Design Decisions: patrickrhone.com 2.0

I thought it would be useful and fun to walk through some of the choices I made while considering the new design of this site. My goal was not to create a site that was even more minimal, simply for the sake of doing so. My goal was to honor the idea of having everything the site really needed and nothing that it did not and to put the content first are foremost. Especially on the front page.

In the previous version of the site, the front page was a splash page of navigation choices:

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This actually was a popular design and was featured many places including online web design features and even in a real honest to goodness print magazine (the dead tree kind).

The question I often asked myself was if anyone actually used this. As a matter of fact, this question was a driving force when coming up with the current design. I did not want to assume the answer to these questions because, if it was used and I removed it, I would hear about it from visitors to the site.

Therefore, I decided to take a look at Google Analytics, which is a service used to monitor traffic to, from and on a website. I have had it installed on the site for a while in order to have some idea of where my traffic was coming from. That being, a map of where people are clicking on your site, how much they are clicking one site element verses another, and also how long of a time they are spending once they get there. Here is what I found: No one really used the front page navigation.

Most people would either click on “journal” to go to the blog or they went to the blog directly (via a bookmark or a link from another site). That being the case, why not land them on the blog directly? So now, patrickrhone.com lands you on the main journal page.

Next came the question of the navigation on the journal itself:

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Once again, noted for it’s design. By 37 Signals even!

The question must be asked though. Did anyone use this? I mean, I was pretty sure if they were not using the navigation on the front page they would not be using it here but what about the navigation to the individual categories? For instance, surely there must be sometimes people want to see all of, and only, the productivity posts. Once again, the analytics told me that it was used from time to time, but not often enough to warrant it’s inclusion on the front page. As it turns out, you know who the biggest user of the category navigation was? Me. And even I did not use it enough to warrant it’s placement here.

That being said, it was being used sometimes (i.e. mainly by me) so I did not want to lose it completely. Therefore, I moved this navigation to the archives page, where I could also provide a more complete navigation to the rest of the site.

Furthermore, I asked the question, what content were most people coming to the site coming for. The answer I found was that, more often than not, people were coming to see the latest post. Those that subscribe via RSS are subscribed for that reason – to be notified of, and read, the latest post. Therefore, why does any other post beyond the latest post need to be on the front page? If someone wants to see other more recent posts, why not simply provide a link to the post before (or after as the case may be) directly under the post itself? Then again, if someone wants to see a listing of more recent posts, why not provide that on the “archives” page? So, this is what I did. Hence the “one post” design.

The status section was a neat idea to me at one time that apparently, from my research, no one else (outside of friends and family) ever really looked at.

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This functionality for them has been largely replaced by Twitter which, even at only 140 characters per post, provides a much more detail rich account of “what am I doing” than this ever could. Therefore, it was dropped.

So, what then to do about the colophon and contact sections:

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Believe it or not, people actually did look here from time to time. People who wanted to get in touch or find out a little more about the site design (i.e. “Is there a template I can download?” or “I love it. Do you mind if I ‘borrowed’ it?”). Therefore, it was important for me to keep this information but it did not have to be broken out into two separate pages. Thus, the info page was born.

Not all of the changes happened on the front, user facing, end of the site. Some of them happened on the back end. The move from Moveable Type to WordPress being one of them. There were several reasons for the move. The first one being that I was on an older version (3.3) of Moveable Type to begin with. So I knew I would probably want to upgrade to MT 4 as part of the redesign. If I was going to have to do a major upgrade anyway, it would be a good time to switch if I choose to. After having done several WordPress installations for clients with Michael, I had grown to enjoy the interface and more intuitive (to me at least) admin management features it had to offer. Also, since it is in wider use and is open source, there seems to be far more in the way of plugins and extras available.

Well, there it is, some of the design choices I made when coming to the current look and feel of the site. Once again, comments are off for now but I welcome feedback via e-mail or Twitter.

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