And so it came to pass, that I redesigned this blog before I even launched it.

It’s a surprising outcome, no less to me, especially since the first design was an intentional experiment. I wanted to try a Pinterest/Tumblr approach to the home page. And I wanted to experiment with a variation on the latest-first tradition: leading with a featured post, even if it wasn’t the newest thing, while maintaining reverse chronology on everything else. Making that work would have provided blog fodder, too. (And might still.)

So, what made me rebuild the ship before I cracked the champagne bottle against it?

The original design succeeded in its goals – but fell short in overall impression. The old design was killed by ygrenys – reverse synergy. The sum of the parts exceeded the whole.

Specific and objective

In the first design, I made some very specific choices that were, on their own, very good solutions to the needs of my overall design plan. Since the tile-based index page would restrict the width of entries, I went with a condensed face, League Gothic, for the headings, countering with a slightly ornate body face (Merriweather). And I eschewed any attempt at a mosaic, enforcing fixed heights on the entry tiles (which changed at various break points for responsive design).

As I designed and built, I glided past some warning signs that, as clear as my goals were, my journey was off-track. For example, the design did not really accommodate substantial sidebar content. Again, this was a deliberate effect: I originally didn’t expect to need sidebar content and did not want to accord real estate to it. But I did need something.

And, aside from employing my favorite color, rust, I was determined that the design would not be influenced by my personal preferences. Another laudable goal: it’s a requirement when you’re building sites for clients, so why become attached to subjective preferences just because the client is me?

That was probably the key to the killing. I do see objective reasons I decided to ditch Plan A. One is that my fixed tile system crossed the line from soothing consistency to monotony, because of the tiling. It wasn’t a problem on the small-screen views, where the tiles became a stack, visible only a bit at a time, warding off tedium. But in the full view, especially below the line of the main feature: dullsville, even with the thumbnail pictures. So the new design goes back to the traditional single column of main content. I’m not enforcing any fixed height for entries, but even if I did, the single column would harmlessly spoon-feed the precision.

But in the end, the key mistake was probably trying so hard not to please me.

So now, beside the rust, a favorite typeface takes center stage — while still obeying objective design goals.

Hitting the highway

I’m a big fan of road-sign typography. (Specifically, the traditional, official American faces and the versatile homages from various foundries; their sanctioned successor, Clearview, despite its tested, advantageous usability, hasn’t yet swayed me emotionally.) The source of my affection was my first trip to San Francisco, where I admired the unusually elegant design of the all-caps street signs, which had a art-deco feel made timeless by clarity and functional spacing, much like the design of the deeds in Monopoly. Years later, I found out that that the signage was simply using standard-issue transportation typography, choosing style according to the length of the name to be fit in the fix street-sign space (condensed for South Van Ness, expanded for Polk; the short names were my favorite).

So I acknowledged an impulse to bring that to the new design, but was wary because it would suggest a topical theme I’m not pursuing. Then I found a variant, Interstate Black, that retains the visual appeal but verges so far in weight from the official source that its connection to signage isn’t immediate.

The friendless of that typeface, the sharpness of its lines, and the power of the contrast its weight enables makes the new design a clear aesthetic triumph over the old, while encouraging some elements of the old design. The diagonal orientation of my old icons still fit perfectly; I just needed to simplify and stylize them to step up their visual game. I continue to complement the display face with its direct opposite for the body: a light, mechanical, serif, and (bonus) free face called Aleo. And I continue my insistence on a baseline grid for vertical rhythm — a precision regular enough to bind the design but so subtle it avoids monotony. But I’ve gone bigger on the line height and the font sizes slotted within it, to make things more usable, impactful, and fun.

Individually, all the choices that led to the old design were right. Together, the choices for the new design are yet more right. Synergy, not ygrenys.