2014. Time to wake up, eh?

First off, why have I been blogging so little in the last couple of years?

Well, I guess it’s a combination of:

  • Too much work
  • Having a real life (which I realize I might not have had a few years back…)
  • Google did a great job at scaring me off posting “non-useful” content (Shall we call it “Panda angst”?)

All of these are lame excuses though…

  • Blogging is part of my work
  • Don’t even get me started on balancing work and real life - there has to be a solution!
  • Sharing ideas, no matter how mundane they might seem at first, has been the beginning of many great projects in my own experience. Plus: it definitely helps to structure a lot of thoughts that would otherwise just swirl around in my head, without ever leading to anything tangible. Moving forward, even small steps at a time is far more important than a particular Google algorithm might think of it… especially on my personal blog (I’m still debating this regarding some other sites :p)

2014. Time to get rid of the Ugly!

The most vexing part in this wake up call is that so many of my (many) websites are just plain ugly… compared to the current web-design state of the art.

I don’t recall exactly what led me to this realization but part of it was comparing b2evolution.net to its competitors. Ironically, it’s not that the competitors (Free CMS tools) look good. It’s actually that those competitors look bad compared to commercial solutions.

Why does Free software actually has to look so bad compared to commercial software?

And then of course it dawned on me: why does my software have to look so bad compared to commercial software and other free software alike?

If you know b2evolution, you know it’s really powerful. Arguably significantly more powerful than its commercial alternatives indeed. That’s the result of 10 years of hard work. But does it show on the surface? Hell, no! It really deserves a packaging that would do it justice! Welcome to the world of (virtual) product packaging!

Ok, I know what you think… But better late than never. And yes, I also realize how late I am now…

And then, the same logic applies to a dozen other sites of mine, all the way down to the one you’re reading now.

Where do we go from here?

OK, so I realized the problem. That’s always step 1. Check.

Then I blogged about it. Now I feel pressure to do something about it so I don’t look like a fool by the same time next year. Step 2. Check.

I started collecting ideas about redesigns and started test implementations on some of them. Those are ok steps 3 and 4 I guess. Check. Check.

The real effective & efficient solution though, would be to hire a top designer… right?

One might think, indeed.

However, it’s not as easy as it seems:

  • There is definitely a shortage in modern web design talent;
  • There is an even higher shortage in UX design. Graphic design without User eXperience is worthless. The most basic illustration of that is that many graphic designs still use fonts so small they won’t be read by anyone. More modern problems are: choosing button sizes, button positions, how many buttons to show at a given time, what to hide, what not… and at some point it starts to overlap with marketing in the sense you need to choose in which order to present the info.
  • And then comes the terrible chicken and egg issue: my sites actually look so ugly right now that pro designers wouldn’t want to touch them with a 10 feet pole! :p

So my only possible course of action, I guess, is:

  • Clean everything up making the best use of my current resources;
  • Hire top talent once they can see a credible client when they look at my sites!

Ok, ’nuff said. Let’s do some implementation!

Comments from long ago:

Comment from: filthio

Well said sir. I sometimes look at my back catalogue of b2evo sites (yes, I have updated that 0.8 install now, thanks) and think exactly the same. I’m currently working on reskinning something that might be a bit more responsive, and if it works I shall be happy to share.

Two things I would throw into your pot -

1: don’t forget the admin interface. This is also way behind the times compared with competitors, and yet the features it has are so flexible and useful. It would be particularly good to be able to customise a stripped-down back-end so that clients can have a very, very simple interface whilst admins can have full access.

2: responsive design satisfies a lot of visitors. b2evo skins are notoriously poor at mobile/tablet presentation, and fixing that is not simple, but if we do then we will have a massive boost to usefulness.

2014-02-20 23-01

Comment from: Chris of Arabia

So are you still planning on heading down the Bootstrap route then, Francois?

2014-02-20 23-23

Comment from: François Planque

We have bootstrap skins in the current development branch. They need a lot more testing and adjusting before release. But yes, b2evolution will definitely be supporting bootstrap heavily.

As for my own sites, bootstrap may not fit them all.

Regarding admin interface: any nice admin designs (URLs or screenshots) are very welcome so we have a catalog of ideas to pick from. We also have a bootstrap admin skin in the dev branch but bootstrap is just a technology, not really a design… and definitely not one for a full featured admin panel. It needs more work.

2014-02-21 00-09