By Vijay Shah
On the 15th of April 2013, the Half-Eaten Mind blog will celebrate the first anniversary of its inception at a shared terraced house in Stratford, Newham, east London. That’s twelve months, 365 1/4 days, 8,760 hours, and 525,600 minutes since my blog coughed up its first chain of binary code as I brought it to life on the highly acclaimed blogging platform WordPress. In that time, I have, with the help of supporters, contributors and other news organisations, bloggers and Tweeters, penned dozens of articles. My writing has covered a plethora of subjects in good old-fashioned hard news, alongside a sizeable amount of human interest stories and features. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time blogging here on the Half-Eaten Mind. The blog has helped me fire up my once semi-nascent news writing talents, kept my ICT skills fresh and has opened my eyes to a web of multitudinous glories and intricacies that help generate the blogosphere. The Half-Eaten Mind has received thousands of visitors from every corner of the world, and has built up a loyal following of subscribers and fans that grows slowly every month.
I adore this blog, as sad and soppy as that may sound, and I owe it a lot. The Half-Eaten Mind has given me a new lease of life, being both a deeply involving hobby as well as a chance to maximise my employment-slash-media professionalism value. I almost think of my blog as my child, who I helped grow from a small newborn into a very inquisitive pre-teen, with a thousand questions and a thousand answers. Any mother or father would in their right mind do their best for their child, and that includes kitting them out in fresh clean clothes. Now at the moment I do not have any actual children of my own yet, so that day-long shopping trip to GAP Kids or Primark can wait, but this blog, which after all is the child spawned from my mental creativity and my passion for journalistic success surely deserves a fresh new look too.
Blogger Man can’t get enough of the Half-Eaten Mind’s classy new look.
Since I started up the Half-Eaten Mind last year, I have used one of the free ‘themes’ that is offered by WordPress for its bloggers. They have around 200 to choose from, most of which are completely free-of-charge. There are also premium themes available. As beautiful as the premiums are, they are quite expensive and my budget does not yet stretch that far.
Up until yesterday, the theme that was the backbone of the Half-Eaten Mind was called Notepad, which I think had been an option for WordPress bloggers for a while now. Notepad has a simple, yet arresting design and interface, and was intended to resemble the notepad application found on Apple Inc.’s highly-successful iPhone products – specifically the Notes.app feature. Designed by ‘Nick L.’ aka Nick La, a Toronto, Canada-based blogger, web designer and illustrator (N. Design Studio ndesign-studio.com), Notepad is the theme of choice for over 97,300 blogs on WordPress and came into public use in 2010.
When I first started out blogging, I did admittedly rush through looking for a good theme for my new blog, partly because I was as yet a novice at this game and also out of sheer excitement. That sugar-rush, “hyperactive kid on a Haribo overdose”, now-or-never brand of sheer excitement. As I scrolled down WordPress’ catalogues of blog skins, my eye caught itself suddenly on Notepad. Memories of the dodgy iPhone 3 I had bought from an Ebay vendor in California and which ended up sold for a pittance to an old family friend came flooding back. Mainly though, I was hooked by Notepad’s simple yet user-friendly appearance. The background, with its true-to-life resemblance to slightly yellowed notepaper, was perfectly suited to the journalism project I had just thought up. The theme did help remind me of the notepads that ‘roving reporters’ always carted around with them, at least until recently.
Notepad also won me over with its clean, uncluttered and non-pretentious feel, plus I was quite satisfied with the customisation options. You can add a header picture of your own liking, plus the sidebar allowed me to add and remove widgets to help maximise my own and my reader’s blog experience. To cut a long story short, Mr. La’s virtual writing pad had me sold and I remained a loyal customer right up until yesterday.
As any webmaster knows, or anyone else for that matter, it is good to stick with tried-and-tested formulas, but also that you cannot be afraid of that inevitable moment of change. Sometimes a quick redesign is necessary to inject new lifeblood into a project, to make it feel upright and invigorated again. Change can be a good thing. In my case, I wanted to find a new theme that would give the Half-Eaten Mind a smarter, more sophisticated look, as I was began to admittedly find the old theme stale, samey and a little childish.
After all, if I want to seriously promote this blog and have it appeal to future employers…if I wanted to showcase it to potential collaborators and clients that it was worth writing for, it really needed a more professional design. I wanted to visualise the Half-Eaten Mind as more like a proper news site than a piece of GCSE school coursework. I will be honest and say that what I just wrote was more a justification for my decision to switch themes after I made the switcheroo, but anyway I desired to do something spectacular for my blog’s first anniversary. I had recently moved house, the new residence being only a 10-minute bus ride from the place where my blog came to life, and I wanted to mark that major transition in my life too. A lot else has happened since last year in my personal life. Things have changed in my experiences of this world, whether I liked it or not, and the blog needed to move along with me.
I did not give this any serious thought though, until late last night. I was seated at my desk, bored, mindlessly wandering around the Internet, as I got myself ready for a tea-and-cigarette break before an early night in. I had just a few hours earlier subscribed to some emails from WordPress which were going to be useful in my journey as a blogger (I have picked up a lot of knowledge though; I doubt it I even needed them). I was perusing through WordPress.com Learn page and stumbled across the sub-section on themes. An idea, well more likely a realisation sparked off in my mind. I did often get my ideas at night when minds and fingers are idle. Before long, I was rapidly experimenting with themes as I struggled to keep my eyes open. The things I put myself through for the Half-Eaten Mind!!!.
Awake, one of WordPress’ high grade themes – available for a nominal yearly fee.
It took me a while to get things on point. When you select a new theme for your blog, it is a quick and relatively painless process, but for my first time there were teething problems, as you would expect. A couple of themes I tried either made the blog text too small or looked ugly when superimposed on my articles, even though the demos had looked so delicious, visually speaking. Other themes never made it that far, as I found them too unsuitable for a news and features blog. Too girly, too convoluted, too plain, too artsy…picking the perfect theme was tough and headache inducing. It would make not sense to use a diary or photography theme for a news blog. That is the online equivalent of putting hydraulics and racing stripes on a Reliant Robin.
Then I had to deal with technical hitches as well. All my widgets went missing and I had to re-install the cover photo of the tower blocks at dawn directly from the picture CD I owned, as it too had been gone missing-in-action during the changeover. There were also layout issues to tackle later. From start to finish, I reckon the whole revamp took nearly two hours, not withstanding a late night phone call and a sore bloated stomach which was really antagonising me.
The slog and low-level IT technician-ising was worth it. As of today, the Half-Eaten Mind has been dressed in some very nice clothes indeed, with a warm welcome to a more colourful and functional design, which hopefully will be top-notch in the usability stakes too. The theme I will be relying on is called Mystique and it bears some similarity to the old Notepad layout, most notably the header image and general size of the pages. The layout is more customisable though, and I transferred some of the widgets to the bottom of the page to guard against cluttering up the sidebar.
How we used to do things: An archived screenshot of the blog under its old design. Shown here is the About page.
Mystique, with its slick contemporary design and full use of blog components, was developed for WordPress by Digital Nature PF (http://digitalnature.eu/), a one-man operation by web designer Milenko Popovič of Arad, Romania. He is a specialist in WordPress themes and plugins and also does custom work for private clients.
Mystique’s advantages lay in its appealing looks and wide choice of options. With the layout, you can select from one, two, or three columns, six color schemes, four footer widget areas, and also offers support for six post formats. What also won me over was the option to include links to the Half-Eaten Mind Facebook fan page, my personal Twitter account and the blog’s RSS feed as smartly designed icons tucked up in front of the header image. They gently come out of their hiding place once you mouse over them. Very cute.
I have tried to retain the layout and colour scheme from the old blog design, because firstly I like change,but not drastic change – and I wanted to keep some of that old familiarity, but also as a link between old and new. After all, we may have an updated design, but you can be rest assured you will be still getting the very same in hard-hitting, entertaining and informative content that the Half-Eaten Mind has come to pride itself on.
Do you like the new design? Or were things better the way they used to be?
Any improvements or suggestions?
You can leave a comment below this article, or contact me directly through email, Facebook or Twitter. I look forward to hearing from you 🙂 !!
P.S. I also have plans to collaborate with a blog book publisher to make a one-off limited edition (and I mean very limited) book version of the Half-Eaten Mind as a personal commemoration of its first year of news publishing. The planning is still in the early stages and I do plan to commission one book for my own library, however if you want a copy yourself, that can be happily arranged. Please note that you will be responsible for the costs of publishing, packing and postage, but it will cost relatively little. Watch this space.
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