I'm totally new to Magento, having used systems like Expression Engine, Craft CMS and Shopify in the past. My client is currently on Magento CE 1.7 and we are working on a redesign for the site, including switching themes.
My question is this: I now have a local dev copy of the site running on my machine but am not sure the best order to proceed. Should I update the current site to the latest version of CE and then push it to staging (a subdomain on the production server) to test and then if all good, push to production. THEN, when this is done, start working on the redesign locally. This way, when it comes to merging the latest data from the production database with the dev database, they are on the same version.
Or, should I just upgrade and redesign my local site and leave production sitting pretty on 1.7, and then get the customer and order data from the production database when I'm ready to launch the new site? Still pushing to staging for testing first, obviously! This would be easier, I just don't know enough about Magento to know how much is changed around customers and their orders in the database when it is upgraded. I have googled around and haven't found a definitive answer to this yet.
I've seen some stubs about exporting customers and orders (the only two things I'd need from the production DB) from Magento either through the admin or just pulling tables in the DB. It's just not clear whether it is dependent on the two databases running the same version of Magento.