AOL’s newly exposed homepage design has garnered criticism for being too much like Yahoo!’s. I’m sure there was a costly redesign process that may have involved outside design firms, RFPs and the like. (It would be interesting to have a window into the decision-making process within the company.)
Assuming there were a range of options that circulated internally, here’s what AOL probably should’ve done: put the top 2-5 designs up on the site and have users vote and provide feedback on them. This approach would’ve gotten some good PR about the involvement of users in the product redesign. The company might have even built some sort of “contest” or similar event around it.
Most importantly, the “winning” (most popular) design would already have been accepted by users and/or could be refined to improve appeal and usability based on a broader range of user feedback.
Greg Sterling is the founding principal of Sterling Market Intelligence, a consulting and research firm focused on online consumer and advertiser behavior and the relationship between the Internet and traditional media, with an emphasis on the local marketplace.