Website design is a massive field that countless people make a living off of. I am not one of them. I'm more of an end-user that happens to know enough about design, typography, and website hosting to get by. When I started working on the design for this site, I kept it simple from the start. My focus was to present exceptional content with a minimal amount of flashiness. No sidebar. No banner ads. No Google ads. No annoying pop-ups asking for your email address (although I would LOVE for you to sign up for my weekly newsletter!). Basically, I avoided putting anything on my site that I didn't love about other sites. Sure, it's not even close to optimized when it comes to SEO or social media sharing or whatever, but that's fine. I want you guys to have a positive association when you're here. I want it to be inviting and comfortable. It should always be clear when there is new content. And this content should always be the focus.
To help out any of you thinking about starting a website or anyone who already has one built, I will share some of my tools and tendencies I use every time I write a post or think about the design of the blog.
This was a tough one for me. On one hand, I want new readers to be taken to a landing page while daily readers are taken straight to the blog. In the end, I decided to make the home page be the blog page itself. When you navigate to this site, you generally want to see the newest posts more than any other page. If you're new to the site, you'll see the Start Here page link and hopefully click through to learn about what we're all about!
I recently redesigned the Start Here page to be more descriptive and show off content in a more organized way. At first, I just had a list of the "top ten articles," which were just my favorites. This felt dry, though. A list is a dime a dozen. I later changed the list to a grid of thumbnails for more visual interest, but then it started feeling too much like those websites that are full of clickbait. "You Won't BELIEVE What Beiber Just Tweeted." Ugh, no thanks. Back to the drawing board. I shopped around on some of my favorite blogs to see what content suited a Start Here page. Most blogs had a mini-bio of the writer(s), along with a brief manifesto of what the site is all about. Interspersed in all of this were links to blog posts from their website. This seemed like a solid approach to inform new readers while getting them familiar with the sort of content delivered. Most importantly, though, is retention. I want you guys to COME BACK! Again and again. Ad infinitum. That is why I always hound you to sign up for the newsletter. Getting email addresses is the strongest tie I can get with the readers. A Facebook page like or Twitter follower is nice, but engagement on those platforms is pretty low. My Facebook page has 290 likes, but some posts are only seen by 20 people. Emails, on the other hand, are opened by 81.5% of you subscribers so far.
Capitalization and Formatting
This website is a simple lifesaver. It's properly capitalizes titles and headlines for you. I use this guy daily for any title that I'm not quite sure of. Is "down" capitalized in "Bringing Down Rising Gas Prices"? No need to second guess any more! Speaking of titles and headlines, use them. I try to break up every post into sections so you can skim down and see what the article is about. It also helps skimmers find the info they are interested in without having to read through an entire wall of text. Bulleted lists and images also help break up the text and keep the page interesting. You might notice I don't use a ton of images though. Unless the post can really benefit from it, I'll leave them out. I do however always use one headlining image. This image sets the tone of the whole article. For this post, an elegant rendering of a Macbook Air displays the Start Here page of this site. It's simple, clean, and a bit sterile.
Sidebars are useful and painful. More often than not, a sidebar will distract me from the article I'm reading, and that's exactly what they're meant to do. They push more content to you before you have a chance to leave the website, getting readers to stay longer, and longer, and longer. Sidebars also usually have ads, ebook ads, comments, or any other number of clutter. Sure, some websites makes clean, beautiful sidebars, but for this site, when you're reading an article, that's all you should need to see. If you want sidebar chaos, go visit Buzzfeed or any other clickbaity website.
No Floating Social Buttons
Another slight annoyance are those floating social media sharing buttons on the sides of websites and articles, constantly hounding you to Like, Share, Follow, Email, Subscribe! Including those buttons on your website will probably increase the likelihood of getting more shares and engagement, but at the cost of a cluttered website. Again, with The Minimal Minute, we're all about cleanliness and focus. Less is more.
BIG IMAGES, small type
This is more of a personal preference for me, but I prefer having large, high-resolution images with a comfortably small type size. Each blog post starts with an image that sets up the mood for the rest of the post. Then, you'll notice that the headline sizes are large, but not obnoxiously so, and the body text is a nice concise size. So many blogs have massive body text with double spaces between each line. That sort of design is great for websites aimed at the ADD media consumers, but we're a different breed here. We like efficient uses of space with a balance of content and negative space.
When you first visit any website, there is a brief moment in time where you have to scan the page to understand the structure and flow of the website. Some websites with a breadth of content will have long lists of different sections to the website, some with drop-down menus of even more pages. Other pages, though, don't even have a clear navigation setup. You might have to browse around for awhile before finding the area of the website you're looking for. On The Minimal Minute, as it stands now, has three sections. A Start Here page for new readers that need to know what the website is about while introducing them to some of the best articles on the site. Then there's the Blog page, which is what loads when you type theminimalminute.com. Finally, there is the Gear page where I list some of the best products and services that I use on a weekly basis. As times goes on, I'll be adding another page or two, but they will always have a clear goal with minimal clutter.
CONTENT CONTENT CONTENT
Content is king. No matter how beautiful or minimal or flashy your website is, if you don't have killer content, you won't be bringing back visitors. To make killer content, you need a mix of several different elements. I'll get more in-depth about my post writing in another post, but here are the key points:
- Use an interesting and concise title that describes what the article is about. Don't use sensational buzzwords to try and trick people into reading.
- Write a 1-3 paragraph introduction about what you're writing about. Set the tone so readers know where you're coming from.
- Use headlines to break up the body text while allowing readers to skim to sections they're more interested in.
- RESEARCH. The more credible information you're able to pull up in your article, the more knowledgeable you will appear. Every post I write is about 50% research and 50% writing.
Your website will never be done. Nor should it be. Websites are living, breathing things. Every year, web standards are changing and evolving. HTML5 ushered in new possibilities for basic web design. Flash died. Things change, and you should always be tweaking your code and design to stay modern, fresh, and compatible. That being said, you don't want to confuse your readers by overhauling the design every week. The core structure of your website should initially be built in a way that encourages growth without breaking anything.
The Minimal Minute was designed with a heavy focus on chronological blog posts. Once a dozen posts were submitted, I added the Start Here page to act as an introduction (while deleting the extraneous About page since most of that information migrated to the Start Here page anyway). When I start making more digital paintings, I'll be adding an Art page to host and sell the paintings. A year from now, I'm sure the design and layout of the website will have slowly changed and improved.
Ask for Feedback
As much as we think we know best, we will always have a biased eye toward our own creations. That's why it is crucial to ask your readers and friends for critical feedback. That's the reason I recently made the body text size a bit smaller while making the page more narrow. In other feedback, I changed the photo of myself on the Start Here page to be more welcoming and friendly. Before, it was a photo of me looking off-camera, making the page feel less inviting.
If any of you have any of your own feedback on The Minimal Minute, I would love to hear about it in the comments!