I like my old site design; it feels distinct even now, and I didn’t really see the point in redesigning until I needed to. It stayed in generally the same form for nearly five years. But I finally caved and redesigned. So, why the change? I’m glad you asked.
Professionally, I’ve recently become a bit disillusioned with my design work because it feels static. I design a site, and regardless of the content, it’s usually dropped into a template, reducing the design to more a bit player rather than a worthy partner to that content. In other media, the design adapts to support different kinds of content and themes in order to play a supportive role. So when I decided I wanted a change, instead of designing one look for a site, I designed a system.
At the Speed of Art Direction
Well, here is my experiment: a very simple setup for fast design and art direction around content. I’m approaching this is much the same way one would approach the design of a magazine: a system for the way content gets handled, but every layout and story can take on a look of their own within that system. I’ve established a visual language for the site: a basic eight column grid, a few typefaces, and more static branded elements like the masthead and utility information. Beyond that, the system allows me to adapt the design to suit the content. Typefaces, colors, images, background, columns and layout, can all easily be manipulated to whatever the art direction calls for.
It’s as simple as it sounds—just some smart CSS and markup planning with hooks built in for quick and powerful customization. Some of these seeds have been planted before. Each issue at A List Apart sports a different color scheme and custom illustrations for articles. Each update to A Brief Message is wonderfully art directed with art and layout. Let’s not forget that before we were all geeked out on publishing through a blogging tool or CMS, most of our sites looked this way because we were making each page by hand. This isn’t a new idea. But, I’m hoping to push things a bit further.
Don’t Call It a Redesign
While, yes, this is a redesign of sorts, I’m considering much more a rethinking. You see, what you’re looking at isn’t the design so much as the plan for design. I’m not saying this is the answer, but I got the itch to start experimenting with these ideas. If I don’t end up figuring it out, maybe my work will inspire others to. So, some basic posts (and all of the site’s non-article content) might look like this, the no frills, default design, others might be a lot more heavily designed. Some teaser images of the quick test cases I started with can be found in this post.
We’ve made so many advancements in how we publish content that we haven’t looked back to what it is we’re actually creating. Many of us see the clear separation between things like print design and web design, but I’ve really been questioning the reality of why things are this way.
I don’t believe it has as much to do with time and capabilities—the notion that it takes too long to achieve the same design fidelity we enjoy in slower print endeavors—I think it has more to do with us merely having convinced ourselves it does. We’ve developed so many ways of creating and coding websites faster, but we really haven’t scratched the surface for art directing them in that same light.
In this experiment, I’m going to attempt posting a bit more often, aided by this system which will fare better than my old site for a greater variety of post types, like imagery-heavy, quotes, and long or brief articles. Stay tuned, I have a few posts already lined up to give you (and me) an idea of what I’m hoping to achieve with this design.
Some Final Housekeeping
I’m a big believer in preserving the web as much as we can, so rather than moving all of the content from my last design into the new system, I’ve decided to archive it and keep it all in the old design, the design the content was written for. All incoming links should (hopefully) be automatically redirected to its new home here: v3.jasonsantamaria.com.
Each entry will have categories, but I’ve also added “design tags”, so as the site gets more full of content, you’ll be able to sort by design attributes like color, layout, typefaces, etc. In this latest version of my site, I’ve moved away from MovableType and onto ExpressionEngine, and damn is EE hot. I’ve retired my old Leisure section but started a new one called Recommended Reading where I’ll review books on design and related topics. Oddities & Diversions, my link feed, and the Daily Photos are still around. All the feeds have been updated, which should automatically redirect to the new feed locations. If they don’t, you can re-subscribe at the bottom of the page.
I tried, I really tried, to get sIFR working nicely for a few more things on the site. As you can see from some of those screenshots, I intended to use Trade Gothic a bit more, but alas, it wasn’t to be. Hence a few extra type styles here and there with system fonts to approximate what I wanted. I’m not totally sold on everything yet, so I may keep on fiddling to even some things out.
Over the next few days and weeks I will be fine tuning different parts of the site (IE 6 support is spotty here and there, though not really at the top of my list), and re-writing some old static content, so bear with me. That said, please drop me a line if anything seems horribly broken. Otherwise, enjoy!