Look For Our New Facelift

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-02-03 21:00:00 No comments

After hustling Unmortal out the door, I spent a few days assembling what has now become a Bootstrap 5-powered version of this site's theme. The BS3 theme served me for a good long time, but the core technology is two revisions out of date, never worked all that well on mobile, and had more cruft in it than the gap between the stove and the countertop. Time to make a sween cleap of it.

I didn't alter the basic design much, as it turns out. I might over time pare down some elements that don't work as well, but the look of the site should not change that much when I switch everything over, most likely sometime around Valentine's Day. The biggest benefit to me is a more logical internal layout of the components, so I won't have as much trouble making changes going forward.

In all, it was less work than I feared. The biggest changes were discarding some components no longer supported in BS (there's no "jumbotron" anymore, for instance) and replacing them with modern equivalents. It also gave me a chance to get rid of a bunch of redundant or unused CSS styles, and normalize how many things were rendered. But in toto it amounted to maybe two or three days of work (and by "days" I mean "a couple of hours a day").

You can also expect me to continue tweaking it moving forward, but again, not drastically so. I did actually create a couple of provisional experiments with a totally new look, but I was unhappy with what came of it. There is such a thing as being too simple — what is it with blogs that have no dates on their entries?! — and I didn't want to fall into such a trap.

I'm also not big on altering things for their own sake. If I find a good, solid, functional, appealing design for something, I tend to stick with it until circumstances and need dictate something better's in order. Fashion and the style of the moment are things to be skeptical of — not necessarily hostile to, but not automatically deferent to either. Milton Glaser's words come back to mind ("Style is not to be trusted"):

I think this idea first occurred to me when I was looking at a marvelous etching of a bull by Picasso. It was an illustration for a story by Balzac called The Hidden Masterpiece. I am sure that you all know it. It is a bull that is expressed in 12 different styles going from a very naturalistic version of a bull to an absolutely reductive single line abstraction and everything else along the way. What is clear just from looking at this single print is that style is irrelevant. In every one of these cases, from extreme abstraction to acute naturalism they are extraordinary regardless of the style. It's absurd to be loyal to a style. It does not deserve your loyalty. I must say that for old design professionals it is a problem because the field is driven by economic consideration more than anything else. Style change is usually linked to economic factors, as all of you know who have read Marx. Also fatigue occurs when people see too much of the same thing too often. So every ten years or so there is a stylistic shift and things are made to look different. Typefaces go in and out of style and the visual system shifts a little bit. If you are around for a long time as a designer, you have an essential problem of what to do. Incidentally, it's popular for designers to claim they have no style but this is generally not true. Most good designers have developed a vocabulary, a form that is their own. It is one of the ways that they distinguish themselves from their peers, and establish their identity in the field. How you maintain your own belief system and preferences becomes a real balancing act. As a career progresses the question of whether you pursue change or whether you maintain your own distinct form becomes difficult. We have all seen the work of illustrious practitioners that suddenly look old-fashioned or, more precisely, belonging to another moment in time. And there are sad stories such as the one about Cassandre, arguably the greatest graphic designer of the twentieth century, who couldn't make a living at the end of his life and committed suicide. But the point is that anybody who is in this for the long haul has to decide how to respond to change in the zeitgeist. What is it that people now expect that they formerly didn't want? And how to respond to that desire in a way that doesn't change your sense of integrity and purpose.

Emphases mine. All this I kept in mind as I retooled my HTML and style sheets. Re-working my book covers made me conscious of Glaser's admonition that I had, in fact, developed a vocabulary and form of my own — one I was loyal to, but for my own reasons and to my own ends. I worried less about looking dated, whether here or on my paperbacks and ebooks, than I did about whatever look I had being unserviceable. Drastic change without equally drastic benefit is often just cognitive noise. It isn't stimulating or cool; it's just annoying.

From time to time I find other books by indie authors and I wave them under the noses of my friends in private, mostly to talk about their design choices. Many of them look good. Some of them have that low-effort, slapped-together look that's reminiscent of the covers auto-generated for a book when the publisher hasn't supplied one. A few of them were clearly the product of some effort, but are still poor — they don't convey what the material's about in any way; they have design ideas that are expressed badly; they just plain don't make sense at a glance. Unspectacular but effective/serviceable design is always better than something that calls all the wrong kinds of attention to itself — and it's the kind of design that can be more readily turned into something attractive with successive iterations.

And likewise, I took a lot of notes about what other blogs and sites were doing. Some things I discarded right off the bat — e.g., the whole superminimalist approach where you don't even have date stamps on the posts. Other things I looked at and just felt bad for. I remember one site that had a design that I swear hadn't been updated since 2003, where the content for each page consisted of a fixed frame with scrollbars in the dead center of the page. Reading posts was like watching a movie through a mailslot. It's hard to imagine a time when such a design was ever considered a remotely good idea.

At the end of the day, I found I had only a few things that needed changing. The rest stands for now, but once the new design is in and running, we'll see what else holds up under the scrutiny of refreshed eyes.

Tags: design