Deliberately unremarkable

I’m a family man with two small kids (one of them brand new), and I’ve had a busy year. I rarely have time to blog, let alone redesign my website. I make websites for a living, so if I do have time to redesign my own, chances are I’d prefer to spend it doing something else.

I’m a senior designer at Clearleft. In the last year we’ve been working on redesigns for the BBC, Channel 4, eBay, WWF, Mozilla, NBC Universal, and the BFI. The fact that I hadn’t even designed my own site had become an embarrassment.

Until last week my blog resided at paulannett.co.uk and used the WordPress “Blueprint” theme. My criteria for choosing it was that it was plain, and I wanted something that didn’t look like I’d designed it. In hindsight, I would have been better to take the route Colly took by removing his site’s design completely (he has recently relaunched with a lovely design).

So the Blueprint theme didn’t represent me at all. Over time I came to realise people would of course assume I had designed my own blog. That gave me no incentive to add content and draw attention to it’s existence. I was beginning to worry that professional opportunities may be passing me by as a result.

So this redesign just puts the design where it was meant to be — it’s plain and simple, and out of the way. I have half a dozen redesigns archived and unseen from several years ago, each with it’s own style, none of which I was happy with. Since joining Clearleft my design eye has matured, and I’ve learnt not to design for design’s sake, but to design to help the user achieve their goals. This is a blog, and the user’s goal is usually nothing more than reading.

With that in mind, Instapaper‘s text-view and Arc90’s Readability bookmarklet have served as visual inspiration, although I soon realised that I didn’t want to completely remove the right-hand column as I’d initially intended. Regarding text size, Wilson Miner’s 2008 article on Relative Readability was also an eye-opener, and I’ve gone even larger. Too large? Sitting with my MacBook on my lap, I find this text surprisingly comfortable to read.

Limited for time, I once again started out with a theme that had all the functionality that I wanted built-in. It makes sense — someone had already done the backend work for me! But this time I did what I should have done before: paring back the template’s design, stripping out as much as I could, and introducing my own feel with the help of a simple sketchy-prototype-inspired header (I’d hesitate to call it a logo). Compare the theme I started with to the look of the finished site, and you’ll see that it’s a completely different design. It’s still a work-in-progress, to be tweaked over time.

I make no apologies for it not being entirely my own HTML and CSS — it does pain me that the code is ugly and cluttered, but it was the difference between having time to do it or it never getting done.

So, here it is. Rather than hoping it evokes any feeling of like or dislike, I simply hope this new look makes your reading experience easier. It is only a blog, after all.

Does it work for you?

18 thoughts on “Deliberately unremarkable

  1. I quite like the minimalism of the design! I just yesterday relaunched my own site with a similarly minimalistic style. I think going back to basics can work wonders at times.

  2. Reading on my motor. Droid is quite easy and enjoyable. Works quite well for me – hope it does for the rest of your readers, too.

  3. I really like it.

    I’ve been in the same situation for the last two months. I really only want something simple, but I do want it to reflect me and my personality (I’m pretty obsessed with minimalism at home) which is why I haven’t opted for grabbing a theme from elsewhere, but I’m just finding it hard to spare a day or two to work on it.

    I was actually planning to set aside some time tomorrow to throw up something nice and easy – and “me” – so I can feel a little more comfortable directing people to my posts, and I can see myself visiting again in the morning. Cheers for the inspiration.

  4. Looks great Paul, easy to read and not hard on the eyes. I definitely see why you went down this road, and for a blog it’s perfect. Top work :)

  5. Very nice. Love the clean look.

    I’m in the same position. I’ve barely blogged for a year because I’ve been too busy at work. Yet my personal site doesn’t reflect me from a work context, or that I’m a blogger (well was) and that anyone researching me from a work context, wont get a good picture anymore.

  6. Ah, simply lovely Paul. Generous body text also encourages me to read rather than skim. A good thing. :) The script could almost be your own hand. Now I think about it, that could be fascinating; did you consider it? Regardless, a very good read, mate!

  7. I like it. Simple and readable. Good effort.

    One little niggle – could you highlight links on :focus (perhaps with outline)? When tabbing through the page I’ve got no idea which link I’ve landed on.

  8. Paul

    It works, I’m interesed in what you say not how it’s presented.

    This is exactly the reason I started using posterous. It constrains me to focus on ideas.

  9. Thanks for all the great feedback! I’m very pleased with the positive response it’s getting.

    @Jon – I didn’t consider using my own handwriting for the heading, because this came about from a desire to buy and use Fugu. I only came across the font a few days ago, and immediately loved the ‘ff’ glyph – it’s a shame I don’t get to use it here, although I’ve crowbarred a ‘tt’ into the footer.

    I’m not as much of a seasoned typophile as you, and was a little worred that using Fugu might be as much of a faux pas as using Brush Script! I’m glad that seems not to be the case. You’d tell me if it was, right…?

    @Olly – I’ll definitely look into that. There’s much still to be done, so I’ll add that to the list.

  10. Coincidentally I’m going through a similar process right now myself. Up until now I’ve made do, as a freelance web developer and consultant, with using my LinkedIn profile page as my work ‘website’, and a tumblr.com tumblog for posting stuff I think I might be of interest (which is fed out of my Facebook profile where I initially post everything, and also into my Twitter feed).

    However, a job I’m now doing needs me to actually write a proper blog post and do some video blogs too, so I figured it’s time for me to host my own CMS (I’ll be using Drupal instead of WordPress as it can do a lot more stuff, potentially) and do it properly. I’m not really a designer so am also trying to make it as clean as I possibly can – I don’t want to mislead people/pretend to be something fancy (in a design sense).

    Text size is lovely, by the way :-)

  11. Hi from DC.

    Nice job – now I have to do the same for my site :-)
    It’s always the same story we built nice thing for the others and no time for ourself!

    Take Care, keep doing those nice designs and say hi to family!

    Sincerely,

    Marc

  12. I’ve now updated the body typography on the site to be set in the lovely Calluna, thanks to the beta version of Fontdeck.

    I’d intended to launch with this, but soon discovered that Calluna isn’t hinted for the screen. On a Mac this isn’t an issue – the OS deals with font rendering without a problem and it looks fab. Unfortunately, Windows isn’t quite as clever, so rather than seeing a crappily-rendered font, I’ve made sure Windows users will still see Georgia.

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