Tweaks: Front Page Layout and Hiding Photos

I love the iterative nature of developing for the Web. Unlike packaged or downloaded software where there is a lot of overhead in releasing an update, it is very easy to make a small change and take it live. This means that it’s possible to experiment with things and respond quickly to customer feedback or your own new ideas.

An excellent example of this in action was our launch of roles and awards a few months ago. We got some great feedback on the new features and were able to use the input to make huge improvements to the system almost immediately. I LOVE that.

There are also things we need to change about the new look YLF that we launched a few weeks ago. Lots of little things, some of which we’ve dealt with already like text that was a bit light in some places. But also two bigger things: (1) the layout and content of the front page, and (2) allowing members to hide their photos.

Front Page Layout

First of all, why did we change the front page to begin with? A blog is a tried and tested format. Well, the main reason has to do with the frequency of updates. The blog format has the problem that it changes too slowly AND too quickly.

  • Too Slowly: At YLF we publish two posts on Monday to Thursday, one post on Friday and the occasional post over the weekend. Between those times the old site stayed pretty static. That seemed wrong given the hive of activity on YLF.
  • Too Quickly: Sometimes there are things that you want to focus on for longer than half a day. With the old site that was hard to do. You could get a lot of attention on something by posting on the blog, but as soon as the next post went live it dropped below the fold. In this sense the blog changes too quickly.

We saw the front page as an opportunity to address this. The new activity stream surfaces things that you do in the blog, forum and store in realtime as you do them. And the new feature allows us to focus on a topic for longer than half a day, highlighting relevant info in the blog and forum. Fashion week was the first feature, but Angie’s new one on the Autumn Transition will be an even better example. It will point to previous blog entries, new blog entries that Angie publishes over the next week, and related threads in the forum.

What wasn’t working for us in the version we launched on September 6 was the prominence of the blog content in the front page, or rather, the lack thereof. Sometimes we will need the feature to dominate the page, but this won’t always be true. So we now have a design that will allow the feature to be different sizes according to its importance. We have also restored the main blog post of the day to its rightful prominent position at the top of the page.

Finally, we’ve enhanced the activity section with an area for recently started conversations that include pictures. We know that people love photo posts and this is an easy way to discover them.

Photo Upload Management

Before the recent launch of the new site we tested it with a very small group of beta testers. We got some great input that we incorporated before launching, but there was one feature we agreed was important but just weren’t able to do in time: the ability to manage your photo uploads (and specifically, to delete them) outside the post editing form. This is necessary because forum posts can only be edited for 24 hours after posting.

So today we are adding a simple way to hide photos after your ability to edit the post has passed. If you hover over a photo in your post you will see the option “Hide Photo”. Click this and other people won’t be able to see the photo when they read your post. It is easily reversible —  the option will immediately change to “Show Photo”, which you can click to make the photo visible again.

It sounds more complicated than it is. Just load a thread where you have posted a photo and give it a try. Hover over the photo, press “Hide Photo”, then log out and view the page as someone else would see it.

This is certainly not the last word on photo management, but it gives you control over the visibility of the photos you upload. We will add more photo management features over time.

Note that when you hide a photo, a blank placeholder remains in the post where it appeared. This must happen because in the post text you might have referred to the photos by number and we don’t want all of those references to break when you return and hide photos at some point in the future.

It’s About the Little Things

You might also notice other little changes. Most of these are the direct result of your feedback, so thanks very much for caring enough to speak up. And keep it coming! Use the contact form, send me a private message or start a thread in the forum.

Fashion Week Photography: The Toys

Here’s a quick rundown of the equipment I’ll be using during Fashion Week.

  1. Nikon D90: My first decent camera was a Nikon SLR and since then I’ve been loyal to the brand. They are heavier than the equivalent Canon, but I love their design and how solid they are. This one has an awesome sensor that allows me to get decent shots at much lower light than the D70 I had before. That’s really the only crucial thing about a camera body. The rest is details and personal preference.
  2. Nikon 50mm f/1.4 prime lens: I am in love with this lens. It is on my camera conservatively 95% of the time. I love that it is extremely fast and can work in almost any lighting situation. I also like being liberated from the zoom. If you want to get closer in, you move closer. In my opinion a prime lens makes you more creative and more conscious of framing. I’ll be using this one for a lot of impromptu people shots outside the shows.
  3. Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens: This one I rented because I wanted a very fast zoom for the shows where I can’t tell in advance whether I’ll be shooting something at the front, middle or end of the runway. Its a $4000 lens because of all the big high-end glass inside. The thing that caught me by surprise me when I picked up the lens yesterday is that it is very heavy. This is going to be a workout.
  4. MacBook Pro & Photoshop: I use this laptop for absolutely everything and it is also essential for the post processing I do on the photos. I don’t do much. On most photos I correct the rotation slightly, adjust the contrast to compensate for mistakes I made in exposure, and crop.
  5. Kata backpack: Friends bought this for me in Hong Kong on my 40th birthday. It has the perfect set of compartments and is very compact. The only drawback is that the Macbook doesn’t fit into its laptop compartment, but that’s ok because it would only have made the backpack too large.

Aside from other paraphernalia like the memory card and chargers, that’s it.

The thing I won’t have is a camera case. After years of carefully protecting my camera in a nice case I saw the light with the help of my photographer friend Dane Howard. You can’t take a picture with a camera that’s in its case, and you’ll always have a tiny internal debate about removing it from the case to capture something. Bumps and scratches just add character, and the reality is that it won’t be long before some new Nikon hardware will be calling my name.

The essential companion to a no-case strategy is a hand strap that attaches the camera firmly to your hand. Not a wrist strap, but something like this. When I’m in photography mode I spend the day with the D90 as an extension of my right arm.

If you have any questions about the equipment I’m using, or anything relating to the photography of Fashion Week, feel free to ask in the comments. I don’t consider myself to be a pro, but I’m happy to share my experience.

Oh, and Nikon did not pay me to write this post.

Designing YLF’s New Persona

Why on earth would we create this backstage blog when we could post everything on the main blog? Well, so that we can post completely indulgent blog entries like this one. Most people won’t be interested in the thought process that led to the new look YLF, but for those who are, here it is in way too much detail.

Since we launched YLF in 2006 we have evolved the style and persona of the site with each update. Sometimes we added big new features, but the look and feel of the site was always true to the original blog. That changes today.

YLF is reaching a new stage in its life and it needs a new style to go along with that. Here are our main goals and the specific aspects of the design that tackle each one.

Chameleons and Context

Visually, we want the site to be a chameleon for the “now”. If the topic is the color palette for a new season, we want the site to be painted in those colours. If we are posting about fashion week, we want you to feel like you are immersed in the action. So the background image will sometimes be tailored to the page you are looking at. We are currently planning to use these special backgrounds in two ways:

  1. Special blog entries: When we have a visually rich blog entry that lends itself to a fancy background we will give it one.
  2. A monthly “cover”: All the pages in the site (except the blog entries that have their own special background) will use a single background that we change from month to month.

We hope you find the result as immersive and exciting as we do. Of course the very first example of this is the background we have chosen for September and the launch of the new design. And here are a few examples of this in action for previous blog entries:

Community Front and Center

We want the things you do to be more prominent. We love the blog, but YLF is not only a blog these days. About 6 months ago the pageviews on the forum started to exceed those on the blog and since then the gap has widened. So instead of the front page being a blog alone, we wanted it to highlight activity from all over the site.

There are two ways the new design achieves this:

  1. Front Page Features: on the left of the front page you will see either one or two big feature slots. The features will run for a few days, or even a week, bringing together posts from the blog, discussions in the forum and other information like relevant twitter feeds. Our very first feature is about the new design, but the next one will be even more fun: September Fashion Week in NYC!
  2. The Activity Stream: Almost everything that happens on YLF (posting a new blog entry, replying to a conversation on the forum, reviewing something in the store) now gets registered in the YLF activity stream. The last 10 or so entries will always be displayed on the front page. We hope this will bring all the exciting stuff that used to be buried deep in the site to the surface.

Fashion Mag or Web App

One tension that we’ve tried to embrace is the duality of being a sort of fashion magazine and at the same time a social web application. On the one hand, we’ve tried to convey fashion mag with a large distinctive title in the “masthead”, a colorful photographic “cover” in the background, and a crisp white “page” with classic typefaces like Helvetica and Georgia. On the other hand, we’ve tried to emulate the web apps we admire in their clean design with lots of white space and a clear layout.

Beyond the aesthetics, this isn’t an easy marriage from an information design point of view either — high end magazines are an intentionally rich, dense, and complex treasure trove that most people consume in tiny chunks. Great web applications, on the other hand, are sparse and simple, with everything close at hand. Our approach is to make the essential elements of the site, like posting in the forum and navigating the store, obvious and simple. But also putting the richness of the content — years of blog entries and intense daily activity — out on display but less prominent. Hopefully once the basic stuff becomes second nature, people will start to notice all the other possibilities.

Coming of Age

The original YLF represented Angie’s first foray into communicating her expertise to a broad audience, and my first experiments with web design and development. Since then we have come a long way, and as our baby grows up we need to let go of of a few things:

  • The prominence of the “YLF colours” that we love so much must give way to a neutral palette that supports whatever the current topic demands, whether that be the new Spring colours or the vibrant colours of Hong Kong.
  • Lisa Henderling’s beautiful stylized caricatures must give way to photographic content — both ours and yours. Photos have become more important over time and now they will start to play a central role in the design of the site.

It was hard for us to let go of these things. We have several design explorations that attempt to combine the old characterful design with a neutral one that celebrates photo-rich and user generated content, but they just didn’t work.

One way that I test new designs is to be very conscious of my reaction when I see them unexpectedly. Like when I unintentionally catch a glimpse of it on my screen as I walk past our home office, or when I’m surprised by it when my Mac laptop springs to life. There is a brief emotional response before the frontal lobe steps in to tell you what you think. None of the compromise designs passed this test.

After we did let go, everything fell into place. My first feeling when seeing the design was a rush of excitement and an urgency about getting it out there. It was the same for Angie.

So, out with the old. In with the new.

Continuity and Identity

While a lot is changing in the design, a lot is also staying the same. To ensure continuity we have worked hard to ensure that it will be very easy to feel at home in the new design. Most of the things that are used heavily, like features in the forum and navigation in the store, still work the same way.

More importantly, when I think about YLF’s identity, two things come to mind. The nature of the community and Angie’s personality. These things define YLF and they are not changing today.