Site redesign and moving to Jekyll

February 09 2013

When I decided to redesign my web site a while ago I wanted to scale down on size, content and maintanance. The old site was 3 years old and in the meanwhile lots of new projects and services had come out of the woodworks. Seeing Developmentseed move away completely from Drupal to Jekyll for their sites was a real eye opener. While Drupal became more and more complex the idea of building static sites with limited functionality seemed very refreshing.

Reasons for redesigning my web site

  • To scale down and remove clutter: one page that shows what I do and another listing blog posts is all I need.
  • To focus on a different audience with an updated skill set.
  • To improve the design and make better use of space by breaking out of the 960 grid.
  • To make the site responsive for easy access from any device.

Reasons for moving to Jekyll

  • Fits in the idea of scaling down on functionality and clutter.
  • Simple and hassle free hosting with Github pages (if you’re familiar with git).
  • My old site was still running drupal 6 and required regular module updating while the functionality on the site was limited and I wasn’t even using it often.
  • This site serves just static html, thus no performance is lost on rendering logic.
  • It’s refreshing not needing to set up a database, install Drupal, add modules or update them over time.

Some things I learned while rewriting the site

  • Used Jekyll and Liquid for the first time. This was also the first time I used a proper templating system. It’s very similar to Twig, so it was a good way to get my feet wet for templating in Drupal 8.
  • It forced me to refresh my memory about small things Drupal provides out of the box, such as meta tags, sitemap.xml, site structure, certain markup, etc.
  • Creating a Jekyll site for the first time still required quite a bit of work. Most of it was learning Jekyll & Liquid and planning the general architecture.
  • Used Zen Grids in a non-Drupal project, which turned out to work excellent. Zen Grids was created by John Albin Wilkins, who is the maintainer of the popular Drupal Zen base theme. Zen Grids is a key component of the Zen theme, but is intended to be usable on any project.
  • Flexslider is a responsive jQuery slideshow plugin that works just great.
  • Applied a nice solution for elements that are hidden with jQuery using display: none; . In my case it was the size of Flexslider that would not adapt after changing the viewport while hidden. This small tip in the jQuery docs helped me fix that.
  • Don’t use .load() to check if an image is loaded. Images could be cached. I used imagesLoaded for this task.

I really enjoyed working with Jekyll & Liquid and look forward playing with it even more. Maybe digging deeper in the plugin structure and such. I didn’t use Octopress or Jekyll bootstrap - though they might be interesting - because the whole point was to keep things as simple as possible and not to have too much functionality out of the box.

Having the code of your site publicly hosted on a github repo is interesting. While it can be made private, I kind of like the level of transparency it comes with being publicly accessable. In a true open source spirit others can see how things are implemented (or see my mistakes for that matter). People can also do pull requests to improve both the site and content. I don’t expect the latter to happen, but it is possible.

Drupal is still my application of choice for web development, but there are some use cases where a static site generator might be a great alternative.

Further reading

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