One of the decisions I spent a lot of time thinking about was the question of branding. I knew the “Chuqui 3.0″ concept had run its course. When I was leaving Apple I was in process of making significant changes in my life and I knew I had to make some massive changes in myself. Now, these years later, I’m a much different person than the one that walked out of Apple that final time, much happier with myself and much more comfortable in my own skin.
What wasn’t clear was what came next. A big part of this site redesign is to lay the foundation for some things; to try to push my photography further down the path I’m headed, and perhaps start looking to see about earning a few bucks with it. At the same time, i’m now in a position to reboot my freelance writing, whether that means looking for opportunities to write about the tech space again or whatever might turn up. And finally, I want to un-retire from my fiction writing and see what happens, whether I can get a novel written someone might want to read.
This creates a challenge to answer the “what is this site about?” question. The answer — and it wasn’t an obvious one — is that it’s about me, not about my writing, not about my photography. That may sound like a trivial thing, but a lot of decisions gate on that, and on making the right call.
It is my opinion that if I was planning to try to take the photography pro and make a serious attempt at building a business around it that the site would have to live and breathe photography. But my choice is still to be (and act like) a serious amateur and not turn it into a business (although if the hobby earns some income, awesome), so I felt like it was appropriate to make it a part of a site that is representative about me.
Part of making these decisions is looking forward, trying to think about where I want this all to be five years out, and then see what the site requires are to support that. Am I writing a regular tech column for MacWorld (or some other publication)? Am I trying to sell sponsorships and advertising on a site around content (aka, the “Daring Fireball” type of site)? Do I decide to grab the cameras and try to break into nature photography and go all “Trey Ratcliff”? Do I find myself going down the Amanda Hocking path? Am I sitting in a condo in Morro Bay building web sites for other writers and photographers? Or am I just going to call it a career and sit on a beach somewhere taking pictures and posting them to Flickr?
I have no clue what lies ahead. Maybe none of the above. Maybe I’ll retire to a beach in Mexico and drink mai tais. Maybe I’ll get run over by a bus. None of us can guarantee the future. That doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t plan for it.
All of those are opportunity paths I find both possible and interesting. All of them have different needs and requirements. I believe the site I’m building has the bones to support any or all of those, depending on how things work out. At the least, I don’t think that two years from now, I’ll be sitting here cussing at myself for the choices I made and having to tear down and rebuild things the same way I’m finding myself doing it now.
That’s about all you can ask. Maybe I over think architecture, but that’s how I’m write. What I’ve found, though, is that if you get the architecture right, building out the details is a lot easier. Get it wrong, and you fight it every step of the way. And that the obvious choices aren’t necessarily the correct ones.
So ultimately I circled back and decided that this site was about me, my interests, and what I do. It’s not about my photography, it’s not about my writing. It’s about the gestalt that defines me; my persona. For better or worse, that’s how I’m going to frame things. And if, at some time in the future, some part of that becomes prominent enough to deserve it’s own independent identity, I have ideas on how best to do that — it’s not that hard to split out the photography if that career path takes off; if I ever finish the novel, that’s an obvious microsite.
This is part of why this redesign have taken a couple of months already and is maybe at the halfway stage (maybe), and it’s already spawned off two independent sub-projects (the “curation” beast, and the “this is silicon valley” beast). Possibly a third, depending on what i end up doing with the “For your consideration” thing. But by taking the time now to really think through this and dive deep into what I want to do and what my intents are, I won’t be constantly patching and rebuilding and throwing smoke and mirrors out to hide the fact that what I’ve got going to support things is effectively crap.
And, honestly, my previous site was crap. It was a series of “what can I do given the time I can spend on it” compromises, each compromise seeming like a reasonable call, but when you total up all of the compromises and decisions made for expediency rather than to support your activities, it ends up that being crap.
I’m tired of crap. And while I’d kinda like to be done with this process, I’m making sure I take the time now, because I know if I don’t, later I’ll regret it.
And that opens up this question for all of you. When you put your online environment together, did you take the time to think through what you needed and how to support that, or did you download a wordpress theme from Themeforest, set the background color to puce, and announce to the world that you now exist?
Because in my research into what sites work and are most effective, it quickly became easy to see sites where a lot of work and thought went into design and construction (here’s two: QT Luong, and Trey Ratcliff) , and which ones someone threw up a WordPress theme, selected the defaults, loaded in a logo, and decided that was pretty good.
In most cases, those latter ones really aren’t. And I’m not willing to do that to my own site any longer.
So far, I have about 70 hours into this redesign. I’ll probably end up close to 200, if I include the two beasts I mentioned above. I don’t regret an hour of it, either. It’s been really — enlightening. And scary, in some ways. One of the things i plan on doing over the rest of the project is talking about some of the things i’ve found out, and some of the stuff I’m doing, because maybe it’ll help someone else down the path a little faster with a few less bumps and bruises. We’ll see.
Oh, the new brand? believe it or not, we’re still working on it — logos, and such. The decision to rebrand to me was finalized three days ago — and a week ago, I would have laughed if someone had told me that’s what I was going to do, because I fully intended to brand around content, not personality. And the more I worked in that direction, the more I realized it created barriers and erected walls rather than building foundations. Any decision I made in that direction made one or more of the other options I’m considering harder, or impossible, to support without tearing down and rethinking things again. Which is stupid, if you can plan to avoid it.
And that’s why I say the obvious decision isn’t always the correct one, and why it’s important to take the time to make sure you figure out which is which.