Save The Artist’s Blog Redesign: Process and Results

It all started with this thought:

Let’s launch a better design. tweet

That’s what I said to my wife one night while we were talking about the creative community here at Save the Artist. We had a concept, and we had lots of ideas. The only problem was that our ideas weren’t organized in a way that made sense to a multi-faceted artistic following.

Granted – the site was still fairly new and getting little traffic, and to some extent you expect that when you start out. But our content rocked – and the new visitors loved it – so we knew it could be something more. But the design of our blog somehow wasn’t allowing us much growth.

That’s when it clicked: Content reigns supreme, but how can great ideas shine without a GREAT design to complement them? It’s like putting a Monet in a $5 frame you bought at Big Lots and hanging it in the bathroom. It just doesn’t cut it. We knew we had to make a change.

In the course of four weeks, we put together a new design for our site, came up with entirely new sections to entice new artistic readers, and even delved into the world of podcasting. Our process so far has definitely been worth it.

The Problem: Bad Design

Design is important, I mean, just look at Apple’s (specifically Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive’s) fanatical pursuit of the perfect design, and the way that they have been able to change their image.

And from a personal perspective my day job requires us to build business programs around the differing needs of our clients, so we’re constantly refining the design to our products and testing out different designs on our websites. My favorite line is from Jason Fried:

Designs should be Fisher Price easy. tweet

Have you ever seen a Fisher Price toy? It has no instruction book – you just know how to use it. And while I loved our site, it wasn’t Fisher Price easy to navigate. So I took what I learned from 37signals and applied it with Save The Artist.

I’m a big fan of numbers and stats so I love Google Analytics. Looking through that data, I could see that visitors basically got lost. They might look at the few first articles and then essentially give up after that.

There wasn’t anywhere to go on our blog but onto the next article in the cue. I imagine it like a person walking into Wal-Mart the first time. There’s a lot of content (products) there but it’s crowded and often hard to find what you’re looking for, unless you know just where to find it.

Our Solution: A Fresh Design

Let’s be honest – there are lots of website designs out there, especially for WordPress users like us. There’s great ones, confusing ones, and just down right dumb ones. So we started looking for one that we could build from, since designing one from ground up is a little intimidating and above my coding skills at the moment. After settling on a magazine design that we liked, it was time to make it our own.

First, the featured articles slider: It’s a great way for us to highlight our big ticket posts like contests, new podcasts, and most importantly, the Evergreen articles. They’re right at the top with large eye-catching photos – who could avoid it?

Second, we make use of WordPress’s custom menus and set up two on the page. One at the top that shows the standard pages like About, Archives, etc. And then another menu right above the featured slider showing our biggest categories (i.e. Photography, Music, Inspiration, etc). New visitors are able to quickly find the niche they’re looking for and delve into the articles there.

Finally (and this is the best part), we get to highlight the growing creative community at STA. Because we are an artist’s blog, we encourage contributions and feedback of the community to inspire each other. There’s a permanent slot in the featured slider that links back to our creative community, where others can share their photos, videos and other contributions in a gallery setting.

There are also a few widgets in the sidebar that show the recent comments, highlights guest artists that contribute, and even show snippets of the different things artists are proudly working on. It’s a big win over our version 1.0 design that didn’t really have a place to showcase the community – which is the meat and potatoes of our concept!

The Results

As I mentioned before, I’m a big numbers fan. So I was watching them like a hawk the week we rolled out version 2.0 of the site. The results were more than I could ever have hoped for!

Comparing the same time period from this month to last, the unique visits to Save the Artist went up 84%, the pageviews went up 118%, and the number of new visitors went up 24%.

The actual result a few days after launch!

That jump there is the day the new design went live. Yeah, we made a big push via Twitter, Facebook, and the rest to let people know about it. But the numbers point towards a 70% increase in new visitors on the launch day. Our community was excited about the new design and loved showing it off to other people they knew.

Overall, the new design is a smashing success. Our resident artists love it since it’s easier find the content they’re looking for. Our guest artists love seeing their work showcased around the site, and our new visitors love being able to find new articles and ideas quickly and easily without having to hunt for them.

Lesson learned? Content is truly king but design is a crucial player in the game! As artists, we’re always looking for the balance between composition and content. Our blog can be no exception. If you elevate content above design, no one can find your great ideas. If you push design over content, you’re all flash with no substance. The real balance is making sure that content and design – form and function – are in perfect harmony.

How much attention are you paying to your site design? What new things are you trying out to see what happens?

Here are some additional resources here at TentBlogger which also might be of interest to you:

Chase is the co-founder of Save the Artist, a creative community for photographers, designers, and every other artist out there. You can also check him out on Twitter.
  • Loren Pinilis

    Design seems like a crucial element of a blog to me. I like to think of it as “design proof” – similar to social proof. There’s something about having a pro design that lets people know you’re a pro.
    I’m not really trying out anything super new, although I’m considering playing with sidebar widgets, etc. to increase conversion.

    • John Saddington

      i think that’s where you should start. something too dramatic can be harmful for you and your community!

    • Chase Clemons

      I’d definitely give a sidebar change-up a chance. Finding that perfect design is an ever changing target but one definitely worth experimenting with.

  • Susan Silver

    I am always searching for the perfect design. It is something I realized a while back, but you point it out here so well. Design really matters. Content alone won’t help. Even if you take something like Zen Habits it has some design elements that haven’t been stripped away. You can tell thought went into it even with such a simple design.

    • John Saddington

      seriously susan! zen habits is lovely. i love the design.

      • Charles Specht

        True! Zen Habits is one of the best designs out there…and it attempts to be as bland as can be.

        • John Saddington

          and it works…! incredible.

    • Chase Clemons

      Simple’s always the hardest challenge. It’s tough to figure out what’s the most crucial elements of your design and what parts are just fluff.

  • Jeremy Smith

    With the ever changing design world, you need to always look at what is going well. At the same time, in design school they say that you should only rebrand once every three years. Curious what your thoughts as a blogger is on that?

    • John Saddington

      once every three years…? hmm. i think i do it more than that.

    • Chase Clemons

      I think there’s a difference between rebranding your entire identity and releasing a cleaner design to help out your visitors. We stuck with the Save the Artist name and feel – we just turned the focus back towards our creative community to let them shine rather than just us. You should constantly be tweaking how you present yourself and your blog without giving away your identity (your brand). Don’t worry about some arbitrary time period like three years. If it’s not working, change it now!

  • Charles Specht

    I like to compare blogs with fine automobiles.

    Many automobile enthusiasts prefer to focus on what’s under the hood. This is like the content of a blog, what’s under the hood. Other car lovers prefer the lines and curves of the exterior body style, and this is obviously like the exterior look/design of the blog. Ultimately, neither is more important than the either.

    For example, you’d be hard-pressed to find an Italian sports car with something tremendous and powerful under the hood, but with an ugly exterior and poor color choice. Therefore, I think that content and design…for the most part…go hand-in-hand. You can’t really have one without the other.

    • Chase Clemons

      Great comparison! My dad once had a Jaguar frame with a Chevy engine in it. Totally different experience than a true Jaguar would’ve been.

      • Charles Specht

        Yep, bet it would have.

        Actually, I just spent some time looking through Church Relevance’s top 100 blogs/websites. Lots of different themes used, styles, platforms, etc. There is no “one” style.

        • John Saddington

          this is true…! which means it must be about content and community…!

          • Charles Specht

            Well, the more I think about it, I must admit that content is still king…or at least in the lead.

            I don’t care how nice a blog looks, if you’ve got nothing great to say, I won’t come back to visit again—ever. However, I also know that some designs (cluttered news/magazine themes) turn me off so much that, even though I may like what you have to say, I will do my best to find similar content elsewhere so that I am both visually and intellectually satisfied.

            However, from reviewing a large percentage of those top 100 blogs/websites, I noticed that some of the owners/personalities had a large platform (because they’re “famous”) but that they don’t post often, regularly, or really don’t have much to say about a specific niche topic. I personally tend not to frequent those blogs. The other “popular” blogs were developed and maintained by one person regularly and usually offered content that centered around one main focus of topic. I personally tend to frequent those blogs because I only have so much time to spend on the web and I know I will find there what I’m looking for.

            • John Saddington

              there are a lot of people who have “fallen off the wagon” in terms of blogging… just means there is more room at the top!

              • Charles Specht

                So true.

            • Chase Clemons

              Yeah, it’s like two horses pulling a chariot. One might be a little stronger (content) while the other is a litte faster (design), but they both have to work together. There’s a few bloggers that create content I love but have to rely solely on their RSS feeds so the design doesn’t get in my way. For me, my artistic side screams really loudly when I see a poorly designed blog. :)

              • Charles Specht

                I totally agree, Chase.