It all started with this thought:
Let’s launch a better design.
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.
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!
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%.
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:
- How Your Blog’s Load Time, Site Speed Impacts Your SEO
- 10 Must Have Blog Design & Usability Tips to Boost Your SEO
- The Constant Challenge of Reducing Your Blog’s Complexity
- Make it Simple: Thoughts from a Blogger, a Designer, and a Developer
- Good Blogs are Heavy. Great Blogs are Light.
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.