Kicking off the 2011 Nuketown Redesign

It’s been five years since Nuketown’s last redesign. The imputus then was to experiment with this nifty new open source content management system I’d heard about: Drupal. I converted Nuketown from the homegrown CMS I’d written, created a Drupal theme, and then had fun experimenting with views, content types and way too many modules.

Five year later it’s time for another Drupal upgrade: Drupal 7. Unlike the last few Drupal upgrades, Drupal 7 changes a lot of things under the hood, including the theme. Rebuilding the current Nuketown theme — which has sabertooth-like incisors — seems like a waste of time … why not take the opportunity to do something new?

Thus, the redesign. A lot has changed in the last five years and as I re-work Nuketown, I want to acknowledge those changes and incorporate them into the design. A good example is social media and the microcontent associated with it. In 2006, Facebook was still largely a college phenomenon and Twitter had just launched. Five years later I’ve made 14,339 tweets, much of which might have been a blog post in an earlier age, almost all of which isn’t captured on Nuketown in anyway.

At the same time, I’ve experimented heavily with a wide variety of social media apps, but there hasn’t been a coherent strategy associated with it. There’s no official Nuketown twitter account, no Nuketown facebook bag, and that’s given rise to some branding problems: there is a Nuketown twitter account (@nuketown) but it’s by a jogging enthusiast. Most of the Facebook pages (save one for Nuketown Radio Active) are dedicated to the “Nuketown” multiplayer board from the Black Ops video game.

With the redesign, I’ll be fix this by launching a unified campaign, and creating mechanisms to keep it all current. This doesn’t mean turning the Facebook and Twitter feeds into link dumps; but rather it means that I’ll be splitting out some of the updates you see in my personal feeds into the Nuketown ones.

Or take mobile. Like most web sites, Nuketown isn’t optimized for mobile visitors, despite the fact that 7% of the sites traffic was from mobile web browsers. With the new edition, I want to bake mobile into Nuketown’s DNA and present a smartphone-friendly home page and theme.

At the heart of things is Nuketown’s content, and its content where I’ve struggled in recent years. Its become harder and harder to post, partly because ideas have been leached off by Twitter (why write a blog post when 140 characters will suffice?) but largely because of work and family commitments. Gone are the days when I could spend a weekend handcrafting a new edition of Nuketown, or knocking out a month’s worth of reviews. I have perhaps a half an hour a day when I can spend on the site, and even then I may not have a notebook computer in front of me. Instead, I might have an iPhone or iPad, neither of which work well as input devices for Nuketown’s current format.

Nuketown needs to evolve to reflect — and take advantage — of these facts. I’m not going to gut the content in favor of stream of consciousness microbursts, but I am going to create content guidelines that limit posts to 500 words, and focus on writing short-but-meaningful social media updates to talk about the things I don’t have time to write at length about. In some ways, Nuketown is coming full-circle — back in the late 1990s I had a second call “5-second reviews” that served exactly this purpose. I killed it during one of the redesigns; it’s time it came back.

Coupled with the content issue is one of declining traffic. While Nuketown’s traffic held more or less steady in 2009 and 2010, 2011 has seen a significant fall off in visitors. The site is running about 20% below last year’s numbers, and while I’m not dependent on Nuketown for my paycheck , I’m still disappointed by the decline. I believe this is partly do to the frequency with which I’ve been updating the site, but its also a function of search engine optimization (or lack there of).

Finally, the site looks old. It had its current white-text-on-black color scheme for 8+ years, and I’m tired of it. I’m experimenting with new variants that retain its white/black/red color scheme, but lighten the site and make it easier to read and scan.

All of this is being incorporated into a Nuketown scope document that outlines the content, programming, design, social media and analytics goals for the new site, which points to the other reason for the redesign: I’ve learned a lot … and I want to use it.

Over the last two years I’ve been through several redesigns at work, incorporating formal information architecture, site mapping, wireframes, design comps, build outs, version control and theming. I’ve done aspects of this before with Nuketown, but it has always been piecemeal, never cohesive. It’s time the astronaut’s family got their own space suits.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be posting the artifacts of this process and asking for feedback from fans of the site. If there’s something you want to see added (or removed) please let me know. I have some definite ideas in mind, but I’m always willing to listen to what folks have to say.

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