I Need Your Help to Redesign This Site

It’s time for a refresh. I started this blog in 2002, over at blogspot before blogspot was part of Google.

Randy Petersen offered to host the blog and in early 2003 it was moved to webflyer.com/blog.

There have been a few tweaks since then but for the most part the look and feel of the blog has remained the same for the past six years or so.

I don’t think much about aesthetics, I’ve always been far more interested in information, but I also realize that the way a website looks and feels influences how easy it is to access that information. For instance, with an increasing number of people reading via mobile the page needs to be far more mobile-friendly.

Nonetheless, my computer knowledge is frozen in time from decades ago. Once upon a time I was pretty savvy about such things. For instance – and since the statute of limitations has long passed – I can say that in the 1980s in my early teens I used to set up a war dialer at night before going to bed, testing out long distance codes (my computer would dial other computers, using different randomly-generated long distance codes, and if it could connect then it determined that the code worked). I’d wake up in the morning to a fresh list of working codes.

I kept up my skills, and in the mid-90s could write perl scripts for the web. But I learned almost nothing since then, moved in other directions professionally, and now know pretty much nothing. Old habits die hard, I still hard code all of my blog posts instead of using a visual editor. But combine a lack of modern programming with limited aesthetic sensibilities and the truth is… I need your help!

What do you want to see in a View from the Wing redesign?

I think the best-designed website in the world is Google. I want a clean, easy to read design. Are there any blogs you read that approximate that, to give me an idea of what that could look like?

What features do you want to see?

    Thank goodness the ‘search box’ is back and I think that’s the easiest way to find information (more so than using category tags, which I’ve never been good at doing).

Should anything be changed with comments?

    I’ll say that I don’t like ‘threaded’ comments, they’re great to read once since it’s clear who is replying to what but they make it very difficult to return to a page and see what comments have been added since an earlier visit.

The blog will remain on WordPress. I don’t even know what’s possible in that format. Whether you’re an expert in design or not, you’re a reader, and I’d love your perspective on what I should keep, what I should change, anything you like or anything I should watch out for/avoid.

Thank you for any thoughts or suggestions!


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I wouldn’t change anything. For some reason people running websites seem to think they need to totally redesign things from time to time. Lucky’s blog is much less user friendly and way to cluttered now and the new BOARDINGAREA.com front page look is terrible and it’s much harder, in my opinion, to find the blogs or stories that i want to read.

    People come to these sites for the content, not design.
    I wouldn’t change anything.

  2. I would like to see added to the non-mobile page is a drop down with a link to all of the BoardingArea blogs. This way I don’t need to navigate to another page to hop from one to another.

    other than that, I agree with Shaun.

    Thanks for asking!

  3. Echoing Shaun’s comment. Why change anything? Is anything wrong, or broken, or confusing? If not why try to fix it? I like the clean layout, simple navigation and the color scheme is easy on the eye. Content is king here.

  4. Agree with other commenters: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    Other points and miles info providers appear to have changed aesthetics for the sake of change recently. And they are all worse for it.

    Otoh, Flyertalk looks basically the same as it dis in 1998 and it still the premier points and miles info provider on the planet.

  5. I will add my 2 cents. Your blog is currently clean and readable. The new Boardingarea look is painful and cluttered, and difficult to grasp what are the new articles vs which are new ads.

    A few minor things: how about on the left, a list of recent articles. In the header, rather than just the date, also add a time stamp.

  6. It looks just fine.

    I would like to see the comments link open within the the same page as the article – now it opens a new window. It would be easier then to read the comment and go to the next article.

  7. I am actually in process of redesigning my entire business website in wordpress. Your site does appear to be very plain and a little dated. Clean is good but your site is a little too clean. Front page stories get attention but once they are bumped I think new users are less likely to poke through the entire website. I know wordpress has a ton of add ons and widgets. Even a box showing the last 5-10 posts and or the topics getting the most hits/comments might be helpful. Per your initial goal I list a few boarding area bloggers that I personally think are clean but look a little more streamlined: hack my trip, miles professor ( I think this one is really done nicely, one mile at a time,pizza in motion, jeffsetter. Just looking quickly at the boarding area bloggers a number of them are very similar to yours in style. Others are more stylized.

    I use these as examples because they are in the related area as you are.

    I think you need a top menu bar like many of the others. I think it works better. I think that content is king and you do a great job, but I visit your site often. I am thinking about new people coming to your blog. I dont think they explore it enough and that can be improved.

    Robert

  8. I love the content of your blog, and I agree a redesign might be a good idea. I would highly recommend looking at http://www.deluxe-designs.net/
    It is my wife’s site and she does blog and web design, and I think she might be able to design a great look for your site. (and we are fellow metro-DC people as well!)

  9. Hi Gary,

    I like your site, I wouldn’t change much. For some reason, and yes I’m going to shout this: I DON’T LIKE TO CLICK! I like to scroll. So Ben’s new page that makes you click *everything* drives me bonkers. And I probably read less than I should, because I have to be *really* interested to click through an article, as opposed to “sort of” interested to scroll through the whole thing.

    At the risk of getting flamed and trolled, I’m going to suggest that you have a link to current credit card offers. The thing is, I almost never apply for an offer when you first announce it, it gets filed in my “for the next round” or the “right before it expires” file. And then when I need it, I can’t find it, and well MMS has a link to the best offers. I hate using them. I think his site is slimy, but damn he makes those links convenient when I need them. Please don’t make me do that anymore.

  10. Include a date with each post so that when I’m reading something I know when it was posted. The worst is when you read about a great deal only to find it’s been dead for 2 years.

  11. There are alot of things possible in wordpress. Also I would suggest you take a look at udemy.com and maybe watch some free or review some of the paid wordpress tutorials. You can download them to your laptop or ipad as well. You could explore some of the capabilities of wordpress. It may also give you some ideas. You know how to use wp, so this could be a good refresh course for you. Lynda.com as well. Udemy has alot of free stuff. Many disocunt coupons online for them as well.

  12. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not succumb to the siren song of deferring to the lowest common denominator and designing for mobile devices. A slew of my favorite blogs/websites have been dumbed down in this manner over the past year or so and the result is just less information and more clicking. Yes, people have mobile devices but people also use them in desktop mode, and most people are sitting at a regular computer for 8+ hours a day still.

  13. I, too, dislike the new look of Boarding area. I feel like my browser must be distorting it or my internet connection is too slow for the page to load properly. There’s nothing wrong with your blog’s look, IMO.

  14. There was a small movement years ago to convention an RSS-like listing of articles or headlines, view-able always at “/river”

    It didn’t make it, but I really like the ability to scan all the headlines quickly from a browser without using an RSS reader.

  15. As a designer myself, one thing you’ve got right is the typography. It has proper line height and is very readable so make sure you keep those settings.

    One niggling suggestion is to move the plane image into the true header area. Currently it looks like it is apart of the post which isn’t the case.

  16. Bloggers are like google – changing things for no apparent reason. There must be something in the “mechanics” of the site, whereby it is easier for you to input the information, that is making you all want to change (IMHO). It is fine, please don’t change it. It is like an old friend – happy to see every time I click on.

    No, I don’t like Ben’s new site. It is rigid, and square, and it doesn’t have the same feel. I think I told him that on his blog as well. And his old colors were much better – gave the site a personality.

    I agree with the other people that say boardingarea’s new front page is terrible. In an age where creativity abounds, it is sad to see the travel websites become so “formal” looking. Travel should be free, fluid, happy, enjoyable, etc. Just one man’s opinion.

  17. It’s great as is. The in the moment comments and views are the meat. And they are best presented in black and white.

  18. About the only request I’d make is not so much blog-design, but twitter policy. Love following you on twitter so I can see the posts before Feedly picks them up, but I do wish you’d maybe cut down on the number of RT’s you give Boarding Area’s tweets about your own posts. Pretty much every post you make ends up getting tweeted by you, then RT’d by you from Boarding Area, sometimes more than once. It’s a bit overkill and it clutters up the feed. Other than that I love the design of the site and love your content. I’ve had several memorable vacations basically just because of you!

  19. I rather like the new look of the One Mile At A Time blog and would think of something like that, refreshing and crisp.

  20. I agree with many others that a re-design may be a waste of time as far as the readers are concerned. Make a mobile version for people reading on the phone but why bother re-designing the laptop version? If you think Google is an example of good design, well then, it seems unlikely anything you do will be an improvement over the simple easy-to-read design you already have. You have a wordpress blog that looks like a wordpress blog. Where’s the problem? Everyone knows where to find what they’re looking for. If you were doing an art/design blog, yeah, I’d say you need a change, but I see no purpose to re-designing a travel blog where people are just looking to score deals & share travel gossip.

  21. The only thing I’d ask for would be some more robust searching capability — does WordPress support “tags”?

    It would be great to search for tagged articles if WordPress supports something like that.

    Other than that, no changes needed.

  22. Oh wow! I love giving feedback on many things, especially UX )) And thank you for asking!

    Here we go:
    1. Your website is a mess. It may look clean, plain, simple but in fact it’s confusing and hard to navigate. Your areas are disorganized, once you dig into an article, it’s impossible to move through (broken horizontal links, links between articles, “see more on the topic” or “other articles on the topic”).

    2. Menu on the left is totally useless and meaningless. It doesn’t help to navigate at all. Few times I was trying to find links to cc signup offers so the reward would come to you but had to give up and use a link from FT.

    3. You use different array of styles which are confusing. What bold means? What underline means (and it ain’t hyperlinks!)? What italic means? What underlined italic means? What indent means? You use wide array of styles but the problem is that you use it all wrong.

    Also you never use more than one space between paragraphs. Even between sections of articles or when separation is needed. That’s wrong.

    4. Your articles are impossible to scan. They lack keywords and not organized for reading on the web (the famous “reversed pyramid” concept)

    5. I like the “dummies” book series. They have wide left margins and they put nice stickers on the side for quick scanning. They could come handy when people need to find something important (“What to do next” or “What’s wrong” or whatever).

    6. Overall, your blog has a much bigger issue with overall organization of your information, not just design. Redesigning (and I mean mostly “reorganizing” and “restructuring”, not “swapping photos and changing colors”) will help, if done right. I’d like to help, of course.

    A good example of a blog with easily scannable and informationally rich text would be NNG here: http://www.nngroup.com/articles/donations-nonprofit-charity-online/

    Good luck!

  23. Pretty happy with the current layout. The only feature I would change is the comment link at the end of the post. I would change it to take me directly to the comments not to the top of the post.

  24. Ever since Lucky “improved” his site Firefox stops running half way thru the first article. Only happens on his site. Please don’t “improve” your site like that unless you send notes on how to de-bug FF.

  25. The Bachelor’s Degree which I earned is in Communication Design from one of the top art schools in the world, Gary — so take it from me, for what it is worth:

    The only thing I would change is the typeface used for View From The Wing. Leave everything else alone. That photograph is now a recognized image depicting your weblog.

  26. I like your blog Gary. I wouldn’t mind an aesthetic refresh just for fun but I really like how the information is laid out.

    I think it’s important that you continue to list the date of each post (unlike Lucky) and have all the posts in chronological order on the home screen so that we can see what we’ve missed.

    Whatever you do, don’t make it like the new Boardingarea website! That redesign was TERRIBLE and makes it much harder to see what posts are new and where they’re from as nothing is in order and there are no identifying images from each post. I’ve stopped using that website and just visit your blog and Lucky’s every day. I know I’m missing out on other blogs but it’s just too hard to navigate that new site.

    Keep up the good work!

  27. My only problem with your posts is that they don’t work well with my RSS reader (and maybe all RSS readers)? Occasionally, when you insert indented clips or bold a section, it never reverts to the original format. So if you insert several indented clips per article, it gets to the point where there are only a few words on a line. It’s especially hard when you’re quoting someone else and then offer a few thoughts on their piece — it’s hard to distinguish where the quote ends and your thoughts begin.

  28. @peachfront. A responsive wordpress theme design will look good on a laptop, tablet or phone. Things resize better etc.

  29. Functionality is my concern. The search function is minimally effective. An overhaul of the search function or at least the ability to find subjects within recent posts would be really helpful and appreciated. I agree with another commenter that the links in the left pane are not useful, thus my suggestion of changing the search function.

  30. I’d love to see a year associated with the dates for each post. When you link to old posts, all I see is the time of year it was written, not how old it is; this makes it hard to know whether the information is still relevant or has likely changed.

    I also would appreciate “read more” buttons. When you post about topics in which I’m not interested (e.g. airlines I never fly), it’s a pain to scroll through the entire article – especially when it’s a long one – to get to older articles I find more relevant.

    I also agree that it would be nice if clicking on comments led directly to the comments rather than the top of the post (fairly easy to implement via the html links “id” attribute).

    A better/more obvious menu would be a great improvement – I’m new to your blog (and collecting points and miles in general) and honestly never noticed that you had a menu! The current appearance blends into the background; my brain automatically categorizes it as likely to be an ad, due to the propensity for websites to place ads to the side of content. So unless it’s conspicuously a navigation menu, it’s more likely to be ignored.

    I followed the link that Andrew posted to the NNG blog and really disliked it. The bold may make it easier to scan, but makes it more difficult to actually read.

    No matter what you end up doing, some people are going to love it and some people are going to hate it. And a subset of each of those groups will be very vocal about it :-). So while I’d be happy if you went more towards what I prefer, ultimately it’s up to _your_ preferences!

  31. You have a self-hosted WordPress site, so you have a HUGE selection of pre-made themes, both free (from wordpress.org) and paid (from wordpress.org and third parties).

    Many of these themes are responsive, i.e. automatically reformat to fit tablets and/or phones. All of them are customizable way beyond the choices offered by the theme developers by adding plugins, tweaking the CSS and, if you’re feeling adventurous, the php code .

    My partner and I run a WordPress blog using a free default theme and are in the process of changing it into a self-hosted website using a custom theme with tweaks. WordPress has some built-in limitations — for example, posts can’t be included in dropdown menus, while pages can. But finding a theme that mostly fits your style requirements and modifying it so it looks uniquely yours is, in our opinion, much simpler than designing a site from scratch.

    My recommendation, thus, is to consider the various opinions about look and feel that you’ve solicited and locate a WordPress theme that mostly fits what you want, bearing in mind that typefaces and colors are very easily changed in CSS.

    A suggestion: when you’re searching for themes, use “responsive” as a keyword so you don’t waste time on themes that will not optimize for mobile devices, and look at the examples on both a phone and a tablet so you know what will happen. A theme that looks fine in a desktop browser may not work well on a mobile device even if it’s responsive.

    I’ll be at the FTU Advanced this month if you would like to sit down and chat.

  32. Hi Gary,

    If you need a hand with the revamp (design, coding, etc.), feel free to get in touch. We’re a whole team of designers and coders over at Flightfox and we’d be happy to help, no strings attached.

    We too like simplicity. If you look at our ‘about’ page for example, we keep everything very simple, minimal colour, good type characteristics, etc.

    I suggest starting small and making incremental updates. I know it’s nice to re-launch with a bang, but it’s tricky to get everything right in one sitting. With small regular changes, you’ll get into the groove and make good progress.

    Personally, I think you should keep things generally the same, but maybe organize the furniture a little better and give her a coat of paint.

    The value in your site is the content. We can all read the content perfectly fine. So on that front, I wouldn’t change anything. But there’s a lot to be said for enjoying your own work more and a revamp could certainly help in that department.

    Best,
    todd

  33. I’d really like for you to get with Feedly and fix the RSS problem where half of your posts end up in bold. It kills readability and is super annoying. If you’re wondering, this is the only site that does it.

  34. There’s one recent change I would like to see rolled back or at least modified: your use of “read more…” cuts. I have having to interrupt the flow of my reading – it feels like the “top 10 blah blah” clickbait, with one item per page. The worse thing is needing to come back to the home page and find my place again. One alternative may be to replace the link to the individual article page with something that just reveals the article on the same page, shuffling everything else down.

    I do wish there were better tools for looking for older articles. Maybe a list of article titles (enhanced for content, when the old title is just a teaser), all on one page? Your own attempt at self-cataloging (e.g. “Best of What I Wrote in June”) is pretty good, and could perhaps be extended. I keep imaging either a link-dense page (rememebr the original Yahoo?) or perhaps a list of articles with easy titles searching and perhaps ability to exclude things (e.g. “exclude all trip reports”, “show only things about UA”, “exclude short-term promos”).

    But, with all that said, newcomers to the game could perhaps benefit from a tailored guide. I came into the game back when you did and have followed along for years. Someone new might miss some things that you don’t write about often these days, Perhaps a “include articles that philosophize about the game”? Or maybe even an importance rating?

    These suggestions for searching and cataloging should not suggest that I want a general site redesign. I like the clean, uncluttered look you have now. I see some opportunities for cleaning up whitespace, especially in comments, resulting in a denser page, but add things with care.

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