Thinking about design, and a redesign

I’ve been meaning to redesign this blog for several months. The blog design has remained unchanged since I relaunched it in early 2018.

The initial aesthetic and design was somewhat arbitrarily chosen – I knew I wanted something clean, minimalist, and designed for longform reading, but I can’t say that I gave much more thought to it. I always considered the initial design to be a 1.0 version of an evolving project, but the words themselves (and frankly, not blogging) took precedence over a focus on intentional design.

Like many, I came into my design consciousness through the work of Jony Ive and Steve Jobs, initially as an unwitting user of early Macintosh products through multiple iPod generations, the iPhone, the Apple Store and the greater Apple aesthetic revolution. Reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs unlocked my understanding of the intention and importance behind these product’s designs.

College was my first attempt at dabbling in hands-on design, where I volunteered to produce an academic journal that a couple friends and I had founded. Playing around in Adobe Indesign opened my eyes to a world of choices that I had previously considered arbitrary or unconscious—margins, placements, breaks, typeface—a seemingly limitless series of choices striving towards greater readability an aesthetic enjoyment on the part of the reader (discounting self-satisfaction by the designer).

I’ve long admired the world of design, almost entirely from a distance. Today, the closest I get to engagement with design is thumbing through the design section of a bookstore, a long linger in the modern art section of a museum, or through the discipline of design thinking, an adaptation to the designer’s mentality retrofitted to the worlds of business, policy, and other seemingly unrelated domains, as popularized by Stanford’s d.school and the consulting firm IDEO. (Recommended: Steven Johnson’s recent profile of Stanford’s d.school, which goes a level deeper than the typical fawning appreciation.) Interacting with design often feels like hearing a Romance language – I recognize the essential building blocks, but it feels entirely ungraspable and beyond me.

Even today, reading the brief blurb on the typeface chosen for a book (normally located on the back page) mostly alludes me.

An example from a recent read: Working, by Robert Caro:

A NOTE ON THE TYPE

This book was set in Janson, a typeface named for the Dutchman Anton Janson, but is actually the work of Nicholas Kis (1650-1702). The type is an excellent example of the influential and study Dutch types that prevailed in England up to the time Williams Caslon (1692-1766) developed his own incomparable designs from them.

Composed by North Market Street Graphics, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Printed and bound by Berryville Graphics, Berryville, Virginia

Designed by Cassandra J. Pappas

My reaction to the above is a recognition of the deep labor of love and appreciation for the history and painstaking design process and its predecessors in practice. But candidly, it reads like a secret code written for the initiated, people with cool glasses frames and well composed outfits, rather than the broader public engaging with Robert Caro’s words.

A serendipitous series of blog posts reawakened my long-dormant blog redesign project. Several weeks ago, designer Frank Chimero announced that he would be redesigning his own blog, in an open and ongoing process via his own blog. For long-running followers of my blog, I initially became acquainted with the work and writing of Frank Chimero in October 2018 via his viral posts MVP Soundsystem and Modest Guide to Productivity.

In Frank’s first few posts, he explored ideas around what he hoped to convey and express via his site, using high-level concepts, feelings, and adjectives that he proceeded to boil down into tangible characteristics of his website’s design. For someone unacquainted with the design process, following his process and creative train of thought has been a revelation.

Frank’s blog posts also motivated me to expand my inquiry into design (certainly an impulse towards inaction, but nonetheless) via his book, The Shape of Design. The book reads as a philosophical treatise on design, a manifesto that delves into his motivations and ultimate purpose behind design, rather than a step-by-step guide through the design process. It’s highly applicable and inspiring.

Chimero’s redesign process and book both emphasize the importance of bringing intention to one’s projects rather than immediately digging in: the need to start with Why.

Per Chimero: “Why is usually neglected, because How is more easily framed”

Therefore, Why do I have a blog?

The Why (WIP):

  • I want to inject more creativity into my life
  • I want to explore outside of the defined parameters of my day-to-day, with more permanence than a text or email thread
  • I want a “portfolio,” a means to be discovered and a portal into my thinking and interests

Only after establishing and grasping the Why does the What and How come into play. leads to objectives: What am I hoping to accomplish with my blog?

The What (WIP):

  • A notebook for my thoughts, mostly in-progress
  • A diary of expression and discovery
  • A place to explore and be creative

Inspired by Frank (who was initially inspired by another designer’s redesign pursuits), I’m going to try and catalog my wholly-unprofessional attempt at redesigning my own site over the course of a series of blog posts, now that the table (and my intentions) are set. Meta, no?

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