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The ever changing face of valleywind.com

Allan Mackey Web 2004AllanMackey.com has gone on and offline repeatedly since I first bought the domain name in 2000. Generally the pattern would be me wanting to have a website up, designing something I thought was cool, putting it online briefly, then deciding I wasn’t happy with it or not really knowing what to do with it, and taking it down again.

On the right is a a screencap I was able to dig up of a 2004 iteration of the site. I was going through a monochromatic design period. Most of the other iterations have been mercifully lost to the annals of time where they belong.

So instead, let’s look at at my second longest running website, valleywind.com. Valley Wind Productions has had its website online and in use consistently since the beginning of 2008 and it, too, has undergone a lot of changes. With five very different versions in just under six years, it goes through designs quicker than the Doctor burns through regenerations.

Here’s a little trip down memory lane.

January 2008 to March 2009 (~14 months)

ValleyWind Web 2008

This was the initial design for Valley Wind Productions. All coded by hand in HTML and CSS. Simple, nice looking, and functional. Key pages were easy to find on the left menu, key info in the right sidebar. Graphically light, if perhaps a bit plain.

The main goal of the site was to get info out about Untamed Lands auditions and crew calls and the like. The trouble — I guess it wasn’t trouble really, maybe difficulty is a better word — the difficult part was that it was a pain to update. Changes needed to be hand coded into the pages, often causing ripple effects that meant changes on one or more other pages. Then the whole thing needed to be re-uploaded via FTP.

March 2009 to September 2010 (~17 months)

ValleyWind Web 2009

Design number two. A little more flashy and more graphically interesting. Still coded all by hand, still awkward to update the main news. The image in the top left corner was randomized and you can see the introduction of social media to the mix there on the right. (The blocked Flash applet was the Twitter feed.)

Looking at the picture, it was in 2009 that I set up WordPress for the first time and launched the production blog as a way to post information and anecdotes about production.

September 2010 to April 2011 (~7 months)

ValleyWind Web 2010

Design number three was a major departure from previous designs, with an intent to keep the home page sparse and funnel visitors off to what was important to them using the six big buttons on the side. Where I wasn’t happy with the 2009 version of the header, I loved this one, and still use it in some online places. The other big innovation with this site was linking the WordPress blog directly to the main website. I coded the site to link what in the image is called “Sample Headline” to the newest post on the blog. This way, whenever the blog was updated, the headline, date, image, and excerpt would all update automatically.

I quite liked this version of the site, and spent a lot of time developing and working on it, but trends continued to change, so…

April 2011 to January 2012 (~9 months)

ValleyWind Web 2011

Design three only lasted about seven months before design number four took over. I liked the way three looked but I started to realize how much easier life would be moving to full integration with WordPress as it continued to build steam as a powerful CMS and was no longer simply a blogging platform. So in April 2011, we relaunched as a WordPress site, which meant, among other things, that it was really easy to make most of my updates and change content. Company updates and bloggy posts were updated automatically on the main page. I also fully converted to the StudioPress Theme Framework at this point — which I now use for every site I operate.

The thing about this version is that, at least looking back on it, it felt a bit cluttered and busy. There was a lot of information there. A lot of text and perhaps less visual interest than previous versions.

January 2012 to … (~20 months and counting)

ValleyWind Web 2012

This may look familiar. It’s what valleywind.com looks like as of writing this post. This version of the website went online in January 2012, less than a year after the previous one. I found a theme I loved, or thought I did, that corrected what I didn’t really like about the previous version (the information clutter), and so I set to customizing it. Sadly, that was a nightmare, and while the site looks really good, I have a super strong dislike of the theme. It says a lot that the theme is no longer available. Caveat emptor. (I’d actually written a nice long rant about the theme and how very difficult it was to modify based on how poorly it was coded. Never posted it but it still exists here on my hard drive.)

Theme customization trouble aside, the site looked good and has had the longest life of any design so far. In the last year I’ve gone in and made some big functional changes, streamlining a lot of the information to the bare minimum needed and removing the blog aspect completely (made sense at the time, doesn’t now), but I haven’t made any big design changes.

valleywind.com :: The Future…

Which isn’t to say I’m not planning any. I’m working on a new iteration of valleywind.com right now, with a new theme that’s pretty brilliant. I expect to be launching it by the end of 2013 and I’ll update this blog post when I do.