The new siteInspire is live, and I’m pretty exhausted.
I started the process almost a year ago, which is an insane amount of time full of ups and downs. So I thought I’d pen a few notes as to what I learnt from the process.
I should also caveat this entire post with the fact that I realise a site that showcases other sites isn’t exactly the most humanity-transforming idea nor is the most complex. But with daily visitors creeping into the tens-of-thousands a day, it seems to be something that people like and so there’s a duty to do a decent job, and ultimately not to screw it up spectacularly.
The redesign went through approximately ten radically different looks, each a knee-jerk rebound from each other and—as a result—I felt each iteration was poorer than the last. In the depths of disillusionment and directionless-ness, it took on the look and feel of a vintage, hipster, restaurant menu. Ugh. That “friendliness” and “charm” was replaced by stark coldness. Ugh. Towards the end I became almost blind to what I was doing and trying to achieve, which was when I had to seek the advice of others before I gave up.
In the end, the site doesn’t look dissimilar to the old version: the same(ish) palette, same typography. There’s nothing clever about it, it’s just a small iteration from the original. Yet paradoxically it took a long time to get to a point where it just felt right.
In true piece-of-advice-blog-post fashion, here are a few take-away bullet points:
If the design isn’t that broken, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. All it probably needs is a little attention and tweaking. Keep the goal simple.
If you ask 10 different designers for an opinion, you will get 10 different, polarising opinions. That can only lead to heartbreak and confusion, so be choosy who you seek for advice and be careful when you post on open forums like Dribbble: some feedback I’ve seen for most shots that I have either liked or disliked has been unfathomably bonkers.
Seek advice of only those whose work you genuinely respect and whose work you admire, otherwise you might as well ask some guy at a coffee shop who’s wearing cool headphones.
Related to this, seek advice only from those who have done similar projects to what you are doing. If you’re creating a web app, reach out to people who have worked on a similar thing and who understand the challenges in both designing and developing one. Designing a product is very different to designing and building something.
If someone really, really hates your design, it just means they care. Of course, saying something like “it’s shit” isn’t constructive, and they’re probably a bit of a dick, but don’t take it to heart however hard it must be. This is why people get so angry when loved products like Twitter and Facebook are redesigned. Haters are gonna hate, but haters care a lot.
You need focus. Spending a year on a redesign and redevelopment project is totally impractical and is full of waste. Sprint to the end as fast as possible whilst still taking care, otherwise you’ll lose motivation and focus. This is difficult with personal projects because there is no client to impose any deadline, so try to set one. (Mine was actually Christmas Day, but that came and went, what with the all the food and booze.)
Try and ditch Photoshop and Illustrator if you’re making a web app. siteInspire is hardly a complex design but I didn’t touch either once apart from creating assets. Having no training in design, they feel like such old fashioned tools to me, and there’s a lot to be said for just diving in and creating everything in HTML and CSS from the outset.
This isn’t related to this project in particular, but if you want to learn development the very best way to do it is on your own projects. It’s a place where you can make all sorts of mistakes and experiment. I learnt a lot more about Rails, Compass, and responsive development.