Drive-by-Shooting Sundays: Writer Dad

Click.

The faint sound was followed by Jamie’s grin as his hand twisted the door handle open. “Bingo,” he uttered, stepping into the residential home of a fellow writer. The writer was out, the home was silent and the streets outside were bare.

A perfect hit. In, out, and no one to scream for the police.

“This is nice.” Harry stood in the office, looking at the old-fashioned typewriter that sat waiting on the desk. “You don’t see stuff like this anymore. You think he actually uses it to write?”

“Nah. He couldn’t get the speed he needs. I think it’s just for show.” James didn’t linger near the typewriter; it reminded him far too much of the stiff office from last week’s hit. “Here’s where the real work is coming from.” He’d found the computer and keyboard, tucked away nicely.

“Do we know this guy?” Harry pointed to the page in the typewriter. “WriterDad. I’ve heard of him.”

“Yeah. Snuck into town a couple of months ago. Now he’s a big name.” James thought of the Glock he was packing. “I’ve been watching him for a while. Always keep your eye on the little guy,” he mused thoughtfully.

Today’s hit is for Writer Dad, the blog of Sean Platt. Here’s what the site looked like when we drove by:

“Check it out. Thesis.” James tapped the stack of papers beside the computer. “Seems like everyone’s writing their thesis these days… but this is good,” he added, skimming through the first few pages. “Different, pleasant. I like.”

We do like. The site is nicely laid out and doesn’t scream Thesis the minute we land, which we feel is important, considering how many people are using it out-of-the-box these days. Good work on that.

On James’ monitor, the banner looks fine and is nicely centered. On Harry’s larger monitor, though, the banner doesn’t stretch fully to the right-hand border. It’s a problem we’ve seen before, and that needs to be fixed up so that the look is smooth.

“You know…” James was eyeing the typewriter. “This is huge. Really huge. How much do you think it weighs?” He decided to find out and hefted the machine. “Jeez.” It weighed a ton. “You’d think he could’ve found a smaller one? It’s taking up the whole room.”

That’s what the banner is doing on the site. The image is great, and it looks really nice, but it’s huge, heavy and grounding the site so firmly that the navigation gets completely lost and eaten up. The eye hits the site, grabs that banner, and that’s it. It doesn’t follow a path up to the navigation.

If the navigation stood out a bit more, then that eye path issue wouldn’t be such a problem. Ditch the serif font in the navigation, because that’s just not working, increase the font size so that the title tags aren’t so subtle and define the borders of tabs clearly so that people can see there are places to go. Make it stand out.

“Aww… isn’t this cute?” Harry touched the little message about hearting bloggers, but the sarcasm wasn’t lost on James.

“Sweet. You getting sentimental on me?”

“Not a chance,” Harry grinned. Then he shrugged. “Actually, when I took a first look, I thought it read, ‘Bloggers I hate’.”

Hm. Yes. You may want to change that title for something a little… better. Less cutesy. But on a positive note, you’ve made great use of a link page, giving each blogger some space and a personal note. We like that.

“What’s a weebook?” James squinted at the label on the drawer. “We had Weebles when I was a kid… Those were great. Remember them?” Waxing nostalgic, he sang the commercial jingle. “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.”

Then he wandered off, losing interest.

That lack of interest from not knowing what weebooks means could be a problem. Harry didn’t catch on and take a look either, which means that’s two people who didn’t click through to a page where you have selling items. No, we aren’t stupid and yes, we can figure it out – but why make people work? Clarity. Not cleverness.

But! The term “weebooks” is great, so you have to find a way to make it clear to readers until the phrase catches on. “Wee-ebooks”? “We-ebooks?” Think about it for a while and see if you can’t find something that fits. Alternatively, put a description in the sidebar.

Also, while we’re on the cleverness subject, there’s some problems with your copy on that page. You could use a little more description and better wording if you want to increase sales. Washingtons? Lincolns? What the hell? Even Harry didn’t think of monetary denominations right away, and he’s from the U.S.

James never caught on, period. Ahh, poor Canuck…

The organization of those title tags in your navigation is off, by the way. People place importance on what they read from left to right, so your About is currently taking more importance than your Services. You may want to change that around.

Try this instead: Home, Services, Weebooks, Guest Post and Interviews (that’s a bit long), Bloggers I Heart, About, Contact.

James wandered around for a while, thoughtfully examining the pictures on the wall. “These are really nice.” Then he took one down.

“What are you doing?” Harry raised an eyebrow as he watched James cross the room.

“This is all wrong. It’s bothering me.” He took down a picture on the other side and hung the one he’d brought over in its place.

“Well, put that one there while you’re at it,” Harry pointed to an orange picture. “That one is bothering me.”

Ah, yes, the RSS icon, misplaced and too low down to be of much use. Move that up in your sidebar so that it’s in the top right-hand corner. Take that search bar away and move that down out of the way.

Then move the inkpot beneath the RSS. Why? Because between the orange RSS button on the right and the black inkpot on the left, people aren’t going to know where to look first.

Eye path is very important. Because you’re not there to guide people around, you have to make sure that they see what you want them to see in the order they should see it – without any confusion or jumping around.

Confusion… The email RSS button is nice, but the glass effect is making it very hard to read and we can only see the last three letters of “email” clearly. Fix that up and remove the shine.

The “Let Us Give Your Blog a Boost” icon doesn’t match the fun look of the other icons you have going on. It sticks out like a sore thumb with its modern, tech effect. We suggest finding a new icon that matches the site for consistency’s sake.

The archives should be out of the way – possibly in the navigation bar to keep the sidebar clean. Also, the Recent Posts widget has too many links. (How many times have we mentioned option paralysis in previous drive-bys?) Move it up as well so that people can see where they can click.

Then links and more links… Wow. The Discussions dropdown has way too many options. It’s also an odd feature, bringing us to a category archive. From the title ‘discussions’, we expected to see comments or forums. You may want to rethink having that feature.

The “Some of My Best” also has a long list going on. It kind of looks like everything is the best. Good on you for confidence, but…

Over to the left sidebar now.

As suggested, move that inkpot to the right. The snowmen cartoon can stay, as it’s less obvious and more subtle, so it doesn’t draw the eye over to the left when it should be on the right.

The rest of the icons there look fine. They have that glass effect going on with some of them, though, and again, we suggest taking that off. It’s overkill.

One big suggestion we do have for the sidebars is to change the title fonts. They look a little spindly, faded and broken up. They’re also in serif font, making them harder to read.

“I’m tired.” James sat down by the computer and rubbed his forehead. “This guy has a lot of pictures on his wall. But they’re not all jammed together or hokey or anything…” At least there was that.

“No, it looks good now.” Harry nodded, appreciating the spacing and clean wall between each image. “The guy has good taste. We’ve seen worse.”

“Hooo, yeah.” James pulled the thesis closer and read a few more pages. “You know, I really hate Times New Roman. Or any serif font,” he added. “This whole document would be so much easier to read with a nice, clean Arial or Verdana.”

“You sound so smart,” Harry smirked, knowing damned well James couldn’t tell the difference between either font.

“Yeah, well, I had a good teacher.” As if James listened to anything Harry said. But he did grin.

A key in the front door’s lock suddenly brought both men to sharp attention. They whirled, whipping out their guns to aim them at the office door. “Shit,” Jamie hissed. “They weren’t supposed to be home yet…”

Children’s voices drifted in from the hallway, punctuated by the sound of an adult stamping boots and a blast of cold, snowy air.

“He’s got kids!” Harry sucked in his breath, looking around for a quick escape. “We can’t shoot them with kids around! What now?”

“Here.” Three strides and James was tugging up on a window, sliding it open and letting in the freezing wind of winter. “We can get out this way.” Ground floor. No drop and a quick escape. The snow would leave their footprints, but once they hit the streets, they’d be able to hide their tracks.

Harry scrambled to slip out, turning to give James a hand. But he wasn’t there. The typewriter clacked four times, leaving one word on the page for the occupants to find.

BANG

Want more? You got it. Check out the lineup of upcoming hit jobs:

December 14 – Deaf Mom World
December 21 – Linkers Blog

Note: Requests for free drive-bys are closed. We’ll start taking names again in late December for January’s hits.

Want your blog shot down? Hit us up for a professional private drive-by via email. It’s only $30, and you’ll get your shoot-out within a week. Come on. You know you wanna.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. James,

    He he he, I forgot this hit was coming, and I just went over to read WD and said I loved the new look. Now I have to scroll back up here, and see if you were mean to him.

    “The eye hits the site, grabs that banner, and that’s it. It doesn’t follow a path up to the navigation.”

    I admit that’s true, but it’s so beautiful! And I’m so happy being grabbed like that! Is there a problem here?

    Okay, I didn’t think about it when I was reading his post but yes, I actually had a hard timing yanking my eyes away to read the post at first, nevermind anything else. Only on a second view did I notice the rest of the page.

    I’m a serif-lover, even on screen, and for WD it’s all working together so I don’t think I’d want bold sans navigation. What about increasing the size/ darkening the tab edges as you suggest, and screening/ manipulating the banner to be just a bit lighter, i.e. dialing the photo down a notch? (That’s hard to say because I like it so much, but even making the nav speak louder won’t really fix the overall issue…).

    “… the title fonts… look a little spindly, faded and broken up.” I’m not on a PC today (how I assume you’re seeing them), but on my Mac they’re beautiful. Dag nab PCs.

    Overall it is clean and simple, readable, a bit old-fashioned (serifs hooray!), and matches Sean’s writing style to a T. Plus, I thought of Thesis but actually had to scroll down to be sure, because he’s really done a nice job using the bones but making the look his own.

    Tweak those sidebars, do a little something about the beautiful banner, and away you go, Sean!

    Great hit as always.

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Kelly´s last blog post…Tip of the Week: Unlined Envelopes Save Customers!

  2. Dave Fowler says:

    Hey Men!

    I love Sean’s site. I’ve watched it evolve over the months and I’m sure he’ll take your feedback like a man – with a typewriter – not a pen.

    Given how long Sean’s been in this game I think his presentation is incredible and I look forward to watching his blogging career progress.

    I heart your review of his site.

    Dave

  3. @ Dave – Wait, wait. Are you saying a pen is less manly?

    @ Kelly – Well, when we become filthy rich, we’ll buy all our readers Macs. Until then, we suggest sites work for both those on Macs *and* those on PCs…

    Like me… *sniff sniff*… Maybe Santa will be nice to me…

  4. Dave Fowler says:

    James, I think it depends on how chunky your pen is. :)

  5. @ Dave – Hm. Yes. No one wants a weenie pen. But I think it has to do with that feeling after you set the pen down, the one where you go, “Ahhh, god I just wrote the best words of my life. I need a break and then I’ll have another go.”

    Mmhm.

  6. So, I’ve been wondering about mixing serif and sans on my page. You say to WD to possibly change the menu and even title fonts to sans. Would it be ok to leave the content text a serif? I don’t mind the look too much, but I’m no design artist :)

    About the nav menu not sticking out enough: I think that could be easily fixed by either darkening the edges or background a bit, or even moving it below the typewriter or both.

    Ryan´s last blog post…Technologies and a Plugin

  7. Dave Fowler says:

    James,
    Ah, the way you speak of that moment makes me long to set aside my Bic biro for the last time.

    One day I too shall have a magnificent pen and I’ll brandish it with pride, but for the moment, I’m afraid I’m forced to endure pen envy.

  8. You know, I’m over at Writer Dad’s place a couple times a week (his site, not his house mind), and until you pointed it out today, I didn’t even realize there WAS a menu above the banner. Huh. I’d say you have a very good point on that one.

    Nicole Brunet´s last blog post…A Place in My Mind

  9. @Kelly: I know what you mean, the serif font does work in this case, but on PC it’s a little broken up (depending on which monitor I’m using). If I view it in Safari it’s gorgeous. So you don’t really have to have a Mac, you just have to use Safari, the Mac technology for better fonts is right in that. Now, if Firefox were to swipe that know how and make their browser do what Safari does with fonts, I’d really be in love.

    @Dave & James: Try this for a manly pen: Retro 51 Tornado I’m very particular about my pens and although I don’t have this particular model, I do have a Retro and it’s a nice writing instrument.

    @Nicole: It is a very pretty banner he’s got going on for sure! Once that menu is tweaked the rest will be fine.

  10. Dave Fowler says:

    Harry, Thank you. You have me typing in a very deep voice now.

    The Sterling Silver is an attractive material, but I don’t know…. I’d need to be feeling ultra confident to handle that baby, otherwise I’d surely be found out for the bic using fraud that I am. :D

  11. I’m wondering why the Retro tornado links to… uh… not a pen?

  12. Harry/James: Thanks for the drive-by. I was excited about it, and wanted my crib as sharp as possible to minimize bullet holes. I knew I had to get it to 80% and you guys would help me find the last twenty. You were kind, had me laughing out loud, left with the clip still full, and spared my family. Thanks.

    I agree with everything you said, though I like at the site through Safari so it looks like sunshine to me. It’s good to know it isn’t all roses on the other browsers. Naive on my end I suppose. I’ll get to work fixing what needs to be fixed. Thanks again.

    Writer Dad´s last blog post…Writer Dad in Rough Draft

  13. @James: a touch too much info in the link URL. All fixed.

    @WD: Hey! You did a good job with your site, but yes, testing in other browsers is key. Glad you liked the drive by!

  14. @ Harry – I actually prefer really cheap pens, like this one. They actually WRITE well with the ink flowing nicely. All the expensive pens I’ve tried are too thin and do that scratchy thing on the paper, which drives me nuts. Plus I like cool, colored pens :) They’re fun.

    @ Writer Dad – Ha, I’ll be the first to say that your site has come a long way since you started out indeed! Test your site through various browsers and you may find a considerable difference.

  15. @James: Ah, yes. Then I may just have to get you one of these for Christmas. Well, maybe not the sterling silver, but this whole line of pens write smooth as silk.

  16. Aaaah, now I can actually see what I’m writing as comment. Black fonts on gray is so much easier to read, too!

    I like Writer Dad and his blog. It’s the ubiquitous Thesis (Brian is doing really well with this theme, I guess) which is usually too white and sterile, but he did a nice adjustment, as you guys point out.

    I love the little artwork (Pen and Ink). Just wondering why it’s pdf . . . if it’s pdf, can I use it as gravatar or mini ad? How come it’s not image file?? I were him, I’d use it as my gravatar.

    Akemi “spiritual entrepreneur” @ Yes to aMe´s last blog post…Living Your Life Purpose

  17. Hey guys, I did the huge honking logo, so the blame falls on me. I used a pic of an ancient typewriter which I loved so much I wanted to keep as much of it as possible in the logo. Hell, I was trying to keep the keys in as well, which would have made it REALLY TALL, but there was no way to make it work and still keep the idea I was going with intact.

    However, I think you’re right. I’ll get to work on cropping out a bit more of it to make it less tall. I think the bottom 25% or so could go and still achieve the same effect.

    Blogger Dad´s last blog post…The story garden part 2: Building a mystery

  18. @ Akemi – I agree. Color is a good thing, even if it’s just in accents.

    @ Blogger Dad – Wait – what? Writer Dad, Blogger Dad… Is this a takeover? Hm. Pen Dad. Just doesn’t have the right kind of ring. Dammit.

    The image Sean has for his banner is great. I can’t pick on it at all, and Harry was admiring the kerning or whatever it’s called that makes the letters lean. But it’s BIG, dude. Yup.

  19. @James: Distortion and perspective ;) Kerning is the space between the lines of text in a paragraph.

  20. @ Harry – Kerning reminds me of popcorn (mmm, popcorn), so… yes! I appreciate you keep me on the straight and narrow with that distortion thing!

  21. I have some of those pens! I love them, too!

    Seriously, great drive by, guys. I’m using Thesis on one website, and I have the same problem with the navigation blending in. Haven’t figured out how to fix it yet, though.

    Kerning: my new vocabulary word of the day. Thanks Harry!

    Jamie Simmerman´s last blog post…Communicate Dang It!

  22. James – Funny story, I had http://www.writerdad.com picked out to buy as my domain after I got laid off from my newspaper job this summer. I hesitated, though, unsure what I wanted from my blog. Once I made up my mind and decided to buy it, Sean had already purchased the domain! Bastard ‘stole it’ from me!

    I chose BloggerDad as my backup name and after I’d been blogging a few weeks, I emailed him and told him the story. Soon, he asked if I would be interested in illustrating something. We hit if off and have been collaborating ever since.

    Okay, maybe not a FUNNY story, but it’s interesting.

    Blogger Dad´s last blog post…The story garden part 2: Building a mystery

  23. While we’re talking pens, I LOVE the Pilot Precise V5 (for extra fine) and V7 for thick – which is what I use for handwriting. Fairly cheap and available in most stores. For illustrations, I prefer Micron pens. For cartooning, you can’t beat the Faber Castell Pitt Artist Brush Pen for varying line widths which give that ‘brush’ look.

  24. @ BloggerDad – Ooho, so the true Sean comes out! Thief and co-conspirator to boot! (Hey. Looks like a win-win deal from here, lol.)

    Thick, yes. That’s it. Nice, smooth-rolling thick ink with a great ballpoint that just floats on the paper. I haven’t been able to beat those .10c Erasermates for the feel… except they do splotch the paper and leak ink. Yuck.

  25. Gone all day, come back to a full inbox…

    WD,

    Sharp crib. Got to keep those Pen Men on their toes!

    Harry,

    You meant to say kerning is the space between pairs of letters. Leading is the space between lines. But you hiccoughed when you were typing.

    Nobody should be dictating to others what to look at the site on, of course. It’s got to look good across platforms.

    James,

    I hope Santa’s filthy rich, if he’s bringing all the good little Pen Men Macs. (You have been good, haven’t you?)

    I didn’t mean to say stuff should only look good on a Mac, actually, that’s what I keep passels of aged PCs around for—just the opposite. We have to deal with you 85 per centers. I only wanted to point out that it does look lovely on Mac/Safari, and thus I suspected it had only been seen on said.

    Pens: This one to write everything (ooh, it’s sooo smooth) except my semi-fiction; I wrote it with this one. Yes, the ink is violet, far too frou-frou for me. It spoke to me and said, “fictionalized memoir.” So I did as I was told. :)

    Blogger Dad,

    That banner is awesome. Might need a tweak for practicality but as a thing of beauty, it’s right there. And nice distortion and perspective, as Harry says.

    Until later,

    Kelly

    Kelly´s last blog post…Tip of the Week: Unlined Envelopes Save Customers!

  26. Mod for two links? Boo.

    Kelly´s last blog post…Tip of the Week: Unlined Envelopes Save Customers!

  27. @ Kelly – Yes, but our mod lasts all of two seconds.

    Hey. Porn comes in only one link these days, and sometimes none. We’re sharp around here about it.

  28. ;) Fifty witty comebacks that don’t belong here spring to mind, and I retreat instead.

    Kelly´s last blog post…Tip of the Week: Unlined Envelopes Save Customers!

  29. Lisa Firke | Hit Those Keys says:

    Nice drive-by, Men. I too have been watching Writer Dad since he hatched and he’s all grown up now. With the help of your sage advice he can only do even better. I know your private shoot-out at my place was very helpful.

    WD, you might consider a subscription to BrowserCam.com to help you see what people on different platforms and browsers see. I wish everyone could see how pretty the web is on Safari, but, alas, the majority miss out. (Alternatively, cultivate a posse of friend on different set-ups can enlist them as your eyes on different browsers.)

    On the Thesis navigation tabs, take a look at what I was able to do with The Firke Files. It’s not a huge change in the CSS, but that area stands out much more than it would without the tweaking. As with any design problem, it can help to look at a lot of different sites and, for this one, study just the navigation links to see what kinds of things are possible.

  30. Kelly – Thanks for the nice words.

    James & Harry – I cropped the logo about 80 pixels, brought the focus in tighter and reduced the height of the logo. Should be a bit less obvious now. Thanks for the advice!

    Blogger Dad´s last blog post…Weird things my son does #47: talks to lights

  31. @ Blogger Dad – Indeed it does look a little less overpowering now, and it seems to me that the content is more visible at a quick glance.

    @ Lisa – Yeah, exactly. Having a border around those navigation tabs really helps them stand out.

    On a side note, I’m personally not fond of above-banner navigation tabs, but I think that’s a ME thing :)

    @ WriterDad – There’s a free site you can go to and see your site done on every frickin’ browser under the sun. Harry knows the URL.

    @ Harry – What’s that URL, dude?

  32. There’s a bunch of them, but the one we use is http://browsershots.org

  33. It’s too bad that your critiques mainly focus on a blog’s design. The real magic about Writer Dad is his writing. Each post reads like a love letter to his kids or his wife or to life itself. At the end of each one you feel like saying, “Awww, that is sooo sweet. C’mere, I gotta give you a hug.”

  34. @ Susan – Well, the point of the drive-bys is to critique designs, so that’s what we focus on. People request to have us take a look at their design, look and usability so they can showcase what they have to offer.

    If we offered content critiques, that would be a different story entirely :)

    Also, no matter how great someone’s content might be, a poor design can make sure no one sticks around to read, which is another reason why we perform the drive-bys.

  35. @James: You beat me to it, that’s exactly what I was going to say ;)

  36. “Well, the point of the drive-bys is to critique designs,”

    Right, James. I know the focus is on design, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to comment on Sean’s writing talent. What can I say, I’m into words! :)

  37. Ok folks.

    I’ve decided that I like the whole “drive by” thing. I’ve been lurking for a bit but this last one was over the top. I can’t recall another site where I actually had to use my brain a bit to understand and “get” the post.

    The in-post banter (dialogue) just cracks me up. And then you guys go and top it off with comment hilarity.

    I sure hope the CA health system is taking care of all those cheek bruises from having your tongues so firmly implanted…

    Cheers!

    George

    Tumblemoose´s last blog post…Breaking into freelance writing

  38. Tumblemoose is my new friend. “Comment hilarity” is an awesome phrase.

    Why didn’t I get my email feed this a.m.? Must go see this week’s hit now.

    Later,

    Kelly

    Kelly´s last blog post…Tip of the Week: Are YOU Wasting Your Most Precious Resource?

  39. Thanks everyone for all your kind words. I loved the drive-by. It was really helpful. Already I think the site looks a lot better and I’ve only tackled half the suggestions. I checked out browser shots and went to the library to see it first hand. They were dead on the money; the men shoot straight.

    Writer Dad´s last blog post…Sliding Doors

  40. Sean it does look much better already—when I liked it so much! How’d you do that?

    P.S. Sliding Doors is your best sniffler yet. There should have been a Kleenex alert. No fair.

    :)

    Kelly´s last blog post…Tip of the Week: Are YOU Wasting Your Most Precious Resource?

  41. @Sean: Looking good, man! Just that little bit taken out of the banner lightens it up a lot. And I like your “Blogger Cafe”, good job on the title change.

  42. Nicely done, Sean. Only thing I’d suggest now is cutting down on the ads on either side to be selective and choose four, two on either side, and break them up with links or text in between. Otherwise, you detract visually from your content because of the color yanking attention on either side.

    Great work!

  43. Thanks, Kelly. That’s awfully kind.

    James and Harry – thanks for everything. I penned a sequel for the morrow. Hope you don’t mind. Give me another couple of weeks to make it shiny.

    Writer Dad´s last blog post…Sliding Doors

Trackbacks

  1. […] know.” James patted him on the shoulder. Last week’s hit had been sticky, what with the kids that could’ve been involved in a real mess. “But we […]

  2. Bang! — Writer Dad says:

    […] read the original Men with Pens drive-by unless you’re okay with an otherwise totally random post. […]

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