The Hannibal Blog’s (soon) new look

I’m driven to despair by the allegedly user-friendly advice available on WordPress about how to make sites look good (Themes, Headers, Widgets….). They should have a dictionary for Luddites, just to translate what all those words mean.

Here is what I’m trying to achieve:

At some point this summer, I’d like to change the look and feel of this site, to make it a “book site”, but with an active blog.

Aesthetically, I believe in sleek minimalism. This, in my opinion, is an unsurpassable book site.

One option is to get a web designer. But that seems over the top, given that I would want that designer to do the minimum (that’s what minimalism is, after all). And WordPress has so many themes and options available, my answer must already exist somewhere here.

If I stay with WordPress, I must choose a Theme. But the “filter” in the Themes Menu is beyond me.

Ideally, I’d get rid of all the junk on the right. As in: No side-bar at all.

So allow me to poll you:

Ideally, I’d also have no horizontal picture (apparently it’s called Header) at the top either. I’d love to have just the picture of my book jacket in the top right.

Depending on how you guys answer in the poll above, I’d especially love to banish the ugly Categories and Tags clouds to some dedicated “navigation” page. After all, who knows what Categories and Tags even are? I didn’t, when I started this blog. I wish I’d never started a single Category, and instead called them all Tags. (Changing it now, I believe, would break all incoming links.) I only use Tags as a simplified Index for myself (when, say, I want to see all the posts I’ve written about Socrates.)

Anyhoo, do weigh in, if you have opinions …

25 thoughts on “The Hannibal Blog’s (soon) new look

  1. I’m for minimalism too. Keep the recent comments and search feature for sure. Btw, I believe you can convert your categories into tags.

    Also, if you need a good web-designer let me know, John Sides at themonkeycage.org recommended the one to me they used (and seems to fit your style) and I can pass on the name. I, of course, went the free route, but I’m tempted every so often.

    • Thanks, Dan. I’ll muse about it for a while and see which way to go.

      Yes, you CAN convert categories into tags, and vice versa, but (as far as I can tell) it breaks incoming links.

      Thus: an incoming link (as I said, I use these as an index) to “/tag/heroes/” breaks if I convert the tag to “/category/heroes/”.

  2. Have you contacted WordPress for advice? They are a remarkably helpful bunch of people and I’m sure would be happy to hold your hand through the whole process.

    I agree that you should lose the clouds – they are just plain ugly. I like drop-down lists myself: neat, clean, there when you want ’em, barely there when you don’t.

    • Any idea how to do a discreet drop-down menu list instead of the ugly cloud?

      Yes, I have indeed foud WordPress to be very helpful. I just want to help them to be helpful, which requires me to know what questions to ask. I can’t say: Make me minimalist. But I do wonder how, precisely, to make a new “page” to contain my index (ie, the categories and tags) to get it out of the sidebar. And so forth.

      Incidentally, may I just say — and I haven’t the slightest idea who or what you are — that I am very tempted to kiss your frog.

  3. You ideal booksite (the “this” link one) is a WordPress Theme I’ve seen….but where?!!! I feel like the name was Minimalist or somthing to do with a newspaper — Masthead maybe?? Our Yu Ming site is a wordpress theme. Its been ok but now am feeling a little confined too…

    • Hi Chrissy, you did a great job with the Yu Ming site. The look is “on brand”, ie “on statement”, or however one might put that, and it is simple and clear.

      I notice that the theme is “by Elegant Themes”. I’m going to browse in WordPress’s filter to see if I can find their other themes.

  4. Yes, your ideal website is definitely minimalist. I like simple things (and minimalism is simple in nature) so I agree with you on that. Not sure I would go quite as far but I certainly understand it.

    • Nature has this funny way of being simultaneously complex and simple. Examine an ant hill, for example.

      That, in my view, is the Holy Grail of human creations: As in an ant hill, there should be ‘a lot going on’, a ‘lot potentially going on’, and yet purity and unity in conception.

      Whoa. I just came up with “The Ant Hill,” a book title, methinks. Stop me before I go any further….

  5. If it is your wish that as many people as possible buy your book, and that your blog should be a means to that happy state of affairs, then your likes and dislikes as to the design of your blog are irrelevant. What is relevant is a design that appeals to the book-buying masses.

    If it is also the wish of your publishers that as many people as possible buy your book, then I surmise that your publishers would have people who can design a blogging site that attracts the book-buying masses, and which consequently would translate into as many people as possible buying your book.

    I’ve heard of something called “search engine optimisation” (SEO) whereby you can put features in your blog which increase its prominence when people do Google searches. There are people who are experts at bringing about “search engine optimisation” for websites. Your publishers may well have such experts.

    • Well, I know you’re being a bit tongue-in-cheek, Philippe, or possibly testing me, but I take the exact opposite approach.

      With a minimalist design, I would make it easy for newcomers to the site (with clarity that wastes no time), but I would simultaneously demand a lot of them, above all taste. If that leaves a “demographic” in the cold, so be it. You gotta know what you’re aiming for.

      Take a look at that book site I linked to. Do you think he “SEO’ed”? Nope. But he wrote two great books that speak for themselves. (I read them both, btw).

  6. i read every post you write — albeit by way of google reader (unless i want to comment) — and of all the bells and whistles on the blog, i’ve only used one: the search field.

    but i don’t care much one way or another what a blog looks like. i’m one of those who subscribes merely for content and rarely sees the actual site.

    • Well, firstly, thank you for that James Brett.

      the Search Field must always stay, but I’m contemplating making that the only thing.

      In a sense, you’re the ideal, Platonic, reader: Goes only for content without even visiting the site. That comes close to telepathy or tele-something. If I could pump my words and thoughts to people like you without even having a site, I would.

  7. I said the only thing I found useful was the subscribe button–the rest I’ve never paid attention to and like you I don’t know the difference between a category and a tag, which I’m sure, to the technophiles out there means I’m an living a deeply impoverished life.

    I agree with all the comments here–check with WP and with your publisher and see if anyone has a good idea. Of course you are familiar with the IT manager’s bromide to describe the normal approach to application development: “Quick, cheap, reliable–you can have any two”

  8. Whilst your book is a fine achievement, it is not the whole of you. You have contributed so much more than the book to the community of bloggers here. I personally have learned and benefited hugely from your writings and conversations and made contact with others in a way that I would never have thought possible. I hope that you decide to retain some familiarity of surroundings.

    Some years ago I prepared a home-made website for my firm on a minimalist basis simply because I didn’t have the technical know-how to do it any other way. The only people who visited were those I invited, who were unanimous in their praise for its simplicity. They regarded it as a relief from the confusion of other websites. I think they were being kind.

    When I retired from daily attendance, my son who took over prepared a fresh site in which every square millimetre was packed with information, although he did carry forward some of the wording. Everywhere there were links to other parts of the site. He studied closely how to get to the top of the Google lists and daily monitored the number of visits, which shot up. The usefulness and effectiveness of the site was also transformed.

    Since I was of the older generation, direct marketing was anathema to me and the original site was mostly to help existing clients. My son brought a new approach to these things.

    If you seek aesthetic perfection, then by all means go for minimalism. Have you ever visited a person’s home where you feel you shouldn’t touch anything because it is precisely where the owner wants it to be? Have you ever felt that coldness in your heart that makes you want to get away as soon as possible?

    If you seek to make contact and communicate with others, they must feel free to wander round in familiar surroundings, like here:

    http://manofroma.wordpress.com/

    and not according to strict rules.

    There must be order, but clutter is human and reminds us of the warmth we felt when babies and children. All healthy animals groom themselves and their environment, of course, but not to the point of obsession.

    It is much more difficult to achieve your purposes in welcoming surroundings. Do you want to create a work of art which satisfies only you or do you prefer to commit yourself to the will and idiosyncrasies of your visitors? When you enter a picture gallery or a museum, its order is not the first thing that strikes you. Nor should it, for for that would be a distraction from its purpose, which is to encourage the spirit of exploration.

    On the other hand, if your work is the website itself which has to predominate, then you must be free to create it according to your own predispositions and not aim to accommodate others. Is it to be a static display or moving, evolving life and thought?

    I think I already know the answer. 🙂

    • That’s a wonderful perspective, and a necessary one BEFORE I go any further.

      “Familiarity”, “warmth”, “evolving”, “idiosyncrasies”….

      Good words to keep in mind. There must be a balance.

  9. Andreas,

    Best of luck with finding an effective, minimalist design for your website. It’ll certainly be a challenge, not just because most people’s expectations of webstie tend towards busy-ness.

    I’ll be very interested to see how you resolve the central dilemma of minimalism – getting rid of as much as possible, but nothing more. A miminalist room, for example, should never strike someone as especially *empty*, not if the elements that are necessarily there are properly brought out and emphasised.

    Von Schirach’s website is a good example of sympathetic solutions to the twin demands of functional efficiency and aesthetic elegance. If anyone can replicate that, I’m sure it’s you.

    • Welcome, Thomas.

      You’ve hit upon the same thing as Richard above:

      “…A miminalist room, for example, should never strike someone as especially *empty*…”

      Richard called that emptiness “cold”.

      Shall we all agree to call this a Gordian Knot? 😉 Calls for an Alexandrian Solution.

  10. So, I’m reading your various emails and “other” comments in the poll, and one stands out.

    The poll asks what you found useful in the right-hand sidebar. Answer:

    “The map, because I was looking for directions to Corsica.”
    🙂

  11. Hi Andreas,
    I like the bare-bone style on websites but seek artistry on blogs. Colours, designs, choice and a little bit of ‘imperfect’ clutter can be warm and engaging to some.

    • Since this post, I’ve started fiddling with the site, as you can see, Geraldine.

      How would you say the current state is in terms of that trade-off you mention: Is it still warm and engaging?

      I’ll be fiddling with every part of the layout all summer, so everybody should feel free to chime in with what they like and dislike.

  12. I’m adjusting to it. It is not as warm and engaging as the original look.

    First, I love the tie-in to your book colours. Great idea!

    Second, the margin width makes me uncomfortable. There is a tad too much empty space. My brain wants to see a list of things. Remember, your titles are interestingly worded.

    Third, I happen to love maps and really miss the former header which tied in beautifully with your book and the themes in many of your posts. But that’s just me.

    However, none of these things would keep me from coming back. So, to answer part of your question, it is still engaging.

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