Layouts, Iterations & Fun Facts

New Layout

The sharp-eyed among you have probably noticed that I’ve changed up the look and feel of the site, in many cases making some difficult decisions, but doing so in exchange for better functionality and ease-of-use in the future.

My old design — which I lovingly built on top of a simple template from the early 2000’s — was getting more than a little cluttered, despite its minimalist veneer. The code was swiftly aging, the excessive amounts of plugins and hastily-written code I cobbled together to keep it functioning were starting to slow it down, and frankly I was just kind of bored with the look of it. My tastes have changed a bit since I first put it up.

So I decided to change it.

After a bit of personal back-and-forth with myself, I opted to snag something that is more future-proof this time, rather than opting for something old and simple that I would need to reconstruct (as is my usual habit).

Thankfully, I found a template that should serve me well until I do catch up in the development department and can build my own from scratch using the new methods that have become available. I like the look of it, the backend is solid (not a euphemism), and it elegantly handles a lot of the little issues I was having with the old site (trying resizing the window, for example, to see how it deals with small screens, like those found on tablets and smartphones).

I would like to note, though, that this new site design is still in its infancy, and I would love your input as to what could be done better. Does some aspect of the layout not make sense to you? Not finding something, or not finding it as easily as you should? I’d love any feedback you can provide, either in the comments, or in an email.

 

Retrospective

Since I’m in the process of updating the site, I thought it might be fun to do a bit of a retrospective on Exile Lifestyle and the iterations it’s gone through these past couple of years, since I started in way back in April of 2009.

Exile Lifestyle First Iteration

The first iteration was built on top of a popular theme at that time called Arthemia. I customized the colors and rearranged the boxes a bit, but at that point in time I had very little experience with PHP, and my options were a little limited because of my ignorance. My direction was also a little more winding and random: I looked to other popular blogs at the time to see how they managed things, so I included just about everything they did (for example, categories) even if they didn’t really do me any good, because I figured that’s just how this blogging thing worked.

Exile Lifestyle Second Iteration

The next iteration came into being about 6 months later, and was a bit more sophisticated. I had learned a bit of PHP, so I was able to take an uber-minimal theme called Modio and customize the hell out of it, using the underlying structure, but keeping little else (it did provide a great deal of inspiration for me, though…until I found this theme and the other offerings by Upstart Blogger, I was convinced all themes would look alike, just with different graphics along the top).

I stuck a photo of myself in the sidebar because I wanted to add some color to the otherwise duo-chromatic scheme, and because I wanted to hit people with an explanatory image right away (young guy on beach on his laptop = young guy able to work form anywhere…see what I did there?).

Exile LIfestyle Third Iteration

The next iteration came over a year after I started the blog, sometime around June of 2010. I had just gotten some rocking’ new photos taken while in New Zealand, so I revamped the site to make use of those snapshots and to integrate an even simpler setup, hoping to point people to the important stuff right away, without any distractions. I replaced the image in the sidebar with a white-backgrounded-businessy-traveler-looking pic of me.

 

Fun Facts

Some random info-tidbits about the site:

For the first two weeks of its existence, Exile Lifestyle was called ‘3rd Education,’ the idea being that I had gone through my first two educational experiences (school and succeeding in the business world), so it was time to set out and get my third education…life experiences, cultural relativism and street wisdom. You know, travelish, non-standard-lifestyle stuff.

My newsletter, by the way, is still called 3rd Education.

In the first iteration of the site I played around with Google ads, but after having them up for 5 minutes I took them down and promised myself I’d figure out another way to make the site a business venture, not just a hobby.

The bird logo (affectionately called ‘birdo’) that has adorned the site since the second iteration of the site was actually a slightly-modified illustration I did for a client back in LA before their company went under (though I added the suit and tie later). They were a socially-conscious t-shirt venture, and I made several other sketches for them before they tanked, one of which is now being used on a t-shirt on I Have No Shirt. I call it Umlaut Tortoise.

You know the little picture of me that used to be in the bottom of the sidebar? I put it there as a joke, then ended up keeping it because it seemed to soften the edges of some of the more confrontational posts I would write with its strangeness. On most browsers, my eyes (the image of me, that is) would look right at the title of the most recent blog post on the home page. That was not a mistake, and getting it to work that way took longer than I would like to admit.

Shortly after starting up Exile Lifestyle, I started up a sub-site called ‘Buy This Thinger’ through which I intended to make money curating a collection of cool stuff and earning affiliate money through Amazon. This idea was reborn in Flashpack, a project that I started over a year ago, and recently resurrected as a Tumblr blog where I review things I own and document things I want. All of this is evidence that 1) I have a penchant for strange domain names, and 2) minimalists like stuff, we just choose what we own very carefully.

I published my first ebook, Personal Branding, about a month after starting Exile Lifestyle. Free ebooks weren’t so common (outside of marketing circles, at least) back then, so even at a mere 50 pages, that ebook spiked my traffic like crazy and at this point has been downloaded well over 100,000 times.

The first three bloggers I met (via email) were Cody McKibben, Corbett Barr and Chris Guillebeau. All had been doing their thing a bit longer than I had, so I learned a lot from the get-go just by watching them. Thanks guys!

I’ve written more than a few posts that have led to some really angry emails and comments, but the three top anger-inducers include one where I told people to burn their résumés, one where I ridiculed the Law of Attraction, and one where I made fun of the Pickup Artist Community. There was another post about how I love the gay community that led to a bit of a standoff in the comments, but the duo who were scuffling ended up co-writing a guest post a week later about how to have a productive debate, rather than just arguing (did I mention that I have the greatest readers ever?).

Curious about some other aspect of Exile Lifestyle’s history? Or perhaps there’s some tale you’re hoping I’ll relate? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email!

22 comments

  1. Well, if nothing else, changing your layout got me to click over from my reader to take a look at it. :) I must admit, I did like the quirky little picture of you in the bottom.

    What I don’t care for as much is that there is no way to navigate the site. I can see your more recent post, and the two before it in the header. However, if I want to find content you’ve written in the past, there’s no obvious way for me to get to it. Perhaps that’s the intent – to keep the blog in the moment, so to speak – but if I think “hey, Colin wrote something interesting that kind of relates to what I’m thinking about right now. What was that again?” then I’m forced to go back to my reader and load up the archives there.

    But perhaps I’m the only one that gets bored and goes through old blogs looking for half-remembered nuggets?

    • @inametaphor Well, there’s a button in the top navigation called ‘Blog’ that takes you to a list of all the blog posts I’ve done, but it sounds like it’s not obvious enough to grab peoples’ attention. I’ll see what I can do about making it more intuitive. Thanks for the feedback!

  2. I love the retrospective! It’s cool to see the progress that you have made. I’m glad to see that flashpack is back as well. I would love to see a new “All the things I own” post update (as long as we are on the topic of travel gear)!

    I’m completely digging the new design. My one suggestion is to switch around the 3 links to your other pages and your most recent blog post modules. As Exilelifestyle.com is your blog’s home, I feel like the blog posts need to be more prominent in the page’s hierarchy.

  3. I love the retrospective! It’s cool to see the progress that you have made. I’m glad to see that flashpack is back as well. I would love to see a new “All the things I own” post again (as long as we are on the topic of travel gear)!

    I’m completely digging the new design. My one suggestion is to switch around the 3 links to your other pages and your most recent blog post modules. As Exilelifestyle.com is your blog’s home, I feel like the blog posts need to be more prominent in the page’s hierarchy.

    • Good call, Mike. I was actually thinking that moving the 3 most recent blog post segment up above the ‘other projets’ section would be a good idea, and for the same reasons you suggest it.

      Glad you enjoyed the look back! Will get together a new ‘All the things I own post,’ though I may wait until after India. Making some big switches in my possessions when I’m back in the US this time around.

  4. Not gunna lie, I’m going to miss that cute little pic of you looking all adorbs in the corner… I guess I’ll live.

  5. Hi Colin!

    I’ve never commented before, so first off – great blog! It’s one of my absolute favorites!

    I really like the design, it’s very nice and clean. I like the landing page, I had no idea Flashpack existed before seeing that. Will check that out now. What I did find a tad annoying was actually the light blue link color. Especially in the thin links (like “5 comments” at the top of the post), it’s a bit hard to read, at least on my monitor.

    And like someone else mentioned, it’s not completely obvious to me that Blog leads to some sort of Archive. But otherwise very nice!

    Thanks for lots of inspiring reading!

    • Good to know about the links, I was a little curious about that, actually. Will change up ‘Blog’ to ‘Archive’ and see if that makes a difference, too.

      Thanks for the feedback and the kind words! :)

      • @colinwright I think it’s a good idea to change “Blog” to “Archive.” I’d reserve the entries with images as featured entries or the really cool ones. Adding a standard text-link version of the archive with the years/months would be awesome for back-reading.

  6. Hey Colin!

    Loving the new design. Truly clean and content focused. I remember the past 2 but I never met the original design.

    I’m glad I have been part of your readers for so long, it has allowed me to lean a lot from you. And now I enjoy my own journey.

    Thanks for everything man!

  7. Hey Colin.. I love the new layout and design of your blog. Now that you have it, I cannot imagine any other design suiting your blog so well. I love all of it, but I think I like how you use images the best. And of course your writing itself. Great Going. You have a new fan edition :-)

    • I also meant to add a suggestion. How about some JS that detects the screen size, and if it is big enough (for example mine is) you have your blog’s header fixed. Just the ‘white ribbon’ that has the site name on left and menu on the right. You can let the ‘black ribbon’ on top will all social links to scroll up. On large screen sizes that makes your blog look just amazingly beautiful. And it does not look like the tiniest bit non-minimalistic.

  8. Hurrah for CSS Media Queries! I was researching the best ways for making a mobile theme for my blog and elected to go with the Media Queries too. I often find myself resizing the browser just to see how sites respond to it.

    One tip: Make use of the CSS @media print{…} selector to create a print-friendly version of the site that looses the navigational elements, comments etc. It is super easy to do.

    • Great tip! I’ll look into getting that implemented – I know there are a lot of new apps/sites out there making use of that kind of stripped-down style so they can pull content into online newspapers/grids/etc.

  9. I think this layout has a lot less character than the other one and the font you’ve used is much harder to read. Not diggin’ it really but I know you will be building upon this.

    • Perhaps, but it’s a much better technical framework to build upon. The old one was showing its age, and I knew it was time to change because I wasn’t excited about working with it anymore.

      Now: new possibilities!

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