Phyllis and I are super-excited to roll out our new site design today. While it took us a month of very long days to put the new design together, the changes and improvements are the product of over a year of looking at other sites, thinking about what really matters, and note taking.
Sure, the site now looks way different than it did, with a clean modern design, but there’s much more to this update than that:
When designing a web site, it’s always easy to get seduced by the latest cool trend. We did look at eye-catching magazine type layouts but quickly realized that you, our readers, come to this site to read great content about offshore voyaging, not to be wowed by a sexy theme, so we stuck with a clean and simple layout.
Just about half of you read our stuff on tablets and phones—not to worry, that’s a general statistic from Google Analytics, we’re not spying on you personally—so the new site is fully responsive, meaning that stuff will move around to provide the best reading experience on each screen size from a phone to a giant computer monitor.
But, wait, it gets better. Not only is the layout responsive (like most web sites these days) but, because I was in the printing business in a past life and am passionate…ok, maybe a bit obsessed, about good typography, we took responsive to the next level and hand-coded the style sheets so that text sizes change to conform with the fundamentals of type legibility: measure, proximity and hierarchy.
You can read more about that stuff here if you are interested, but measure was where we really had to work hard, to make sure that no matter what device you are reading on, the number of words on a line stay optimal for legibility—45 to 75 characters per line, an immutable law of typography (why newspapers have columns) that you see violated far too often on the internet.
If you want to see how this works, view the site on a computer with the browser window as big as you can get it and then grab the edge of the window with your mouse and slowly drag to narrow the window as far as it will go while you keep your eyes on a paragraph of text…cool, huh?
We learned from experiments on the old site that you wanted pictures big, so we went with a wide content area. But we also know that many of you are out there cruising with small laptops, so the layout automatically shrinks (but still keeps the sidebars) for you, and for those on tablets viewing in landscape mode.
By the way, that’s why the type size is as big as it is on large monitors, to preserve optimal measure: In good design, smaller type=smaller pictures.
And for those of you who have seen the light (who said that?) and use Apple devices with Retina screens, we will be automatically serving all images in future posts at Retina native resolution.
Only What You Need
But wait, we also know that many of you are reading on an expensive mobile plan or crumby marina WiFi, so our software only serves the image size you need for optimal viewing on your device. (Did you know that many sites serve the full size of images to all users, thereby hosing many with way more data than they need or use?)
And over the next month we will be further optimizing all of the pictures on this site to make sure we use as little bandwidth as possible.
By the way, this issue is why the much requested photos in comments did not make it into this update. We are still looking at it, but the image optimization and performance issues are difficult to surmount, at least automatically.
We have really improved the visibility of the Online Books in the sidebar and improved the navigation of a book once you are reading it.
On the old site, the Online Book chapters and the free posts were all jumbled up together, which was frustrating for our readers who are not members. That’s now fixed with a special free article menu in the sidebar—over 500 entries!
(You can thank Phyllis for re-categorizing 900 articles by hand to make that happen.)
All of this will, we think, nearly double the speed of the site. But we are not done yet, and have lots more speed-enhancing stuff to install over the next couple of months.
More to Come
We also have lots more exciting features coming. For example, the tiled photo on the home page is just a placeholder for a planned slideshow.
We have improved countless details, which are best self-discovered, but I will point out two:
- The site search box now has pride of place in the header.
- We have moved the member login to the top right corner—a de facto web standard—and added an easy to use pop up login box.
As I’m always saying in connection with the Adventure 40:
Good design is more about what you leave out than what you put in.
And we have taken that to heart by dropping a few features that no-one seemed to be using. Having said that, if a feature you loved has disappeared, tell us in the comments and we will look at reinstating it.
Talking of comments, we are pretty pleased with what we have built here but, on the other hand, we are well aware that you, our readers, are the ultimate arbiters of success. So, if you have suggestions for further improvement, please leave a comment. If you are not a member and can’t comment, send us an email.
A huge thank you to Colin and Matt who alpha-tested the new site and made some great suggestions for improvement.
Also thanks to my son-in-law Ryan who, every time we got together in the last two years, beat me severely around the head and chest while yelling “responsive, you gotta be responsive, you old fool”. I’m visiting them next week so I knew I had to get this site published to avoid another beating.
No, seriously, Ryan is way too nice a guy to do that, but what he has done is provide lots of great advice, starting with the suggestion to migrate to WordPress five years ago. (Ryan is a gifted software designer and coder. You can check out his latest cool project.)
And, above all, thanks to Phyllis who put up with a very distracted husband for over a month, and countless discussions of what the new web site should look like for over a year, and then worked her fingers to the bone editing all the changes.