LessThanDot has had a stable layout and design for a couple years now, giving all of us time to get used to buttons being in certain places, new items appearing in certain areas, and a general feel for where links and sections will be before we open a page. Many experts will (and in fact recently have) said that executing a massive redesign of a website is dangerous once it has received a following and made a brand impression on that following (then again other experts write articles on their redesign process or what to do when re-designing, so I guess it depends on who we are going to listen to).
And apparently there is listening and then there is listening...
After the recent LTD Meet & Greet I convinced myself to start following our blogs again. We are lucky to have a number of authors from diverse technical backgrounds all providing material to the site. Unfortunately I have found the blogs such an uncomfortable reading experience (due to the layout, not the material) that I have probably only read about 3 of the articles ever posted and have only written one myself. Obviously not everyone has this problem, but I believe that I am not the only one that finds it difficult to read our articles and that if the experience were improved then the people that already visit for the occasional article might start reading some of our other articles or simply enjoy a better overall experience.
After continued reflection (in some cases nearly an hour spent behind someone doing 5 under in the left lane...), I realized that the most significant culprit for my poor reading experience was a combination of the reading area layout and mixed font and color usage. Luckily I had some free time on my hands one Friday evening while waiting for Onpnt to review a few *cough* minor reviewing notes I left on one of his posts. Since I had downtime and we had decided to test Google Video and Voice, I opened Photoshop and started trying to visualize a better reading experience. I'm not the handiest of graphics people but my CSS skills are pretty good and we have several founders who were willing to provide opinions, ideas and assistance as we turned those first drawings into a credible and, more importantly, readable site design.
While the new design focused heavily on the blogs and launchpad, we have implemented it across the entire site so we can continue to provide a consistent experience, whether you are reading an article in the blog section, asking a question or conversing in the forum section, making additions to the wiki, or simply stopping by on the launchpad to scan the latest headlines.
When it Will Happen
We are currently prepping our QA site to open it as a limited beta with the new design. This initial limited beta will be available only to a pre-selected set of members so that we can ensure that any embarrassing issues are quickly covered up and shared with the fewest people possible. We will also be checking to make sure that everything that has been working on the dev site is still working on our QA site and that we have a clean deployment plan for the live site.
As we finish rounding out the testing and making any minor updates that are necessary, I will continue to share more information on what the changes are and what some of the potential additions we have coming after the redesign rollout. Once the testing and limited beta is complete (hopefully before I have run out of blog material) we will have a limited downtime window to push to production and then surprise everyone that didn't read this far with the new layout and functionality.
Just to ensure I have something to do in case the QA session goes more smoothly than a QA session has ever gone before, I will also be posting small tidbits of information to the forums and on Twitter (@tarwn). We have also planned a number of articles for the launch week and have made some additional modifications to the feedback and rating systems to provide a better channel for you to share your opinions.
And to comply with recent (though strangely not duplicated) research that correlates pictures of signs to stronger audience appreciation, here is a sign, please enjoy.
Sign image courtesy of NOAA.gov