Self-Googling, the requisite responsibility of the vain and preening web publisher, reveals two main things about me: one, I’m fortunate enough that my own website is the first result when you Google my name. I know there’s real-life, money-making, old-fashioned corporations that don’t even get to say that. Two, and directly related to number one, is the fact that my website isn’t exactly doing me any favours.
Over the past year, Kevan Gilbert Online has slid deeper and deeper into a catatonic stupor. Messy, verbose and undirected, my site was the victim of a sloppy, whimsical development process that had no plan, point or purpose.
I’ve had the chance to oversee the design and launch of about half a dozen websites now, and decided that whenever I next re-do my own site, I should do so like it’s a work project: I’d plan well with the future in mind, trying to craft a product that will actually do what I want it to do. For anybody else who is on the edge of doing their own redesign project this year, I thought I’d share what my process was like.
The first step was deciding what the deuce I wanted my site to do. I started by putting together a page-and-a-half outline for the project, part creative brief and part strategic plan. Here are the questions I made sure to answer:
- What’s the objective?
- Who is the audience?
- What are visitors saying now?
- What do I want them to say later?
- What the site’s tone of voice?
- If my website was a store, a product, a food: what is it, and what is it not?
- What are the final deliverables?
- What content will the site focus on?
- What’s my five year vision for the website?
On top of that, I held myself to a strict timeline, acknowledging that evenings and weekends were all the time I had available. Here’s what that plan looked like:
April 19: Project plan signed off on; weekly content resumes
April 20 – 26: Visual identity created, fonts & colour palette designed, favicon created
April 27 – May 2: Database upgrade to WP 2.7 + damage control
May 4 – 10: New theme is selected, tweaked, designed
May 11 – 17: New theme is finalized and installed
May 18 – 24: Plugin testing and further theme customization
May 25: New site launches
With the web changing at the speed it does, I’m grateful for the flexibility of WordPress. The fact that I’m able to switch up the very core of my site, PLUS re-do the front-end without the help of programming team is a just plain extraordinary.
New trends are afoot in WordPress-land which promise to make this process even easier, I’ve learned. Chiefly, the idea of using a “theme framework” in conjunction with a “child theme” is the new direction. Instead of the old-timey straight-up WordPress themes, where all of the main theme files and customizations are tied in together, a theme framework lets you keep all your customizations whenever you want to upgrade or change your theme. There are a few different theme frameworks blazing trails and competing for your attention, but the three front-runners seem to b: Thematic by Ian Stewart, Thesis by Chris Pearson, and Sandbox by Scott Wallick.
In the end, I didn’t choose to launch the new site on a theme framework, because the idea is still so new. I’ll wait for the technology to mature a little first, and for some killer child themes for each framework to come along (right now, there aren’t too many to choose from.)
The whole point of redoing this thing was to finally unify the disparate personas, public and personal, that I’ve got. When my site first launched, I was trying to attain the voice of Anonymous Internet Funnyguy. However, my attempts to be entertaining ended up generating a whole lot of organic search traffic for topics I didn’t even intend to be known for (like penguins, lemurs and yes, ringworm — you don’t wanna know).
Meanwhile, as my day-job began piloting me deeper and deeper into the realm of web projects, social media and online engagement, it became clear that I’d need a site that could reflect my professional work as well as my personal existence. Hopefully, this new site achieves that.
FOR BONUS POINTS
RESIZING IMAGES: Between blog redesigns, if you are changing the width of your main content area, this solution for automatically resizing the images in your archives is a must. With a couple quick lines of CSS, you can auto-shrink your posted images to your new blog width.
AWESOME DESIGN HELP: My new site benefits greatly from the incredible art direction and graphic design help of Zach Bulick. A superb designer and an even better friend, Zach gave me tips all along the way on typography, colour choice, and even helped me create the hand-drawn search/speech bubble and sidebar boxes. Zach has his own brand-new portfolio site arriving any day now, which is gonna knock your socks off. Anybody looking to collaborate with an extremely gifted designer with super-reasonable rates should definitely drop Zach a line.
MOST-DEF HOSTING: Calgary’s most down-to-earth designer, aka Neil Gilbert, aka my bro, aka Elbowroom Design, deserves mad props for the ever-generous hosting. The site has been riding on ERD server space since 2005, and I’m incredibly indebted to Neil for that generosity.
THE THEME: The theme this site employs is called Magazeen, created in early 2009 by Smashing Magazine in conjunction with Function, and was modified mercilessly by yours truly and truthfully.