Wednesday May 3, 2006

Are We There Yet?


When I decided to retire the “disco pink and black” layout of this site and go in a new direction, it was fueled by one lone desire: to zig where others zag. I’d seen the trendy design memes getting passed around the blogosphere. Horizontally split layouts. Dark backgrounds. Widescreen layouts. Gradients. Oh, the gradients!!! And there’s nothing wrong with following trends. I follow some trends and will probably follow some of them for quite some time. Trendyness doesn’t change a good thing. It’s just that what I was aiming for was to point my canoe upstream, as it were, and paddle against the current. Do something both representative of myself and oddly different from the vast majority of designers’ sites. So I sit here now, look at my new site, and feel a twinge of regret that I didn’t take this as far as it could go. Sigh.

I could make excuses. I’m good at that. ;) I had a self-imposed deadline. What I had looked pretty good. There are a lot of good ideas in what I did. Et cetera. But the truth is, I’m not really proud of this work—not like I was after finishing The Pink Design. You know that feeling? It’s clear when you’ve raised the bar for yourself, and it feels good. And I just don’t have that feeling. You could say I’m obsessing, and I’d say that’s great. I’d rather obsess and succeed on all fronts than settle for average and never feel satisfied.

This is, of course, all purely subjective. I’ve had dozens of people compliment me on this here Hot Chocolate design. And that’s cool. I think they’re right. This is not about popular opinion, it’s about an internal goal—one that I know I haven’t reached.

So is this goal reachable with a few tweaks here and there? Um, no. I feel that I simply took too “safe” of a creative direction here, and I need to start anew and plow headfirst back into my original idea. Even though I’m only at the beginning (again), I can say that I’m much more excited about the direction my design is going. Am I breaking new ground? Probably not. Will everyone’s jaws drop when they see the next incarnation of this site? I doubt it. This renewed effort is about staying true to myself, ignoring the temptation to make visual design decisions based of what I think others will like, and feel proud of what I’ve done—even if what I do elicits a “dude, what were you thinking” response from my general readership.

Safe is BAD. Don’t ever aim or settle for safe. And if you suddenly, accidentally, and traumatically find yourself in a safe place, consider breaking out of there—especially on your personal webspace. This is a place for design to try new things. And maybe cause a ruckus.


Joshua Brewer » 5618 days ago #

I so agree with you. I just got done with the CSS Reboot and am already wishing I had not settled with something that “works.”

I wonder if we are about to see the great “CSS Realign of 2006” – where all of us who went for safe immediately bail and try to slowly realign until we have altered the state of the web! Okay, maybe a little grandiose, but… maybe.

Clayton Ferris » 5618 days ago #

I’ll be looking forward to your next design. I missed the May 01 reboot for similar reasons.

Nathan Smith » 5618 days ago #

Jared: I think it’s “safe” to say that no matter what you do, it will elicit a “what were you thinking” response. I for one, am digging the “Hot Chocolate” design, especially the fish and pink pony.

Jonathan Eckmier » 5618 days ago #

I appreciate your honesty. Sometimes it’s hard to admit (especially publicly) that you’re not completely satisfied with something you’ve created.

On the flip side, that dissatisfaction is a good thing, and ultimately is the trigger to new innovation and forcing yourself to raise the bar. Good luck!

Jennifer » 5618 days ago #

Here here. I have been at a job now for 9 months where everything I do is safe. I make good money, my clients are happy and I am miserable. I’m realizing that I can’t compromise my creativity. I have to be more of one of those graphic designers that people bad mouth. The ones that refuse to compromise their designs according to the whims of their clients/bosses. The ones that are handed project specs and push the boundaries in every direction. Why? Because the designer is the expert. If we can’t push the boundaries, we are useless to clients really. That’s what we do. Of course there has to be compromise. But you can’t bend so far that you break. Better to push the boundaries and take the risk of looking stupid or being shot down. As you delineated, the thrilling feeling of a job well done, inline with your artistic integrity, can not be found in safety.

Alan » 5617 days ago #

Hi Jared

I like your new design and the fish definitely kicks it for me, I personally am not a massive fan of chocolate but the colour can be used in lots of places and look good. It’s kinda like the deepest beige you can get and beige looks ace everywhere! You should have seen my old council house lol!

Anyway, I agree with what you are saying, I am not a designer by trade so I always find myself starting off going upstream from the start or doing things slightly different because I have not been trained in a certain way.

I do try and conform to certain rules but I tend to mess about with a design till I hit something I like and then try to implement it. At least in my own webspace like you say. Some things make it, others dont.

Anyway, nice write up, I just coined a phrase “Tinker tweak syndrome” which I think all of us as web developers (and probably designers) suffer from. You definitely have a dose ;-)


Prabhath Sirisena » 5617 days ago #

I love this theme, especially the chocolate and the fish, even more than the earlier pink one.

Looking forward to what you’d come up with next.

Jared Christensen » 5617 days ago #

Ha, Tinker Tweak Syndrome. I like that!

The pony will stay—I mean—what pony?

Thanks for the comments, everyone. There is a lot here that does work very well. The color scheme, for example, will be salvaged. I’m really happy with the pink and brown.

Jennifer, it is an interesting point you bring up about pushing boundaries. Maybe we’ve just been lucky, or the designs have been solid enough that the boldness is just accepted as part of the whole package, but at my job we have been noticing that our clients are choosing bold, even daring, designs. Usually we present a couple of options and have been surprised at how well received the bolder of the two designs has been received. I would say: be respectful of your client’s existing identity and brand, but don’t be afraid to push in new directions. It can be a tedious balance, but it’s a balance worth striving for.

Codename: Hotter Chocolate is in the oven.

Abel Rios » 5617 days ago #

Hey man. This current design is awesome. I completely understand how you feel, which is why I’m in the 3rd round of design myself. It’s good that you feel the most critical about your personal site. After all it is your online identity that’s most important. I’m seriously looking forward to the next one, maybe I’ll have mine up by that time as well, eh?

Jared Christensen » 5617 days ago #

Yay! Abel’s not dead anymore!!!

Drew Myler » 5617 days ago #

Yes, brown! Always have more brown! Jon Hicks recently introduced brown into his site, and it looks great. I love the homepage layout you’ve got working here; strong lines, plenty of white space… I’ll be sorry to see this design go, but I’m looking forward to the next incarnation. I hope the fish makes the cut as well.

luxuryluke » 5617 days ago #

Very nice, Jared. Innovation is born out of creative restlessness and much more…
…alas, i failed to reboot due to time constraints. some things are more important than silly [cough] geeky design deadlines.
Which sucks for me of course, because i’m jealous of everyone’s ultra cool design. like your’s, for example.

Can’t wait to see what else you cook up.

Chris Huff » 5617 days ago #

I know exactly how you feel. When I make sites for others, I’m quite pleased with them, but I can never quite find the right design for my own portfolio web site. I think I’m overly critical of it. You’ve got a great attitude about it, though. Make a site that you’re happy with. I hope to get there one day as well.

Tony Bradshaw » 5617 days ago #

Hi Jared,
You make things look so pretty.

I found my way here through CSSBeauty. Your site is very much deserving of all their praise.

Good work.

» 5617 days ago #

Some people are never happy. ;)

But you’re right. If it doesn’t please you, it doesn’t matter what other people say. I for one like your new design a lot, but I’m sure your re-redesign will also kick ass.

Do what it takes to get yourself some inner peace. :)

jeremy » 5616 days ago #

Jared, I think this design is quite handsome though I relate entirely to a continued desire to push one’s creative boundaries and do something really satisfying. I have gotten grief for redesigning my site so many times though I must say it is a therapeutic process for me and I do look forward to your new ideas.

Wilson Miner » 5613 days ago #

I know exactly what you mean. There are parts of my most recent redesign that I’m really happy with, but overall I just didn’t take it as far as I wanted to.

I think it’s OK, though. I have a tendency to nitpick and overthink and never actually put anything out there. At least now I have something to build on.

With that in mind, a half-baked redesign that’s actually live is worth more than a revolutionary idea that never sees the light of day.

I think this version looks great though. Everybody will always remember “the guy with the pink site”, but you’ve got to change it up sometimes. And hey, there’s still plenty of pink (and unicorns)!

gb » 5613 days ago #

The pony makes the whole design. Damn you for bringing out two cool new designs in the time it’s taken me to say “I really need to redesign my site.”

And Jennifer made such a great point that I want to print it out and frame it. Or fold it into paper airplanes and throw it at my boss…

Alexander Berglund » 5611 days ago #

I understand agree with your feelings about staying true to yourself – no matter how much the audience wanting to stay safe.I hope you bring out a new cool realignment to the site, even if the current is great – but way to “safe” than when you gave us the yellow-pink version ;)

I have two questions though, none of which actually matters to the re-alignment (I would love to get feedback on this from your visitors as well if they find themselves bold enough to help out ^^)
1. What blogging tool do have in the background? Is it wordpress – or any other big tool which you have incorporated to the site or something you built entirely for yourself?
2. What would you recommend; start incorporate a blogging tool as wordpress or should I build it myself?
3. In what language prefered? My main expertiese is ASP but I have knowledge in PHP too.

Jared Christensen » 5611 days ago #

Alexander –
1. I use Textpattern to run this site, but you should research all your options and choose the one you like the best.
2. If you have the desire, knowlege, skills and time then it might be a fun project to build your own CMS. I have no programming skills, so I chose a pre-built solution.
3. I have no real knowledge of either PHP or ASP.

Thanks for the comments and encouragement, everybody! The wheels are turning, and the newer, more satisfying design is getting built out in HTML. ;)

Alexander Berglund » 5611 days ago #

Thanks a lot for the help, Jared! Hehe, keep on building! ;-)

Volkher Hofmann » 5611 days ago #

Pink and chocolate brown?
I really do need to get rid of my @**... expensive CRT and get myself one of those brighten-it-up-lads flat panel thingies.
Now, who do I rob for cash?

Melvin Rivera » 5606 days ago #

jared, i really like the pink and the playfulness of the typography. i specially love the thoughtfulness of the sidenotes comments and homepage rollovers. overall it’s a very friendly design. it is such a breath of fresh air from all the dark gradients with lime greens permeating the web these days. great job.

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