Jul 15, 2010
In this exclusive interview, the designer from Philly, Brian Hoff talks about the redesign of his blog TDC (The Design Cubicle). It will open your eyes to his goals on the redesign, the process on the making and much more that beyond a pretty interface design.
For those who don't know him Brian Hoff is a graphic designer from the always-sunny Philadelphia. He collaborate mostly on web design and brand identity, but he's experienced in building all kinds of quality, strategic design, both on the web and in print.
Brian recently redesigned his blog The Design Cubicle with changes that made me drop my jaw, the quality of the redesign is intense, with a lot of attention in details I just lovely and satisfying to navigate through the new design.
Why did you think a redesign was needed for you blog and when do you think other bloggers should consider working on a redesign?
Having started the Design Cubicle almost two years ago, I was more looking for a place to record my thoughts and processes and choose a standard, free Wordpress template which I customized and tweaked at the time. It really didn't reflect my design sensibilities but at the time it served its purpose. However as the blog took off, my work was maturing, and business was growing because of the exposure, it was in dire need of a matured look, reflection of my passion for design and functionality of how the website should look and needs of the readers. This was my first ever blog, so I had a lot of extra elements that did not need to be there and were of no interest to my readers.
Blogs should consider redesigns or realignments when things need to be polished matured or just all around updated for the better of functionality. Also, you should pay close attention to your readers and the purpose of the blog and bring the focus and design to those elements. When I started my redesign process, I kept seeing my designs turning out similar to the "more traffic driven" blogs, which I feel are often flooded with too many ads, buttons, widgets, and other distractions. My focus was to bring back the attention to what people visit my site for: to read, learn and interact.
What was the goal of the redesign?
It sort of touched base with this question above, however the functionality was most important when considering my redesign was placing emphasis back on the content and improving readability and experience. I wanted to redesign to reflect my design sensibilities, which are heavily inspirited by print design, typography, and small detail. I also wanted to focus on sharing more valuable, quality information from others by adding the new Notebook section, which replaced my weekend round-up called "Sweet Tweets." I now update the Notebook "on-the-fly" and mostly everyday as I discover a great, informative article or resource.
Tell us about the process of making this happen, how did you turn this idea into reality and how long did it take?
The entire process started about a year ago which underwent countless revisions and restarts. I even put it aside for a few months to let my thoughts digest. The color palette was inspired by a book cover I saw while browsing a book store in Princeton, New Jersey. Also, I wanted to replace the old logo with more of a masthead to reflect a more editorial sense of the site. The detail surrounding the outer edges of the content area (the cross-hatching pattern) was inspired by a neighbors fence and how the grates interlaced one another in a rounded fashion. I decided to remove a lot of sidebar clutter and focus more on important elements such as, social media, work availability and navigating around the site. This decision was based on analytical research by discovering what my visitors were clicking on the most.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while creating the redesign?
The biggest challenge was knowing that I wanted to go a bit different from the standard, redundant blog aesthetics / layouts / etc. While I could have went with the easy route and took a similar approach (many of my earlier renditions took this approach), I wanted to push my own boundaries and levels of where I would like to see my work. Challenging because it can be a bit nerve-racking knowing that because something that is often "unfamiliar" might not be approved of by others. In the end, the amount of positive feedback I received was overwhelming though, so it helped to later calm the nerves.
The details on the new design are incredible, in which part of the process do you start applying these details and how important you think they are for the overall result?
The tiny detailing was held off until the vary end mostly. I fully attest to the small details that make a huge difference. Other's work I admire always have the right details in the right places that take a good design and make it great. Paying attention to minor details often helps to push your work over the edge, although it's important to note that sometimes too much attention to detail can do the exact opposite. Finding the right balance is the science behind the art form.
You are a typography lover and as we can see the new design has some typography improvements with the use of fonts from TypeKit. Why did you decided to go with that and how did you select these typefaces?
I'm a huge supporter of what the folks over a Typekit are doing. Coming from a traditional print design / fine arts background, typography was always a passion of mine and for a while always felt restricted on the web. There are so many type foundries out there with beautiful, quality and suitable typefaces and it's amazing to see companies like Typekit and Fontdeck supporting this.
The font used for the body copy, FF Dagny Web, was selected based on readability mostly. It works extremely well at very small sizes, renders extremely smooth since it was reformatted for specific use and legibility on screens, plus it went well with the rest of the type on the page. I, along with friends Trent Walton and Dave Rupert, spent a few hours one day going back and forth with a few different options deciding which worked the best. In the end, Dagny was the best fit.
The result of the redesign is simply beautiful, and the new look has been on for a few weeks. How was the acceptance by the viewers and looking back would you change anything?
To be honest, the amount of positive criticism has be astounding – much beyond my expectations – and I am extremely humbled by all of it. Site's that I admire, such as Unmatched Style, Cameron Moll's website, and Web Standardistas, all shared really kind feedback and praise, while the amount of comments on my 'Launch post' was all well taken in for the most part. I've also received good word on Twitter and email that the Notebook section is a new favorite, so that makes me extremely happy as well. It's great to be able to easily share other valuable information with my readers. From a direct standpoint, I guess I can say the acceptance has been mostly positive.
From an evaluation standpoint, It appears that I am receiving more visitors and more importantly, more comments per post than previously. [I think] it's due to placing emphasis back on the content and having the number of comments butting out on the left side helps to draw more attention and encourage participation. Beyond the good, my readers have also provided me with valuable feedback, such as adding a 'Back to top' link (in the back bottom footer). One thing I recently changed is the wording of the blue 'Contact me' link at the top (used to read 'Email'). I've probably received around 10–15 emails with a link to my article and nothing else. It appears that some were getting confused and thinking the 'Email' link would email the reader my article for future reading / reference. I've since changed it to read 'Contact me' and it seems to be taken for what it is now.
Thank you Brian for taking the time to for this interview and keep up the great work!Here are some exclusive screenshots from the previous design and the new design with the process in between.
Now make sure to check out The Design Cubicle