September 26, 2007, 12:00 AM planned its redesign down to the tiniest detail

The redesign took nearly two years to complete because of the extensive planning used to get the job done right. A top priority for the redesign was building an information architecture that makes a shopping experience more intuitive.

The devil is always in the details, especially in Internet retailing where precise planning can make the difference between a good web site makeover and a great one. When the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants decided to redesign, it could have relied solely on its in-house design and marketing staff.

Instead the redesign took nearly two years to complete because of the extensive planning and outside feedback the staff used to get the job done right. The institute used a variety of tactics, including e-mail surveys, focus groups, a competitive analysis of other e-commerce sites and a detailed review of analytical data, to prepare a web site makeover. “We performed a tremendous amount of due diligence,” says vice president of marketing services Melissa Rothchild. “We did several iterations of evaluations at the early design stage prior to even getting to the usability testing.”

A top priority for the redesign was building an information architecture that made site search and a customer’s shopping experience more intuitive. “We tried to think the way the customer would think when browsing, and save them time by giving them intelligent refinement options to narrow down their search,” says Rothchild.

The institute rebuilt the site’s information architecture after a detailed review of analytical data showed designers and marketing managers where visitors were spending the most time, how they were coming to and exiting the site, and which pages and categories had the most hidden potential. After completing the new architecture, the institute embarked on an extensive usability test prior to launching the redesigned site. The institute completed nearly 20 individual user tests with accounting professionals and gave each user a series of tasks to complete during a session. The results were taped and then analyzed by the staff. “We audio taped the sessions and monitored the user`s screen/key touches so others in the organization could see each user`s actions and listen to their feedback,” says Rothchild.

Since the redesign the number of unique visitors to, No. 326 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, has increased by about 20%. “We spent a lot of time giving the design team a full overview of our business goals and the attributes and trends in our customer marketplace,” Rothchild says. E-commerce sales are expected to grow by around 10% in 2007, she says.

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