tecosystems Redesign

Crossing the line between favors and actually doing paid contract work for a friend can be tough decision. Once money and deliverables get involved, it can definitely introduce new issues and points of contention to your friendship. Before you agree to do the work, you better be darn sure you can deliver. :)

Steve O’Grady and I have talked about his blog and his company’s web site a number of times. I knew what they were trying to do, and that they weren’t entirely satisfied with the progress they were making. However it wasn’t until he migrated to WordPress and I watched him try a different theme every day of the week that I finally offered to help. :)

The results of these efforts are now live on Steve’s blog: tecosystems.

tecosystems

Project Goals

There were three things that RedMonk wanted to do for their site:

  1. Tie all of the blogs together better.
  2. Create a standard “RedMonk” theme for their blogs, while still allowing for individuality.
  3. Re-design the RedMonk home page.

After discussing options for a couple of weeks, Steve and I decided to go ahead and re-design his blog in an attempt to address numbers 1 and (potentially) 2 above. If the new design was well received, then we’d have laid the foundation for a base blog design, while allowing easy customization of individual properties.

If things went well, we’d decide how to move forward to complete #2 and start looking at #3 as well.

Timeline

We started talking about the project, with me making various suggestions, several months ago (if not longer). The actual “go ahead” was given just before Christmas and I began work in early January. The initial work was completed in about 2 days, with some ongoing touch-up required.

Deliverables

A WordPress theme for Steve’s blog and a RedMonk “header” to tie the blogs together.

While we had planned to do the blog theme first and the header second, I delivered the header at the same time as the theme so that it would be clear how the two worked together.

Process

While the purpose of this project was to create a single blog theme, the larger goal was to create a theme for RedMonk blogs. After mixed results with off-the-shelf themes, they needed one they could trust and one that could be customized and individualized as desired.

I chose to use Sandbox as an XHTML base, then implemented a RedMonk theme on top of the Sandbox skeleton. Using Sandbox definitely helped speed up the process of getting the XHTML structure in place. I then build the RedMonk theme style as a Sandbox skin, and created a customization skin for Steve on top of the RedMonk skin.

By using Sandbox (which comes with a variety of layouts), I gave the RedMonk bloggers the ability to start with the RedMonk theme and easily change the layout format, header image, fonts, etc. using a personal skin (like the one I built for Steve).

I also integrated my AJAX archives and comments into the RedMonk theme. This required some customization and additions to the Sandbox theme files.

One of the really interesting parts of this project to me was the choice to work solely on a single blog first. We didn’t try to create a design for the home page and adapt it to the blogs, or create a design for all of the blogs at once. I believe that this is a design process that has a lot of benefit, and could be well utilized by others.

When designing an entire site it’s easy to get bogged down in revision upon revision while trying to find a design that everyone likes. It’s also common that customers don’t react as well to conceptual sketches and wireframes as they do to a more finished design. When you do design work frequently, you are familiar with the process and know in your mind what the end result will look like; but that isn’t necessarily an easy thing to convey.

By choosing to do a single complete design first, I believe that RedMonk made a smart decision. They were able to look at a finished design with very little investment, and make further decisions from that point.

End Result

When we launched Steve’s new blog theme, James, Cote’ and Anne were pleased with the results. With their blessing of the header, we had accomplished project goal #2 and implemented the blog header on all 4 blogs.

In addition, since James hadn’t found a theme he really liked yet, so we set him up using the RedMonk theme.

MonkChips

With the well-received completion of goals #1 and #2, we’ll be tackling #3 (the main site redesign) in the near future.

Credits and Disclaimers

Thanks to Scott Allen Wallick and Andy Skelton for their work building Sandbox.

Steve is a friend and I’d known him for several years before we started this project.