Notes on the 2008 Redesign: User Feedback

First of all, thank you to everyone who provided screenshots, feedback, and ideas for the new design. Your help is highly valued and greatly appreciated. From what I am hearing, the redesign seems to have been well-received, with many readers and visitors taking the time to leave a comment, send a screenshot, or email a message. As hoped, people seem to enjoy the vibrant colors, the translucent panels, and the fancy sliding menus.

Other people have pointed out the site’s oversize width. On screens that are 1024 pixels (or less) in width, the design triggers the hideous horizontal scrollbar. Using a 1024-pixel width was a conscious decision based on sound statistical information and a desire to maximize screen area. Based on my statistics, approximately 85% of visitors view the site through a monitor that is greater than 1024 pixels in width:

[ Screenshot: Browser Statistics ]

Another point of concern is the relative opacity of the rounded-corner background panels. Unfortunately, transparency/opacity varies greatly across browsers, operating systems, platforms, monitors, ambient lighting, psychological disposition, and many other external factors. Apparently, Mac screens tend to display brighter and more vividly than others, thereby reducing the effective opacity of the background panels and thus affecting content readability. So, depending on the set brightness of your monitor (along with many other factors), the colorful background image may interfere with your viewing experience and thus decrease overall site usability. Viewing the site through my 22-inch HP widescreen monitor, everything appears exactly as intended:

[ Screenshot: Relative Opacity of Quintessential Theme ]
Relative design opacity as seen on my personal monitor [click for full view]

Moving on, a less-critical concern addresses the relative widths of the two central columns. As you can see, the difference in width between the main column and the side column is minimal. This similarity in column widths is awkward for some viewers, especially those with a keen eye for compositional balance and proportional harmony. After all, the vast majority of sidebars are significantly less wide than primary content areas. In fact, many designs feature sidebars that are narrowed further with two or more subdivisions. After much contemplation concerning the ideal sidebar strategy, I decided to centralize site navigation by maximizing sidebar real-estate. At first, the design featured two columns of equivalent widths; however, even with the extra-wide, 1024-pixel <body> width, the primary column would have been too narrow to accommodate existing post content. This design constraint was essentially set with the previous design, which boasts an ultra-narrow, singular-column width of 500 pixels. Thus, for the new design, the main column requires at least 500 pixels, leaving slightly less for the sidebar.

Beyond these three concerns — screen width, panel width, panel opacity — there are many other great suggestions for improving and enhancing the new design. Here are a few of the more useful ideas:

  • Decrease the height of the header area to display more content
  • Decrease the contrast of the body text to improve readability
  • Add a jump menu similar to the one used in the previous theme
  • Add Gravatar support to comment area and recent comments panel
  • Add quicktags, threaded comments, and quick-reply to comments
  • Allow the background image to scroll or fade it out sooner
  • Eliminate some items from the sidebar (e.g., Tumblr feed)
  • Integrate show/hide toggling of individual comments
  • Add some large social media buttons after each post
  • Improve font selection for main paragraph text

All of these are good ideas, and I intend to implement many of them, but for now I need a break from doing any more work on the new design in order to prevent burnout. Frankly, I almost reached that point the night before releasing the theme, but fortunately the thrill of the launch pulled me through. It’s like, you can only stare at a design for so long before it either stops making sense or begins to making you sick. Needless to say, after four weeks and a few hundred hours working on the new “Quintessential” design, I need to break away and work on other projects for awhile. Eventually and most likely gradually, many of these suggestions will be implemented as opportunities arise. You know how it goes: setup a new theme, use it for awhile, make a few changes here and there, more use, more tweaks — wash, rinse, repeat.

For now, I feel comfortable with the design “as-is.” As I use the design, changes are inevitable, although I can’t say to what extent. Obviously, structural changes involving increasing <body> and column widths require more work than presentational changes involving opacity and contrast adjustments. Chances are that my next redesign will be a comprehensive “realignment” of this new design, much like the “Optimized” and “Lithium” themes were re-workings of the original “Jupiter” design. Realignments are an excellent way to improve your site without sacrificing brand recognition. In any case, I am planning on tweaking the site during the next few days, so if you happen to notice any of the changes, drop a comment and let me know if they are for better or worse.