Modern Web Development and Remaking This Site

For quite some time I've wanted to rebuild this site. The last time I rebuilt it was in 2008 and things have changed quite a bit since then. At that time it was important to me to use a content management system, especially since we were about to embark on an off-year (unemployed and traveling through Europe) and we'd be keeping a journal that my wife needed to be able to help maintain. A CMS was the way to do things.

I built the site using Expression Engine which I was using a lot then. The site served its purpose but as frequently happens with many web designers and developers, I found myself with little time to maintain it once I returned to regular, employed life at the end of 2009. I was absolutely not interested in keeping up with software updates, plugins and other elements that are not strictly required to publish web content. I wasn't interested in maintaining for software that I just didn't need anymore.

Evaluating the Past

This year (2013) when I decided to rebuild the site, the most important goal was simplification. How could I make the site easy enough to maintain that I would be able to add and curate content without the site getting stale like it had so many times in the past? I wanted to focus on content and let the technology stay in the background.

I spent a great deal of time thinking about the site, its history and what kind of content would keep me engaged in the site and interested in maintaining it. It may sound strange to hear that coming from someone who's made a career building web sites and other interactive media but there's a very important factor to remember that I think many other web designers and developers will find familiar. When I get home from work, the last thing I want to do is more work. And maintaining a personal site, no matter what the content, frequently feels like more work, especially when you'd rather be spending time with your wife, your friends, in your garden, getting exercise, etc. You know, just being a human.

Semantics and Speed

We all know how mobile and tablet use has skyrocketed and how HTML semantics have become more important than we perceived them to be in the past. We also know that it just isn't acceptable to have a slow, over-engineered website these days with varying speeds of connections and devices, mobile connection latency and the ever-shrinking attention span of younger generations.

These were extremely important factors in my decisions for how I'd rebuild this site. Speed was one of the key factors in deciding not to use a CMS and reducing the markup, CSS and Javascript required to display this site.

Looking to the Future and My Expected Audience

Another important decision I made was to lose my concern for older browsers and desktop users. If you are using Internet Explorer 7, then it is very unlikely you are in the target audience for this site, at least for the content related to the creative-tech and web design/development industry. So I see no reason to support your browser/tech from what seems like a million years ago. Hence you'll find modern, HTML5-focused semantic code here, without shims and patches to handle outdated technology.

So now I focus on mobile and tablet devices and tech-saavy users. Hence the slimmed-down code, minimal design and focus on text-driven content.

Design is not Just Visual Design

I am a designer. I've struggled at times with the "Are you a designer or a developer?" question and the fact is I still think, live, eat, breath, shit, walk, and speak like a designer. It's something I can't get rid of (wouldn't if I could) no matter what internal mental struggles I have or what other people think (which I haven't cared about anyway ever since I could think).

That said, it's fairly obvious I didn't spend a lot of time making a beautiful visual design for this site. I have focused on making the typography live up to a high standard and will continue to work on that until I find it meets that standard. And that's just fine with me.

This site is not a shining example of any glorious visual design I may be capable of nor should it be. My design efforts here focus on non-visual design, i.e., content, interaction/organization and technical (for improving the experience and speed of this site).

The Technical

I maintain this site with a static site generator (currently Middleman). I won't get into the details of how it works but the high-level overview is that it allows me to write content in a simple, non-technical manner (Markdown) and automate the process of optimizing and shrinking my code so that it is as streamlined and efficient as possible. It also allows me to focus on my content instead of the great many technical tasks involved with producing a modern site.

Currently the only downside to this process is that I cannot easily publish content from a mobile phone or tablet. It is technically possible but a total pain in the ass.

This will change over time so I'm not worried. And these days, most of my mobile, off-the-cuff publishing happens in places like Twitter.

Moving On

Now that I've built 8-10 websites for myself during my career, have I been able to put that acquired knowledge to use in making this current iteration something with staying power, something I can keep fresh over the years? We'll see. I do know, as do many, that moving in a more simple direction is usually a wise plan. Now I just have to focus on publishing engaging content and I suppose that has always been the part where I've lacked focus.

Let's see how this works out.

Under the Hood

This site is stored in a github repository. Check it out if you're into that kind of thing.