Innovation

Innovation is, I believe, born of three things: necessity and imagination. By and large, it is the _need_ to be able to do something that you cannot currently do that breeds an innovative idea, a way to accomplish something new or to do something else in a completely different way. It is that rare visionary, however, that has the ability to see far ahead and say, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” – and then to reach out and make a way.

This is no less true in the world of web design. A few days ago, someone left a comment on one of my daily summaries at “Weblog Tools Collection”:http://weblogtoolscollection.com expressing his frustration with a perceived lack of creativity in most of the WordPress themes that have been released by various designers. Indeed, his comment expressed his opinion that the quality of most themes of late has dropped and that few have anything worthwhile to offer.

While I was somewhat put off by the way he expressed his opinion, I could relate to his frustration. I myself have looked long and hard for new and interesting WordPress themes that do more than your standard, run-of-the-mill template. The fact of the matter is, however, that most of your WordPress theme designers are amateurs. Very few of us do this sort of thing for a living, and so many find themselves locked in either by a lack of know-how to innovate or a lack of experience and imagination to create something truly unique. Of course, the best way to solve this particular ‘problem’ is through experience. The more you code, the better you get at it and the more ideas you come up with doing things differently.

Personally, I’ve latched onto the idea of minimalism in my web design. Partly, I find that for the serious blogger, a minimal theme serves to direct the reader to the actual content you want to communicate better than a busy theme with lots of gadgets does. From a technical aspect, the simpler your design, the more efficient the execution of the script and the better your server runs to provide your readers with the information they’ve come to get from you.

As a result, I’ve kept my eyes peeled for good single-column themes to use on my site. The best I’ve found so far is my current theme, “Daydream”:http://www.fightingfriends.com/daydream/, but even so, it’s not quite what I want. I’ve been frustrated, as well, by designers who share their WordPress themes around and tout them as single-column, only to find when you look at them that they’re actually 2-column (or sometimes even 3-column) themes. As valuable as the sidebar can be, it’s my opinion that it can be far too distracting from the main content. A single column containing just the WordPress loop, with the sidebar at the bottom of the page or, even better, on a completely different page would do a much better and more efficient job at keeping your readers’ eyes right where you want them – on the content, rather than the peripherals.

I’m actually in the process of trying to design a new single-column theme that will, ironically, have a couple a pseudo-sidebars. The main content will, of course, contain all the regular content you’d expect in a blog – and even that may end up with some heavy redesign and re-arrangement. I think I’ve decided that the traditional sidebar content – categories, archives, links, etc. – will end up on some sort of ‘Sitemap’ page. I’ve seen one other theme that does it this way, and I really liked the effect and the organization method.

So, what will my sidebars contain, then? Well, for starters, I think I’m going to end up calling the theme “Jack of All Trades.” I have a variety of interests, and I actually want my blog to serve as my portal to those interests. It will take a bit of playing around, I’m sure, but I’d ideally like to incorporated some aspects of my other interests there – gaming, writing, reading, coding, etc. Again, I’m not entirely decided on the final layout and design yet, but I’d like to drop my Xbox Live gamercard in, my Xbox 360 Voice feed, and the feed from the “TTL Gunslingers clansite”:http://gunslingers.tiedtheleader.com. But doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of minimalism, you say? Well, yeah, probably. But I’m hoping to compensate for that some by making the ‘sidebar’ content opaque, fade it out a bit so that it’s there, you can see and read it, but it doesn’t stand out the way your traditional sidebar content does. I’d like to fade it into the background as much as I can without making it completely transparent. I’m nowhere near that stage in the design process, though, and in the end I may decide it’s still far too distracting and remove it completely.

I’m also still trying to decide on a photo gallery. Up until today, I haven’t found a decent photo gallery that incorporates into WordPress the way I’d like it to – and the one that I found today doesn’t allow comments. Of course, I’m less and less sure that I like the ability to comment on individual pictures. For one thing, most people don’t seem to bother commenting on images and for another, the comment metadata blocks simply add additional clutter to the gallery and, hence, to the blog site, taking away even further from a minimalistic execution. This, then, is the problem with being a jack-of-all-trades – it’s very, very difficult to incorporate all of one’s interests into one site and still keep it minimalistic. I’m going to try, though, to build something lightweight and fun while still allowing it service my broad range of needs and interests.

And if I can come up with something truly innovative in the process, so much the better.

2 thoughts on “Innovation”

  1. My problem is my site is a 2 column and there are more things I’d like in the sidebar, but it only has one sidebar and I don’t want it to be 12 miles long.

    While the idea of putting links and categories and other stuff on a secondary page would solve the problem, at that point I almost have to ask, why have them at all? Especially with a blogroll, the whole point is to share links and reciprocate with the community. I feel like if I slapped them up on some secondary page instead, that would null the whole point of it.

    Lately I’ve been thinking the ideal would be minimal sidebars on both the left and right, still keeping things as minimal as possible. I’m not sure though. You may be right, and it may all just be too messy.

    I guess this is a struggle we all face, in that we try to build blogs/sites that add value to the reader, and more often than not we equate ‘features’ with value. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t.

    For example, I tried a poll plugin out the other day, then realized for a single sidebar that was just ONE more item to drive the sidebar a little longer, and more bloated. If I could balance between a sidebar on the left and right it wouldn’t be so bad. But then again, do I really need polls?

    Maybe I don’t need any of it. But I tend to gravitate towards “All or Nothing” mentality. If I get rid of BlogRoll, then I might as well ditch Categories or move them from the sidebar too. I might as well reduce the sidebar to comments and search?

    Oh the struggle between minimalism and value-adding features.

  2. Yeah, it is a struggle, to be sure. And I’m one of those people who hates it when the sidebar length exceeds that of the main content – doubly so when both sidebars are longer than the main content area. Ultimately, I think it comes down to personal preference, and more and more my preference has to be unclutter the front page as much as possible. I’ve always liked having archives as something of a submenu to my main page, so I’ve no qualms about ‘demoting’ them down to their own page. I also don’t mind directing traffic at sites I read, but the difficulty there is finding a way to list them in a single-column theme without completely fluffing the footer (or other area) beyond a serviceable area. I’m definitely open to ideas on that front.

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