This last August I visited Atlanta to interview Andy Stanley about his new book. While I was on the North Point Community Church campus, I called John Saddington, who is on Andy’s staff, and invited him to a spur-of-the-moment lunch. To my delight he was available.
John is a tech wizard. His company, Milk Engine, designed my first WordPress blog last February and successfully moved me from TypePad, my previous platform. This was no trivial matter. But thanks to his good work, my Web traffic more than doubled in six months.
While we were having lunch, John suggested—to my surprise—that I should consider doing another re-design. He explained, “I think we have both learned so much in the last several months. I’d like to put it to good use. I think your readers will like it.”
Sidebar: My personal philosophy is that if you aren’t continually reinventing yourself, your company, and your brand, it’s only a matter of time before you become obsolete, irrelevant, or go out of business. So, something about what John said, resonated with me. Plus, I just like change.
Part of the reason, I like working with John is because he let’s me roll up my sleeves and help. I am a wannabe designer and weekend coder, so it’s kind of like going on a fishing trip with a professional guide. I get to do some fun stuff, knowing that if I get in over my head, I have someone to rescue me.
A few weeks after we met, Gail and I went to Florida on vacation. I used this time to plan out the new design—not the details, just the big picture. I wanted to accomplish three things:
- Simplify the design, making it less cluttered.
- Provide a way for new readers to discover my existing content.
- Maintain continuity with the previous design and keep the best features.
In a nutshell, I wanted something evolutionary not revolutionary.
To convey my vision for the blog, I created a “wireframe design” for John using Apple Keynote. Admittedly, this is a strange tool to use for this purpose. Normally designers use something like Adobe Photoshop. However, I am intimately familiar with Keynote, and it allowed me to create without letting the tools get in the way. (You can click here and download the PDF if you are so inclined.)
Design and Development
Next, John collaborated with his creative team and, with my design goals in mind, came back to me with several options. We discussed each one, debating the pros and cons. I showed them to a few people whose design judgment I trust. I went back and forth a few times with John and then finalized the design.
Over the next few weeks, John began coding. Rather than starting from scratch, he strategically choose a template from WooThemes that had some of the elements I wanted to incorporate. This saved me a good deal expense and minimized the time for complete development.
We set up a separate server as a test site. We replicated my existing blog and then John began transforming it. Amazingly, within a few weeks, he had a basic working prototype. It was fun to log into the site and see the work progress.
At this point, we discovered that a few things I had envisioned weren’t going to work out. Either the technology was too complicated or the design was at odds with my original goals. Regardless, we adjusted as we went, until we had it something we were excited about.
In order to finish the site out, we had to move it to the live site. This meant taking my current site down and letting my readers know that we would be working behind the scenes. John found a clever countdown landing page that allowed us to update our progress in real time.
This was the most time intensive part of the process for me. We had to stress test all the components and adjust the style sheet on the fly as we worked through the archives. It’s amazing how many different style elements you use in just one blog. “Nested lists” (e.g., bulleted lists within numbered lists) gave us some fits, but we eventually worked through it.
The main challenge was to download new images for my most popular posts. We went from three columns to two, which made the main content will bigger (570 pixels wide compared to 430 pixels in the previous version). You can size images down, but it’s difficult to enlarge them without distortion. I still have a good deal of work to do here, but I have the rest of the week off to work on it.
As I have written previously, there eventually comes a time when you have to launch. That time for me is NOW. I am sure we will go through a few more tweaks, but I am very happy with the overall design and especially enjoyed the process. John is absolutely great at what he does and is one of the most responsive people I have ever worked with.