I was thinking of overhauling the design on this site for a while before I jumped in. One of the things I try to think about when designing any site is how the visitors will interact with it. I’ve thought about the usability of a blog each time I’ve re-designed and this time was no different. Usability as a subject interests me and I’ve read Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think! It’s a good book, better still — it’s short — I’d recommend it.
How do people use my site?
First off I started by thinking about how I use the blogs I visit. If it’s a site I am fond enough off to check regularly, I subscribe to their RSS feed and read it in a feed reader, only clicking through for links that I want to read (typically I scan the article in the feed reader and, if it takes my fancy, open it in a tab and move on to the next item, once I have done that for all of the feeds I work my way through the tabs and close it once I have read it). So in this case I jump straight to the relevant page. I don’t go to the home page at all.
If it’s a site I read regularly it’s also unlikely I will click around, possibly I may look for similar articles but I find clicking on tags or categories rarely gets me there and so prefer to use the search box, sometimes even reverting to a Google site search if the one on the site is useless/non-existent. If it’s a link out to another site (the original source perhaps) I will read directly on the site and I may have a look at the related links, but typically not.
If I’m looking for something or want to read more on the topic I tend to start at Google (aka my search engine of choice — side note, who are the people who don’t start there but use Bing, Yahoo, Ask, etc? No one I know). I check the results and click the links to the site’s pages direct. I’ll then decide if it’s worth staying and read if so, if I’m interested in other articles by the author I may click to look at their tag/category archives (as far as I’m concerned tags and categories are the same things on most sites). If they reference an earlier post about the subject I want to check out I may glance at any related posts if they’re listed, otherwise it’s back to search as I’ve found trawling through category pages a waste of time.
Looking through my web stats the feeds come fairly high in most common pages, there’s plenty of direct links to pages, the archive index makes it into the top 20, the home page does well too. I used to just have one post on the home page, or excerpts, so people had a quick, fast page with little scrolling. Now I show the last five posts in their entirety so people can get a good taste of the content and then choose to continue or not (though with the length of this post I may ask people to click through in order to read it all). I quite like the idea of a ‘popular posts’ section, but how do you measure that; based on visits, comments, what metric? I don’t get many comments, so that would generally be old posts. Visits can easily be skewed by a bot or any number of other things. Something to think about perhaps.
So the key things to look at were my home page and the individual article pages. I wanted to make content king, and the site clean and easy to read and use (most of my sites are clean in design, to make them load fast and keep the site out of the way). So on the single pages you get the article up front and centre, no two-column layout competing for attention. The navigation forward and back and links to related/recent posts are all below the main content. I did put the post date up top, I like to know how old the content I’m reading is to give me an idea of freshness and relevance.
The home page is much the same, only with five articles and none of the gumpf. I started with a two-column design but it just didn’t work for me (along with many of the other ideas, I have much more respect for sites that rely on typography, especially serif fonts, for layout).
I stuck with the simple idea of colour/underline for links and font size for importance. Most of my pages are single column, though some are two where it felt appropriate. The biggest page of them all in the archive index, a beast with links to every single post on the site.