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Matt Wilcox

Web Development

Notes Jan 28th 2015

The 2015 edition of

It's taken almost three years to finally get around to, but at long last this website is sporting a design and running on a CMS I actually like.

I've a long history of dissatisfaction with the state of this website, and way back in 2012 I got so fed up with it that I archived it and threw up a plain HTML page saying 'new site coming soon', or words to that effect. By mid 2013 I'd still not done anything and so I installed a 'temporary' WordPress site running a stock theme. I still hated the site, but at least it worked for easy content bashing.

All of that is now over, and a new custom Craft based site takes its place.

The Design

Credit where it's due; I work with some brilliant people.

I'm not a designer; I'm competent enough to talk the language, I know what works and why, and I can do tweaks or adjustments for new contexts - but give me a blank slate and I'm useless. Fortunately I work with great people at View Creative and so I was able to show Gaz Lawn a rough mock-up of the sort of layout and use cases I was thinking of and he produced another signature awesome design for me to implement.

My original concept for an article page.

My goals were pretty simple:

  • Put focus on the content without looking too utilitarian or boring.
  • Acknowledge that most of my content is just text, with few images.
  • Be fast loading - and not overly pimped with what I shall call 'design fluff'.
  • Allow for additional sections which will need to support a different content type.

I also decided that navigation could take a back seat - most visitors to my site don't look around, they get to an article via Google because they're looking for something specific; and then they're done. So putting navigation front and centre on every page wasn't a useful decision.

I think Gaz's done a great job. I'm particularly pleased with the highest resolution design, which to me feels much more like a magazine layout - without resorting to the somewhat cliché full-width banner image trope. So, thanks Gaz!

With regard to the design, there's also more to show in the Creative Writing section - once I've got a post or two that implements the additional design touches. There are also one or two other sections on the drawing board which will be fairly different, I think. Those sections are longer-term ideas still waiting on content though.

The homepage at full size.

The build

The reason this re-design exists at all is because of Pixel & Tonic's fantastic CMS; Craft.

I'd written about my first impressions with Craft mid way through last year. I'm pleased to say it's proven to be every bit as good as those initial impressions suggested. Craft is a joy to work with.

I've now built four or five sites in it, including this one - and it's been a perfect fit for every one, despite a wide range of requirements between them. Clients find it easy to use, I find it easy and fun to develop with, and it never feels like I'm having to wrangle it to do something it doesn't really like or isn't meant to - unlike with most other CMS's I've used in the past.

Are there places Craft could be improved? Of course, no project is ever finished or perfected; but I have never had Craft stop me doing what I want to do. With the one-click update system, there's no hassle at all getting the latest new features and bug fixes - which are released frequently.

The future

As mentioned, I do have plans for more sections to add to the site which will cover some different topics and content types. The nice thing now is that I feel I can do that easily when the time comes.

I'm also looking forward to crafting more pleasant looking entries throughout the site. I've polished a couple of the old posts I've ported over, but hopefully all future ones will be of that quality rather than the somewhat more sparse older ones. I'm particularly looking forward to getting some practice pieces in the Creative Writing section.