The Thought Process That Shaped This Design

Now that the new design has been live a couple of weeks I want to begin sharing the thought process behind it. While there are plenty of articles online showing you how to code this or that, there’s not enough where designers share why they made decisions.

Over the next few weeks I’d like to talk about the why behind the decisions I made. Why did I choose a specific typeface? Why is the layout the way it is? Why did I organize content the way I have? Not that my decisions are necessarily right or best, but hopefully seeing something of my thought process will help with yours.

Today I want to start with the initial thought process that came before working on the design itself. Why I decided it was time to redesign the site and the business planning that helped shape the direction of the design.

VFS Digital Design printed on cloth paper

It’s Time For A Redesign

Perhaps the biggest reason for a redesign was that I didn’t enjoy visiting the site and figured if I didn’t like visiting and using the site, others probably felt the same.

The system I had in place also wasn’t the best. I experimented with WordPress when I built it and did a few things that worked, but weren’t easy to build on. There have been things I wanted to add and change and they weren’t easy to do on the old theme.

While I hardly consider myself the world’s greatest design, I do know I’ve improved since the previous design and I wanted this place to reflect my growth and the style I’ve begun to develop. Look through the archives here and you can see I favor simplicity leaning toward minimalism, typography, grid based layouts and responsive design.

None of these were part of the previous design and I felt a little hypocritical at times writing about them when the words appeared on a design that was anything but. It also made more business sense as this site is perhaps the most important work in my portfolio and should give a better indication of what clients will get when hiring me.

Blueprint of a kitchen looking towads the family room

Business Planning

Content informs design. Your goals inform content. Since this is primarily a business site I spent a few weeks thinking through my business prior to any design work. Rethinking my business plan is something I do on a semi-regular basis anyway. This time I would keep the idea of a new design to match the tweaked plan in mind.

There were 2 major changes I wanted to make.

  • Refocus the services I offer by dropping seo services
  • Begin the transition from a service based business to a product based business

The first was easy enough to do by reworking the content and information architecture. The second will take more time. It’s not entirely reflected in this design, but I’ve made preparations behind the scenes to incorporate more changes when the time comes.

A pair of glasses focusing on the word 'focus' being highlighted in green

More Focused Services

When I thought about my business a few things were clear. Nearly all my revenue comes from design and development services for sites typically built on WordPress. Fortunately it’s also what I enjoy doing.

What I don’t enjoy so much is performing seo services. I tend to study seo mainly to make better informed decisions about design and marketing. I’m happy doing seo work for myself, but not so much for clients and quite honestly I’m not really equipped to be an seo shop. There are plenty of other people who could better serve that market.

A more focused list of services was part of my last major redesign. At that time I offered hosting services and unfortunately had chosen a domain with the word hosting in it. Naturally that needed to change and I chose a domain leading to Van SEO Design.

At the time my thought was to use my knowledge of seo as a selling point with design clients. I wondered though if including seo in the domain would result in the same thing as having included hosting in the previous domain, but even back then thought I could one day combine Van and SEO into Vanseo and change the name the Vanseo Design.

As you can see from the logo that’s what I’ve done.

Color gradient transition on the petals of a Black eyed Susan

Transition to Products

Another thing I realized is that I’m more suited to consistently improving a few sites than constantly moving from one site to the next. I design, because I love solving problems, but find I most enjoy solving problems I define and prefer having final say over decisions.

When I have decision-making control I feel freer to take chances. I’m willing to experiment and explore ideas that might contribute more to the industry.

There’s also the issue of scale. Scaling a service based business means hiring more people as revenue is tied so closely to time spent working. There’s a limit to how much time any one person can work.

Products scale differently. You have to put the same amount of work into creating a great product regardless of how many people buy it. Not that I think a product based business is automatically better or easier, but I think it’s one that ultimately suits me better.

This isn’t anything new for me. I’ve wanted to make this transition for some time, but can’t claim to have made much progress. I do have bills like anyone else and at times that means taking on projects I’d rather not in order to pay those bills.

Much of this transition thinking is what led me to include a space for advertising in the footer. It was a tougher decision than you might think. The designer in me doesn’t want them, but the businessman in me thinks they make sense to include. Neither of us expect they’ll lead to retirement. Ideally they’ll mean a few less projects I need to take on, which will mean more time I can devote to my own projects.

More than likely the first project will be to work on a book about design. You might remember one of my goals for 2012 was to write a book. I’ll ask you to wish me the same luck I asked for at the beginning of the year.

Part of a typographic poster promoting Design Wars event

Closing Thoughts

As I said above, I disliked the old design and thought it needed an update to better reflect what I could do and what I could offer clients. It also needed an update simply to make me visit more often.

Before a single thought went into the design though, I spent some time thinking through the business. That thinking led to 2 major decisions that would help inform the redesign. The first was dropping seo services and the second was to begin the transition to a more product focused business.

What I hope you take away from this post, isn’t so much the specifics of my goals in business, but rather that your business goals or the business goals of your client’s site are what should lead and inform your design.

Next week I’ll share more about the specific design goals and constraints I set prior to my first sketches as well as the concept I came up with for the new design.

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  1. What a pleasant surprise!

    I just came in to check out the blog and I am greeted by this brand new design.

    It is beautiful, nice work!


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