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Building my new blog with Orchard – Part 3: one way to skin a cat

Building the houseThese last few weeks I’ve been refraining from starting any deep work on my new Orchard-powered blog because most of what I had in mind involved widgets, which are being built right now. Version 0.8 is just around the corner: the team is just putting the final touches to the new theme engine and to the widget system.

In the meantime, there is still some work I could do that I knew would not be throw-away, and that is CSS.

My objectives with this new blog is to reflect in design what the content is about and what it is not about. VuLu is about knowledge, science, art and philosophy. It’s not about shiny gadgets, technology or engineering.

That of course means I want nothing web 2.0 in here. Good thing as I don’t have much love for rounded corners and shiny gradients.

Too shiny

Too round

Too many gradients

Seriously, I'm not a designer so I had to go for something simple to set-up and maintain, but it comes as a welcome coincidence that the designs I've been liking lately have been heavy on typography with an emphasis on imperfection and organic looks.

Collages, organic textures and rough typosUnclean, organic look, subdued and natural colorsAlmost monochromatic, unclean textures

But I wanted something even more radical than this, something that would look more like a book than like a web site. Preferably even like an old science book. The Dollar Dreadful web site is a pretty good example of what I had in mind, although it looks more like a wild west newspaper than a science book. The monochromatic, ancient look and reliance on typography are all there though:Monochromatic, heavy on old typography and gravure-style imagery

I started from Jon Wall’s Classic white theme for Orchard, which is extremely simple and typography-based:The Classic white theme

I wanted the markup to remain the same so that I could switch to the new version of the Classic theme when it’s available and also because it’s rather clean to begin with. The only adjustments I wanted to make for the moment were to the style sheet and images. More precisely, I wanted to change the typo.

Typography has not got enough love from web designers, mainly because their options were fairly limited so far. In the last few years though things have started to look a lot better and including font beyond the boring Times, Arial and Courier we were forced to use before is now possible with little effort. And it even works on old versions of IE.

There are many options, such as typekit.com, that recently got lots of high quality fonts added by Adobe, but that’s not a completely free option and it so happened that I found exactly what I wanted on Google’s Font Directory. I went for two imperfect and ancient-looking fonts: OFL Sorts Mill Goudy TT for the text, and IM Fell English SC for the titles.

OFL Sorts Mill Goudy TTIM Fell English SC

I am particularly fond of IM Fell English SC, which has a very pirate-y look.

Adding the fonts to the site was extremely simple and was done pretty much the way you’d expect it, in the style sheet:

body {
    font: normal 62.5% "OFL Sorts Mill Goudy TT", serif;
height: 100%; text-align:left; color:#444; background:#eee; } h1,h2,h3,h4,h5,h6,legend {
font-family: "IM Fell English SC", sans-serif;
}

I did have to include Google’s font bootstrapping library to my theme’s document.aspx:

<script type="text/javascript">
WebFontConfig= {
google: {
families: [
'IM Fell English SC',
'OFL Sorts Mill Goudy TT'
]
}
};
</script> <script type="text/javascript"
src="http://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/webfont/1/webfont.js">
</
script>

All I needed to do was to declare the Google fonts I intended to use in a small parameter object, then include a small library.

The rest of the changes to the original stylesheet were mainly size adjustments for the new fonts and removing all color to leave only shades of gray, nearly blacks and nearly whites.

In all of my blog posts, I try to include an illustration in order to make the post more appealing. On this blog, I’ve been using mostly my own photography but that wasn’t an option on the new blog because of the black and white parti-pris. After some binging, I did find quite a lot of public domain illustrations coming from old science books that were exactly appropriate for the site. In particular, Gray’s anatomy and http://www.oldbookillustrations.com/ are gold mines if you’re into that sort of delightful old-fashioned gravures.

In the end, I’m quite happy with the end result and how it looks on post pages, although it’s still a little too austere on the home page because of the lack of illustrations and widgets. This will improve soon.The current look of the site

You can find the first two posts in this series here:

Comments

Benjamin Gavin said:

So what widgets are in the pipeline for 0.8?  Any hints?

# October 11, 2010 7:41 AM

Bertrand Le Roy said:

@Benjamin: to be clear what is being worked on is the widget infrastructure, not the widgets themselves. Some UI elements are being refactored into widgets but don't expect much more than that for 0.8. The system will be ready for community provided widgets though, so we hope the gallery will start to fill with external contributions. I will myself build a few and upload them.

# October 11, 2010 11:16 AM

Phill said:

That dollardreadful site is one of the worst websites on the internet. It's not usable at all.

# October 11, 2010 8:56 PM

Bertrand Le Roy said:

@Phill: forgive me but you're completely missing the point. I'm taking them as a piece of my mood board for their graphical design, not for their usability.

# October 12, 2010 2:52 AM

Jason Bunting said:

Argh, this is killing me - I want 0.8 so badly!!! I am in the middle of a project using 0.5, and to hear that it is so close is more than I can handle! Are we talking next month or next week?

I'm dying here, I don't know that I ever wanted a piece of software so badly!

:)

# October 17, 2010 1:24 AM

Bertrand Le Roy said:

@Jason: ah, sorry to keep you waiting. We had to push back the release by a week, but the current ETA for 0.8 is Monday of next week (the 25th).

# October 17, 2010 11:51 PM