You can always tell the people who don’t work on web sites on a day to day basis. They are the people that think that
You can actually finish a web site, as opposed to ship it.
Think that the content is the easy part.
Like most people who do work on web sites, I keep lists of stuff. As much as I like this site and how it looks, it’s far from perfect, and I’ve always got this list of things I want to do “when I have some free time” (ha! ha I say!). Top on the list was to redesign the look of the Photo of the Day postings so they, well, don’t suck. Well, they didn’t suck, but they didn’t really present the images as well as I wanted. It was too generic. (and it kinda sucked).
So this week I decided it was time to take an evening, sit down, and design a better look for the POTD pages. So I fired up Photoshop, opened up the hood on the wordpress server, and…
Four nights later….
- I have a new POTD page (and I think it’s kinda spiffy); it’s not overdone, but it lets me improve the linking off to other forms of the image, get a little more information out about the image in a structured way, and I think it shows off the image better.
- I remembered that I really preferred the way that G Dan Mitchell handled his author bio compared to mine, and that in general I wasn’t really happy with the sidebar structure.
- Oh, and I needed to change the language of the site copyright and update the date to 2014 before it became 2015. As long as I’m redoing the author bio piece, I might as well fix that.
- Having removed the author info from the sidebar, it really looked lame and cluttered. Okay, even more lame and cluttered than it did before Hmm. If I moved that stuff down in the footer….
- Digging into the site analytics, the last time anyone actually used that search box to search on the site was… um… the last time I asked that question and did a search to see how it showed up in the Analytics. So let’s just delete that damned box.
- I have wanted to shift the blog away from the content/sidebar form to a full-width content for a while, because I’m limited to 600px wide images, and for really letting photos shine, that kinda sucks. I’ve nuked about half the sidebar content now, how hard would it be to….
- Why am I using this SEO wordpress plug-in, anyway? Is it really giving me anything of value? what happens if I turn it off for testing?
- Oh, wait… my page load time just halved. I guess I found why pages were so slow to load. Answered that question. Okay, what other plug-ins don’t I need?
- Why is that on all my web pages? it just clutters things. Why did I think that was a good idea?
- Wait a second, I killed that twitter account months ago. I’m still linking to it here?
- Dammit, I thought I’d fixed that scrollbar showing up on the iframe on the front page. And why is it using that version of the copyright language? I fixed that.
- I really hate the look of the navigation from page to page in the blog. But if I use this plug-in and a bit of styling, I can…
- With the sidebar dead, how am I going to get people to know about the subscribe-by-email option I just created? Where can I stick that?
- And what am I going to do with this comatose wallpaper stuff?
- Now I have to re-do the size of the Amazon affiliate blocks. And they have this new XML-based widget that looks useful… (hint: it really is, I like it)
- I really like this new full-width blog page look with the sidebar dead and buried. But, sigh, the POTD page isn’t quite right. I think I need to go in and redesign it for the wider page width, but I can set it up to use bigger pictures now…
And that, kids, is how a simple project like “let’s spend an hour or two designing a template for this page” can turn into four full nights of swearing at CSS and beating on random weird pieces of your WordPress installation. On the other hand, my blog is now full-width, and my images can now display at 900 pixels instead of 600, something I’ve long wanted. the Picture of the Day template is pretty spiffy. I’ve upgraded the navigation between pages (which is bluntly almost always one of the weakest aspects of a WordPress theme), but it could be better. The site loads a lot faster, I’m running about a third fewer plug-ins to no significant loss of functionality, the blog is now properly reporting new postings to Linkedin and Google+, and so a bunch of things that were on that “one of these days” list are done and deleted.
That’s why web folks shudder at opening up the hood for “simple” things, because so often they cascade. As soon as I realized I wanted to rewrite the author-bio bit of the sidebar, I realized I’d just decided to some serious redesign of the site look. I really, really like the result — but suddenly it’s a much bigger project than I’d started.
One reason I think the change from sidebar to the bottom block works is because it made me stop and think about what really deserved to be on the page; I had specific limits in mind on just how big it should be, and how much I could stuff into it at the size I felt made sense. That made me make decisions about what verbiage I could live without, and so it’s a lot tighter and to the point. It also let me use white space a lot more effectively than I did in the sidebar to help make the content visible — I felt a big problem with the sidebar was that I designed it not to fight the main content for dominance on the page, but at times, it seemed a bit too “wallflower”-ish and tended to get missed. By pushing that content below I can style it to catch your attention without it directly trying to take your attention from the real content.
That, and doing a “do you really serve a useful purpose to me?” to all of the elements on the page and removing those that couldn’t justify their existence lets me slim down the page and put the focus on the content and not have 37 social media widgets all trying to tear your attention away to them. it really does make sense to reconsider all of the items on a page and think about whether they server your purpose, or whether they’re making you serve theirs.
The one thing that continues that I argued with myself about is comments. I’m still on the fence here. I have little trouble with spam or trolls, but I’m unconvinced they earn their existence (and page real estate and design complexity and page load speed issues) with the benefits they bring. Something I’ll continue to think about for a while…
Is the new look perfect? God, no. But the todo list is shorter. But I can tell you there are already things I want to do next time I open up the hood. The first is probably a change in text fonts. But for now, this is not just good enough, it’s better than it was, and pretty good overall…
I’ll take that. But next time you go to your web geek and say “Hey, can you make a quick change for me…” and they laugh at you, you’ll have some idea why…