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Jason McDowell is also known as Little Tiny Fish. He is the Creative Director for OnMilwaukee. Occasionally he freelances. Mostly he rides bikes.

littletinyfish.com is not a cohesive blog, but a repository of musings on an assortment of topics, such as design, art, cycling, Milwaukee, and other personal experiences.

Redesigning the new OnMilwaukee may have been among the biggest undertakings I’ve had to embark upon since starting at the media company, but the whole thing started on a whim. I had a little free time and I took a look at a couple of small elements. But the more I pushed the data around, the more I realized we could probably be presenting our information a lot more clearly.

I scrapped the small ideas and started looking at the bigger picture. This was the result.

There are quite a few differences between the old site and the new site. You may instantly see (to the left) that the new site feels much more open and inviting. I wanted to make sure there was a lot more breathing room on the new site. There is significantly less text on the new design but it’s only about 12% shorter. This is because the information that is left in tact has a lot more space to exist.

On top of the extra space I worked to unify the design elements. The red banners help separate the sections. The widgets all have a unified background color. Instead of having three or four different forms of widget navigation I cut it down to one. I also developed a grid pattern to help decide how large certain elements should be and how much space should be allotted between them.

The biggest change, as far as usability goes, is the presentation of information. We discarded the formality of having sections on the home page. Articles are still organized, structurally, within sections that you can access from the navigation bar, but on the front page those sections matter less. What matters more is the newness of information. Initially the redesign asked for a Twitter-style list of new stories, but other staff members wanted a more curated feel. They didn’t want quick blogs to have the same importance as the better composed stories. So we moved the new article list to the top and added a more magazine-like, curated section on the main page. This allows users to a) easily see which articles are new and b) easily see which articles are most important.

The business listing widget was simplified, while the event calendar was given more presence. Our Weekend Preview, an important weekly article, also finds prominence on the front page. In the old design it had a tendency to disappear quiet quickly. Now there is a permanent link right on the homepage.

The logo was updated to move away from the passe Web 2.0 look to the softer gradients that are more pervasive in design today.

Listed here are only the major considerations for the entire redesign. There were countless other smaller calls that added up to one big idea.

You can see full-sized images of the old site and compare it with what the new site has to offer.

OnMilwaukee circa 2011
OnMilwaukee circa 2011
OnMilwaukee circa 2012
OnMilwaukee circa 2012

Walmart* just gave up one of their truly unique branding opportunities. When one typed out their initial logo, instead of a dash, most would use a star (or asterisk). Wal*Mart. It’s a truly unique position they had put themselves into, by being able to separate their brand name with an non-traditional ASCII character. Where most would use dashes, Wal*Mart got the star. Even further, their letter pairings, caps vs. lowercase, and general rhythm of the appearance of the word worked quite well.

Now their logo is followed by the star. Walmart*. Now it looks like their brand is followed by a caveat. The word mark as typed in plain text, “Walmart,” is not nearly as graceful or rhythmic as the previous.

Don’t get me wrong. Walmart*’s logo needed a major update to appear more friendly towards it’s customers (the weight of those letters was more representative of the burdens it imposes onto most of it’s workforce, than the “friendliness and convenience” it wanted to convey) but with this solution they removed a lot of it’s branding ability from the common people it relies on most.

And what does that star burst mean, anyway? It went from something conveying some kind of vaguely American values to something more immediately techy and dot com-y.

For a company that is so prevalent you would think there would be an impetus to make that brand work for them, but it really reminds me of what the chain has to go through every time it wants to open another store: a struggle to justify it’s existence.

Thanks to Brand New for the notice.

I have a new idea for a new “inspirational/collaborative” project in order to have a reason to keep on drawing. I’ve been lurking on a blog called “The Drawing Club”, where a bunch of artists get together and do drawings and paintings of live models.

I like this idea, and I really wish I could afford to sit in on a life drawing class at MIAD, but I also like the idea of being able to include a variety of people from a variety of areas from around the United States (or, perhaps, the world?). The artists would not have to simply do renderings of the image (unless they wanted). They could create a design, illustration, drawing, painting…whatever. Maybe even music?

This would require a bit of back-end work…something that would allow users to sign up, upload imagery, and specify a category, but not much else. Maybe a blog area would be implemented, but it seems the best way to start out would be small and simple.

My current Content Management System (CMS) is TextPattern, which works well for what I’m doing now. Ashe Dryden tells me that the Drupal CMS would be an ideal place to start for more powerful work, and has offered a crash course in getting started. Who can refuse?

So with any luck, perhaps the coming months will deliver something along those lines. My biggest fear is that this game, which is supposed to deliver inspiration, would turn into an amateur hour and eventually just waste away, but I’m thinking it’ll be a fun exercise, anyway.