The look and feel of SQLServerCentral's website and newsletter have changed very little from the inception of the site. We have evolved a few things and added sections, but the overall look is what we debuted in 2001. That design hasn't won any awards, and has received no shortage of criticisms across the years.
As the editor, I have viewed almost all the feedback, responded to much of it to the author, but haven't changed a lot. In the last 12 years, I've seen many sites change their look, update the fonts, images, and more to build a more visual pleasing site, an easier to use site, or some combination of both. Across the last 5 years as I've worked with the latest architecture (designed and built by Red Gate), I've wanted to clean up some of our look. Since we have artists and User Experience people working at Red Gate, I've asked them to submit a few new ideas for designs. This has happened 3 or 4 times across the years.
I haven't liked many of the proposals. Quite a few were radical changes that made the site unrecognizable to me. As a result, we have never moved forward with changes. That changed this year as I saw a site design that I thought looked much better, and a newsletter design that was a change, but looked cleaner, less cluttered, and I felt was worth a try. It was inspired by some of the design changes that were included in Windows Phone, and Windows 8. It wasn't a choice made because we are supporting Microsoft, but one aimed at taking some design ideas that we like.
The modern newsletter design debuted a few weeks ago, to the chargrin of a number of people. We had more negative than positive comments in a thread discussing the change. At the time I was busy dealing with some family issues and preparing for a number of speaking engagements. I dismissed some of the comments as complaints against the change of something familiar, and I apologize for that. I should have written this series of articles before we moved too far forward in our plans.
This is the opening piece to set the tone for those that follow. I want to lay out some of our ideas, some design changes, show some things we like and haven't liked, and hopefully obtain feedback from a variety of members in the community. In future pieces, I'll discuss the following (not necesarily in this order):
site look and feel
I'm open to other items people would like to discuss and we would like more suggestions on what matters to you. What makes this site and newsletter useful, and can we do more.
One of the complaints I've heard from a few people is that I/we are wasting time with this design stuff and we should fix bugs or enhance functionality. That's a reasonable note, but it doesn't reflect reality for me.
We have a number of specialists at Red Gate. We take pride in not only the functionality of our software, but also the images, the look and feel, and the entire experience. We don't expect developers to design interfaces or images. There are separate professionals for that.
I've had one or two developers for ahwile in the publishing team. Much of their time has been spent working on the Simple Talk architecture, which was a bit of a mess to work with. They have fixed some bugs and enhanced some items for SQLServerCentral, but the changes were not obvious for the community. As they've asked me how we want to change and evolve some of the site, I have had ideas (mine and yours), but I'm not a designer either and I don't have concrete ideas on how to better design layout and ergonomics.
This year I secured the services of one of our user experience (UX) experts for a few days to examine a few areas of the site and provide feedback. We did get some help with how to redo navigation, and how to layout menus in a more useful way. Once I saw things, it was obivous to me this was better, but it wasn't something I, or a developer, would have considered. This effort didn't take any developer time at all.
SQLServerCentral also had a couple designers spend a week on some new ideas, which I'll present later. Again, no developer time, no delays on bug fixes. The changes to icons, the layout of the newsletter, were done by part of the publishing staff, not developers. This delayed some editing and other tasks, but not development.
Currently we have one developer on staff as our second has resigned. We are looking for a .NET developer, so if you want to work on SSC and potentially live in Cambridge, send us a note. We hope to make more changes and move forward in the future.
In the meantime, I'll be discussing some of our ideas and trying to limit changes until we've had a chance to explain our thinking.