Friday, January 30, 2009

Where my homepage is headed (hopefully)

I'm working on a redesign of my homepage, that I hope eventually will make this entire site more engaging and dynamic for users (is anyone really out there?). It all starts at the homepage, I think, and if I can create an exciting entry point, like a great lede on a story, then the rest will follow naturally.

To begin with, I want to remove the artifice of third person and gradually transform the site into first person. Yes, it's true. There really aren't hundreds of people on staff working on this site day and night. The team actually consists of just me and the two cats who come in and out of my office to eat, drink and add to the environment's aroma.

But I want to have a concept to build the site around, to help guide the artistic decisions (doesn't that sound lofty?). Since my specialty as a writer is nonfiction narrative, and I've become a disciple of Mark Stephen Meadows now, after reading his book "Pause & Effect," a narrative approach feels completely natural. Yet my purpose for this site primarily is as a portfolio and student hub for the classes I teach. Can I really create a narrative based on that? That's the sort of fuzzy goal on the horizon. But I'm flummoxed by that as an end goal. Where does the path begin?

How about looking at some artist (including musician) sites that I think are well constructed, or at least interesting. It seems like they would have a similar dilemma in building an audience (and having an online purpose).

I found a list of the "top" rock band web sites at, and there are many, many fascinating ideas at work on these pages.

Meadows states that our eyes naturally gravitate first to movement, then light, then color, and I'm really engaged by sites that open with a bit of film or something that seems to turn the page alive. I'm assuming these are done in Flash, but I'll have to look closer to figure out the technical aspects.

Here are a few that made me think "Wow!"

* The stark style and simplicity of this one, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers feels similar in tone to what I want to accomplish. I'd like it even better if that home page had the negative strips scrolling through the images. I want to have just a few choices on the home page, to get people where they want to go, basically either to my portfolio, my blog or to my classroom hubs (and someday to my great American novel page; Ha!).

* I don't care at all for this band, White Stripes, but this site really grabbed my attention (after getting past the memorial intro). I'm starting to think, too, that some music would be cool to have. Note to self: What kind of "creative commons" music is out there that would be a suitable soundtrack for my site?

* The Killers, who I don't know anything about, show how effective just a little bit of movement can be on a home page.

* I've seen the floating category titles on a few sites, like this one from Audio Slave. In some ways, that's kind of annoying, to have to chase a link. I don't think I want to do that. Here's another site that does it, too, but better BlenderBox.

* I like the huge photographs on this site by System of a Down. But I don't have any photos of my content (or ideas of taking anything) that are anywhere near that dramatic.

* Check out U2's studio. Effective use of a great photo.

OK, I'm getting tired of looking at white text on black backgrounds now. So let's look at a few sites related to artists.

Found a list of the recent winners of the Webbys, which pick the best web sites of the year, and really became fascinated with the construction of these: Mi Fu makes calligraphy look exciting, Edward Hopper brings action to ordinary paintings and Richard Serra demonstrates how menus can be installed in unusual ways.

Here's a really high quality film intro type of site, from Coca-Cola.

This one by Checkland Kindleysidesis so clean and pure, with the most delicate of movement, I'm in awe.

This menu screen from The Sims made me think I better start checking out what the video game industry is producing. But that's for another blog post.

Movement, and sound, yes, I want those. I definitely prefer a very simple homepage, too. With just a few options to start. And then those can unfurl from there.

Maybe a comic is the answer? Meadows mentions how powerful the abstraction of a character in comic form can be, noting successful sites such as Banja and Comic Chat. I used ComicLife to create my family's annual Christmas card this year, and the response was as enthusiastic as I've ever received. But should I, would I, become a cartoon? I'm not sure I can see that perspective integrating with my information sharing goals.

Meadows also states that the face gives off more information than anything else, and indicates the greatest amount of response. I've thought a wild collage that incorporates a portrait of me with more interesting imagery could be cool. The different parts also could serve as the menu tabs. I like that idea. Still needs a narrative frame and point of view, but there's something to that one, I think. But, as Meadows emphasizes, I need the metaphor to build upon, "the consistent relationship of symbols." That's what's holding me back.

To take it to the next step, the ultimate step, interactivity, is beyond my cone of vision right now. Maybe next week.

- Brett


Chris said...

Some great sites, Brett. I think that your "artifice of third person" will be no great loss. It's a bit formal for someone who visits with aliens, plays vintage baseball, and 'rassles steers. :)

The band sites you've chosen are some great examples of the genre--I've always liked SOAD's site (I almost pushed the URL in class the other night) because you move through content without feeling like you have to navigate multiple levels of the site. Every time I'm forced to use the back button in my browser, it kills the narrative force (or immediacy, as described in Remediation: Understanding New Media) of the website I'm viewing, I think. You don't have to do that with SOAD's site; they open new tabs or windows to link to the store, to fan-sites, and other places that would otherwise break their narrative.

I really like your portrait collage idea. You'd have to very carefully choose/design an image that works to support your site structure, which is something that I'm struggling with in my own design.

Are you going to be keeping the same macro-structure to your site, or are you going to be adding new sections, deleting or combining old ones, etcetera? That is, what in your portfolio and student hub do you want to emphasize? How will you organize it? How might you represent that through imagery? These are all questions that I'm only just beginning to be able to answer myself for my own site...

Shawna Hayden said...

Wow, Brett, you found some really great sites to share as examples. I especially liked use of movement and icon in the White Stripes site navigation. And I was absolutely blown away by the Checkland Kindleyside site. Everything about that site--from its muted color scheme to its use of motion--is elegant and effective. Wow. You have such interesting ideas for your homepage redesign -- can't wait to see it!