New Site Design

As you can see, we have just installed a new site design, the product of two years of thinking, investigating and building.

Our goals for the new site are:

  • Light and fast, at least for a membership site, which, by definition, must carry a lot of code.
  • Easy to find and access our over 1000 articles.
  • Easy to navigate both on small (phones) and large screen devices.
  • Clean and modern looking, with just what you need to see and nothing else.
  • Keep the higher power of the internet happy: i.e. Google Page Rank. Most of our new members originally find us through search, and almost none via social media.
  • Easier for us to maintain.

The old site, despite the partial look and feel redesign we did last winter, was kind of like an old boat that had been cruising for 10 years without being cleaned out. Building the new site was like taking everything out, throwing it on the wharf, and then only putting back what is really useful.

We also repowered (to belabour the boat metaphor) by ditching the template and framework we have used for the past 10 years in favour of a new one that  complies with WordPress standards—the content management system that powers this site, and over a third of the internet.

We were also able to ditch a bunch of third-party plugins in favour of using WordPress core features that have become available since our last major redesign five years ago.

These changes will, at least once we get everything debugged, make the new site easer to maintain and more reliable—the old site was getting pretty shaky and it frequently broke when WordPress was upgraded.

The Good News

It’s All About The Menu

The menu is pared down to just four options and a search icon, but still provides easy ways to drill down to what you want to find. And it is now sticky, so it stays at the top of the screen as you scroll down—should help particularly on small screen devices that are easy to get lost on.

You Always Know Where You Are

You can also see at a glance where you are and how you got there, as well as all of the related information to whatever you are reading, using the breadcrumbs that appear in the menu when you have drilled down from the top menu items.

And if the article you are reading is part of an Online Book, the cover automatically appears.

What’s Next

And at the bottom of each article, there are “next article” and “previous article” links that key off the primary topic that the article is under. Right now this only works for Online Books (like the old site) but we will be expanding the feature to cover other topics and books.

Books are Topics

On the old site, Online Books and Topics were two different things handled by different code and stored differently—caused us endless headaches. Now Online Books are simply topics with a cover image and logical ordering. An architecture that’s way easier to maintain and that will support other features in the future.

Logical Order

We can now, behind the scenes, change the order of posts within any topic to be logical, rather than just ascending or descending date order. On the old system we were only able to do that for Online Books. That said, we still have some work to do to sort all the topics in the most optimal way.

The Bad News

Bugs & Confusion

All that said about the advances, I pretty much guarantee there will be bugs, as well as things that are not as intuitive as we hope, so you can do us a huge favour by reporting either in the comments to this article.

That said, before you do, please take a moment to reflect on whether or not the problem is in fact real, or just a function of being different from what you are used to.

Broken Links

The fundamental changes to the way the site works have resulted in changes to a bunch of page addresses, so you may hit one or more broken links, particularly when following a link in an old comment or the Further Reading links on articles. We should have that fixed in about a week.

Not Done Yet

We still have two major projects that we hope to get done this winter:

  • Change to a new and faster cloud-based server optimized for member sites that should provide both a big increase in speed and allow us to add further features (like the new comment system) that result in high loads on our current server.
  • Get rid of the third-party page builder that we now use for things like the About page, and replace it with new WordPress core functions.

Comments

Please tell us what you think, and don’t forget to report any problems or usability issues, other than broken links for the first week.

Like what you just read? Get lots more:

Learn About Membership

Subscribe
Notify of
33 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Timan Eatherton

Love it! Thanks for the update.

David Huck

Looks great!

James Greenwald

Nice work!

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Wow, looks great, cool modern theme. And even the comment and subscription function is fully available again – thanks for all your effort!
What I am missing is the link to the comments at the beginning of an article – not a big deal, and probably intentional anyway, I’m just mentioning in case it has been “forgotten” by chance.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Found a glitch – in the books overview at the non-members frontpage there is a spurious element without valid image or link embedded, see screenshot.
The “noscript” element for these links should be checked, the code seems not legit (lots of “amp;”), but really not a big deal imho.

2021-02-04_11-30-39.jpg
Marc Dacey

I like the new design, but, given the paucity of fast internet here in rural Nova Scotia (fibre optic access is going to arrive when we move back aboard the boat!), the first thing I notice is that the site is visibly faster loading than before, so clearly you’ve been busy with the code equivalent of a reaming tool. Very good!

Marc Dacey

That’s on the Firefox browser desktop. I’ll get back to you with an impression how it runs on a Chrome-browser Android tablet, which is how I read the site in the bunk. I used to find minor discrepancies in the past between the two “experiences”, but nothing truly busted.

Colin Post

Looks fantastic. Really clean and much easier to read.
Kudos John and Phyllis!

Vesa Ikonen

Hi, looks nice!

Two requests, though:
1) Is it possible to get the “Back to top” arrow or similar to the bottom of each page?

2) Duplicating the links to next/previous article at the very bottom of the page, below the comments would be nice.
Actually, that that would render 1) pretty much unnecessary, because when reading through an online book, I at least read through all the comments prior to moving to next page (thence the need to go back up to find the link).

Vesa Ikonen

That would actually be very useful – and solve the issue I clumsily described. And solve it in a better way than I suggested 🙂

Christopher Barnes

John,

ACC redesign looks great! I know this stuff is complicated, so take the following as data not feedback. 

On an Android phone using firefox browser with the system font size increased to “largest” (old eyes) the top floating bar is three rows (1- nav menu box’s, 2- search icon, 3- location string. If I set the system display font to “large” the search icon fits into row 1 and then only 2 rows (unless the nav location string is long)

My two cents… the top floating bar takes up too much space in total (even at two rows) I admit that my preference is to have all that at the top static, but such design is less common (ny times still does). In any case, a nominal decrease in the mobile view navigation icon boxes and font sizes (in the boxes and nav location text string) might decrease the real estate on a phone allocated and allow more for reading.

Hope this is helpful and take it with a grain of salt, this domain is most certainly not an area of expertise for me…

Carl E.

Hi John and Phyllis,

I have a problem with scrolling on the new site: I have my mouse set to scroll a whole screen (in addition to using Page Down and the Space Bar), which previously worked fine.

Unfortunately, the page header obscures multiple lines when scrolling. The problem is greatest with Firefox and least with Chrome (both with text zoom enabled), but both show the problem.

Is it possible to engineer the scrolling to exclude the header?

Carl E.

Sorry for my lack of testing: the problem was specific to the use of the Zoom Page WE-extension with the Text zoom option. The new layout negates (for me) the need to use the Text instead of the Full zoom option; the Full zoom option scrolls correctly.

Jo Blach

To be honest, I didn’t really notice it. I’m here for the content and usually I only notice the design/interface is when it annoys or confuses me.

Petri Flander

Hi, a quick one: is this how the layout is supposed to render on 1440 wide laptop screen, or is my setup doing something funny?

mc-site.png
Petri Flander

Not really, it just looks a bit sparse on wider screens. But this can be worked around easily. I just open a new instance of firefox, and adjust it’s window narrower, and put there both MC and newly revised m.facebook.com . They both look better on that narrow window. Also, reply font is a tad small for my screen (this is 14″) but that is easily fixed with ctrl +. Cheers.

Philip Streat

I am using Windows 10 on a PC. When I am on the “New” page I find I cannot reach the bottom of the page to get to New Comments in the bottom menu. As soon as I reach it the page loads a whole new load of items so the menu bar moves down out of sight again. This happens no matter how many times I try. I believe this is only an issue on the “New” page. Otherwise I love the new look!

John Cobb

Does this on the iPad too

Chris Power

Looks great!