Justin Duke

Why we redesign our blogs

If you are reading this — and have read things on this site in the past — you may notice that this site has a new design. This is not particularly uncommon: I tend to mix it up every year or so.

Whenever I start to throw on a new coat of paint I ask myself two questions:

  • What am I trying to show people?
  • Why should someone read me?

The answers to these questions inform my design: what I need to include, what I need to emphasize, what I should write about, what posts I should keep around and what posts I should stop linking to.

What am I trying to show people?

This is what I think of as the index.html part of the equation: what are you trying to tell people about yourself right off the bat?

  • When I was a high school kid with a copy of Dreamweaver and a head full of mostly asinine aspirations about web design, I was focused on flash. I discovered image maps in Fireworks; I played around with gradients and rollovers and all of those lovably silly hallmarks of 2005 web design. The phrase “freelance web designer” was in my h1 tag.
  • When I was a college sophomore who suddenly decided to pursue computer science, I suddenly became obsessed with credentialing. I racked up a couple fun side projects and showed those: I listed my favorite programming languages (and movies and books, because I was still a pretentious liberal arts student.)
  • After I had a job, I wanted to establish myself as someone who had a certain level of expertise, so I started vomiting as many credentials as I could. My job; my internships; my Coursera courses; my stars on GitHub.

Why should someone read my writing?

If the home page of your blog is sort of the initial sales pitch – this is who I am – everything else is the innards, the this is what I have to say and why I’m the one saying it.

It’s always important to keep in mind who’s going to be reading your writing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a blog post about concurrency in Python or a Slack message explaining how to start a database dump or a nervous request for a coffee date or an email asking for a raise.

If someone is reading something you wrote, they’re doing it for exactly one reason:

They’re looking for an answer to a question.

  • The question might be how do I send an email in Python?
  • The question might be why did my son get a tattoo?
  • The question might be implicit, like should I hire this person?
  • The question might be something you posed in the title of your post.
  • The question might be completely irrelevant to the thing they’re actually reading.

There’s always a question.

This leads me to the biggest single piece of advice I can give with regards to writing:

Figure out the question you want to answer. Answer it to the best of your ability. Have the sharpest image possible of the typical person who has that question.

I used to think the third sentence – who has this question? – was the hardest part. Lately, it’s been the first sentence – what questions do I want to answer?

Thus the redesign.

So…

This brings me to this current iteration of the site. I’m quite fond of it!

It’s a little more polished than its immediate predecessor: it has an actual biography, and a footer, and some basic analytics.

It doesn’t have share links. It’s not particularly well-constructed with regards to SEO. I don’t have a CV or resume or link to my GitHub.

It’s not written for anyone in particular. I’m not actively looking for a new job, or new consulting work, or a larger internet presence. It’s filled with stuff I’ve just kinda felt like writing.

The posts I’ve written over the past year or so are… not particularly actionable. I’ve written about my birthdays and my love of Chipotle and my experiences travelling. This is a blog in the more traditional, personal sense of the word.

Something like a journal.

This comes mostly from a place of privilege and comfort. I’m no longer a college student who needs to demonstrate his programming acumen; I’m no longer someone who craves to see his TLD on Hacker News.

Without any specific audience in mind, I’m writing mostly for myself. It’s insular and niche and overly solipsistic, but it also is the best writing I’ve done.

This blog might change, a year from now. (This blog will change, a year from now.) I might dive deeper into consulting and decide I want to focus on writing about that; I might ditch technical writing entirely. It might become a photoblog dedicated to the corgi I’ll end up owning sooner or later.

But I’m happy with the little sliver of the internet I’ve carved out for myself, and I’m very happy to share it with you.

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© 2017 Justin Duke • All rights reserved • I hope you have a nice day.