February 6, 2010

TIme to vote - on the color of my blog!

Design is very important to me, so I take comments about my site design very seriously. I accept that as a designer, one cannot please everyone, for, design is very personal, and many non-designers measure the rules of design against what they know, or against what they have been told.

Today there are many outrageous acts of poor design happening from what we read in some magazines and books, to what we watch on Television. I find nothing more annoying than the pop-up animated teasers that occur in the corner of the screen during a movie, or the 'bug' of a network logo remaining on-screen the entire time I am experiencing the entertainment.

What we should focus on is the 'experience', not the 'rules of print-on-paper' today, for each has a set of different rules. Rules which change as technology moves forward. First, about print and paper: Some of you have read me wrong, I LOVE print on paper, but yes, I do think it is going away. Maybe not in our lifetime, but certainly in a few. Right now, I like the feel and non-techyness of paper, but.....a big but.......it's going away, whether you like it or not. Not because people don't like it, it's going away because it isn't profitable.

Gourmet Magazine, The Boston Globe, Plant Journals, all going way. Let's face it. My point it, I would rather have a digital journal than NO journal. How many young people do you know under 30 who read a newspaper today? Even libraries are going digital, Google is currently undergoing a project to scan every book in the world, and Cushing Academy closed their library and went digital for their students. DO I like it? Maybe not, but the option is worse, so when you write and tell me that paper isn't going away, think first, inform yourself, and, it you don't agree, fine, but don't use it as an excuse to reject digital mediums. We all need to change, to adapt with technology, or we become cultural roadkill.

But back to color, and this blog.

This week, a few readers have written me some notes of encouragement, but also a few complaints about how dark my site is, and how difficult they find it to read. It should come as no surprise that I prefer dark websites with light or white knocked out type. Perhaps a personal preference, but there is some logic behind it too. I have found, being a designer, that many people apply the same rules as print on paper, to digital mediums, for black backgrounds with white type is difficult on paper, but the human eye and mind, prefers the white text on a solid black.

Part of the problem is that I am writing too much, for too much text with this layout, is difficult to read. Maybe I should just compose captions for photos, until I migrate the site to one that offers both fonts for text on white, and captions that are in a different typeface?

Look, monitors are like TV screens, essentially, lightbulbs, and good designers know that part of designing stunning web experiences comes in controlling the light, setting the stage, and everything becomes part of the look, from the style of the photos to the lighting an art direction of the shots, to the color palette. But I have resisted going to a white page online, On paper, I would agree, for I am old school when it comes to the rules of typography, in fact, I am a geek about type too.

The rules for digital design is different than that on paper, but that too is changing, and although subjective,But there is a grey area, and infact, it may be either grey, or as newer mac's and other screens allow, a dimming switch. Plasma and LED screens are also less white, so white suddenly works better. Still, for color photography, I prefer dark environments, because of the theatrical nature of the soothing low tones. Still, I am willing to listen to all of you, and get to a better place. If I was not limited to a template, I would have more freedom, but more on that later. I am working on starting another site.
The Gasterias are starting to bud up in the greenhouse.

Guess that we can't have both. Besides, the font that this Blogger template limits me to use is too bold, and the leading is too close for so much white text on black. I will over the next few days reintroduce my wood vector background, as well as play with some of the tints of the type to reduce the contrast until it is just perfect. Until then, look on the left and add your thoughts and vote. Or, email me and let me know what you think.
But there is a whole group of people who beleive otherwise.

So, let's vote. Do you prefer a dark background ( on which photos look best)
or, a light background?

Photo sites like Nikonians for Nikon fans, know the benefits of dark.
Some sites have an elegant use of dark, but the gradations are what really make it.
Here are my thoughts. I agree that the current design is hard to read, I lost the link to the brown wood pattern, which made the black less deep, and the off white type was less harsh in contrast. I also belive that an all white digital page is tiresome on the eyes, if one looks at one all day, as I do. As a prefessional designer, I sell many ideas that are grey, or screens that emit less color. The finest image sites use black or dark backgrounds, as do theaters, credits on films, broadcast. However, lately, soft grey gradations with black or dark grey type is possible, so I may look at that as an option.

The fine design blog Design Sponge has a design which I admire, but is a bit busy for what we do, but I like the collage aspect of it. When, and if I move to a website, I might consider some collage concept like this, or perhaps more styling like Terrain.

Nike knows the benefits of theatrical lighting and dark sites. Still, the solution should use elegant type rather than the horsey fonts offered by BLOGGER.
Anyway, I am open to designing a new site, but please understand that this Blogger platform limits me on what I can actually do, since I only have a few templates to work with. Also, I have been planning to move my blog to the other service called Wordpress, and host it on a server at Bluehost. I bought the URL, and was ready to move it on Jan 1, but found out that I would loose all of my photos over the past 4 years, and in order to keep them, I would have to re upload each one. Which is an impossible task. I looked at hiring someone to help me migrate my blog to Wordpress, but the cost was a little high ( at $1500) so I an stuck here for a while, until I start a new blog on WordPress maybe. Still working on that one!

SO, to redesign this site ( which I seem to get bored with and redesign often, anyway,, I would love to hear all of your thoughts. After all, you are the ones who need to read it, not me! take the poll, let me know! Then, I can post some designs and you can choose. Unless you are all willing to just move to a new URL, then, I can have a magazine style layout, with thumnails and pull down tabs for bulbs, alpines, vegetables, design, etc!


  1. Interesting that you would write about this matter on your site's color and font visibility. I was just thinking today that it is indeed a bit of struggle to read... yet I love the black page!!! Photography on the web just sings w/the black backgrnd. No doubt it all looks slick and edgy on black.

    Try to make the change for a month... I believe you have created this on Apple's iweb. It should be a quick change... you just may temporarily shock some of your readers but they'll figure it out. Maybe then have us vote... but I'm sure by then you'll know whats the right thing for yourself.

    No matter what you decide. I'll keep on reading your posts :) This is a such a cool, botanical blog. You really have some fascinating content and its clear you luv, luv, love your work.

    Don't sweat it.

    s. costello
    quincy, ma

  2. I stick with my plain old black background. Although there are some really creative blogs out there, I feel the dark background shows off the photography best, and helps focus the attention on the text. What I don't like are blogs with incredibly busy backgrounds like bad wallpaper, especially combined with all kinds of crazy stuff in the sidebars, and don't get me started on automatically generated "soothing music".

  3. Matt, I think the darker backgrounds are the most appealing to me, and your prose is always interesting but we are a visual society, and the photos are the focus for most people I know, casual browsers.I do like the darker grays...with a toned script?

  4. Only one design? You're still thinking about paper.

    You could easily allow readers to configure their own choices for font, background, text color, etc. using style sheets. You could give them just a few choices to keep it simple. Perhaps one that suits your ideas of stylish, another for light-on-dark optimal readability, etc.

  5. I think a dark backround compliments the photography best. Try playing around with the font color to make the text easier to read. I like this striated backround you have tried today.

  6. Anonymous1:15 PM

    Hi, I prefer the dark backgrounds. Dark brown, black or dark gray definitely makes images stand out. I don't have a problem reading the type on your site, and I'm old (54) and often have difficulty with small dim printing. I also prefer cleaner screens with fewer distracting boxes everywhere and no moving bits (like your site actually). I enjoy your blog with its focus on plants. Keep up the good work.

  7. This a wonderful blog, but I agree that it is difficult to read. I noticed that virtually all the designs you used to illustrate light on dark were meant to quickly grab an hold attention. Advertisers, some photographers, etc. There is no doubt that this design is more dramatic and eye-catching. My photo website www.etchedinlight.com is dark but it isn't meant to be read nor do I expect visitors to return frequently. Many artists and photographers are moving toward light backgrounds as are most museums. If you were to browse blog skins (where text is the important content), I think that you'd find mostly dark text on a light ground. Light text on a dark ground is gets attention, but is hard to read, in part because the light glyphs exhibit a glow which muddies the the outlines. This might be mitigated somewhat if we could employ lighter weight faces which html has supported for ages, but I know of no browser which now honors them. Combinations I like are dark brown or rust type on pale amber, rust, or straw. Blue on blue are easy on the eyes (in many variants). Images show up well (if with less drama). Here is a site I did for our local artists' group: www.winchesterartistsnetwork.org. May I make a plea - on a must visit daily site like yours, the changing content ought be the center of attention and the design of the site ought to harmonize with and setoff the content without drawing attention to itself.

  8. I've fretted over the same problem on and off for a while now. I worry whether I should have a beautiful, light and bright blog like a boutique style hotel.

    The truth is I like dark backgrounds. They display photo's well and suit me.

    I go to blogs that show individuality and yours is one of my favourites. I would be deeply saddened it you went all pale and wishy washy on me!

    Stick to your guns, you have a good eye. Go with what makes you happy.

    But yes the limitations of Blogger are frustrating.

    RO xx

  9. I agree that with the current layout, it is a bit hard to read at times. Whatever you chose, I suggest you opt for a solid background (the vertical lines in the current one may be a little much on the eyes)
    Just a suggestion ...
    Very informative site and fantastic photos, your blog is much appreciated!

  10. Wow, everyone thinks dark is best suited for photography? I find that interesting. I think plants in particular are showcased better with light backgrounds. That's just me. Apparently! :)

  11. Tell us more about that amazing alpine garden!

  12. I love the black background but it now appears it is the wood background. The photos just do show so well on this background. But really your content is what keeps me reading.

  13. Thanks everyone. From my poll, it seems 76 % say keep the site the way it is, for now, anyway. I am going to try experimenting with the font and the tone of the color, I have come to the conclusion that white type on dark is a bit too much when there is alot of it. So I will try to keep paragraphs more simple, and place images between them. Images do look best on the dark.


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