News: A website retrospective--two years!
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Our latest design is by Danielle LeDesma, who I've had the pleasure of working with in a professional capacity over the last many years. I count it a coup that GUD could afford (in trade) her services, and hope that the latest design better reflects the professionalism and feel of the actual magazine, and of "this outfit" as a whole.
There's still chunks of the site that need massaging (and some areas will get some restructuring along with the redesign), but I found it was easiest to just get the basic overhaul up and worry about tweaks as I get the chance. We've been working towards this design since late November, with many revisions put on the table and scrapped. It's probably not as exciting for you as it is for us--user interface tends to be a more subconscious thing for site users--but I hope that the design makes for an easier landscape for using the site.
The page that got the most focus to start was the homepage. We've put the current issue front and center--a brief blurb about it, a flavor image, an excerpt from the current issue--this is where the eye will go first. Messaging about GUD in general comes under that, along with Previous Issues, which is actually a tough thing to brand. We're trying to push not only the current issue but every issue we've published, and it's constantly a tough line to find; especially as one of the things we're trying to push as one of our differences is that we're trying to publish content that will _last_, and as part of that we intend for no issue to ever go out of print. If the magazine takes off, we'll be paying royalities to our contributors and their heirs...
The areas of the template that mark the most striking change, other than the color scheme and textures as a whole, are the menu (now a vertical menu in the top right; with fewer and hopefully clearer options) and the sidebar (which presents the news and reviews more front and center). The sidebar's messaging will grow over time to be more specific to various areas of the site (for now it's only different in the actual news and reviews sections).
This marks three designs for three issues, which is a lot considering what goes into it. We spent six months before launching the business/site tinkering with various design ideas, and we went through several dozen variations of visual theme/color schemes/layouts before settling on what, in retrospect, was the horror-style design for the site. Simplicity was the driving force of this idea, as it was with the layout of the actual magazine. We achieved that with the magazine beautifully, I think, thanks to Sue Miller's work on it, but web design (as opposed to development) was neither of our fortes. Somehow we went astray from that goal for the website itself.
The craziest part of the website was that while I knew splashscreens were abominations, I thought I knew how to make one better. We reduced our homepage to just the menu and a tiny splash of information. Slowly the information that we wanted to push to the splash screen grew into being a homepage all on its own, and eventually we scrapped it and restructured the homepage accordingly.
I couldn't really say how the horror aspect of things leaked into it. We're not a horror mag, per se; we're multi-genre, non-genre, slipstream, what-have-you. But somewhere along the process the black background slipped in, and things just went from there. I think originally the black background was supposed to be reflecting a coffee-shop manifesto style, which was somewhere back in our brainstorming, but got let go over time towards a more "Show it don't say it" line of reasoning.
The clouds design, then, was in reaction to that. Every time I'd show someone the site, in person, I'd find myself saying, "But we're not a horror magazine". And I never really had a good explanation for why the site didn't look different. So I approached the site with the thought of making something lighter, more neutral. I hadn't divorced entirely from the light text on dark content, and I really liked the faux transparency effect of the almost-imperceptibly-dark bullets on the lighter bullets of the original. Somehow clouds came up, and having effectively a tri-color site (blue left, white stripe, hazy right) seemed like a good way of showing our range. Having the horizon askew, implicitly 90 degrees from things, was in part intended to make the point that we were different.
Different doesn't necessarily mean better, though, and while the design did escape from the horror feel, it was still harder on the eyes and mind than I wanted. Menu placement was a problem, and the content area of the page became painfully cluttered without clear demarcations between the content-content and the sidebar content. I had to make the font large to make it easy enough to read on the background; and due to CSS clutter and the organic growth of this design in my spare time, there were inconsistencies all over the site. I was fairly proud of a few elements--the main title with the BUY NOW sticker hanging off the top, for instance. But as a whole it was not an easy site to read or navigate.
So on to version three--I'm sure it will have its own share of problems, and maybe there will be another retrospective, in time. I'd love to hear what you think. :)
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