Big Redesign Time

Big Redesign Time

I first posted in this blog 14 months ago. In the history of humanity, that’s not all that long ago, but for me it feels like an age. When I wrote that original blog post, I was still at university (just). I knew I was going to be a software engineer, but didn’t have much experience. In particular, I knew absolutely nothing about web development.

The original design was nothing to write home about. It was fairly plain, black-and-white, using a fairly standard set of fonts. This was largely a deliberate decision: back then I knew literally nothing about design. Essentially all I knew is that I couldn’t get anything to look the way I wanted it to, so I should do as little as possible.

Over the past year-and-a-bit I’ve extended the design. Just small things, largely stolen from smarter people than myself. I added some horizontal rules, and a few splashes of colour. I spent an evening designing a (less-than-impressive) SVG logo so that the word ‘Lukasa’ wouldn’t be literally everywhere on the page.

Slowly and inevitably, however, I grew tired of the design. Small things came to annoy me. Things like the inconsistent spacing, and the bizarre double-rule at the bottom of most pages that I couldn’t easily get rid of, and the totally boring font choices. It occurred to me I could do better. So over the last few weeks I’ve been quietly working on a new design: the one you’re looking at now.

I want to take some time to talk over some of the changes I made and some of the tech I’m using. I promise, I’ll go back to HTTP for my next post.

The Old

Let’s begin by looking at what I used to have. For those of you who don’t remember, this is what the front page used to look like:

Old home page top.
The top of my old home page.
Old home page bottom.
The bottom of my old home page.

There is nothing inherently bad about the design of that page. It looks fine, especially considering the guy who built it didn’t know anything about web design. But looking at it now, there are some things that drive me crazy about it. Little things, really, but here’s a list of them:

  • The body font is just slightly too small (14px).
  • The spacing is inconsistent. Look at the spacing around the horizontal rules in particular.
  • The horizontal rules aren’t consistent. Either they should all fade or none should, not this weird half-assed thing.
  • There is a poor use of width. This was an attempt to make the site responsive by simply refusing to get wider than a certain point, instead putting massive white margins at the side. Not great.
  • The top header is left-aligned, which is just weird.
  • There’s two horizontal rules at the bottom of the page. Why? Because I sucked at code, that’s why.
  • While we’re at the bottom of the page, the copyright license at the bottom is left-aligned for no good reason.
  • The design is heavy. The biggest problem here is that the headers are just way too heavy, which totally undermines the otherwise good use of empty space.

The other page that really drove me nuts was the old ‘About Me’ page. For a page that was supposed to sell me, it did a truly lousy job. Take a look:

Old About Me page.
My old 'About Me' page.

The text was short and didn’t really say anything about me. Let’s not even get started on the weirdly pretentious idea I had to place a quote beside the body text. I think I just liked the way it looked. Don’t get me wrong, Neil Gaiman is a genius and The Sandman is a great work of modern fiction (go read it). But it looks really out of place there.

The final problem is the tech. I was using the Skeleton CSS framework (see how much of my design I ‘borrowed’ from there?). The problem is that Skeleton is essentially dead and has been for a year. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. So it was time to move to something newer. And shinier.

The New

So what did I want from the new design? Minimalism is still the way I wanted to go, because it’s the saving grace of bad designers (like myself). Great designers can do great work using minimalism, but lesser designers can avoid shooting themselves in the foot. That’s awesome for me. So minimal and nearly-flat was the way I decided to go.

I also wanted a CSS framework (though I ended up using very little of it, and could probably have avoided it altogether). Because I really didn’t need much, I decided to go for small. For that reason, I chose Pure.

The first question was the colour scheme. Fitting with minimalism, I wanted predominantly greyscale, but with an accent colour I could use to highlight things. Given the colour used in my logo, there was only one choice: the colour I’m now calling ‘Lukasa Purple’ (#870e87, if you’re interested). And it would be used sparingly: in the end, only on the header and the sidebar links (to suggest ‘clickability’). Finding a sidebar grey that worked with the purple was a bit of work (big thanks to Andrey Petrov for tips with that), but in the end I managed to find one I liked.

Next, fonts. I used Google Web Fonts, and basically searched for a sans-serif that looked good large and at light font weights. I ended up choosing Titillium Web, which now adorns the headers of my page, looking all sharp, modern and graceful.

Then I tore everything out. Everything that was in the sidebar came out and I carefully tried to justify their existence. In the end all the social stuff was removed entirely (you can still find it on the ‘About Me’) page. On the other hand, the stuff I liked was accentuated. In particular, the SVG logo became way larger.

I removed the giant horizontal rule, and replaced the rules between posts with smaller horizontal rules that attracted less attention to themselves. Their purpose is not to make the page pretty, it’s to structure it, so they needed to be less garish than the previous purple ones.

And all of a sudden I found I was nearly done. A few little bits and bobs, like making the sidebar elements change colour when they get hovered over, and I was left with what you see now.

Then I went in and rewrote the ‘About Me’ page. The biggest improvement on that whole page isn’t the new design or the extra detail, it’s the tone. The main header has changed from “About Me” to “Hi, I’m Cory”. That change in tone from formal to conversational has an unexpectedly large effect on how the whole page reads.

Summing Up

Altogether I’m happy with how things turned out. There is less CSS than there was before, it’s better laid out, it looks cleaner and lighter and the font is an intelligent size again. There are probably some gaps in the CSS, a few edge cases I haven’t considered, so if you find one of them please let me know. Otherwise, let me know what you think of the new design, and stay tuned, because I’ll go back to my (semi-regular) normal blogging soon!