Hello, and welcome to my new design.
I have created a few different versions of my website over time, and most of them never saw the light of deployment. Most were created out of curiosity in a new framework or language, especially those intended to be the "next big thing", but ultimately fizzled out and retired to my private rubbish bin of abandoned ideas.
Having the skills to create a website is simultaenuously a superpower and a curse. It's a unique ability to know how multiple langauges, paradigms and methodologies can fit together to make a website, but a source of frustration when they don't quite work together or "feel right". I went through this every single time, and I have come to learn I am quite a perfectionist, where I am only able to carry through on side projects I actually enjoy doing.
Note I said "side projects" there. Money is quite the motivating factor when it comes to other projects.
My most recent website design ended up getting abandoned too, to the point where it stated in giant letters that I lived in London, two years after I had migrated to Edinburgh. It was written with Jekyll and deployed for free with GitHub Pages - the most minimal way to get a website started at the time - and consisted of a basic blog and even more basic styling.
It didn't matter how basic it was though. At the time, I was happy to have something out the door. I had procrastinated over the functionality and design of previous website ideas for so long that I wanted something, anything, to flaunt as my own.
At least, I think it was Christian Heilmann that I watched speaking about this. I've tried to find something of him writing about that and came up empty-handed.
So anyway, enough rambling, and let's peek behind the curtain to see what this website is made of. It was created thanks to a perfect storm of slightly more free time, confidence in my own abilities, and proper organisation and design. Creating any side-project does give an opportunity to throw different technologies around and see what sticks, and this one happened to have a lot of things that stuck first-time and allowed me to keep going.
A major hurdle for me for developing anything is the design. I can use design tools fine, but is the design I create ever good enough? Is it fuck.
So for this site, I reached out to a previous colleague of mine, Giovanni Toscani, and asked him to help. He helped me create a colour scheme, mockups of pages, and finally set some direction in order for me to stop worrying about the design and dig into the code. I massively appreciate his work and for helping me out in-between his own work.
The front end
Being a front-end developer, this side is rather pivotal.
In terms of those component frameworks, I have used Astro's own components for most of them, but I do have a few React and Svelte components sprinkled in where I felt like it, or when I need components to be rendered on the client rather than rendered on the server.
For styling, I have created all the CSS myself using SCSS Modules, though I started with normalize.css to reset everything to sensible defaults. I've gone all-in with the more modern features of CSS, like Grid Layout and Custom Properties.
I added a fun and subtle animation to the header, where the wave moves slightly to the right. As small as it is, I really like it, and also ensured it only moves if users have not set a preference for motion on their devices. I have plans for other subtle animations to use as well, which I'm looking forward to implementing soon.
There's a bunch of other nice stuff too; dark mode, an RSS feed, a sticky table of contents for posts, and image optimisations.
Performance and Accessibility
The other good news is that this site currently gets very high scores from Lighthouse audits, including a 100% score on the desktop homepage. This is a great start, though I still have some parts to optimise for mobile and other individual pages.
I also developed this site with accessibility in mind from day one - something I feel is important for any website, large and small. I have some improvements to make around colour contrast and legibility, but my early tests show users of screen readers should be able to navigate the site with relative ease.
When it comes to quick projects, my first thought always goes to Netlify or Vercel. These are great, but I wanted to try a new service this time. That service turned out to be Cloudflare and its Pages product. Cloudflare has always seemed like such a performant, innovative and privacy-conscious company, that I decided to throw my website on there and see how it fared. Pretty well, it turned out.
There are a litany of other things being used for this site;
- For analytics, I use Fathom Analytics, an ethical alternative to Google Analytics which doesn't track you and therefore requires no annoying GDPR-induced popups. I only care about how my website performs and where visits generally come from, nothing else. I also use the free tier of Cloudflare Analytics (also ethical) to ensure the site is performing well.
- I created a couple of Cloudflare Workers to enable some fun features for the site, without storing the logic within the website codebase, or worse yet, shipping that logic to the user. One Worker uses the Spotify API to get a list of tracks I have listened to the most recently, and another gets the current weather in Edinburgh. Small pieces of functionality, but using very cool and modern technology.
The site is far from done. I have a fair bit of tech debt-ish stuff I'd like to sort out, a Uses page I have always wanted to create, and lots of testing I would like to add. I have some fun ideas for animations and stuff, to add some personalisation.
The code is fully open-source, and I intend to keep it that way. However, I may move posts to a CMS or something, to make it a smidge harder for others to copy them and paste them on their own sites.
Creating this site has been fun, but also a relief. I have blocked myself so many times from creating it due to anxiety of not producing anything "good enough". I already knew that starting it was a key first step, but I have also learnt not to compare it to others, and have fun. It is my own site, after all.
If you are in a similar situation to where I am, here are my key tips that helped me get moving on this:
- Use StackBlitz or CodeSandbox to try out different frameworks and tech solutions quickly.
- Create a quick backlog of what you want to do, in order to map out what tasks need to be done, and hopefully reduce any cognitive overload around
- Document and aim for an MVP version of your site as a first resort, to get started most effectively and reduce the pressure for getting something "perfect" released on the first try.
- Have fun setting your own standards!