The Mandatory “New Design” Post

Site redesigns are all part and parcel of life on the web, nothing can stay the same forever. I’ve been experimenting with various possible site designs over the past several months, and considering my options for even longer, since before I completed my degree. Today finally sees the launch of one of them.

It’s taken so long to produce something I’m happy with. I’m sure those in the design industry would agree, designing for yourself is never an easy task. So lets talk it over, shall we?

Why Redesign?

“Why” is always an important question, if there isn’t an answer then there isn’t any real reason to redesign, other than for the sake of it. There are a few important reasons that I wanted to redesign my site:

  1. My previous portfolio design was put together back in 2009. 2009! That’s a forever ago in internet time. When I launched my portfolio I was very happy with it, but it has since grown a bit dated.
  2. After completing my degree I was offered a job with the brilliant people at Fresh Made Media. As a result I’m no longer looking to take on new projects, something that was not being reflected on my site.
  3. An additional consequence of having found employment is that the purpose of my site has changed. Whilst I still want to showcase my work, I am much more interested in sharing my ideas than showcasing my work.

The end result is that I have been spending time experimenting with design concepts, sketching ideas on paper, marking up content in an attempt to create something that really clicked with my aims for this site.

What Goals did I Have?

When it came to my site redesign, the main aim of my site’s redesign was to shift it from a showcase of my work that also had a place for my thoughts to become a site from which I can share my thoughts that also covers some of the work I have done.

This is partially due to my recent employment, but a large part of it is a shift in what I want my site to do. Whilst I am proud of my work, I want people to read my thoughts, ideas, and opinions. Showcasing my work comes second to this. Interestingly it has been these things that have resulted in people contacting me about work as opposed to any gallery of previous work.

A secondary aim, and a complimentary one, was to remove as much visual clutter from my site as possible. In the end I decided that this would be best handled in an approach similar to that of my own University Learning Logs which were designed to put the focus on the content I was producing. This ideal is something I wanted to carry over to my main site.

Responsive Web Design was a valuable resource when working on this site. Check it out.

The final goal I had for my site was to put an effort into ensuring that my site works around the constraints of the device viewing it, rather than forcing everything to view my site in a specific fashion. Some people call it Responsive Web Design, some call it simple web design. The name doesn’t matter to me, the end result of the process does.

Getting There

With these goals in mind I set about crafting my new site. I went through a few different design ideas such as a simple restyling of my old site, changing to a one-page site design similar to Tim Potter’s portfolio, before settling on something closer to my original inspiration, a simple typographical layout that scales to fit the device using it.

Whilst I was settling on how it would look, I was also looking into how it would work. I’ve been a long time user of WordPress, using it for my portfolio as well as on several client projects. It’s a great platform and is becoming increasingly more flexible. Whilst I was writing content for my University Learning Logs I also concluded that they weren’t for me.

As a developer I have played around with quite a few different blogging platforms and content management systems. I’ve even created one or two over the years. The company I work for has developed a great platform for their client projects. Each of them does a lot, has a lot of power, and provide all the tools needed to do whatever you want.

All of them also do more than I want, and all that added functionality gets in the way. I wanted something that would let me just get on with putting words on the screen, not with clicking buttons to let me start doing things. During my final year of university I worked on a flat-file1 content management system, which fits my requirements very well.

Using this allows me to focus on creating the content I want to, without having to deal with the extra features that I just don’t need.

Going Forward

Things aren’t sitting quite how I want them to at this point. Things aren’t wrong with the site, there are just a few aspects of the site that I want to develop further before I unleash them on the world. The most important of these, to me, is providing a way for people to communicate with me using comments on my journal posts.

There are a few reasons that I have not yet got this aspect of the site working. The first is time. I continually put off publishing site updates until they are perfect. Nothing can be truly perfect in web design and, as a result, I continually get tired of my work and it doesn’t see the light of day. This needed to change.

The second reason is a matter of implementation. Using a flat-file CMS brings with it a lot of potential issues. If each comment is stored as a file somewhere I need to ensure that the comments I receive are legitimate ones, as spam would rapidly start to fill up my hosting space, which would be bad. So I need to work to ensure that any implementation I produce is as reliable as possible, without unintentionally killing actual comments.

As a result of this I decided to publish the site as is, with the intention of iterating on the site as I am able, adding commenting, and any other enhancements, as they become ready for purpose. In the meantime people are more than welcome to hit me up over on Twitter where I am almost always active.

On the whole I am very pleased with the new direction of the site. I’m sure I’ll probably end up tinkering with things as I add more material to it and as more people get their hands on it.

  1. Most content management systems make use of a database to store their data. A flat-file system does not do this, using a file structure to store information. To read more about how this works for my site, read my colophon