Thanks to our members the beta of the new design is going well. We have made some more minor tweaks and changes but overall the design appears to be going over well and we should be announcing a general changeover shortly. In the meantime I thought we would share a little more about the changes and improvements that you will soon see in the site.
Screen Layout and Elements
The major screen elements of the site (header, footer, sidebar) have had their size and geography modified to better fit in the new layout. While we have not yet directly addressed the needs for some classes of mobile equipment, such as cellular phones and internet-enabled e-book readers, the alterations to the layout to include a semi-fluid width and shorter header work better in netbooks and ultra-portable laptops.
The header of the site will be shorter and provide room for some coming enhancements. The social link bar has been removed and replaced with more targeted links throughout the site (more on this later). The large footer has been replaced with a much smaller ribbon bar, with many of the links and statistics moved to the side bar or removed entirely to speed up load time or increase visibility. The floating sidebar, or portlets as we originally called them, have been given a slightly wider piece of real-estate but have not changed that greatly as they are still displayed in relatively the same position on the left. The sidebar now shows consistently throughout the site, even on small pages like the login and account forms.
Site Map Changes
The same pages and site sections that exist today are also present in the new design. We have not added or taken away any of the existing elements. We have, however, enhanced or re-arranged several areas to provide a more consistent and informative environment.
The blogs no longer present a 6 foot long front page to the world. When you first visit this section you are presented with a short section of summaries from the most recent blogs that looks similar to the launchpad of the site. This will allow the articles to be visible longer on the front page, as not many people were comfortable scrolling the entire height of the page to see what articles had been posted recently. In addition to presenting a better reading experience, we have also enhanced the main article view, moving rating and feedback buttons into more accessible places, providing new links to share material on common social sites, and providing additional information about the author of each article.
The group at LTD belong to a wider number of social sites than I knew existed. Each of you likely followed a link from one of those sites to get to this article. To provide better visibility into events and new articles, social link information has been built into the site.
This area still has a number of enhancements on the development list, but links are already appearing throughout the beta site that provide social links for both the site and individual users. Initially the only user-centric links will be in new "About Author" section for blog articles, but we have plans to expend this information to the rest of the site and all members in a later iteration.
As before, I want to thank the members who are taking time out of their schedules to beta test for us. Depending on how this works out we may start incorporating this type of beta testing into new features to help take a more iterative approach to future changes. AS always, questions or comments can be left below or in our forums.