Weighing in on a site’s re-design

Integrate the comments

One fairly recent thing that popped up in the latest round of polling was being able to integrate the comments into the forum system.  Under the old design – there was no commenting section.  Just a link to the forums.  I know that it’s taken some of the traffic off the forums, because the comments sections on articles are usually 20-30 deep without a question.  That’s contributing to the lower page-views on the forums, I’m sure.

I found a plugin for WordPress that should take care of that and let Will know.  Since I don’t have my own vB installation to play with, I hope he looks into it further and it’s viable.  If the interactions between users are no longer separated, then it should help, I would think.  The “forum only” folks would get some much needed activity, and the “article only” folks could see some of the comments filtering in from the forum folks.  Whether that happens remains to be seen, of course.

Design Considerations

One of the things I was displeased with the re-design is that whoever actually did the design was not concerned with large-format monitors.  The max paragraph font-size is 13px.  On 1920×1080 monitors, that’s TINY.  The menus are even smaller.  It makes the site difficult to read at a distance.

One thing I’ve seen as I’ve been working through responsive design is seeing larger font-sizes.  Mostly this is in the range of 16px (depending on the font, of course).  There are definitely improvements to be had from a typographic standpoint.  For a site that relies on a lot of content, it’s not pleasurable to read.

They’ve already stated that they’re working on a responsive or at least mobile-friendly layout.  I hope that as part of that, they ditch the grid.  960px was fine several years ago, especially if you needed to consider smaller monitors.  But from what I’m seeing on my own stats, no “real” visitor to the sites I have stats on has a standard 4×3 monitor anymore.  Most are widescreen monitors, and you’re looking at widths of minimum 1368px .  On top of that, under 960px, they’re using about 400px for advertising.  That’s over half of the viewable real estate taken up by ad-code.  It’s very similar to the width I’m running under the current theme – there’s A LOT of ads on TSL in that space.

In a serious re-design, if they looked beyond 960px, at say 1000 or 1100 to accommodate the need for advertising space, they should look to something similar at what’s going on with Smashing Magazine, DesignModo, or The Next Web.  If a user down-sizes their browser window, the content “folds” down to fit.  I myself haven’t quite figured out how they’re doing it yet (I mean I could peek at their media queries), but that’s something down the road.  (Yes, I also realize the irony in me commenting on 960px and column widths when I’m still running a theme based on 960px.)

There’s also a few other user-interaction things that need to be fixed.  For instance, if you’re not logged in, but want to reply to an article, you have to scroll all the way up to the header.  You can code in a login form in the comment-reply section pretty easily.  Same thing with the forums – there’s no “post button” until you scroll all the way down to the bottom.  I think if ultimately they decide to keep the threaded overlay, or go back to linear, adding some “facebook like” things to help engage the ones who miss the rapid-fire discussions prevalent in the old threaded boards might help.  So you can “+1” a specific reply rather than getting half a dozen “Agry” (the TSL-speak) below it.

Closing thoughts

However Will decides to handle this next re-design will ultimately be a test of whether TSL survives.  There’s a lot of calls for them to just move on, forget about the 30% that have the “take my ball elsewhere” crowd and work on replacing them.  I for one think that catering exclusively to that crowd (the “take my ball elsewhere” folks) is a mistake.  Ultimately, if they have to spend more time maintaining their own code, that will likely detract from the quality of the content they provide.  I was never much of a forum participator anyways.

The fact of the matter is that to some extent, Will’s thinking about generating revenues like it’s 2005.  There have been a lot of downers for VT the last few years sports-wise, and I think that they’re discounting that into their calculations.  They keep claiming it’s all about the page views & visits.  I know my own frustration level (and that of my friend Jeremey) was at an all-time high in January of 2012.  I’m certainly less engaged now than I was then.  But the re-designed debuted one week after a very frustrating and high profile loss to Michigan in the Sugar Bowl that pretty much summed up the malaise of the fanbase.  We’re tired of beating a dead horse.

Regardless, I’ll still keep my subscription and continue to visit until the site no longer publishes engaging content like they have.