Postmortem: the death of my old website

Welcome to my brand spanking new website—realigned and redesigned. Since launching the very first version last year, I’ve been aching for the chance to do this. Oh, how I’ve laughed at my own design mistakes—stitches, ribbons, gradients, highlights, bevels, reflections, zig-zag circular badges, letterpress, skeuomorphism, circular script logotype, the list goes on. I’m embarassed and guilty of getting caught up with every kind of web trend and shamelessly combining them to er … effect.

In hindsight, my attempt at differentiating myself to potential employers (by trying to show off my visual design skills) failed as I fell victim to the contagious nature of web design trends. The irony is cringe‐worthy. I, the UX designer spend my days focusing on meeting users goals, firstly by stripping interfaces to the core. No design or content fluff whatsover. It’s my job to crack the whip at anything and anyone that gets in the way.

I might seem a bit hard on myself, however if we consider the fixed‑width design, non‑support for mobile devices, overly designed case studies (requiring so much work, I stopped doing them altogether) and you can begin to understand where version 1.0 falls short. Don’t get me wrong I’m grateful for having created it, the process was a great outlet for experimentation and I learnt a tonne about web design and development. It’s an honest and true reflection of me at the time.

Fast forward to 2012

So version 1.0 spent a year in the wild and I spent the year working at Profero alongside my good friends (@scribblebag, @dervnewbold, @thisislionel, @tillnation, @DarrenCustance) in the creative team. I learnt a tonne about brand, art direction, typography and tone of voice. The importance of being distinctive and experimenting with design suitable for the task is a lesson that resonates with me the most.

When I asked my colleague, Lionel Agbadou to describe his design style, he replied:

“I don’t really have a style. We are not meant to. I just do what the job needs.”

This line has stuck with me ever since. Like a memorable experience starts with communication first and foremost, the aesthetic needs to support communication, which is independent of style. Communication starts with content, functionality and personality—all aspects of an experience that have nothing to do with what looks ‘cool’ at the time. Alex Charchar of Retinart says it best:

“… What we guess will look cool tomorrow is an assumption based on how we feel today.

Then once tomorrow is yesterday, its cool will look dated because how we feel has changed.”

The relationship between aesthetics and user experience fascinates me. The two cannot be decoupled. Aesthetics influence trust, credibility and a user’s perception of how usable a product is. This is all the more reason to strive for timeless design that looks and feels good regardless of immediate taste, fashion and style. The interface is the brand identity and the identity lives in the details.

All this got me thinking about what my website says about me and my brand. Not exactly what I desire.

Getting back to the core

My goal was to craft a website with great content and a design to support this. The design of my website needed to be rooted deeply in fulfilling it’s purpose. It needed to sell me to potential employers, allow me to capture and reflect on my existing work and encourage me to write more. The design needed to be timeless and approached with a content first mentality.

Believe me, this required incredible restraint and relentless focus. The process of trimming down to the non‐essentials was a hard and excruciating experience. I now have a finer appreciation for the expertise, experience and maturity required to craft an effective, timeless design.

My advice to anyone designing their portfolio is to really take the time to sweat the details. Treat it like any real project. Don’t fall into the trap of just designing for the moment. Think about how your design will scale in the future. Will your website be able to grow as you do? Whilst it might be tempting to quickly bash out a trendy design, it will hurt you more in the long‑run.

Achieving a truly minimalist design is a sign of craftsmanship and craftsmanship is about quality, not speed of delivery. The idea that creating a minimalist design requires less time is completely flawed. So anyone who thinks ‘going minimalist’ will save time is wrong.

This website was 3 months in the making.

Perfect from afar

I don’t consider this website to be finished (I don’t think I ever could), I’m just proud that it’s in the wild and able to gather real feedback. At this point in time, I’m not too worried about getting it perfect. Accepting mistakes is a necessary and healthy part of the process and as with most things I don’t get them right on the first go anyway. So I’m completely comfortable with this being unfinished. If you poke around hard enough you may notice some typography and layout bugs which I plan on eventually getting to.

I plan to incrementally refine and iterate this design. So I’m reaching out to you to take a look around and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Headshot of Simon Pan

Compliments, comments and criticisms are all welcome.
Tweet me, @span870