So most of the time when Paul is doing what he does best (sending 100 emails out a day, turning supermodels into baby mamas) I don’t usually ask “why”. When we started talking about how Jack of All Blogs was blowing up and taking off, the subject of it’s design obviously was at the forefront of our conversation since it was so plain. I once said that Instablogs suffered from DLWD, or Default Looking Weblog Disease, and I’d be damned if something associated with 9rules suffered the same malady. And with that I hit the drawing board.
And it hit me back right in the face. The first design I put together for Fine Fools sucked big time — probably because I was under the gun with so much of our client work that the creativity was just not in me at that time. Just like a good boss should do, when I showed him a design that I’m a bit iffy on, he kicks me in the ass and tells me to try harder and that’s just what Screezy did. Plus he said if I get this design into Stylegala he’d buy me two bottles of Patron at SXSW, and if you ask some of our friends they will tell you just how much of a motivator that is. It probably won’t get into SG, but at least I tried my best :)
Other Network Designs
A few would say that 9rules isn’t a weblog network because we don’t own the content, which is fine, we don’t really like getting caught up in semantics. But not many can argue that Fine Fools isn’t a weblog network since we own the content, so one of the things I did was some competitive research — what are the other weblog networks doing with their site designs, and how can this FF template go 15 steps ahead and set a hard act to follow.
b5media has weblogs like Mischa Barton News and Play Girlz (disregard the tasteless ESRB rating picture halfway down the page); Instablogs is starting to redesign some of their blogs like Born Rich and Green Diary; and Weblogs Inc has blogs like Medical Informatics Insider. They’re all clean designs, but none of them really “stick out” in the way I wanted the Fine Fools sites to stick out.
New FF Design
As a designer, I really feel that a nice-looking site can contribute a lot to the overall experience. Here’s one of the new Fine Fools designs I came up with:
Like Paul said at the Fine Fools blog, this design is pretty far from the usual stuff I do which is usually clean and simple. This design is like a mixture of grunge and techno — the transparency effect of the red-over-orange picture overlay gives it a nice grainy feel (along with the vintage typeface) but then the sidebar is all modern and sleek. You don’t see many left-aligned weblog designs anymore, so I wanted to do something a bit untraditional since the content on Fine Fools sites is very untraditional. The orange background image is from sxc.hu and the body background is from squidfingers.
The Jack of All Blogs content is a bit crazy, so the design for it had to be equally crazy as well. The red/orange color scheme for this one will be color shifted in Photoshop for the other sites, so every single one will have a different main color and header image so it makes it a bit more interesting. The design looks 100% in IE6 and I only checked it once — no code refactoring necessary ;) Now that’s what I like to see!
Scrivs Steps In
Sorry you had to listen to Mike ramble on and on about how cool he is, you know how it goes with these designers, put them in the spotlight and they just can’t walk away. When it came to trying to figure out how to go about branding the Fine Fools Network I was having a bit of trouble simply because the sites range in content so much that a common theme in my head wasn’t going to be possible. However, since they were under the same Network I did want a design that unified them yet was customizable enough so that each site wasn’t the exact copy of Jack of All Blogs.
To me Fine Fools is an extension of 9rules in the sense that you blog for fun (and maybe a little money). So many of us have gotten lost in the pro-blogging hoopla that we forgot that blogging can actually be fun and enjoyable. There are no requirements to how often you write, you set your own rate and you get paid for what you put in. We don’t hound our writers to write specific entries to garner traffic. I started this network on the side as an experiment that I didn’t want to burden with requirements that made blogging a chore. The name says it all, Fine Fools.
But again how could we put these ideas into a design? I can’t speak for the public, but to me the 9rules branding was a homerun in the fact that it made us distinct and recognizable. Sure that was our intention from the beginning, but when it comes to branding you never really know how things will turn out. You can follow your own formula, but can rest assure that the public will follow their own. I was getting too caught up in trying to figure out the formula to make lightning strike twice instead of just going with our gut instincts.
I grew so frustrated that eventually I told Rundle to “just do whatever”. When he showed me the design you are seeing I wasn’t sure how to respond. While I loved the look I didn’t think it would work well across a number of sites, but the longer I looked at the more it grew on me. The content on Fine Fools sites is of good quality in my opinion and could stand on its own in any design, however great content deserves a great home and I believe this is what we have now.
Fine Fools is genuinely a foolish network with regards to both content and design now and I couldn’t be happier. Now let’s see what other things this crazy CEO can mess with…