Make blogging great again

This site has been overdue for a design update — the last time I made significant changes was 2012 — and yesterday I took the plunge into doing a major overhaul. The old look was starting to feel a bit dated. And in one important aspect, it was very dated. It wasn’t mobile-friendly, with some of the elements being static and rigid. A lot of reading on the web has shifted to mobile devices, and last year Google started putting greater weight on mobile accessibility in its site rankings, so fixing those problems was vital for getting search traffic. The new design is flexible, minimalist, and should read easily on whatever device you’re using.

The last time I re-designed the site I celebrated with a book giveaway, and that seems like a tradition worth keeping, especially now that I have a book of my own on the market. I’ll send a signed copy of my collection of beer cocktail recipes, Cocktails on Tap: The Art of Mixing Spirits and Beer, to one lucky commenter on this post. Just leave a comment here by midnight this Saturday, February 27th [date corrected], and I’ll randomly select one winner to receive the book. (One comment per person, obviously, and be sure to include your email address so I can contact you. It won’t be published.)


A few design notes: The last two times I redesigned the site (which has been running for thirteen years!), I had to use feature-loaded themes like Genesis and Thesis to get the flexibility I wanted. This time I tried out the free, default WordPress theme for 2016. Recent default themes have tended to place more emphasis on large photos or magazine-style layouts. This one feels a lot like a return to a classic blog format, with a simple header, a main column for content, and one sidebar. There’s plenty of room for photos, but I’m liking the way it handles text-heavy posts as well. And the minimal design — perhaps too minimal — transitions very easily to a mobile display. (This retrospective on default WordPress themes is interesting reading for blog nerds.)

Twenty Sixteen is by far the easiest out-of-the-box design I’ve done so far. I do wish it had a few more customization options, however. To get the site where I wanted it, a few tools came in handy:

1. This custom CSS tool makes it easy to tweak design elements like text size and color without having to make a child theme.

2. Finding the right CSS elements to modify can be tricky, but this post covered 90% of what I was looking for. Combine it with the tool above for easy editing.

3. This trick for creating a drop-down navigation menu cleaned up the masthead.

That covers most of the changes I needed to make. If you notice anything I missed, please let me know!

Update 2/29/16: And the winner is Tim T.! Thanks to everyone who commented.


Not another RSS post

This is hopefully the last one for a while. You may have noticed that this site’s feed started displaying a few new features over the weekend. That’s thanks to a great new WordPress plugin called Better Feed. I’ve used it to add an additional permalink, a comments link with a running count of the current number of comments, and an “Add to” link to each entry. The plugin offers a lot of other options, too.

WordPress users, download it here.