You’re not in the wrong place. This is still me. It’s been at least five years since I did a major redesign of this blog, and over those years I’ve painted myself into a few design corners. I’ve been meaning to figure out a way to slowly tweak my design into something new and fresh and modern, but my old theme had so many complexities that I decided instead to just rip the bandage right off. This is the basis for a new look. It’s a bit sparse at the moment, but I’ll be refining it in the coming months. For now, enjoy a simpler look and feel.
December 20 While I’ve definitely made a lot of minor tweaks to this blog’s look-and-style in times passed, I realized the other day that I’ve been using basically the same design template for the last four and a half years. For a guy who used to update and change the look of this thing every couple months, that’s a long stretch without much more than some gentle nudging. I don’t think I’m ready to completely overhaul it at this point, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t given some thought to how I would do that — and if I would do that. I mean, this blog is going to turn 16 next year. It will be old enough to drive. I almost feel like it has hit a kind of classic maturity (at least in design) and I’m not sure I ever really want to mess with it any more than at the gentle nudging and tweaking level. That said, there are so many new design paradigms out there that I’m locked out of using because I’ve painted myself into a metaphorical corner. Ahhhh! It will be a tough call, but maybe I’ll think of something wild and crazy to work towards — a BIG tweak — for the fifth anniversary of this template.
Those of you who know where I work may be happy to know that we’re neck-deep here in the challenges of designing a responsive mobile website (in a cost-effective manner, no less!) As such, and since this blog serves a multi-faceted purpose, one of which is as a kind of sandbox for my own personal code-based experimentation, I’ve been playing with a few design tricks I’ve been thinking a lot about, once again resulting in the subtle tweaking of the look-and-feel of this site. Responsive design is tricky: you are essentially building multiple websites that overlap with each other — same content, different look — but that need to resemble each other enough that users just think things are shuffling around… which they are… but in clever ways that maximize screen real estate. In short, you change one thing and two more things break. You fix those and some other bit pops out like a cartoon pimple in a completely unexpected place over here. Yoink! I don’t seek your pity, just your patience if something doesn’t look quite right.
With Karin out of town, I was stuck at home with –y’know– dad responsibilities, and so I spent the better part of my evening last night doing some minor tweaks to my blog template. It’s a small thing, yeah, but it should make it a lot more “touchable.” Whaaaa..?? Well, rather than just have great big gorgeous feature imagery on my front page with itty-bitty word-titles that you click to navigate to the article, now every time there is a picture associated with an article, that whole image is clickable. It’s a bigger target for your little finger. Again… small thing, but with a big usability impact, particularly if you’re reading this blog on a tablet or a phone. Enjoy!
I’m not a huge fan of responsive design, y’know the kind: when websites wibble-and-wobble around and change their look-and-feel, shape and content depending on how big your browser window happens to be. My lack of fandom probably accounts for my (up-til-now) complete lack of understanding of the technical side of it all. I just never bothered. But people apparently like it and I was given (professional) cause (and arguably “light” direction) to figure it all out. So, in other words, if you’re wondering why suddenly this site is using a nearly-identical, but now moderately-responsive template… it’s because I needed to learn. It’s because I needed a guinea pig. And you’re reading it. What do you think: nailed it? Or needs work? What do you expect from a website that responds to your viewing window?
I’ve been writing here now for well over eleven years, and every so often I dig into the guts of one part of it and redesign some element of how it works, which way it’s structured, what I’m writing about, or in what fashion the end product appears on the screen. And I always seem to put it out there as the latest, greatest — and last — change.
That’s not really true, though. Being a web design guy at heart means that as long as this blog is around I’ll be tweaking the bits and tugging at the bytes trying to get it to be something more like what I envision it should look like.
The past week has been one of these “every so often” times, as those who read this blog anything close to regularly can surely attest. I’ve dug deep into the innards of this blog and reshaped a whole lot of things so-much-so that I thought I should take a stab at explaining it… if for no other reason than it will be interesting to me in a few years.
The old look-and-feel had brought me through about four years worth of posts. No, really. It’s been that long since I last overhauled this space. Back in 2008 or so, I dropped in a modified template based on a very simple, plain, and streamlined two-column blog. It started off with a very basic, canned template that over the years and episodic moments of my writing, evolved to reflect various moods, themes, concepts, and conceptual changes. It had a very simple colour palette consisting of blues and greys and whites, with much (if not all) of the architectural imagery presented as grunge-styled silhouettes. I liked it. It suited what I was trying to present: a simple, no-nonsense blog.
Around the same time I was running another blog with a lot of content. I’d found a free template online that I nudged very slightly to suit the more magazine-equse appeal of that content. It was a very public blog, posts routinely hitting two or three hundred hits within an hour of posting. But blogs come and go, and this one faded away as my interests and life-focus changed.
But I still had that template tucked away. And last week, with some spare time over the long weekend, I started contemplating what I might be able to do with respect to two big goals: (1) just another refresh, since it had been so long since the last one, and (2) better integration of the multitude of photographs that never seemed to get much of any profile in the old design.
So, I started to build. And then I tweaked. And then I launched. If you hit this site around about the holiday Monday, you’d probably seen something of a mashup of some of my new tweaks and a lot of the canned design. But over the last week, in my spare time and with the insight of poking around a stack of new and modern web architectures, I’ve slowly built out what I think is coming up to my — let’s call it — VERSION 3.0 RELOAD of the site.
It features a… well, a feature space at the very top of the home page, big, bold and colourful image-based navigation to some of my new stuff and some of my favourite stuff. It is easy to refresh with some built in random-ness that let’s readers discover and find more of the interesting stuff right from the landing page.
It also features more focus on my (now five) main categories. Each is styled with a unique colour that follows posts filed in those categories around the site: for example, “fatherhood” posts are touched with red in all the major lists and navigation elements.
There is also a big refocus on imagery. Every post now has a defined or default thumbnail. Those thumbnails fill the naviagtion pages with a little more eye-catching colour, but also make use of some of the thousands and thousand of photos I’ve accumulated over the years. (The customization, so far, with imagery is fairly shallow though, so a few pages in to any list and you’ll find the default image filling your screen.)
The new design also makes use of some consistent font choices. Static images and headings are styled in the Google Font Library’s “Special Elite” Serif, while everything else is (or should be) styled in some flavour or another of Arial (sans) and relies on weighting, spacing, and casing to add variety while avoiding distraction.
In the end what I think readers will find is something a little more “magazine-like” that is more article-based, colourful, exploratory to navigate, and interesting to read. And in a few more years, I’ll probably have a change of heart and tweak it all again. As for the next little while, watch for a few minor tweaks here and there, but otherwise just enjoy the new design.
What’s there to say? A month ago today I started typing away on this blog again and forty-some posts later I seem to be back in the habit.
But no. It’s been good. It’s been cathartic, in a sense. Things in my life are reasonably calm and relaxed, and the ability to open up and just, y’know, write… fill pages with this stuff that’s floating around my brain… has been useful. And still, it helps that this is pretty much a private place. I’m not hiding it, per se, but I’m not broadcasting — tweeting, facebooking, messaging the world — its existence.
One or two exceptions, of course, but those are quite subtle and perhaps yet unnoticed.
I think it helps that I can already leaf back through the last month and get a glimpse of little moments, memories, happenings that I’m glad I caught and wrote down before they drifted into nothingness. It’s been worth that much, so far, and even if I woke up tomorrow and decided this little reloaded experiment was over, well, I had that much.
I spent a couple hours this evening and worked on my template again. For the moment the template is not changing. It’s refining. It’s honing closer to the concept I want to get across. It’s drifting in line with the spirit of the blog that I feel I want to convey (when and if someone else ever begins reading this) in the form of a template and images and scratchy little icons. Of course, by the time you are reading this the template may have changed a number of more times. Heck I read through the archives and realized that this blog — this loose collection of writing — has had half a dozen names and five times that many templates, formats, and hosts. Who can say what it will look like in ten years. Who can say what any of this will matter. But for the reference of the future, the template right now is a variation on the template I used prior to the break: a sketchy-styled blue-block text header on a white backdrop. When I revamped last month, I added some grunge and coffee stains to make it look worn and old, like a tattered notebook pulled from a dusty drawer somewhere and revisited with new words. This evening, I added a new feature (with the same grungy styling) placing a row of highlighted topic feature boxes under the header banner, the idea being that I want to slowly focus my blog. I don’t want to make it exclusively about those six topics (fatherhood, running, photography, writing, information management, and gaming) but instead align the writing as a kind of fifty percent topics versus fifty percent unfocussed writing, with the understanding that those six topics are what I write most about anyhow.
So, yeah. A month later and it’s starting to form up again. I’m starting to get a purpose. I’m starting to get some joy out of writing this. And I think I’ll keep it up.