Design Fail

Even though this website was launched only very recently, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on its look. I’m relatively happy with it as well, but that was no easy task. If any of you have ever worked on a personal project, you’ve probably already learned that you are your own worst client. When you have no deadlines, no rules, and a huge imagination, it can be pretty tough to settle on your final look. You might start on one design in the morning only to immediately throw it away and start from scratch that afternoon. This post is dedicated to all of my wasted ideas and productivity, and hopefully some tips on how you can avoid a similar situation in the future.

Start With a Brief, Don’t Be an Idiot

One way to avoid an insane amount of redesigns is to treat yourself like your own client.  What are your goals, what is your target market, your intended ‘look & feel’ ? If you start with a vague idea like ‘Website about art something’, you may find yourself spending days and weeks on projects that will never see the light of day. I believe I started on the right track by thinking about my goals. Here are some key ideas/features I knew I wanted:

  • Full WordPress integration. I wanted to handle all of my content, including my portfolio, quickly and easily from any location.
  • A slick & memorable design that was still easy to read.
  • Black and yellow. Like Batman. Seriously.
  • Community features. This means a quick and easy way to comment on posts, because it’s fun to talk to my readers. It also helps me avoid sitting alone in my apartment and talking to my food.
  • Integrate my design portfolio.
  • Any name that’s better than ‘Loukotka’, yet felt design related.  You’d be surprised how many Google searches spell my name wrong, so this site is meant to be easy to remember and spell.

The problem was that my goals changed over time, and I should have stuck to these principles instead of designing away like a mad man. There’s plenty more ideas I could list, but let’s get to what’s important—images of all of the designs I didn’t use or show anybody, because I went insane and couldn’t settle on the right look.

Design Fail - Slide 1

A few months ago this was my first attempt at a design thought. I started blocking out areas of yellow or black, but immediately discarded everything because an all yellow website would be pretty tough to read.

Design Fail - Slide 2

This was an experiment with a minimalist look for my portfolio, but I quickly realized that dark and empty weren’t at all how I wanted my new site to feel.

Design Fail - Slide 3

Now we’re getting somewhere. This design borrows the background and name of my other website, the time, my portfolio website was green and white, so I found this color change refreshing. Ultimately this felt too much like a showcase and less like a blog or valuable news source. This version was scrapped for the blog, but I used its ideas in the current version of

Design Fail - Slide 4

Another radical shift in thought. I was definitely digging the white with the yellow, but still felt the horizontal slide areas would only work for a portfolio, and not for an interactive blog. I even decided on the name “Neverlens”. I bought the domain, only to trash this name much later due to its similarities to “Neverland” and “Netherlands”. Oops.

Design Fail - Slide 5

I stuck with the name for a while and eventually continued down the “yellow brick road”. This version was grungy, and incredibly yellow. This certainly was memorable and open, so I explored it further. This is also the first design that actually contains some element of the current site (a small sliver of the textured header bar).

Design Fail - Slide 6

This design probably had more time put into it than any of my other trashed designs, and for good reason.  It’s strong, memorable, and edgy. My ‘home’ icon had a picture of the White House, and I had a really slick typewriter for my ‘need work done?’ link. For a while I was in love with this, but sometimes designs have to be scrapped because they don’t complete your goals.  This was visually interesting, but I felt like the strong colors and silly icons made the site feel like it was advertising itself.  This structure works great for a company, but if I added blog posts to the design, they’d have to compete with my own header for attention. I realized I had to give my written content a lot more focus.

Design Fail - Slide 7

I toned down the colors to a cool-gray. This certainly would help give focus to the written content, but I still didn’t want the structure of my site to be dictated by its textures. The background looks great, but it was quite large and would still compete with everything I was going to write.  I want to go to a blog to read articles, not to stare at a stone wall.  At least, that was my logic at the time.

Design Fail - Slide 8

I knew I was getting close here. This design gave a lot of weight to the logo, but still allowed the reader to easily jump over to reading the post.  You could navigate easily, read easily, and it still had some ‘batman’ feel with the logo.  That said, I was still mourning the loss of my previous designs, and knew I needed a little texture to bring it to life.

Design Fail - Slide 9

The name Fringe Focus is born. It’s easy to say, spell, and remember. But the site was feeling a bit too black and white—where’s my yellow?

Design Fail - Slide 10

Yeah, that’s it.

Have Hope, You’ll Finish it Some Decade.

Obviously seeing this many redesigns might not be the most inspiring moment, but I assure you there is an end in sight. If you’ve redesigned something a million times, take a moment to step back and look at those designs collectively (assuming you’re saving all of them, as you should be).  Identify the traits you like in all of them, and eliminate whatever seems to be bringing them all down.  In my case, it was that I hadn’t made my content the focus of the design.  In your case, it could be anything.  Your designs could be too bold, too timid, too warm, too cold, too crowded, too open, red fish, blue fish. Yes, that’s a Dr. Suess reference.

Even better, have your friends or other designers take a look at your past attempts.  Perhaps they will see the value in something you previously wanted to throw away.

In the End, It’s About Goals

If you spend all of your time randomly designing, hoping you’ll magically hit the right look, it may never happen.  Break out the paper, or the text editor, and write down what it is that you’re really after. Make your next design meet all of these goals (it is possible), and make yourself a drink with an umbrella in it.  You’re done.

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