The Journal Has New Clothes
June 13, 2003
The big excitement in my life today is this new layout. I’ve wanted to do a real design for a long time, since before I debuted my logo last September. I never meant to be using an only slightly tweaked version of a standard template more than a year into this online adventure, but it wasn’t until this week that I got serious. Why this week? I don’t really know. My knowledge of HTML and CSS didn’t suddenly increase. I hadn’t planned to bump this project up from my someday list anytime soon. I didn’t see someone else’s design that made me jealous. Maybe it was just the cumulative effect of people regularly asking about templates and design on the diary-x forums.
When I first started working as a programmer, I felt like I was cheating whenever I copied existing code and then modified it to do what the customer had requested. If I were any good, I thought, I could write whatever I needed from scratch. Of course, I soon learned that copying other people’s code was not only acceptable behavior practiced by even skilled programmers, but it was more efficient, too– the whole “don’t reinvent the wheel” idea. Still, when I thought about doing a design for this journal, I reverted back to the “copying is cheating” philosophy and got stuck because the skills I use at work are not particularly applicable to doing a journal template from scratch. If I wanted a new design, I’d have to wait until I had the time to teach myself what I needed to know to do it myself (and possibly never get around to it), use a free template from one of the many design services (and thus still have a standardized look, though a more interesting one), or pay someone to do a custom layout for me (and risk not being able to get a new look while I was still enthusiastic about change). Well, no, there was one more option, the one I ended up choosing: I could find a free template I liked and customize it myself. I’ve always liked editing and tweaking.
I poked around a bunch of design sites. Some of them sent me fleeing immediately. I figured if their main page hurt my head, their templates would, too. Scrunched up text in boxes with inline scrolls? No thank you. Pink text on black? Nope, not my thing. Animated text? Nuh uh. Oh, look, a runtime error. Don’t need that. I liked several of the imageless designs at Not That Ugly a lot, but ended up going with a layout from PooDesigns to use as my foundation. The berry design caught my eye at first because it was purple and held my interest because the strip of pictures reminded me of quilt blocks. I checked the FAQ to make sure it was okay to modify the layout and got to work.
I spent most of my time fiddling with the images. I liked the berries on the template just fine, but I wanted my own look. I also wanted my logo and something quilty in the layout. Since I’d made the logo to work in a quilt block for my JournalCon swag, I knew combining the two should be just fine. Just like making a real quilt, I tried out a lot of possibilities for the image bar before I settled on the one you see up there at the top of the page (assuming it’s working in your browser). I tried a simple look, just using MS Paint to color blocks to pop the logo into, but that looked flat. Putting the logo into every block looked busy. Since I had the photos of Delphine’s Quilt handy, I cut and pasted a block from there into every other slot on my bar and liked the look. I spiffed up the logo blocks with a mottled background (created by reversing the colors of the real quilt block background) and decided that would do nicely. By the time I was done, I’d changed so much I decided to contact Sarah at PooDesigns to get an okay– who knew if she’d even want to be associated with what I’d done? She got back to me quickly and gave me the go ahead, so here it is. Of course, your comments are welcome, too.
A year later, my house still isn’t as clean as I’d like.