Pondering Redesign

I’ve been looking around at a number of blogs lately, and those which have the most impact invariably use custom built templates. Some political blogs get away with being successful whilst having standard templates, but in recent “Battle of the Blogs” contests at Blog Explosion I have lost badly. I fail to see how I could be losing so consistently except due to aesthetic considerations – especially since the observant amongst you would see that I have already done some content based customisation. WordPress doesn’t have a calendar archive, a random joke in the footer, or recent posts in the sidebar in the default out of the box configuration.

One thing that I find a little disappointing is that the default theme (Kubrick) is actually quite nice, and therefore the work required to do something at least as pleasing is not trivial. I had hoped the content would be the main criterion of judgement; but without a unique design I think this is not going to hold true. Especially since I’m not a political blogger who could earn points by slamming the current US government. Indeed, perhaps my content is still the problem :-D.

So I’ve started work on a new template for this blog. I came across an excellent guide to help quick start my work, saving me a lot of time I would otherwise have lost in dissecting the themes structure myself. I only have limited time to work on this, so I don’t expect it will be live too quickly. Just the initial issues with CSS compatibility between IE and Mozilla/Firefox means that you have a couple of hours work to get the different blocks of content structured just right. The main threat is the CSS box model which requires hacks since IE places the padding and margin inside the defined width of a block element, whereas Firefox correctly places it outside. For example, a <div> of width 200px – including padding of 4px – will have to be set to width:192px in Firefox and width:200px in IE. Put another way, in Firefox the CSS width defines the width of the actual content, whereas IE takes the width to be the entire element’s width including padding and margins.

Your comments about the content of this blog and whether or not the redesign is important would be most appreciated. Feel free to post just a few words – any feedback is better than none at all.

9 Responses to “Pondering Redesign”

  1. OldGuy Says:

    I’m considering a redesign myself but only because I really want one, I want a showcase for my blog if you will.

    As to never winning without a fancy template, well, I think I’ve managed to do okay so far.

    What really counts is content, but you have to get people’s attention, you have to insist they read your stuff first. My first dat at BoTB I lost four in a row.

    The next day I posted my two best entries on the front page and asked people to read them before they voted, and they did, and I won a couple that day. I also got a slew of comments and I took the time to answer every one of them.

    After that I just kept posting and battling and people starting reading my stuff and I started to win more often than I lost.

    So, long story short, design is important, but content is still the most important element.

  2. Tawcan Says:

    I think this template is very nice. It’s clean and easy to read.

    Yes design is important but more importantly is blog’s content.

  3. Simon Says:

    Thanks for your comments OldGuy and Tawcan. Perhaps I should spend some more time writing and less time playing with CSS hacks. However since the redesign is started, I think I might make the new template and put it up as a preview and ask for feedback. I have encountered some people who say they are against the standard themes from blog software, so there are people who judge books by their covers.

  4. Michelle Says:

    first of all, wordpress do have a calendar, whereas those random joke thing or recent post are just plugins that you need to install on your wordpress. easy peasy. :)

  5. Simon Says:

    As it happens the random jokes functionality was entirely developed by me. I collected all the jokes, made the database, and wrote all the PHP. I could have just picked a plugin but that’s not the case here. In fact I have worked on an entire joke database project which has an interesting story behind it. See my original posts about the project here. Click the sidebar link “Joke Database” to see longer jokes. The calendar and recent post functionality is indeed just simple templating stuff, but it’s not “out of the box”.

    I take your point though. You are clearly in the group of people who judge a blog not just by the content, but by the whole approach to design and presentation of the information. It’s not that I’m not capable of doing another design, but I feel I might be doing it just to be different.

    Thanks for commenting Michelle, you are encouraging me to get up and do some more design work. This will be to the detriment of me posting anything lengthy for a while but will be for the better of my blog I think.

  6. Hiddenson Says:

    Here are my 2 cents,

    If you have a blog with a specific subject, such as cooking, the military, politics, philosophy and such, then the content matters most than the design.

    However, if you have a more general blog where you mix your world views with your daily life and your tech findings, you NEED something to back you up, as there are already zillions of people like you out there.

    So, the ultimate question is: is your blog subject-specific or an online diary? While both may have their merits, their content differ greatly.

    I own two blogs: one about my travel stories (subject-specific) and one for “all the rest” (usually philosophy, politics, web design, daily life). I put much more efforts in my design of the latter than the earlier, because it’s more general, and therefore you need to keep the attention span of your visitors active.

    Do I make any sense? Alternatively, I posted this a while ago, and that may help you decide in which category you feel best.

    Cheers.

  7. Simon Says:

    Thanks for that comment Hiddenson. You’re right – being different means being visually different too, especially when you’re blogging about everything and nothing. I enjoyed reading your linked post, and I’ll probably read it again to motivate my next web redesign session.

  8. Simon Says:

    Thanks Brad, and congratulations on the birth of your son, mine will be born soon. I’m really looking forward to it.

  9. Broken Messenger Says:

    I have to agree with Old Guy 100%. Content is king, but a good design drives you to good content. Clearly, content is not an issue here. Consider a redesign, but don’t let it interfere with good content. FYI, I like your blog and find it informative, even with the “common” design.

    Brad