plein air landscape painting
Painting From Life vs. From Photos

Lisa Call is the head site admin on Art & Perception (A&P). She does a great job. She has a full time job as an artist and mother, and another full time job in the computer industry. When she is not doing these labors, she writes great blog posts.

Every extra detail on the site means extra work for Lisa. Every sidebar feature is a point of contention, a potential source of conflict.

I say, strip this site down to the bare minimum for functionality.

We all have our own blogs for bells and whistles. Let’s keep A&P a conversation:

  • not a link list
  • not an exercise in post categorization
  • not a “greatest hits” album for pet posts

. . .

What about our audience?

There has been some discussion about how to make the site good for readers who don’t participate.

Let me point out: to please a wide audience is a serious undertaking. It requires research on user preferences, in this case from users who don’t join in the debate online. This is WORK.

Should we try to please readers? I say, as long as this is a non-commercial conversation site, we optimize it for ourselves — those of us who use it every day and participate.

If we want to make it good for a wide readership, we should go commercial and give ourselves a real financial incentive for trying to please, and all the research and labor this will require to do properly.

Otherwise, we fall between two stools.

Case study:

Look at the side bar. Above the fold we have this (at this time of writing)


  • RSS Feed
  • Comments RSS Feed
  • Receive new posts via email

This is a huge waste of prime real estate. Most of it is duplicated in the meta section. It is only there for non-participants, by definition (that’s what RSS and post via email means). You might say, “Well, I just ignore that”. A new reader might not ignore it, and might be distracted from the content.
Remember, every item on a web page reduces the significance of every other item. By having extra stuff, we reduce the effectiveness of the important stuff.

. . .
I also think we should get rid of the About Art & Perception section on the side bar. What is the use of this? It served a purpose at the beginning. But now the site has a life of its own. If you want to learn about the site, the best way is to read the posts and comments. The About Art & Perception section is, ironically, a distraction from the site itself.
The “Contributors” page is the only page that should remain on the sidebar. It serves an essential function for contributors, who need to see who is going to post when. But as this is of use for posting only, it should go somewhere below the Recent Comments, perhaps by Meta. Recent Comments are the soul of this site.

The search should be replaced with a Google search. It is not necessary to say “search” and also have a search button. This is redundant and looks silly. I say, trash the button.

As to the idea of a profile page for each contributor, I say, forget it. We have our own blogs to explain ourselves. If we do a poor job of it individually, that is our own problem. A profile page for each contributor on A&P is a perfect example of a way to waste a lot of time. Who will it benefit? Only people who are not sufficiently interested in the site to get to know the contributors by visiting their blogs. Why do we want to put in a big effort for those people? Life is short.

. . .


We should optimize the site for ourselves. There should be nothing on the site that we do not use regularly. This is an effective design principle. Without a principle for design, we can easily get tricked into playing a grown-up version of video-games: endless website design.