Today I relaunched my website with a new design. The goal was to make it easier to follow all my projects, including portfolio shots, podcast, writings, and fine art prints available. In this post I discuss the thinking behind the re-design and lessons learned in the endeavour.
I had the same website design since I launched my site in 2012. The old design was appropriate for what I needed at the time: a simple portfolio page to showcase my commercial photography work and a contact page for potential clients to reach me.
Overtime I added other elements, starting with a blog talking about the behind-the-scenes of image making. Later I decided to offer fine art prints of some of my photographs and create project specific pages for different series I was working on. Finally, this year I started a podcast, and I thought the design no longer served its purpose of showcasing my content, given the variety of work I was interested in and started working on.
The first problem was the vertical menu on the left side, permanent in all pages. It’s perfect for portfolio shots, but it takes a lot of real estate on the screen. In a way, it invites the visitor to click around and not focus on the content shown. I use a content management platform called Squarespace to manage my website, and luckily it makes it fairly easy to change design elements and structure from a technical point of view. The first subtle change was to put a horizontal menu on the top, where all sections had the same visual weight. The second change was using dynamic grid layouts to showcase my portfolio images. When visiting a few art directors and art buyers, the people who ultimately are responsible for commissioning work from photographers, I noticed that they usually worked with large screens on their desk. I wanted my portfolio to be shown with large images that would flow as one scrolls through the page. The third change was to put more information on project, blog and podcast pages, all the while maintaining a clean and accessible design.
Here is a summary of the main sections of the website. I designed each one to be somewhat self contained, with enough information for a new visitor to have a general sense of my work and at the same time to explore other sections and projects.
My new portfolio text text text. The goal is to showcase my new work in this this and this. I wanted the images to be shown larger on a dynamic grid.
This section is devoted to fine art photography projects, usually containing a number of images, research and other information.
The Wanderings Podcast has developed a following of its own, and the new page is further information about all the episodes.
Here I wanted to put not only my longer writings, but a general blue print of all my new content, including quotes, thoughts and fresh images.
After this process was done, I decided to jump into social media and ask for feedback on the new design. I got a few good tips that would lead to some tweaks in the design, especially font size, which tends to be too small on photographer’s sites. But the most unexpected comment came from a musician friend, a person that is also a professor and ethnomusicologist, which I knew from my work in music. She simply asked:
“What is the message you're trying to convey”?
I stared at the screen, really thinking. Maybe naively so, I hadn’t considered design as a message in itself, but as a means to facilitate the portrayal of multiple messages. I thought website design was more of a optimization exercise, rather than conveying a message. I then realized it was, at least from a branding and first impression point of view, giving the visitor a message about what I do as an artist. I decided to further explore what she meant by the question. She knew me from my music work with The Blue Dot Ensemble, and was not necessarily aware of my activities are as an advertising and fine art photographer, and recently as a podcaster. I told her I was not sure about a message per say, but I would hope people who stumbled upon the work I’m trying to create they would - hopefully - find it beautiful and thoughtful. However, I mentioned I thought the function of the website was two-fold: capture new leads who might be interested in my photography work, and inform a general audience on the meanings behind my work.
She immediately came back with another question: “but what about the meanings behind your work”? I couldn’t help remembering a quote by Joseph Campbell: “if you want to offend an artist, ask what his work means. And if he wants to offend you, he might tell you”. It was obviously a playful joke, albeit with some deep implications to the work of an artist and how he presents his work. That’s when I felt confident of my choices in design. If the person was interested mainly on the aesthetics and themes, the portfolio page would show where my artistic interest, sensitivity and skill were. If they wanted to explore more, the Projects, Blog and Podcast sections gave in depth explorations of meanings and inspirations.
I felt a bit less confident on what specifically those meanings and inspirations were. Over the past 6 months, if not all my artistic life, that question has been on my mind. I decided to do an exercise proposed by psychologist Jordan Peterson: ask yourself the question. And pay attention to the answer that comes from within you. You are not thinking about the question, you are humbly asking it. Strangely enough, an answer came:
I’m interested in the relationship between mythological themes and photography, explored through fashion aesthetics.
It seemed true. It seemed honest, even if my work doesn’t quite completely reflect that interest just yet. But that is the work of an artist, trying to manifest this inner world in his craft. And the process of re-designing my website, which looked like simply a strategic, business and technical activity, turned out to be another step into realizing my vision as a photographer and artist.
I hope you found this writing about re-thinking design useful. The main take away I had in this exercise was considering the question my friend posed, which I believe is at the core of the activity of designing: what about the meanings behind your work?
So, I invite you to take a look around. I would love to hear your feedback and suggestions. And I hope you enjoy the new content.