Simplicity in Design

A couple nights ago I sat down and combed through some of my old entries, looking for a particular one, and just having fun reading them while I was at it. It’s not something I do very often, but it’s really wonderful to be able to go back over your personal history, see how far you’ve come and what you’ve been through, read your own story like a book, take the power those memories give to you, and then turn your eyes forward to your future.

One of the career-related entries I most enjoyed reading was Redesign (Whoomp, There It Is). I’m so glad I included a screenshot of the original. (Ow, background! Lesson learned: when you’re talking about visual things, include a static copy of that visual thing for posterity. Don’t assume it’ll always be there.)

Still, the fact that this blog’s general design is almost four years old strikes me pretty hard. On the one hand, I feel like it has held up amazingly well. It doesn’t look outdated to me at all. It’s very sparse, and that helps it to age well. The only significant changes I’ve made since the “HOLY COW ORANGE STRIPES” design were to mercifully turn it green about six weeks after I had created it, and six months later, make the background slowly shift through the color wheel. (What, you haven’t noticed? Come off that RSS feed and just sit on the actual webpage for a minute.) OK, I also added a simplified, floating drawing of my own disembodied head in the upper left-hand corner, and recently fixed it to display properly in Firefox, too! Also, IE 7, but we’re not on speaking terms right now.

I have to acknowledge amidst all the cool stuff going on here, the design has some downsides. I talked to Kevin Hendricks over email today about some of the issues after he really baited the hook on Twitter. (Apparently living with me for a few years has given him knowledge of my reactionary nature.)

I think it’s fair to summarize our conversation by saying that Kevin believes my blog would be benefitted by having an “about” section and some kind of archive access for old entries, perhaps visible and accessible on each page. (Correct me if I’m wrong there, Kevin.) Such things come as part of the standard package on blogs, and you’ll notice they’re missing from mine. Almost everything is missing from mine, in fact, and that’s purposeful.

My response to Kevin was that while I understand on very rare occasions people will go spelunking around in my well-hidden archives (as I myself did recently), it’s not what the vast majority of my audience is doing. 99% of you guys are coming here to get the latest news, and move on. So I want to dedicate something reasonably near 99% of my UI to that task. Kevin rallied that archives and “about” info are useful in many situations. He also agreed that they don’t necessarily require a traditional “side bar” (where archives, widgets, and other little info bits gather on blogs), as I let slip I was planning something more unorthodox and dynamic.

In the past, I’ve promised a side bar. Now, I’m considering reneging on that altogether and never having one at all. It would take up about 200 pixels of width on my screen, and it takes those precious pixels from the main content area where my almighty text, awash in its own splendor, resides. I want that space. I’m protective of that space.

But even more so, I’m zealous about displaying less where less will do the job. I’ve got plenty of ideas on how to bring out additional functionality and widgets without forcing you to lose those pixels. What I need to hear from you is simple: do you want access to my archives? Is that useful? Have you ever missed them? The rest (an “about” page, additional personal info, etc.) I’m pretty much sold on, but I’m not sure about the archives.

What say you, gentle reader? Do you pine to scour the depths of my textual time capsule, or are you content in the here and now?

10 Comments

  1. Posted March 24, 2008 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    I’ve kinda debated that for my site. Currently my entries have next and previous links (with the titles), as well as the traditional “next page” and a yearly index (just of titles, and prev/next year). I’ve thought about dropping the traditional blog next/older entries link in favor of just the entry-to-entry and yearly. The reasoning is people probably don’t want to browse unless already reading through everything, and the alternatives are an index and searching. Most people would probably just search, so as long as whatever method used can get the pages in the common engines (or the one tied to a site search) that probably covers archives. For reading through everything, a quick way to navigate large chunks of time (such as a year) becomes useful.

    For your site specifically I think I’ve looked for archives before and ended up trying to search. I think an index in the form of a list of titles could maybe be handy.

  2. Posted March 25, 2008 at 4:52 am | Permalink

    Josh, I’ve also tried looking for old posts of yours before, and it’s taken me longer than I expected. Seconds of my life, gone forever.

    Perhaps a compromise: scrap the sidebar. Or rather, move it to the bottom. (Bottombar?) The 99% looking only at the newest entry or two will never know it’s there, but the rest of us wanting to revel in the Josh of old have easy access to it, as well as whatever other wonderful widgets you can whip up.

  3. jeff
    Posted March 25, 2008 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    I was thinking bottom bar too. You could really do away with the spam thing since spammers are automated and would never read that line. It is a line read by real people that wouldn’t spam anyway.

  4. Posted March 25, 2008 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I was also considering the bottom bar. There are a few downsides, but they’re minor. Still, I have something way more interesting in mind. We’ll see if it happens or not. I’m not sure yet.

    The line about spams isn’t really meant to detract spammers. It’s really just meant to make fun of them for our amusement. I think it’s fun, but maybe others don’t feel the same.

  5. Eddie
    Posted March 25, 2008 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Yes! I have tried several times to find something you wrote in the past for one reason or another and it has been a colossal pain in the butt (sidenote: I am laughing right now because I left out the “i” in “pain.” That may have gotten the point across just the same, though). I’ve even tried guessing the archive number in the address bar, narrowing it down until I found it by elimination. Please, make it easier for me. It would also be great if there were a search engine, so we wouldn’t have to guess when you said that we’re looking for.

  6. Posted March 25, 2008 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Didn’t mean to bait you, Josh, just poking fun about your promise to finish your design and then not changing it for four years. But that’s OK, we forgive you.

    And is there really a disembodied head floating in the background of your design? I’m not seeing it now, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it on your site (I’m on Firefox on a Mac).

    Finally, I’ll advocate again for archive access. I’m all for minimizing it to whatever extent you can, either a “bottom bar” or some kind of web wizardry that you’re alluding to or even just a small, single link somewhere (a single menu line under your header wouldn’t take up much space).

  7. Posted March 25, 2008 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    The disembodied head is not a joke! Make your window really wide and scroll all the way up, and you’ll see him.

    Note how he changes color along with the rest of the site! Oooo.

    Now I’m thinking, “The disembodied head is not a joke!” would be a really fun thing to yell in public.

  8. jeff
    Posted March 25, 2008 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    So anything ever happen with the HSV instead of RGB stuff?

  9. Posted March 25, 2008 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    No, I decided not to pursue it.

    On another note: I want to correct the idea stated above that spammers don’t actually read my blog. The most-spammed entry on this entire blog has been Holy Luncheon Meat, Batman!, an entry in which I mock blog spammers. I don’t believe that’s a coincidence. I’ve actually had to re-close comments on that one entry because it was being hit so hard. Generally I agree that spam bots are pretty brainless, but that’s not to say the spammers aren’t watching and reading. They are reading. Because I’m that awesome.

  10. Posted March 26, 2008 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    Did you fix something with the disembodied head? Cuz I can see it now, without making my window really big.

    Or is that just one of those optical illusion things where you don’t see it until someone tells you it’s there? 😉