Tag Archives: Design

Minimalistic Design Requests

Ok, folks, if you’re going request a WordPress design, your posting needs to be longer than, “Design and some coding and app application.” Seriously, could you be any less specific? Add to that a budget that’s $100 at maximum, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have your request ignored by any designer with any kind of sense. This is one of those times where going minimalistic works to your disadvantage.

Navigationally Speaking

I’ve been working on my navigation menus throughout the day today, in the few spare moments I get in between tasks. On my blog here, I’ve finally moved the entirety of my navigation menu up the menubar where it belongs. I’ve also finally added in the global navigation bits for my “photoblog”:http://photos.shamuswrites.com, “archive”:http://musa.shamuswrites.com, and “Flashes of Speculation”:http://fs.shamuswrites.com into the photoblog. I’ll be adding them in the both the archive and into FoS soon, but I may be reworking both of those themes, so I’ll wait until that’s been finalized.

I also finally changed the theme on my photoblog to one that’s easier on the eyes and easier to use for posting up new photos. I love the one that’s currently on the front page there. It’s one of the first new pictures I’ve taken with our new Polaroid digital camera, and I’m very pleased with the quality of the pictures (when I’m not taking photos that are blurry).

I think I’ve also settled on my blog, forum, photoblog, archive, and flash fiction site as the five modules that make up the entirety of Shamus Writes. I have a lot more installations of WordPress on my server, but most have either become obsolete or belong to friends and family members. I’ve also started to really use my Flickr site and incorporated it into my gallery here as an easy way to maintain those photosets online. I was originally going to host my image gallery on my own server but since at least one of the image sets is going to get posted in two different locations, I decided it was easier to upload them just one time on Flickr and then simply pull them into both WordPress installations with the use of one simple plugin. Saves me a little extra time and effort in the longrun and takes some of the load off my server.

So feel free to walk around the site a little more, now that the paths are a little freer of weeds. It’ll get better once I design the new them for FoS and the archives, but I’m really quite pleased with the way things are shaping up.

Facebook versus MySpace

I’ve been running Facebook and MySpace side-by-side for a couple of weeks now. I’d created a MySpace profile primarily because it was the only method available for me to get back into contact with some of my friends from high school who I haven’t spoken to in ten years. Of course, long-time readers of this blog know how I feel about MySpace, but I was willing to deal with the evils of the social networking site if it meant being able to ‘talk’ to some people I hadn’t seen in a long time.

Then, of course, WordPress announces the fact that they’ve added a wordpress.com application to Facebook. So, being the WP fanboy that I am, I immediately set up a profile there, as well – and found three times as many of my friends already there than there were on Facebook. Lunacy. And to make things even better, I found a plugin this morning that will also allow self-hosted instances of WordPress (from the wordpress.org site) to post up a news item in both the news and mini feeds everytime you add a new entry. Better and better.

I’ve “diatribed on the evils of MySpace before”:http://shamuswrites.com/2006/12/15/myspace-is-evil/, and nothing has demonstrated to me just how badly designed the place is than trying to surf various profiles there on my laptop. A friend of mine gave me his old laptop a while back, and since I’ve been on my back for the last five weeks, I’ve been using it quite a lot for all my web surfing. This laptop is not what I would call a powerhouse – I usually have to reboot once or twice a day just to recover enough RAM to continue working. I don’t usually have too many problems, though, at least not until I surf over into MySpace. Suddenly, all my RAM is gone, my browser locks up for lengthy periods of time, and I can’t close the MySpace tabs I have open so that I can even reboot the laptop and attempt to rectify my mistake.

Facebook, on the other hand, has been extremely simple and light-weight to use. It has yet to cause to my laptop any issues or headaches. And the beauty of Facebook is that it seems to be infinitely more customizable than MySpace – and with less demand on your computer’s resources. Granted, most of the applications in Facebook I have no use for, but I do like the way I can make it merge so seamlessly with all of my WordPress installations. Facebook is also the thing that has gotten me using my “wordpress.com”:http://stitzelj.wordpress.com account that I’d set up originally just for the API key for Akismet. Did I mention that I’m a WordPress fanboy?

So, yes, all this to say that I believe Facebook to be a far superior social networking system to MySpace. It’s built better, it runs better, and it just plain works better. I’ll likely be keeping my MySpace account, since I find it highly unlikely that everyone I have contact with there can be persuaded over to Facebook, but Facebook will continue to be my primary resource to maintaining quick and easy contact with people I know.

Of course, then again, there is always email.

Resetting HTML

I’ve recently discovered the wonderfully marked-up “Sandbox”:http://plaintxt.org/themes/sandbox theme for WordPress and, in so doing, discovered the inspiration to build another theme for myself. But I also discovered rather quickly that there were a few minor problems with things not spreading out to the furthest edges of the browser. So I sought help and found that I needed to reset the margins for the html and body tags. I was also directed to this fabulous CSS entry called “Reset Reloaded”:http://meyerweb.com/eric/thoughts/2007/05/01/reset-reloaded/, which provides global resets for just about everything in a basic web page. I applied these and discovered the beauty of a WordPress theme with absolutely no formatting whatsoever. It’s a wonderful thing.

From there I’ve begun restructuring every element to my satisfaction, building what I need and want. And with Sandbox, this is made all the easier because everything has an id or a class (or multiple classes). All I have to do is look at the page source and see what tags are generated by the built-in code and then build the stylesheet accordingly. I’m working on a single-column, minimalistic theme with very few (if any) frills or flourishes. At this point, I’m thinking that most of the traditional sidebar content will also be shifted to a custom-built page template, but that one I’m going to have to work on a bit and see what comes of it. It’s a work in progress, and I’ll likely finish it up sometime later this week, due to the fact that there will be a brief pause in all coding work while I read the final installment of Harry Potter tomorrow.

If you’re a web coder, do check out Eric Meyer’s “Reset Reloaded.” I think you’ll like what you see and how much it cleans things up for you from the outset.

Theming

One of the advantages of being flat on one’s back is I’ve had time to do a little WordPress theme design the last couple of days. I volunteered to host and build a new website for my parents’ church – the one they had before was, quite frankly, a ghastly design and layout and difficult to update and maintain. So, I moved their site to a WordPress installation on my server, and then set about modifying the “Sandbox”:http://www.plaintxt.org/themes/sandbox/ theme to my liking. I started out with something very “plain and basic”:http://www.sndbx.org/live-preview/ – no frills, just the basic elements in place – and ended up with something “a bit nicer looking”:http://ebcclarksonny.org.

I don’t know if I’ll release this theme publicly or not. I’d have to clean up a couple of the files a bit, since I added some custom coding to make a couple of the plugins work correctly. But it might be worth it.

See-Through MySpace

I’ve done it again, much to my chagrin. I’ve set up another “MySpace account”:http://myspace.com/stitzelj. I wouldn’t have done it, but frankly, right now it’s the only way for me to re-establish some semblance of contact with a few of my high school classmates. Oh, the things I do for my friends…

In the process, though, I’ve discovered yet _another_ terrible layout idea – opacity. Specifically, making just about everything on the page opaque just so that the background design can be seen. It’s obvious that those who employ this particular technique know nothing about web page design. Opacity _can_ be a good technique – when used in moderation. Making an entire page opaque, however, is a very bad idea because it makes everything super-difficult to read. And I’m not one of those ultra-patient folks who will labor through it just to find out what’s new.

Oy, MySpace is _still_ evil. But in this case, I have good reason to live with it – at least for the time being.

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.

More Blogger Design Woes

Blogger continues to annoy me. I really hate using any feature on that site. And I always cringe – at best – whenever I leave a comment on a blog hosted there. Usually, commenting involves weeping and gnashing of teeth. Three things currently that annoy me about Blogger:

# *Word Verification* – Technically, it’s _image_ verification. The gobbledygook they put up for you to type in a verify that you are not, in fact, a bot aren’t actually words. Ok, it’s a _minor_ annoyance and not technically anything that’s worthy of weeping.
# *Popup Comment Forms* – Now _these_ things hurt. A lot. Blogger does not like Firefox, it seems. Those of you who use Blogger and elect to have the comment form appear in a popup window instead of in a regular browser screen like everything else on your site? Yeah, I hate you. For some reason, the popup window in Firefox doesn’t fill out to the form’s full size, nor do scrollbars appear to rectify that issue. Needless to say, it makes it a royal pain to leave a comment. And most of the time, I don’t. So as a personal favor to me (and every other Firefox user who reads your site), please change that option. Please. I even asked nicely.
# *No Tab-throughs?* – In Blogger the Elder, it was possible to type in one’s comment, tab to the image verification field, tab to the identifications options to select one, tab to the name field, tab to the website field, and then tab to the ‘Submit’ button, where you could then hit ‘Enter’ to submit everything – all without ever touching the mouse. No longer. The new-and-improved (yeah, right) Blogger Junior requires you to mouse-click absolutely everything. Those of us who use the mouse as infrequently as we possibly can hate this fact and wish with all our hearts that Blogger (a.k.a. Google) would fix this.

Yeah, I really dislike Blogger. Bet you couldn’t tell.

Support

It really bugs me the way Xanga doesn’t treat post titles like an actual element, i.e. they drop it completely off in the subscription digest. I really do wish they’d get with the times and actually start supporting their software properly.

On a related note, it also really bugs me when the Dilbert comic sends the same strip through email two and three days in a row. Someone over there either isn’t getting the comic updated on time (i.e. before the daily comic is distributed via email) or they have a frequent glitch in their system.