Trimming the Fat

In light of the recent redesign of Tom’s Big Box I thought I write a post about some of the design choices I made with regard to ‘trimming the fat’. I want to look at the attitudes towards certain aspects of websites, and more specifically blogs. In re-designing the site I was constantly asking myself “is this element entirely necessary”. Tom’s Big Box isn’t about showing off my skills as a web designer; it’s about sharing (hopefully valuable) content with the community, therefore my re-design was primarily concerned with the creation of a design that best promotes the content of the site.

To use a cliché “content is king” – we all know this and all abide by it – it doesn’t matter how good your site looks, without content it’s worth nothing. I’m certainly not going to dispute that, but what I will say is that I believe a certain culture has grown up around blogging, which has let to accepted standards. I rarely visit a blog without a sidebar listing monthly archives these days. Most of the time blogs have a great number of features that I believe are entirely superfluous. Why do we need monthly archives, seriously? Think about it. Never have I thought, “I know, I could do with seeing all the posts from March 2010”. The only circumstance that would lead to that for me would be the searching of content related to an event occurring in that month. But despite the fact that few people ever use them (if statistics show I’m wrong please prove me wrong), blogs often whack them in the sidebar. I think this type of design by convention is bad. Bloggers feels that they should include a blogroll, and archives because everyone else is doing it, when really it’s just more visual noise.

And it’s this visual noise that I hate so much. The guys over at 37Signals, alongside many others often quote Antoine de Saint-Exuper in saying:

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away ~ Antoine de Saint-Exuper

This is something I think holds true in every medium of design. If we evaluate the elements on a blog page, what is the most important thing? The post itself obviously. We can then go about assessing the importance of other elements and delete as appropriate. This approach forces us to justify the use of an element on the page – “why do I need a link to the category in which this was posted?” might be answered with “because people may want to see related posts” – the link stays. “Why do I have a share button for Twitter at the bottom of the article?” might garner a response of “to allow people to easily share with friends” – is that a good enough reason? In my opinion, no. Why? Because the integration of social buttons like this makes it easy to regurgitate content in robotic forms like ‘[article name] by [article author], [link]’ – how very boring. If a user likes your content enough, if your post justifies a Tweet or share, then let the reader think of a way to share it, and let them decide if the extra 10 seconds is worth spending time on to promote your article.

In conclusion I want you to take away one thing from this article – elements should have to justify themselves. Design for yourself, if you never click blogroll links, don’t put them on your site, but at the same time remember this is limited to certain things, just because you don’t use an RSS reader, doesn’t mean others share your opinion. I for one have become frustrated by all this visual noise around today. I get that many sites need ads to support them and won’t ever complain about them, but don’t add to the crap by sticking a link to half the internet on your page as well as ‘what your are currently listening to on’, because do you know what? I don’t care, maybe if the article is good, I’ll check out your profile, but not before.