Thinking of a Site Redesign? STOP and Take a Look at These Blogs

by Craig McBreen · 19 comments · Branding, Design


Here’s a question I’m asked quite often: “What makes a site look good?”

The answer might surprise you, because it’s about way more than white space, fonts, or color.

And that’s why I ordered you to “halt!” Because great design is not achieved when you fly by the seat of your pants. Design done right takes time, effort and planning.

No duh, right? But I do see more than a few blogs out there going through multiple iterations and sometimes wonder how much planning has gone into the changes.

So this post is all about stopping, looking and paying attention to the elements of these redesigns.

As I set the wheels in motion for a site revamp of my own, I’ve been focusing on more than a few choice blogs.

And here I want to highlight four blogs that have gone through a fairly recent redesign.

I’ve helped craft B2B websites for years, but this little exploration is all about blogs done right.

So, why do I think these four redesigns are so successful?

Please read on to find out …

Paid to Exist

With Paid to Exist Jonathan Mead not only changed designs, he changed domains. The destination once known as “Illuminated Mind” recently became Paid to Exist.

So here, we have a complete rebranding and in my humble opinion, the design is stunning. It’s clear a ton of thought went into crafting the site.

A distressed background, centering on a stylized illustration, works so well. A textured, cohesive blend of elements from top to bottom.

The design is also responsive, so it looks just as nice on your mobile device.

This is an extensive redesign, and you can read about it here. A project like this is not for the faint-hearted, but it is inspirational to see what a great designer can do with the Thesis theme.

Why is it so crackin’?
Do I need to explain this one, really?
Well for me, it’s the richness, the layered look of a design that is full of negative space. The combination of copy and design make it very clear what the site is about. And when it comes to eyeballs, it’s very sticky, from the sign-up form to the resources at the bottom. A beautiful design, built for conversions.

Customers That Stick

Just like the above site, this was a rebranding. In March of 2012 Adam Toporek’s IntenseFence.com became CustomersThatStick.

I think you know how I feel about white space and to me this is a spartan yet polished look that does so many things right.

Minimal color adorned with a very cool logo (is that Don Draper leaning on the “C”?) and an uncluttered top navigation bar with only four links.

I especially like the way Adam’s bio is incorporated into the feature box at the very top. A lot of content in a very small space, but done oh, so well.

I’d say Adam kinda rocked the orange too.

BlogcastFM


I’ve made no secret that I’m a BlogcastFM junkie. Srinivas Rao’s podcast is thoroughly entertaining and informative. I enjoy the show and I’m also a fan of the fairly recent site redesign.

I’m sure David Crandall could explain this better, as he’s the guy who built the new space, but here’s why I like it so much.

The site packs a ton of information, from recent guests, to blog posts, to offers just below the fold.

Recent shows are highlighted with a mix of screened back head shots of varying monotone colors.

There’s even a little teaser just below the photos, which highlights an upcoming show.

There’s a ton of information packed in here, but it’s done effectively. The site promotes the podcast, houses a blog and because of its layout, is a stress free information hub for bloggers.

The Rise to the Top


Here’s another podcaster with an entirely different approach.

You know I’m big on showing your true self to the world. Well, David Siteman Garland has no problem showing his personality here. In fact the design captures the true spirit of the show. It’s essence is brought forth with a crafty mix of color and offset, bold typography.

There’s a strong focus on the email sign-up form at the top, but it blends in. I don’t even mind the blue cyan mixed in throughout.

This is a great example of a site that captures the essence of the personality behind it.

So, what’s the recipe for a bitchin’ site?

Well the sites above do more than a few things very well …

a. Each contain design elements that work in harmony (Balance is good).
b. Solid design principals, such as continuity and figure-ground have been built in.
c. Effective use of something called negative space.
d. And a cohesive blend of design elements and copy for a message that is spot-on.

So you see that clean, functional navigation, balance and clarity of message are all elements that make the site.

We call that functional design and when it comes to attracting eyeballs, it’s the only way to go.

Seen any great sites lately?

 

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

The Nerdy Nurse January 7, 2013 at 3:44 am

Good food for thought.

I often wonder if I need to be switching things up with my layout.
Although my design is nothing like the ones you mentioned, you’ve given me some perspective to only change design when I have a purpose.
The Nerdy Nurse recently posted..Top 10 Most Frustrating Factors of M.S.My Profile

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Craig McBreen January 7, 2013 at 3:55 am

Hey Nerdy Nurse,

Thanks for the visit and glad this helped! Clarity of purpose is indeed step number one.

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Bell January 7, 2013 at 11:37 am

Paid to Exist sounds a lot stronger than “illuminated mind.” Making that name change was an excellent move.

I even found a Taoist pearl when I navigated to “The Best Way to Solve a Problem: Give Up.”

It read thus: “The more I stop trying to force things to happen, the more they just seem to sort themselves out. The more I let things happen, the less time I spend trying to make them happen.”

Straight out of a 21st-century Tao Te King. Loved it.

No wonder you put Paid to Exist on top.

Customers That Stick is good. Very clean, and easy to navigate.
Bell recently posted..Meek Robot, Meet P, the Furious PandaMy Profile

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Craig McBreen January 8, 2013 at 3:30 am

Hi John,

Agreed.

Like everyone I struggle with control, but when I slap myself and learn to let go a little, once again, things do tend to work out.

Oh and “Straight out of a 21st-century Tao Te King.” … Love that ;)

Thanks for the visit.

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Adam January 7, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Craig, Very honored to be included here! Thank you.

I love the designs of the other 3 sites, and you do a great job showing why they work so well.

I will add a note to your message of STOP! I took many months reviewing sites and sketching out what I wanted structurally — what information should be prominent, what information less so, so when the designer came in to the picture, the design process was fairly easy. But even then, it was over a month-long process with Rafal. The result of taking the time up front to plan the design is that I haven’t had the desire to change any major site elements in almost a year.

Of course, as the function of my site evolves, the form will have to follow. But putting the time in up front really paid off.

Thanks again for the shout out!
Adam recently posted..Customer Experience Design: The Zappos ExperienceMy Profile

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Craig McBreen January 8, 2013 at 3:36 am

Hi Adam,

You’re most welcome and the look of your blog is still one of my favorites.

Well you certainly went about it the best way possible, which I’m sure was a dream for Rafal. The lion’s share of work is often in branding done right, messaging, site nav and setting an overall tone that works. Oh and constantly whittling down … looks like you were in control of that from the start!

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Jerry Silfwer January 7, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Been thinking a lot about interaction design lately and this sure helped.

And I love the look and feel of your blog by the way, nice to see a guy who implements himself what he teaches the world around him!
Jerry Silfwer recently posted..Why Ray Kurzweil Will Disrupt Search And Not Stephen WolframMy Profile

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Craig McBreen January 8, 2013 at 3:40 am

Hi Jerry,

Glad it helped and thank you kindly for the nice words. It’s always a work-in-progress here with a fresh coat of paint every once in a while.

Appreciate you stopping in.

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Jens P. Berget January 7, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Great examples Craig. I have seen a lot of really good sites lately, but I can’t think of any that comes close to the ones you’ve mentioned. Well, I like Chris Brogan’s new look. It’s clear what he is focusing at on the front page. And the colors are great. It’s easy to read and navigate, and it looks professional.

I’m wondering how much it costs to make a redesign like that? I have been using premium templates for years.
Jens P. Berget recently posted..The New Rules of Guest Blogging in 2013My Profile

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Craig McBreen January 8, 2013 at 3:53 am

Hey Jens,

Thanks. I like Chris Brogan’s new look too. It was designed by Rafal Tomal, the same guy who worked on Adam’s site. Pricing can run the gamut of course, but I’d be curious to know what he paid too ;) I do like the idea of a single page design and the animation, esp. the roll in.

Not sure what my new direction will be, but probably not quite as spartan as my current site. Brogan’s site is another that inspires me to create something new. So much inspiration around.

Thanks for stopping in.

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Ralph January 7, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Nice examples buddy.

I am glad I have held off on the jump to redesign my place (many reasons). I really like the notion of the static landing page with a clear call to action (like the paid to exist site). Very powerful.

Happy New Year, sir!

Oh! I like this one (for somewhat obvious reasons)….http://www.marketingwise.ca/
Ralph recently posted..QOTW 2013: Week 2: What’s the thing that made Jack a dull boy?My Profile

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Craig McBreen January 8, 2013 at 3:58 am

Hi Ralph,

Thanks!

Yep! If you put in the time up front the design process will be much less painful and way more rewarding. Purpose, messaging, tone, site nav … all that fun stuff ;)

Paid to Exist is one of my current favorites.

Agree on Marketing Wise. Love Ruth’s business model too.

Happy New Year to you!

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Brian D. Meeks (@ExtremelyAvg) January 8, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Design is important and difficult. I’ve always thought my site was fair at best. I’m a big believer in design and someday I hope to be able to afford to hire someone to put in the thought that these designers did. Sites that look great are the ones I like to go back and see again.
Brian D. Meeks (@ExtremelyAvg) recently posted..Touched: Ch 36My Profile

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Craig McBreen January 9, 2013 at 3:33 am

Hi Brian,

I’m glad you understand design is important AND difficult. Even if you can’t afford a designer there are some pretty slick premium, responsive themes out there, but I would say your site is more than fair ;)

Thank you for stopping by!

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Laura Click January 9, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Great roundup, Craig! These are some excellent examples to go by. I’m always looking for good design inspiration, so thanks for introducing me to a few new ones (I’m already well aware of Adam’s fabulous redesign).

This makes for a whole other blog topic, but so often, businesses think they need an website overhaul just for the sake of it. It needs to be a strategic decision based on what’s working and what’s not. Sometimes the best converting sites aren’t always the prettiest.

As for other redesigns, I recall SocialMouths and Convince and Convert both underwent massive redesigns last year. You can tell that both of those sites were redone to focus more on conversions. It’s not overly in your face, but it’s clear what they want you to do when you visit the site. Very smart indeed.
Laura Click recently posted..How to Build a Marketing Plan for 2013My Profile

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Craig McBreen January 9, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Hi Laura,

Thanks! I’m always looking for design inspiration too, so I’ll be featuring more down the road.

You are so right, Sometimes I have to tell clients to STOP and focus on branding strategy and the true purpose of a new site … research, planning, wire-framing, all that fun stuff ;)

Thanks for bringing those two up. I loved the Social Mouths relaunch. A well-designed site with that spartan look I love and yes, built for conversions!

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Carolyn January 10, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Excellent examples of quality blog designs, Craig. Often people will write about this without giving clear examples. I like the ones you gave, all are clean, simple but powerful. Each one is bold and gets its message across clearly.

I do believe that is Don Draper leaning against the C in Customers That Stick. And isn’t that Roger Sterling on the peak of Rise to the Top? ;-)
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Craig McBreen January 11, 2013 at 3:17 am

Hi Carolyn,

Thanks, they are inspiring and motivate me to make changes of my own. Love those looks.

He he. That looks like Roger Sterling at the end of the last season. Well that shot was from the other side ;)

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