On the New Redesign

I wasn’t anxious to change the look of the website — I like Brian Gardner‘s Vertigo Red design, and I really loved his Wonderland design I used at Christmas.

Yet, I’m aware of how the website is typically used by readers. There’s a core of readers who hit the website day in and day out, always hitting the first one or two posts max.

At the same time, there’s a veritable thundering herd of readers who are drive-by readers. They’re looking for information on something through a search engine, and the search engine sends them here. They either get what they’re looking for or they discover that I wrote nothing about the subject at all — much like when people wanted information on “pitchers of David Tennant.” And then they leave, never to return.

How best to strike a balance? The conventional blog format of reverse-dated posts is fine, but perhaps overkill for the core readership. At the same time, the blog format isn’t really suited to the drive-by reader.

There are a few “unconventional” designs for WordPress that present a few posts on the front page, and then have a different look completely for the individual pages that are better suited to drive-by readers by providing just the content they’re looking for, plus links deeper into the blog to other posts on similar subjects.

Ironically, I wrote on Julio Angel Ortiz‘s blog some months back: ” I can’t see myself using that kind of theme, though. Hemingway and Vertigo are two others I’ve flirted with — indeed, I even ran with Vertigo for a day, just to see what it was like — but not really me.” Yet, I installed Vertigo Blue back in October and was quite happy with it, though it did need a fair bit of work. Even then, Vertigo was a traditional blog design — reverse-dated posts, flair in the sidebars.

Which brings me to Hemingway. (And yes, the theme is named after Ernest Hemingway.)

I had downloaded this theme years ago. Probably right when it first released in 2005. Installed it. Ran it for a day. Maybe even an hour. Until I decided it was too dark, didn’t have enough “flair,” and wasn’t for me.

Times change.

Given the way people approach the website, they’re not coming here for the flair. They’re coming here for the content. And Hemingway might be better suited to the purpose than a more traditional blog layout.

Hemingway had not been updated by its author in a while. To give you some idea, WordPress widgets were completely beyond it. Yet, Hemingway is a theme that doesn’t need widgets. Did I have to create new BottomBar modules? Absolutely. I wanted an “About Me” box, and I wanted a list of tags instead of a list of categories. I needed to make sure the single pages knew what to do with tags, and now to pull a list of related posts.

I didn’t like the color scheme. Or the font size. Fortunately, Hemingway allowed for custom style sheets. Essentially, I took the Vertigo Red stylesheet and used its color scheme for my own custom style sheet, and I also upped the font size to something readable.

And I didn’t like the front page. It showed excerpts from the two most recent posts. I didn’t like the idea of regular readers having to click the link to read the full text of the most recent entry. To my way of thinking, that was almost penalizing regular readers, by making them do more work to get at the content.

But what if I could post the most recent entry in full, and then excerpts of the next four posts? For everyday visitors, they might see something excerpted that they possibly hadn’t read, and the list of posts on the front page would go back about three or four days, depending on my post frequency. At the same time, such a change wouldn’t affect the drive-by reader, who was landing on a single page of content anyway. Yet, to affect that change was almost beyond my php coding skills.

I wanted comments to have gravatars. I needed to set links off as a separate page. Not major changes. I especially like how the gravatars turned out.

It’s not perfect, but neither is my work finished. I have a print style sheet that works wonders on content pages (but just try a print preview on the front page where it barely works at all). I may tinker with the header. I need to get Shire Reckoning set up somewhere in the footer, and that will require some code tinkering.

In short, this is an experiment. Is a blog format like this better suited to the people actually reading this website? In a month, I’ll take a look at the stats and see. For right now, though, let’s see how it does.

5 thoughts on “On the New Redesign

  1. Allyn! I am so amazingly proud to be visiting your blog using Opera. I’m using it at your recommendation (not directly to me, more just general praise than anything). I needed a new browser for a fresh start with Verizon Fios, so I took your word and I actually really, really, really love the setup of this browser. It’s so much easier to navigate than IE Explorer.

    I need to talk to you. Well, catch up really, but I can’t use AIM or GMail until tomorrow when highspeed is installed.

    Did you get my (pathetically late and unexciting) card? Insufficient postage or my Zombies reference may have effed up its journey to you.

    I like the new look.

    -Wesley

  2. Wes!

    I got the card. I meant to send an e-mail, just haven’t gotten there. :/

    Get the Phoenity skin for Opera. It’s what I use, and it is gorgeous. The default skin is okay, but nothing great. Phoenity takes Opera to a whole new level. :)

    We can talk Opera later, though. Like content blocking, customizing the search dropdown (I’ve added things like Memory Alpha and Memory Beta to mine), things of that nature.

    And you know what? The more I look at this design, the more it appeals to me. :)

  3. Hi,

    Nice work on this – I was trying to modify hemmingway myself and was wondering how you modified the bottom bar. I tried adjusting the code in the theme’s “blocks” folder, but nothing really hit.

    Any ideas? Thanks for taking this on – great work so far!

  4. Compared to making things work as WordPress widgets — like, say, a tag list — writing Bottombar blocks was a snap.

    The easiest thing to do is to look at the modules that come in the Blocks folder. I’d probably look at recent_entries.php, as that’s a pretty good example.

    You have the header — it comes with the <h2> tags. And then you have the content, like what would normally go in a sidebar.

    If you’re going to do a links list of some sort, you’ll need to modify your style.css file. Look for #ancillary, and then find the lines that begin with ul.dates. When you write your new block, either use one of the defined classes in this block of style.css or add new definitions to these lines.

    When adding new blocks, I had to define them in the backend (Presentation –> Hemingway Blocks) for them to draggable to the BottomBar. (I don’t see it now, but it was above “Miscellaneous”; it shows up on the screen when it discovers there’s a block it doesn’t know. Give the block a name, and then it’s usable.) It’s basically the same process as using WordPress widgets.

    One final thought on modifying Hemingway. If you change the typography or color scheme, I’d use the custom stylesheet function until you’re absolutely sure that it works correctly, then migrate the definitions from your custom style sheet over to your style.css.

    The reason’s fairly simple. The browser may render the website using the default Hemingway stylesheet (microtype, white on black text), then kick over to the custom definitions. It looks a little schizophrenic to see it happen. Once you’re sure that your new styles work, there’s no harm in changing style.css to eliminate the default stylings.

    Just some of my thoughts on modifying Hemingway.

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