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New Year, New Design




The New and Improved Blog

Originally uploaded by sogrady.

After struggling through theme after theme for weeks in a fruitless search for a skin that was simultaneously attractive, feature-rich, and user friendly, Denver’s best web developer Alex King solved solved more or less all of my problems in less than a day. I answered maybe half a dozen questions yesterday afternoon, and in the words of John Madden, boom – there it was. A design that – IMO, anyway – met all three goals. At the same time.

You won’t have noticed if you just pick up the feed – as most of you probably do – but it’s worth a look. It’s got the usual improvements; improved layout, better fonts, colors that actually go together, and so on – along with some additional plugin wizardry such as Ajax commenting, inline archive/category rendering, etc. But from a RedMonk IT perspective, there are two elemental decisions that make this investment worth every penny.

The Header/Nav Bar

This idea is not original on mine or Alex’s part, having been previously implemented at sites such as Joyent’s Joyeur blog, but I sure as hell didn’t think of it. That’s why you pay designers. With this relatively simple addition, our blogs – once the header is rolled out to my colleagues’ sites – are united in a way they haven’t been before. Indeed, one of the criticisms we receive most frequently regarding the blogs is that they do little for the RedMonk branding. Now, the sites can be tied back RedMonk, while preserving their individuality and uniqueness. And the nav element is easily expandable, should we get crazy and bring on even more analysts.

Componentization/Modularity

Call it what you will, the new design is characterized by a commitment to simple customizability. The nav bar, as an example, lives in the web root and is included at run time. It’s amazing what one simple include can do. Below the nav element, Alex has created a series of standardized RedMonk stylesheets that offer us the ability to preserve some consistency with respect to fonts, hovers and so on and yet select from highly differentiated designs – two column, three column, left column, right column, etc. And then on top of that, we have our own personalized stylesheets, that inherit from the previous two levels but allow for a straightfoward override of parent style elements we as individuals find disagreeable. In short we’ve been handed a single theme that meets at once our corporate and individual needs, all delivered in less than a day. Quite impressive, I’d say.

Remaining To Do’s / Fixes

As Alex pointed out, some of the spacing between entries and tags is tighter than it should be, and that should be repaired shortly. The link to the About page in the upper right hand corner is still a problem – I’ve had some very odd redirect problem there for a while now – but the About link in the sidebar should work. I’m also likely to continue tweaking the header graphic – Alex may even create a plugin for that. And I just noticed that coming in via the vanity domain of tecosystems.org causes problems with the theme, so we’ll have to look at that. Aside from those issues, however, I’m pretty happy. I’ll undoubtedly seek to tweak it here and there over the coming months, but this is unquestionably the best theme I’ve had to date (which is, admittedly, not saying much considering the primitive nature of my previous selections). Anything you’d like to see or see fixed?

Credits

The credit for our new style goes mostly to Alex, of course, but also to Scott Allan Wallick of Plaintxt.org whose Sandbox theme shortcut our development process considerably. This accounts for the Sandbox link at the bottom of every page. Thanks, Scott.

Disclaimers

Alex is not only a developer I have a lot of respect for, but a friend of mine. That said, this work was a paid engagement as opposed to a favor. Also, Joyent, mentioned above, hosts a personal site of mine for free. I think that about covers the disclaimers.


Update

Commenting via the front page Ajax-ified mechanism seems to be another “To Fix” item. If you have a comment to submit, try clicking through to the original entry; that’s working fine near as I can determine. Well, that didn’t take long – quick call w/ Alex and the commenting issue seems to be fixed. Gotta love that customer service.

Categories: RedMonk Miscellaneous.

  • sogrady

    Josh seems to be having trouble commenting – anyone else?

  • http://hyku.com/blog/ Josh Hallett

    Let see if this one works….

    I like the new design, great photography always makes a big difference. The problem now is selecting the right photos. Actually though, that comes rather easily…as you sort through your photos the right ones will just pop out at you. I think I currently have 60+ in my header rotation and add more every month.

  • http://gfmorris.net/ Geof F. Morris

    Sexy! I like it very much. I concur with the value added by the top-level branding bar, too. Now I know that you’re all tied together. [Since I know of you through Alex, it took me a couple of weeks of following you to know what the hell this Redmonk stuff was all about. ;)]

  • sogrady

    Glad your comment got through Josh; and thanks for the design compliment – I’m sure Alex appreciates it :)

    Anyhow, I definitely appreciate the good photography argument, but regrettably I don’t have anywhere near 60 good pictures to my name ;)

  • sogrady

    Trying for a fix for the front page commenting issue; if you’re seeing this, it worked.

  • sogrady

    “Since I know of you through Alex, it took me a couple of weeks of following you to know what the hell this Redmonk stuff was all about.”

    You’d be surprised how often we get that; hopefully this will help avoid it in future.

  • http://tomayko.com Ryan Tomayko

    Test. Looks good!

  • http://aqualung.typepad.com/aqualung Ric

    I applaud the better integration of all the Redmonk blogs – damn good move, for all the branding reasons you mentioned.

    If you want some pictures, feel free to check out
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rhayman/
    They are under a CC Attribution Noncommercial Share Alike license, but you may consider this a release for the Redmonk blogs!

  • http://www.michaeldolan.com Mike Dolan

    I like it – much improved. Any plans to share the theme files?

  • http://alexking.org Alex

    The “header banner” technique it certainly not an Alex King original concept, but I’ve actually used it for years. I think my first implementation was done in 1998-1999. I even found an example in the WayBack Machine. I made the Joyent reference when I was explaining the concept because I knew you were familiar with the Joyent/TXD sites. :)

  • http://www.theotherthomasotter.wordpress.com Thomas Otter

    Brill.
    Look forward to seeing James’s blog looking equally fetching….
    minor points
    you have the “about” as a button in the header and in the body of the blog
    howcome no blogroll or are they passe?

  • http://www.redmonk.com/jgovernor James Governor

    this is rather lovely…. i can’t wait.

  • http://www.accmanpro.com Dennis Howlett

    This is a great redesign – congratulations to all involved. James? Get your butt in gear. Your place looks positively shabby by comparison. -:)

    I used plaintxt for most of last year and really liked its ‘cleanliness.’

  • http://www.peopleoverprocess.com Cote’

    Whao! This is great! How do I get the top banner in the other blogs?

  • sogrady

    Ryan: thanks much

    Ric: really appreciate the offer, very well may take you up on it.

    Mike: thanks, and excellent question. hadn’t even thought of that. let me talk to Alex, and get the others up and running and then see what we can release.

    Alex: using examples i’ve heard of is definitely a good strategy ;)

    Thomas: much appreciated. James and Cote should follow next week when i’m back from vacation.

    James: yeah, we’ll need to figure something out for your site. starting thinking about what you want yours to look like.

    Dennis: i was on plaintxt prior to this and also appreciated its simplicity. very nice design. obviously, i’m psyched to have the new look though.

    Cote’: thx. we can talk about that next week, or you can get on hicks and poke around in the themes directory. it’s all in there, if you want to play around with it.

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