An update on the redesign

Written by Alex Watson

April 20, 2010 // 5:10 p.m.

Tags: #bit-tech #redesign

Yesterday saw the launch of bit-tech's first complete redesign in five years - with new features and a new look. A change in design is always going to be a challenge, especially when it comes after such a long period of time, and for a site like bit-tech that's so important for its community.

However, it was time for a redesign. We felt the old design just wasn't working any more - I went into the reasons in full in my post introducing the redesign, but basically, we were producing too many articles for the old design to handle - it couldn't surface them for long enough - and because we couldn't update the site that frequently, we were tied into producing very long articles.

Add in changing demands of advertisers, the Custom PC integration and our plans for the future and we felt a new design was needed.
Once we'd made that decision, we tried hard to come up with a look that allowed us to surface more content, run MPU ads in a way that minimised intrusion into articles and brought the site up to date without losing its essential bit-techness.

Once we had a design we liked, we took it to a beta test that was open to all registered users of the forum - over 100 readers helped out and the design evolved over the following weeks.

And then we launched it, and we got some feedback! I thought I'd address some of the points that came up:

Don't fix what isn't broken: See above. For us, the site design was becoming a big limiting factor. We needed to improve it.

Fixed width forums: The forums default to a fixed width design, but you can change them to use a variable width (ie the full width of the browser window). You can change your preferences in your user options - scroll down to the very bottom.

Fixed width site: The width of the site is fixed. This is necessary for a modern, content heavy, ad supported website such as bit-tech - fixing the width of the design enables us to control where the text, pictures, adverts and other design elements appear. With a variable width site, you're incredibly limited in terms of how to display information, and as such it's no surprise that the vast, vast majority of the web's leading content sites - BBC, The Guardian etc - all use a fixed width design.

The site is too narrow: The site as a whole is actually wider than it was before. As we've moved to a three column layout on index pages and two columns for articles, the main column has become narrower. Doing this meant we could move adverts out of the main column though, so there are no interruptions to the article - which should make reading easier.

The actual width of the site was decided after we looked at the analytics to see what screen resolutions people used - and you'd be surprised that the percentage of readers on widescreen monitors is low.

Holy wall of text! some people's first reaction. However, give it a couple of minutes and you'll see that there is logic at work. We've got the big featured articles that are the most important and interesting pieces of content from the last couple of days. Beneath that, as ever are the latest articles, arranged chronologically, and to the right, the news stories - essentially, the old bit-tech format.

It is busier than the old site, but to some extent that's unavoidable - we're surfacing more content because we're writing more content. We've done our best to make it clear; subtle colour coding, dotted lines to separate the latest articles.

The fonts are horrid! When we launched we were using Helvetica Neue Light; elegant, certainly, but perhaps not as strong on readability as it could have been, so we've switched to Arial throughout.

But it's different! I know. But times change, and we firmly believe the new design is a leap forward for bit-tech.

Where's the mobile version? - We'd love to do a mobile version, or an app for the site/forums. If that's something you'd be interested in, let us know your thoughts in the forums!