Instapaper does point to a clear flaw in newspaper and magazine website design: The reading experience is rarely, if ever, the priority. For better or worse, it typically takes a backseat to organizing and promoting content and generating pageviews.
Joanne of Tomorrow Museum pointed me to this article featuring the creator of Instapaper. If you haven’t heard of it yet, Instapaper allows you to bookmark an article/blog post to read later, but the version you read is stripped of any graphics and advertisements. You only see the actual content, distraction-free. The design of other blogs has been on my mind recently. I had been reading everything via Google Reader, but after clicking through a longer article for Anil Dash‘s site, I was struck with how easy it was to actually read his post. I wasn’t bombarded with advertisements throughout the post or in the side-bar, no big header, just a clean-cut site focused on the content.
After that, I had clicked through to a post from Kevin Rose, and again, I was treated to a site stripped of any distractions and completely focused on the content. Rose’s site (white text on black background) is the opposite of Anil Dash’s (black text on white background), but still completely readable. There are plenty of examples of good design for websites out there, but those are the two that stuck out the most for me.
After I read the article about Instapaper, I started to reflect on my own blog and also how I am reading content. Apart from cutting back on the amount I’m reading (more on this later, but that movement was inspired through the various digital sabbaticals occurring and hearing about the power of subtraction), I am taking in content in new ways. I am reading a lot more through the Kindle application on my mobile phone (a lot easier to hold a phone in one hand with a baby in the other compared to a book) in quick bursts of five-ten minutes at a time. It may make the process of reading slower, but I feel like I get through more pages reading like this than I would if I sit down to read something.
The other way I have been taking in content is through audiobooks (I’ve been using Audible because of the quality of selection and the readers). I have been listening to books while walking or during commutes in the car. I never thought of it until now, but both of these ways of taking in content happened when there was nothing else going on around me. As writers, we always focus on distraction-free writing, whether it is writing at night or using a program like OmmWriter, but we rarely stop to consider the reader and how to give them the best reading experience.
Too many blogs are focused on advertisements and SEO that they forget why those blogs actually exist: to be read. All of this made me look at my blog’s design in a new light. It never did feel truly right to me, but I wasn’t sure what was “off.” Instead of doing some minor tweaks, I decided to take a leap of faith and try something completely different.
Thankfully, Squarespace, has a lot of different themes available that I can adjust easily without knowing CSS. I like the feel of it already, but I’m not sure if it is as stripped down as I would like. As an unknown blogger, I want people to discover the content I have written, but I am still undecided if people using the tags (on the right) or the Archive (on the left). I do not think I need both of them, but I will wait and see what works best. This change in design is all in hopes that people find it easier to read this site and find other content that they may enjoy. Let me know what you think.