The Way You Look Tonight

I’ve made the switch from Times New Roman to Garamond for my every day typing. There was something about Times New Roman that made the words seem intimidating as they appeared on the screen. As if each serif, each dark line was saying something about my soul. It got to a point where I almost didn’t want to write because I didn’t want to see any more Times New Roman on the screen before me. Now I feel reenergized. It’s hard to explain.

This has led aesthetics to dominate my recent thinking. I’m starting to realize how easily affected I am by the way things look. It’s as simple as the difference between a sunny day and a cloudy one. For many years I considered myself impervious to the effects of weather. Then I realized that my music tastes were totally affected by it. Now the same thing is happening with fonts, I guess. And it goes beyond my own writing. Aesthetics have a huge impact on how we consume sports.

Take a look at uniforms. Few subjects are less relevant from a tangible perspective. But few things affect the fan experience more. UniWatchBlog gets insanely high traffic (we know that because RBI once got a very brief mention that sent over approximately 17million visitors). In baseball, not even steroids get as much flack from fans as misplaced black trim on traditional jerseys.

Even Paul Lo Duca hates black trim.

But let’s take this even more inward. The readers of this blog are either well-meaning friends of Ted and I or people who consume multiple sports blogs on a regular basis. And your opinion of PnP is greatly affected by its design. For example, the giant picture of Fernando Valenzuela’s face on our header causes people to think this is a Dodger-focused blog. Regular readers know this not to be the case, but the image probably has the same skill for discouraging Giants fans from reading that Times New Roman does for discouraging me from writing stuff. The Rogue’s Baseball Index, looks old-timey — an aesthetic that carries its own baggage.

What do we look for with sports blog design? Should the visual feel of the site somehow match the tone of the content? Josh Wilker’s Cardboard Gods does this perfectly. It’s a slightly literary design with a classic-baseball feel. The content is the focus, framed in white amidst a background of dark grays and blues. Joe Posnanksi, meanwhile, opts for pure utilitarianism. His long, long posts are presented on a plain white screen, with plenty of space for his ample reader-polls on the side bar and his weird personal projects on the header.

But those are singular and powerful voices. Their draw is their exceptional content – bells and whistles be damned. What of sites whose appeal lies in humor or news or pictures? What of Deadspin? Deadspin leaves it in the hands of the reader. Here are 6,000 stories. Pick your favorite. Me? I think it looks cluttered. But then again, I like to pick and choose my stories. God knows I don’t want to end up looking at one of their regular slide-shows of nude male athlete self-portraits.

Mustaches were a crucial part of 19th century baseball's aesthetic.

I suppose the goal of a blog design depends on the goals of the proprietors. Do you want to nurture your reader a-la Wilker into a bookish dream-state? Do you want to build traffic through various clicks and links and options? Is your most recent post key? Or is it about the big picture? This is just the first layer of questions. We can peel them back to reveal even more. Does the number of columns on the blog matter much? Do certain colors have certain impacts on the reader? What about the width of the text? Do you like to read a narrow column or a wider one? How does subject matter affect these things?

This all may seem vague and irrelevant. But I don’t think it is. All of our beliefs as baseball fans are colored by colors and indelible images and uncanny associations.  Consider the way uniforms touch the way we remember eras: the classic 1950s and 60s, the colorful 70s, the unfortunate 80s, the surprisingly teal 90s. It goes into the design of our stadiums as well. They evoke the eras in which they are built and the teams they house. The difference between Cardboard Gods and Deadspin isn’t all that different from the difference between Fenway Park and New Yankee Stadium.

I’m curious as to what your thoughts are. Please share them in the comments. For what it’s worth, two of my favorite blogs, aesthetics-wise, are Beerleaguer and Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness. What are yours?

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9 Responses to The Way You Look Tonight

  1. Reeves says:

    Kottke.org. Bar none.

  2. Beth says:

    I hardly ever notice the asthetics of the blogs I read because I read them all in google reader. However, you’re absolutely right. Asthetics color (pardon the pun) our impressions of almost everything else in life and particularly in sports.

  3. Eric says:

    Reeves: Kottke.org is the pinnacle of the appearance matching the content.

    Beth: Google Reader has changed the way I read too. It’s funny though, I’ve found myself clicking through more and more lately. Perhaps that’s because I don’t have a job, so I don’t have to use Reader to camouflage the fact that I’m reading sports blogs at an office. I love RSS but that said, I feel like especially with RBI, a crucial part of the experience is lost when its read on Google Reader.

  4. Ted says:

    That’s a great point, Beth, about the way Reader strips the aesthetics from most blogs. I’ll often click through to a blog explicitly because I enjoy being in that visual web-space, which is totally contextual.

    I enjoy reading Cardboard Gods “in person,” whereas for something like FAILBlog, I can just watch the videos and look at the stupid people doing their stupid things; no need to click through.

  5. Janelle says:

    Every time I open the pnp page my eyes go straight to the register tab, where the the letters blend with the white of the jersey. It drives me crazy; so much so that I have to scroll down before reading to not be distracted.

  6. Eric says:

    You’d think a person who was dating the proprietor of the site would have made this comment at an earlier time — say at dinner or over the phone — as the design has gone unchanged since PnP’s inception. But nope, she waits until a relevant post is published and does it in the comments.

  7. Patrick says:

    I almost universally prefer simplicity overall. I love Posnanski’s blog just because of the black text on white. Cardboard Gods is also great. UniWatch is pretty good, though it has gotten a little bit cluttered with the more ads it has accumulated. Mainly I like simplicity because not only is it easier on the eyes, but it tells me the content is more important than the rest of the junk. And with so many blogs on the interwebs just rehashing content, I try to seek out original thought and good writing, so design that tells me the bloggers make the writing their first priority automatically draws me in.

    Not to go off on a complete tangent, but the prior comments about how blog design influences a reader reminds me of book design. I’m not one to romanticize the existence of books (okay, I am), but the rise of e-books makes me wonder how much book design might be lost.

    Anyway, great site and great post. Fonts and sports in one post, consider me hooked (and nerdy).

  8. jason says:

    Too true: I switched from Times New Roman as well. I’m a Helvetica man myself, though, as you said, Garamond is aesthetically pleasing (I use it on my resume, though perhaps I should switch since I can’t seem to get a job …). To me, as long as the writing is there, the passion, then the visuals shouldn’t matter. In my opinion, the best sites exercise the “less is more” mold, which, more often than not, works. For me, the old maxim still holds true: Content (being the writing) is king.

  9. Eric says:

    Thanks for the comments, guys. I think most writers tend to prefer simplicity. We like to believe that the focus will be on our work. As to getting a job, well, Jason, I’m with you dude.