State of Transition

Yesterday was my birthday, so I gave myself the gift of a redesign. Which was really just a convenient excuse to take some of the tools and methods I use every day on client projects and apply them to my own digs.

New Body, New Engine

Two big changes are working in concert on this redesign. First is the visual design, which pares the layout down even more. Navigation has been tucked away, heavy borders removed. I enjoyed the old design, but it wasn’t well-suited for presenting shorter content, links, and photos alongside longer entries. I need a space for content that’s longer than a tweet, but less than an essay; one that’s more conducive to a, “Short assignments, shitty first drafts,” philosophy. This design forces my hand less both as a writer and as a reader.

The other big change is under the hood. Whatever technology I’m using to run this site should support the goals I just outlined. The tools I’m using are going to influence the output whether I like it or not, so it better be the right influence. So for the first time since 2005, Stuntbox isn’t a WordPress joint. I’ve converted it to Jekyll.

Side-by-side screenshots of the old and new designs
Before and after: Woodcut-and-whatnot on the left, newly slimmed on the right. Headlines set in Franklin Gothic URW Condensed, body copy in Abril Text.

Don’t get me wrong, WordPress is perfectly fine for lots of projects. But after years spent deep, deep in the bowels of The Loop, writing more one-off custom functions and plugins than I care to recall, I wanted something more lightweight. Something fast, flexible, and as mercifully cruft-free as possible. Jekyll wins on all three fronts. (It also helps that Jekyll went 1.0 the same day I started this redesign.)

Jekyll is the first site management tool I’ve had fun working with in years. Aided by YAML front matter and the simplicity of Liquid’s template system, it’s nearly ideal for my uses.

The key difference is that it lets me start with the absolute basics, then add in pieces as required. No ripping out chunk after chunk of template pieces you don’t need, all while crossing your fingers that you’re not cutting muscle and bone along with all the fat.

And then there’s the writing itself, done largely in Markdown. Markdown strikes a pragmatic balance between legible formatting and data portability. And apps like Editorially make it a pleasure to blog with. (Editorially in particular gets props in my book for getting on-the-fly formatting right, exporting to Markdown files with a click, and for being built by some damn fine people.)

Other Bits and Pieces

I’ve also run through a laundry list of optimizations, with a few more to come. That includes lazy-loading images and using inline SVG wherever possible to reduce HTTP requests. I’ve added custom plugins to combine and minify my JavaScript, as well as run SASS and Bourbon. I’m also using Amazon CloudFront’s super convenient origin pull option to speed up delivery of images, scripts, styles, and the like (while making sure to enable gzip for everything that’s still coming directly from my server).

And, oh yeah, GitHub all the things. Ever. Logging issues in GitHub has probably had the single biggest impact on how I manage client projects since Basecamp. But this is the first time I’ve turned it around and used it on myself for a personal project, and it’s made a huge, huge difference.

But Wait, There’s Less

With all the changes and additions, there’s one big thing I’ve taken away: comments.

I know it’s a little vogue to hate on comments right now, and I don’t necessarily agree with that stance. You can’t improve discourse by shutting it out, and it’s on me as a site operator to cultivate meaningful discussion around the content I showcase. But therein lies the rub. I don’t think the off-the-shelf solutions I could use help much in that department (and some are completely at odds with it).

So I’m shelving them while I tinker with other improvements to the site. Past comments have been safely tucked away in an archive, perhaps to be pulled out again when I’ve given this some real thought. In the meantime, if you’d like to bat around ideas, hit me up.