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Informational Website For The Unix, Linux and Mac OS Enthusiast

Sun, Jan 20, 2008

Technology | Author:

aplawrence.com

Introduction

A.P.Lawrence has information and resources for Unix and Linux Systems, Mac Users, Bloggers and the self-employed. aplawrence.com is packed with unique articles for the IT nerd. A quick browse on the site reminds me of craigslist.org – a successful plain site without much design.

Form

The A.P.Lawrence website has very simple design that is based around the readability of the text (white background, black and blue medium sized sans serif text), hence I will refer to the design as if it is intended to be a blog style of layout. It’s easy to read and with a left aligned columnar layout and white space on the right, it gives the reader a chance to “breathe” while absorbing what’s on the page.

From a designer’s point of view, quite a few things can be improved with the design of this website to make it more visually appealing to new readers and to simplify the amount of text on the page. Firstly, the logo and taglines, while basic, could stand out more so that the line “Information and Resources for Unix and Linux Systems….” doesn’t have to reappear in the first paragraph. By making the taglines and logo more exciting and making the image less pixelated (boxy) this will visually summarise the content of the website and an interesting font and image will modernise it. The first paragraph can then be edited to remove what’s already in the taglines. Many blogs center or off-center align their text (even the ones with a left and right column) and I would suggest doing this as left-aligned websites look a bit dated. Readers are used to center alignment and expect it on modern bloggy sites.

The use of complimentary colours could help in making the page more exciting – the “Subscribe by RSS” logo has a good shade of orange that could be used with the blue and black to highlight items. Orange bullets or borders might help. I would definitely keep the background colour white to assist with readability but other colours can be used behind the white (see examples below).The main menu links are a bit plain – how about making them into buttons/tabs or putting those in a different font style in a column? There is also too much text to look at when deciding which topic to view. How about simplifying the main text to headings only (maybe in thin orange box borders) so the reader can simply click the box or link to go to the page for “Mac OS X” instead of peeking at the articles? On some pages, the text runs too far across the page and the alignment changes too.

It would be fantastic to get it as consistent as possible, so the reader can navigate the text better. While this site is a lot bigger than the average blog and many pages have multiple columns, I believe with more work the information could be organised and simplified (maybe try having more paragraphs and less columns) so it won’t be as “busy”. The latest trend in designing informational sites is to make it as simple and uncluttered as possible. Slashdot.org is a very good example. Slashdot uses big fonts – users are clicking within secs upon visiting the site!

A few honorable mentions when comes to simple blog design: Drew Warkentin, 45royal,Inc, Unspace

Some aspects of the Blog Style Display format seem to suit this site better. The font is like Courier (a tacky old-style font) and the images detract from the articles, so I would probably leave the images out and change the font to Arial or something similar. The author’s name and possibly the popularity rank could be added under the date of each too (this is one way of incorporating some of the information so other pages can be removed or shortened. Overall, this would not be a better home page as new readers need a clear navigational structure since the site is rather large and contains lots of different subjects. Usually blogs with one subject have paragraphs on their home page and multiple subject requires a menu on the home page (with a tantalising paragraph or two. Definitely slicker design is needed.

The mixed focus of topics (Linux, Mac, Unix, Blogging, Self-Employment) is unusual but the topics are somewhat related via IT or freelancing ideas, so it adds to the site. I wouldn’t add an unrelated subject like skydiving though – this would appeal to a smaller audience the more topics you add (for example, readers who liked Linux AND skydiving). Then again, some would argue that it would increase your traffic because both skydivers and Linux users would hit on the site.

At the end of the day, what aplawrence.com is selling is its unique Linux, Windows and Mac OS content. I believe that the site is doing quite well because the alexa ranking looks good. Perhaps the design becomes irrelevant if the author is able to churn out better articles and get more links, thereby generating even more traffic.

Function

The “Latest” link refers back to the main page so I would probably recommend renaming it to “Home”, so readers know where they’re going. The other links all appear to work fine (I couldn’t check all of them – there are too many!). The author probably code the site by himself because the code is very clean and loading time is very fast – always a good thing when people are in a hurry!

Conclusion

As a website which primarily communicates information to its viewers, A.P.Lawrence contains the basic concepts such as using a white background, black and readable text etc. Regular users are after the information and probably won’t care too much about design. But new readers who have a wealth of sites to pick from will probably prefer sites with simpler layout and more interesting design.

Is the site overloaded (have a look at the sitemap)? Yes at the moment but No if the author is able to simplify the design and organise it with appropriate headers. Using different font sizes will definitely help alot.

Having an RSS feed is a great idea, especially if the content is as original as the stuff on this website. Once again, thumbs up for the content. Slick design will modernise this website and make it appear more professional while the content will speak for itself by attracting regular readers (as no doubt, it already has).

aplawrence.com.1
fig 1. Watch out for runaway text

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fig 2. Courier font and tacky image

aplawrence.com.3
fig 3. A columnar layout with too much information

aplawrence.com.4
fig 4. Not sure if this is good – RSS feed link has yellow hot spot

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