First of all, my apologies for the unintentionally extended silence on Inspiration Bit. I have lots to learn from other busy people on how they manage to combine work and family with blogging, I’m definitely struggling with that.
Leon Paternoster‘s minimalistic sites have long been on my To Review list, and since then they even underwent a complete overhaul. Leon is an ardent crusader for accessible and readable web design, he’s keenly interested in typography and is irked every time he sees a web site with illegible text or where a chunk of text was saved as an image (I feel your pain there, Leon).
So it comes to no surprise to see his own sites with very minimalistic, stripped down to bare necessities, designs. He’s also released two minimalistic WordPress themes: Into the White (which was featured on Smashing Magazine) and Velouria.
Single page beauty
The style of his personal single page web site was greatly influenced by Franz Neumann’s elegant creation of Stories & Novels. But after the initial resemblance in the layout and minimalistic design, the similarities end.
The use of Adobe Garamond for the body text on Stories & Novels makes me feel I’m reading a professionally scanned copy of a beautiful book online. Leon, however, chose to go with a safer font for Web: Georgia. In fact, with the exception of the Garamond for the fancy ampersand, the entire page is set in Georgia. And I actually prefer the clearness achieved by a gray text colour and bigger font size on Leon’s site vs. the black and small text on Stories & Novels, that make the latter one appear a bit blurry on my screen.
An interesting thing to note about the different design practices is the way that red/burgundy line was achieved on those two sites: an empty DIV with a red background and 2px height on Stories & Novels vs. the dark red line set to the HTML tag with a top 0.2em border on Leon Paternoster’s.
The only critical comment I have about Leon’s personal page is the slightly excessive use of white space. I do like to see designers practice the use of negative space in their designs, but because there are no images on Leon’s page, no major distractions (I don’t count the red link lines here), lots of white space feels a bit overpowering and unnecessary. I think by slightly reducing the space above and below the site title and the introductory paragraph and a tad tightening of the line-height in the Work area, all parts of the content would tie with each other more effortlessly. What do you think?
One thing that puzzles me a bit on Leon’s homepage is the absence of the red star symbol anywhere on the page, yet it was used as a favicon for the site? I wouldn’t really mind seeing that red star appearing somewhere in the content for some additional visual interest. Perhaps Leon could add a footer text with some copyright, credits stuff, preceded with that star icon? On the other hand, why not using the logo featured on the blog as a favicon?
Blogging Swiss style
The blog link from the homepage takes us to a completely different design of Leon’s blog. The first thing that catches the eye, besides seeing the almighty Helvetica everywhere on the site, is the post excerpt on the left, set in a huge (2.5em) font size that looks more like a quote than an excerpt, with the post’s title underneath looking more like the quote’s source. At first it got me confused, thinking that this must be Leon’s most recent post. But as it turns out, the featured excerpt comes from the latest Must Read post.
The ‘Must Read’ theme continues throughout the blog: you can see the list of Must Reads on the homepage’s right sidebar, and the Archives are starting with the list of ‘Read these first’ posts before switching into the standard chronological order.
Saying No to images
Staying true to his minimalistic ideals Leon doesn’t believe in using images to support the design (you will still see the images within the content though), so even his logo is formed with a few simple CSS strokes: red background colour and padded white lowercase initials inside the square.
The colour scheme is super minimalistic as well: grey (various shades of it) for text and hover links, blue for links. And as I mentioned before Helvetica is the main font on the site, with the exception of Georgia in italic for certain phrases with an emphasis on them and the latest Tweet in the right side of the footer, plus Garamond italic is used to style the preposition “by” in the post’s author details.
The blog is based on two columns, with a minimal dynamic content on the right sidebar that changes depending on where on the site you are: on the home page (and Search results page) you see Must Reads and Recent Posts, on single post pages you see only Recent Posts, on About page you can learn a bit more about Leon, while on the Archives page you see only a list of tags.
Even the site navigation is reduced to the minimum: there’s no contact page, only email address, so you’re only left with unadorned list of three main pages—Home, About and Archive, displayed on the right side of the header below a simple search box.
My critique is going to be as minimal and laconic as the design:
- I find Helvetica set to default 16px (100%) difficult to read in long paragraphs;
- I think the lists need some breathing space between the list items;
- Would love to see more colour on the site: perhaps re-using that same red from the logo/favicon on link hovers?
- Too much Helvetica can be overwhelming, some more typographic colour wouldn’t hurt either: perhaps more Garamond treatment, more font size variations?
- Not crazy about the date/author data styling above the post (hint: Garamond would look nice here not only with ‘by’);
- Once again puzzled about the use of the star symbol as a favicon, and not seeing that star anymore on the rest of the blog.
Overall it’s a pleasingly looking user-friendly blog, where the content is the site’s main feature with no competition from design. Over to you now: what do you think of Leon Paternoster’s homepage and blog designs? Would you recommend anything to improve the site’s architecture or style, or do you like the simplicity of it and wouldn’t ask to change a thing there?