Redesign Update

Over two years ago, I wrote about how I was going to redesign my personal blog. I did not intend for it to take two years. I thought it would be a minor thing I worked on in my spare time during COVID lockdowns.

Unfortunately, I have had no spare time. In those past two years, my work has exploded, my wife and I bought our first house, and we had some health concerns that required our attention. (We’re fine, don’t worry.)

So I’ve spent a grand total of 15 hours working on the redesign in two years, which is a paltry amount of focused efforts divided into a hopeless amount of working days. I’ve not been very successful.

What I want to share today are some failed designs. I think sharing the failure is as important as sharing the successes. Rather than share dozens of art boards, I’m cropping many of them to be around the same aspect ratio as most laptop displays.

From the get-go, I was allergic to merely centring text. I think I wanted to re-invent what a blog looked like. That is a dumb goal, though, when the primary goal should be legibility above all else.
At some point, I decided I needed a home page that summarized some of my portfolio, but not all of it. And for some reason, I felt the need to make it easy to contact me.
And while you’re at it, why you wouldn’t you try to re-invent website navigation? This is obviously a dumb idea, and yet I persisted with this across several art boards.
“What this personal blog really needs are images and a clear link to my portfolio.” (I was wrong.)
Right around here, I realized that my ideas were not working, but it had not occurred to me that they weren’t working because the ideas were bad. I was certain that, if I could merely align everything to a grid, the design would improve.
And when that didn’t work, I leaned hard into personally branding myself.
This is actually a neat way to share testimonials, and I might end up borrowing it for my portfolio if I ever want to mix things up. But this should never have entered the drawing board of ideas for my personal blog.

In over two years, I haven’t gotten past some basic wireframes for this site. I’d be ashamed of my progress if I hadn’t worked on so many other projects in that time (I have yet to update my portfolio with any of the work due to a lack of time).

But what I have is terrible. These designs have too much white space, or too little white space. They lack any sense of coherency or purpose. What is the point?

I overthought everything to such an extent that my website started to look more like a portfolio than it did a simple blog. I already have a portfolio. A few months ago, I asked my wife what her thoughts were, and she told me what I already knew: I’d entirely overthought my goals here. Somehow, I’d stopped making a blog and started making a résumé.

What I want to make remains simple: I want a place where I can share blog posts or title-less, tweet-length updates. I want a place I can share some personal images (not client work). Maybe one day I’ll share my film reviews too.

In short, I want to lessen my dependence on third-party social media and make a small home for myself on the web. I do not care if this home houses my work. That’s what my portfolio is for.

When The Verge rolled out their new redesign, I realized they’d already done what I want to do: they have mixed status updates and lengthy blog posts in one feed. Their new site’s design is not entirely to my taste, but its function is closer to what I wanted to do two years ago.

Sometimes, when you’re working on a project, you drift away from your intended purpose. You become so enamoured with all the possibilities that you forget why you started in the first place. One must say no to all these ideas if they are ever to accomplish their purpose. Assuming the stated purpose is good, and assuming the intent is there, then the designer’s goal is to remove distractions. The designer must say no to a thousand new ideas that distract from the statement of the original.1

Metadata to the left of the article, and side notes on the right (instead of footnotes).

That doesn’t mean some ideas don’t have merit. I have become fascinated with indented margins and side notes. Hanging margins are nice because they allow for left-aligned metadata that can float to the left of the article. Side notes are nice because it’s easier to find footnotes in place while reading an article. (Klim’s blog posts are the first place I can recall seeing this online, although side notes have existed in the marginalia of books for longer than anybody’s living memory). I plan on using side notes on my portfolio blog, where I already incorporate indented margins. Every idea has its place.

In the meantime, I’m throwing all my designs for my personal website out the window, and I plan on making something radically simpler. I know what it needs to look like. Now all I need is some free time.

  1. For what it’s worth, this is why so many startups fail. They are so busy promising feature after feature in an effort to steal money away from foolish, prideful investors, that they never accomplish their stated purpose. Eventually, the sole reason for their existence is conning investors out of money. One day, those investors catch on. Then the startup is done. If the had true merit, and the product team could say no to their distractions, and the people on that team could accomplish the goal and make a product that was delightful, we stop calling them startups. Eventually, those are just companies with successful products.