Possible design tweaks for TR 2.01

— 4:44 PM on August 29, 2007

We've been taking in your feedback since the launch of our new site design earlier this week (or, as I've taken to saying, I'm now on day three of my professional suicide.) Some of that feedback has been very helpful in determining key weaknesses in our first revision of the site layout, and we've already made a few tweaks in response to your suggestions. However, I think there's more work to be done improving our new design to make sure that our new readers feel welcome, our long-time readers feel comfortable, and everyone finds the site relatively easy to use.

We're definitely learning as we go. For instance, I've already found that I really miss having the Hot Forum Threads links fully "above the fold" on the site's front page. I expect many of you do, too. We need to rectify that if we can. I have been mentally compiling a laundry list of possible fixes and changes based on your feedback, from addressing outright bugs to just making things easier to use. We can't address all of your requests (especially since many of them are conflicting), but we can make an attempt to tackle some of the more prevalent ones.

Let me run some of the possible changes by you to see what you think. They include:

  • Perhaps a darker blue — Our current blue-style color scheme evokes the old TR look, but differs in that it has a lighter shade of blue as the backdrop color for articles. We may try something quite a bit darker to see how it looks.

    I should give some background here, since it's relevant and some folks may find it interesting. One of our big motivators for moving away from a light-text-on-dark-backdrop default color scheme was the way display technology has changed in the past few years. As you know, LCDs are now prevalent, and CRTs are fast going extinct. In my experience, at least, the way that these two display technologies emit light alters what color scheme is comfortable to the eye. On the glowing phosphors of a CRT, a bright backdrop seems overwhelming, and dark text tends to lose its sharpness. Bright text on a darker backdrop is more pleasing. With an LCD that shutters out its backlight and offers razor-sharp pixel clarity, the dynamic changes. There, I find dark text on a bright backdrop preferable.

    That may just be my perception of things, but what was undeniable was the horrendous shade of electric, fluorescent blue that cheap 6-bit LCDs tended to assign to our beloved TR blue backdrop. The site was nearly unreadable on such displays, a problem we hadn't anticipated when we chose our color scheme eight years ago. As a result, we felt compelled to pick a different hue for the new site's blue style, something that would be better tolerated on today's blue-deficient LCDs. I like the lighter blue backdrop we chose, but perhaps a deeper, darker shade would be better.

  • Make the news page easier to find — Our news page was a late addition to the new site in response to your requests, and it's not clearly labeled. We'll see what we can do to make it easier to locate.

  • A mouseover news summary tool — The idea here is that when you place your mouse cursor over a news headline in the list on the front page, you'll see a box pop up with the first 50 or so words of the item listed. Should be do-able, I'd think. Would you find it useful?

  • Fix the font size issues — We have at least one case where Firefox on the Mac is showing article text in a much smaller typeface than we intended. We've worked to ensure cross-browser compatbility the best we could, and we'll try to address this problem. We're not yet clear of the cause or fix, though.

  • A wider CSS template — I've already mentioned this one several times, but it remains a key item on our to-do list. This will be a wider version of the layout, but likely still fixed width. I must say that I've never thought the reason for having a wide-apsect display was to enable one to read web pages with very long, horizontal lines of text in a maximized browser window. Even my 13.3" wide-aspect laptop screen is wider than I prefer, but apparently a vocal minority of you all like to do things that way. We may not be able to satisfy you guys entirely without going to a fluid-width layout, which would be a huge pain for us and for many readers, but we'll try to meet you halfway if we can.

Those are a few possible tweaks we could make. I have a whole list of smaller changes, such as truth-in-labeling improvements for better usability, but I won't burden you with those. If you're perceptive, you may see some of those changes appearing over the next week or so.

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