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Joel on Software

A new design

by Joel Spolsky
Thursday, December 18, 2008

Alert readers may notice a little bit of a redesign around here.

Why the redesign?

I’ve been plugging away at this site for about eight years now. There are approximately 1000 bits ‘n’ pieces of published flotsam throughout the site: a lot of ephemeral daily posts, some old articles that aren’t that interesting any more, and an even smaller number of articles that are still moderately interesting and which people still link to and talk about.

Results from Google Analytics
To the many new readers, this big pile of words is not manageable. They tend to find my articles through a Google search, or a link from Reddit, or Digg, or somebody’s blog. And even if they like the article, they usually move on to another site right away, instead of spending a few minutes looking back at some of the classic old articles. The amount of time the average visitor spends here makes me think that they’re missing some of the great old articles that are still important because they’re so deeply buried in a giant stinkin’ pile of blogstuff.

The new home page
In the meantime, since the current design went live a couple of years ago, the Internet has changed. You don’t really have to design for tiny monitors or modems any more. You can use CSS and things will look consistent and good. Many readers are using RSS, where they want full text, not just teasers.

The biggest change you’ll notice is, of course, on the home page. The goal there was to provide some organized, edited reading lists. I’ve reviewed every single article on this site and chosen the ones that I think are still relevant and still worth reading, and I’ve sorted them out into topical reading lists, so you can read one, or read them all. There’s still a “What’s New” section on the left, with links to new stuff, but it’s less prominent, which reflects the fact that far more visitors come here for the stuff I already wrote, not the occasional new stuff.

There’s still a complete, historical archive, although I’ve reengineered it a bit to be easier to navigate, with buttons for every month.

Any new photographs I publish will be larger, to take advantage of modern displays. They’ll also include a link to an even larger, high-resolution version if you click on them.

Standalone article pages are much cleaner and have their own, uncluttered design. Those are the pages that almost everybody sees when they follow a link into the site, and that’s where most readers will be reading longer articles, so I’ve put a lot of emphasis on readability and removing distractions. Most blog platforms assume that a single-item page should have the same design as the home page. That doesn’t make any sense to me.

I’ve brought back on ancient tradition from ye olde World-Wide Web that I haven’t seen in a decade but which used to be universal in the years before the dotcommers arrived: my email address is at the bottom of every page.

One of the things that I’m worried about is how this site looks in RSS readers. I’ll be quietly tweaking the RSS a little bit to try and optimize. If you have any suggestions for how to make pages look better in RSS readers, I’ll be glad to hear them. In particular, the small thumbnail images which are displayed in the margins on the web thanks to a style sheet will almost always be displayed inline and ugly by RSS readers who aren’t paying any attention to the web style sheet. If someone has a suggestion for fixing this across popular RSS readers I’d love to hear it.

The new design is not 100% complete and it’s not perfect. The “Discuss” and “Jobs” tabs up top lead to sites that are running on different software where the design hasn’t permeated yet. There are definitely some bugs, some of which I might even fix.

In the meantime, I’ll be watching Google Analytics to see if I can get that Pages/Visit score up a little bit.

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I’m Joel Spolsky, co-founder of Trello and Fog Creek Software, and CEO of Stack Overflow. More about me.

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