This post should look a bit different.
As you probably can tell, we’ve completely redesigned the look of halfwheel. As I mentioned the last time we did this, design changes oftentimes seem to inspire more complaints than praise. I do know that we have a better website today than it was yesterday and I hope you agree with me.
While there are a lot of changes, there aren’t really any new features particularly on the frontend that you interact with. So, I figured I would walk through how we got here, what we changed and why we did it.
First and foremost, there were a lot of problems with our old website.
Most people didn’t complain and some were surprised that we would try to fix something they thought wasn’t broken, but it was. We had been using our old design for over five years and the design itself was older than that. It was an off the shelf theme—you can buy it here to knock off halfwheel—that we had made our own. That meant a lot of tweaks and workarounds to make things function and all of those tweaks meant that things oftentimes broke and weren’t running as fast as they could.
This time around was different. In November, I met with 20 or so design firms to see who we thought could tackle this project and build us a website. Ultimately, we choose Matt and the team at Bistro Studios and let them do what they thought was best with a bit of direction.
We gave them a few goals:
- An Improved Mobile Experience
- A Full River Style Homepage
- More Ways to Differentiate Between Posts
- A Lighter & Faster Website
The most controversial change to the site will be that we’ve gotten rid of the three post featured area up top and moved to a post layout where the most recent post goes up top, followed by the next most recent post, etc.
This is a change I’ve wanted to do for years but I know that some—particularly those that don’t want to read legislation stories—will find this annoying. We’ve tried to make it a little bit easier to swallow as the stories that wouldn’t have been featured will just show up as headlines, without a featured image.
The reason why I’ve wanted this change is that I think it aligns more with how people read websites particularly ones like halfwheel and especially on a phone (see below). You want to see what’s new and the separation between the three featured posts up top and the bottom content oftentimes meant that content was missed. This will be a lot easier to make sure that you see our newest posts, which is probably what you came here for.
A BETTER MOBILE EXPERIENCE
In April 2014 our traffic was still split 50/50 between mobile versus desktop users. Last month over 70 percent of our traffic came through a device running iOS or Android. At the time our old website launched, the iPhone 5S was Apple’s flagship phone, it had a new feature called Touch ID, something Apple hasn’t put on a new phone in over two years.
Smartphones have changed a lot in that time and so should our website. The new design takes full advantage of your smartphone’s screen, has larger text and a menubar that actually works on a phone. Searching on your phone should be a lot easier and we have more tweaks we are hoping to roll out in the coming days to make it even easier.
For those using who see halfwheel on AMP pages, we are working on making that a bit better as well.
BETTER IMAGE RESOLUTION
On a similar note, the screens on computers have gotten a lot better since 2014. Last year we spent a fair bit of money switching camera systems to higher resolution cameras but none of that is very useful if those images get uploaded to a place where the resolution is lost. Our new design will make the images, even old images, look a lot better.
Below is a crop of the Weekly News logo—the same image we’ve been using for years—but the one on the left is how it looked on our old site while the one on the right is from the new site.
The screenshots are the same size, but what you will notice is that even less cropped text on the one on the left looks has less sharpness than the one on the right.
That will extend everywhere across the site, meaning our better images will look better and our out of focus images will probably look more out of focus, but everything should have a lot more resolution.
2019 & BEYOND
The biggest changes have been ones you won’t notice immediately. We asked Bistro to give us a website that wasn’t as bogged down by plugins and bad code, one that had tools designed for us and the content that we produce. We also needed a platform that could work today and for years to come and the one we were operating yesterday was not that.
Some of the other changes will be quite obvious when you see them: halfwheel.com/fda has both a new look and updated for 2019 content, the release lists are now formatted in a manner that is consistent with the site and fonts behaving badly is no longer a thing. But a lot of the improvements are on the backend. We have new ways to display both posts and ads, ones that are designed for our content and our readers. We’ve removed a half dozen or so old pieces of software that were designed for workarounds to other problems and a professional actually coded the website this time, as opposed to yours truly.
A few days ago Brooks told me that it was crazy that we were going to launch this project right as we embark on the busiest month of our year. And he’s right, the timing isn’t great. But as a reader, I wanted this website a year ago. My frustration with the site as a reader on my phone is what led the charge to make the investment in both the time and money to redo our website from the ground up. And as we embark on the busiest month of the year—we will probably post something like 400 posts in the next 40 days—I wanted to make sure that we were doing so with our best foot forward.
If you are looking for web design, Bistro Studios was great and their work here and elsewhere speaks for itself. Also, a special thank you to the half dozen WPEngine techs that helped this transition go smoothly over just a few hours.
If you notice something that doesn’t look right or want to see something added, leave a comment below.