wasn’t the case. As we got into it, we realized that we’d done a lot of good work, just hadn’t put the pieces together in the right way.

Hurry up and wait 😬

The hardest part of the website relaunch was just letting the process take the time that it was going to take. If we wanted to get it right, we had to have lots of meetings and allow everyone the time they needed to do their part to the best of their ability. While it was some comfort to know that people wouldn’t end up at a “coming soon” page if they came to our website, it wasn’t much better knowing they’d land on a website that I didn’t like and didn’t believe in. It got more difficult the more work we did, as I began to see the vision I’d had in my head become an even better reality.

The result ✨

I launched the website with very little fanfare because I just wanted to be done, honestly. I also couldn’t stand looking at the old website any longer, and I figured an imperfect version of the second attempt was better than the version that made me cringe. 😅

Firm foundation

We’re on version 2.0 (or maybe it’s 3.0 🤔) at this point, and it’s clear that this website provides the kind of foundation that we’ll be able to build off of as a business for years to come, even if we do a major redesign at some point. 🧱 It’s been easy to build out new pages that look and feel the way I want them to, and we moved The Greenhouse, our resource hub, over to the main website instead of being hosted on another platform. 

Dream to reality 🥳

After our relaunch, the website still doesn’t match my vision… it exceeds it! 🏆 I truly believe that’s a result of bringing together awesome people—the Valerian team as well as some outsider perspectives—and letting them all work their individual magic. In the end, that’s what Valerian has always been about: humans doing their thing in a way that gives life and energy to others around them. I just love when a creative process like this happens and the results really show the passion and care that everyone put in.

Onward and upward 🚀

Although the new website went live about six months ago, I’ve continued to feel the increased clarity it provided me as a business owner. Having to redo a project that centered around our brand really helped me zero in on what I want for Valerian and where we’re headed. Taking the time to get it right was well worth the investment of time and effort. 😌

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