When a business updates its website, it's almost guaranteed that something will go wrong. For that reason, professionals usually do major upgrades behind the scenes, conducting user testing and working out any bugs before the public sees it. Even missing one issue can lead to lost customers and reputation damage, so it's important to carefully test any major changes before going live.

But this didn't occur at San Francisco-based Product Hunt, the popular online community where users discover new startups and products.

Founder Ryan Hoover and his team tried a new approach to the complete homepage redesign they unveiled today. They built the new design "in public," involving hundreds of users. I talked with Hoover about the new design and the somewhat unique approach to building it. He says it brought valuable feedback from users on the changes while also strengthening the community.

A Sign of Change to Come

Product Hunt's changes are hard to miss and they're still coming. The once no frills, Reddit-like interface has now morphed into a more graphical look than when it started in 2013. It's a mobile-ready design, apparently tailored to an Internet that will increasingly want to find out about new products via a mobile device, not from the desktop.

"Visuals are an important part of the experience today, communicating more information to users than a 60 character tagline," Hoover says. "It's also increasingly useful for more visual mediums, like games and other product categories that we will expand to in the future."

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Hoover says as soon as changes started, he brought community in on the process, sharing early mockups and incorporating member feedback.

"Building in public is incredibly helpful for us as it introduces new ideas we didn't think of and allows the community to become part of the building process itself," Hoover says.

Accommodating a Broadening Community

At its inception, Product Hunt focused on tech startups. But as it's grown, different communities emerged, with some focusing more on books or games for instance. It's no secret that the site has become a destination for marketers trying to successfully launch or build buzz for various products. It's only natural that Hoover and his team would want to facilitate that behavior to some degree, as well as that of consumers, by making the homepage accommodate a wider variety of interests.

"We started with an intense focus on tech but as the community's grown we knew we needed a more scalable homepage that can represents the varying interests of our audience. Ultimately, we're building a place for people to find their next favorite thing and this redesign is a step toward a more personalized, social Product Hunt."

In more recent months the site began including books and podcasts among its categories. Community members also now attend live chats featuring product makers and authors. Other new features are coming soon, including "recommended collections," which will allow users to check out the favorite products of other community members.

Hoover says Product Hunt is also retooling its iOS app to go along with the more mobile friendly home page redesign. He can't say when that's happening yet, but that it will be soon.

"You'll see all the categories (games, podcasts, books, and tech) within the app along with more visuals, videos included."

With this community-minded approach to updating its software, Product Hunt has found an approach that could work for other websites or apps. The team received hundreds of ideas and comments, which let the company's development team make changes that addressed user concerns before the updated site went live. This improved not only the development process, but made community members feel more connected. It's a double shot of efficiency worth emulating in my opinion.