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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

I was recently given the opportunity to design a couple of small pins for a band called The Scarring Party. They take early jazz and old-timey music and mix it together with a punk attitude and a bit of irreverence. They describe themselves as “End-Timey” music, which is about as short and accurate a description that one needs. End-Timey. Perfect.

I had done some flier work for them before, but it had been a little while since I’d helped them out with design, so when I began brainstorming some ideas, I wondered if and how much their design sensibilities had evolved.

Their initial aesthetic started out with a collage of classic looking cross-hatched animals in suits, or distinguished gentlemen on high-wheel bicycles, or tea-cups filled with razor blades. It was like Salvador Dali for the flapper generation. When I talked with the lead singer, Dan Bullock, he confirmed that the band was going to uphold this bizarre sensibility. Excellent, I thought. I think I can work with this.

So rewind a few months ago. I was working on a different logo for the companion to OnMilwaukee.com, OnMadison.com (I’m hoping the logo that currently sits there is temporary). When I was brainstorming new ideas for the site I began playing around with the strokes on a font by the name of DIN Black, and accidentally created a font that was like an Art Deco font, but with a Modern spin. I knew it wouldn’t work for the company, but I immediately tapped out “The Scarring Party” and thought it looked delightful. I decided to save it for the future.

Fast-forward. I took the “font” and tweaked it a little bit further. I noticed it wasn’t reading well at the one inch size; I punched holes in the “P” and “A” characters, for instance, and adjusted the “Y” so that it tucked in under the “G”. Definitely Dali, I thought, for the flapper generation.

The design was ultimately rejected, but I still think it’s grand. It’s one of those things that I’ll have to tuck away for a while until the next perfect project comes along to which it can be applied. The good news is, you can still find a couple of other fine looking pins both with custom adjusted typography and one with a couple of boxing fancy-pants (to be displayed at a later date).

Also, be sure to turn up to their CD Release at Turner Hall on the 15th of March. They always put on a great live show. I’ve also previewed the album and it sounds splendid to be sure.