A couple of months ago I decided to experiment with this site. I was bored of the endless designs that riffed on a theme and wanted to try something different. The result was a brash attempt at Brutalism, stripping out everything that added no value and creating something that was focused on the content. It was, I hoped, a bold step forward to engage with my audience in a new way.
It also failed.
Google loved the new page design, telling me how quickly it loaded and how few visitors would get bored. People I spoke with told me they found the design refreshing and interesting. There was praise for some of the animation effects. Go me!
But while visitor numbers increased slightly, there were other problems mounting. Visitors to multiple pages dropped. Reshares fell. Sure, I could get you here but then what?
I stopped designing for me.
A couple of articles on how designers design for themselves made me step back. Sure, this is my spot on the web and should reflect my personality. Does that mean I should overwhelm people with my site? Surely the aim, I reasoned, isn’t to showcase how quirky I can be, but focus on the things that matter: my writing and imagery.
So I returned to the design and started putting it back together. The quirks went, replaced by more “traditional” structures. I left a few in place that I thought worthy, such a removing the header from the image pages. A few of the animation and navigation cues are in there too.
What did I learn?
Brutalism is great and I love the aesthetic. I’ve also learnt it can be quite polarising. Sure, it led to a simplified, faster loading site that stood out a bit from the crowd. Did it work as a means of engaging people though?
Perhaps most importantly, I realised I need to stop making the site a distraction from my content. There are certain things people expect to see and while subverting these might be cool, if I want people to enjoy the words I write and photographs I take, I need to stop distracting them with my super-quirky site design.