Two things have stayed with me through the years, all the way back to when I was a young boy. More than Legos, hemp bracelets, and rollerblading there was always art and storytelling.
My mom had art supplies around all the time while growing up and I was an excellent liar. I’ve since read Maura Kelly, in The Atlantic, detailing how kids who lie are using the same synapses as adults who are writers and storytellers.
Looking back, my writing assignments in grade school were often longer than required and my teachers constantly encouraged me to take art classes and to learn design. Again, art and storytelling.
As I got in to junior high and high school I got my hands on Photoshop and Illustrator for the first time. Software doesn’t make a designer, and many times it can hurt a designer, but for me it felt as if I had been living in the dark my whole life and suddenly dawn broke. My life became illuminated by what I could make. I made fliers for family get-togethers, I made posters for my local church, I made business cards for my newspaper delivery route.
It was also around this time that I got really interested in poetry and short stories. I loved reading collections of each. There was a Barnes and Nobel near my high school and I remember going there and reading poems by authors I can’t even recall, but the feelings and emotions I had remain with me. Proper prose, when composed in deliberation can leave the human spirit in renewed condition. I experienced that and wanted to find my own voice.
Right out of high school I got involved with my cousin and brother who were trying to start a business together. My very first web design ever was a 2003 eBay listing for one of their business ideas, an online pool table retailer called Billiards Express.
My role with those two entrepreneurs grew when they later left to business school leaving behind what had become PoolTables.com, and again when we founded our current venture together in Brazil, called Baby.com.br. Through that course I’ve designed hundreds of web pages and become a very passionate product guy. What started as a challenge to create a more beautiful logo or button on a website, has developed in to a study in human behavior and a fascination with what drives people to do what they do when surfing the web.
As happens when we grow up, our free time begins to diminish. My free time in high school and college was used, in part, to write. But in the midst of starting my own family and launching and running these startups, there isn’t that kind of time anymore.
And that’s what makes my blog so important to me.
My online presence has always been a touchy subject for me. I’m not a developer, so I have to rely on tools to help me design the way I appear online. New tools are popping up all the time, but they always come with limitations that I’m not comfortable with. About.me, Squarespace, Wordpress and Tumblr Themes. They all say, “Be yourself,” but in reality, you are really just being the person who actually designed them.
I have, however, been able to fully be myself on my homepage and design portfolio. And although not able to make things as frilly as I would have liked in the past, static web pages are within my very limited capabilities. Yet, my blog, where the vast majority of my visitors go, has always been just out of reach.
I would scour websites with collections of “beautiful” or “minimal” or “really cool” themes and I would play around with the CSS to try and make it my own. But it was never what I wanted. Never truly represented the text, my writing, the way I wanted it to.
Along the way, I began to romanticize about a phrase that came to me as I began to write more. More than a phrase, in fact, but a philosophy: designed by the author. Imagine reading something that was presented exactly as the author intended it. A collection of words in sentences designed in such a way as to create a complete, immersive experience. Designed by the author.
The more I wrote, the more I hated the way my posts were displayed and one Saturday morning several weeks ago, I had had enough. I opened up a new file in Illustrator, turned on pixel preview, and started to arrange and design what I felt could be the best reading experience on the web. I began with what I already felt passionate about: beautiful, clear typography rooted in the physical design of books and literature.
I then began looking around at my favorite blogs and started analyzing how they made me feel and where my attention was going. I looked at the different types of posts I make, from link posts and text posts, to photo and quote posts. I wanted to make an experience that was catered to the eyes and to the heart. I also wanted to make an experience completely natural to each post type. A link post, for me, should be about getting my reader to the web page I’m referencing. A text post should be about reading an entire post all the way through beginning to end.
One thing I noticed, on personal and profession blogs alike, is distraction. Somewhere along the line people stopped designing for sharing ideas and started designing to drive up page views. I get the business model for the biggest blogs and sites, but why have personal blogs followed suit? As I designed my new blog’s reading experience, I wanted nothing to be more important than the text, the written content. As I write and share my ideas, my primary goal isn’t to get them to go somewhere else or read something else I’ve written, especially before they even finish what they came to my blog to read.
On a more philosophical note, shouldn’t one’s blog be a visual representation of one’s self? If content is being written and shared for any reason other than monetary gain, then I would argue that it should. And what of one’s audience? Should the blog be tailored to the audience? I’m a product manager and designer. I’m an entrepreneur and technology enthusiast. If my blog design accurately represents me it will, by extension, represent my content and engage my readers.
I spent weeks designing this new, perfect reading experience, all the while stripping away visual complexity, until I was left with something I felt fit my content like a glove. Something truly designed by the author. And this post inaugurates my new blog, my new design.
I began developing it over a month ago, and with the help of my buddy Jarid who did the front end heavy lifting, today I’m now proudly announcing the all NEW McKay Thomas Blog.
It is intended to be completely free of clutter and distraction, so that the reading experience can be as immersive as possible. Link posts, where post titles double as links to other articles, are no loner confusing, but are displayed as highly clickable buttons. The homepage of the blog is now less about infinite scrolling through an endless sea of paragraphs and is now more of a store front for my posts, where one can browse about for something of interest and dive deeper only when prompted by curiosity and a drive to know more.
The completion of this new blog is something of a milestone for me. I have a place now to present my ideas and my words in a way I feel good about, even proud of. And to my readers, I hope your time here now feels more respected and focused.
I hope you can really hear what I’m saying and that you’ll think, upon leaving, “I’m really glad I came.”