Concept and Overview
‘Research shows consumers are increasingly turning to mobile devices as the preferred method for accessing content’ (Tomas 2013). Small Towns Small Fiction features a mobile-first design based around my portfolio of short stories. Evocative, original photography and user centred design help the words stand out in a clean format suited to smaller screens. Podcast episodes are offered as another way to access the content.
My audience like short stories and simple formats. They are focused on the written word. They are looking for grassroots fiction and enjoy interactivity.
Unique articles about the locations and characters provide depth, while users are invited to contribute to a connected constellation of stories and articles.
Visual Communication and Design
The logo is a critical visual link across all platforms. It summarises the name and the theme of the brand and is easily used and recognised in many formats on many platforms.
Overall choice of font was to ensure a common font in my chosen Word Press theme (PT Serif), and the Adobe suite of software (Perpetua Titling). This ensures a continuous look and feel of simplicity and neutrality across both images and text (Saltz 2009).
My header image is an original composition focused on an open book alongside a coffee cup. The wooden table provides a background with clean yet rustic looking leading lines and adds authenticity.
Themes are the ultimate determinant of WordPress (especially dot.com) layouts. My theme front-page features hero images and evocative call-to action-buttons, utilising the portfolio structural component of the theme.
Prose and Pose is an example of an author site from which I drew inspiration. It uses pictures as hyperlinks and sidebar widgets on only second level pages, leaving the landing page free for bold visual communication. The focus of my landing page remains on large images and writing leaving plenty of white space.
Bearing in mind that a website is a form of multi-modal communication it is important that visual images ‘show’ and not ‘tell’ the story. Important considerations include layout, size, shape, colour, line, angle, position and perspective (Walsh 2006).
I chose to use black and white images for the stories and the podcasts but colour images for the ‘Learn More‘ portfolio articles. I’ve done this to complement the text of the stories with only cool colours (or black and white) to let the images sit as complementary to the stories. I chose to use colour images for the ‘Learn More’ portfolio to reflect the contemporary and real life nature of these posts.
In line with De Fiore’s work on the meaning of colours, I deliberately chose my theme for its green/blue/white colour scheme. They are colours I could easily match in Adobe suite for use in graphical elements. Blue is seen as a noble colour, inviting reflection, but also carrying connotations of sadness and solitude. Green is seen as inspiring relaxation and balances the sadness of the blue (De Fiore 1985). Nobility, reflection, sadness, solitude and relaxation are all themes within the texts.
I propose that the primary visual element of a site about short stories should be the text. The colour scheme and images must be complimentary to the text. Black text on a white page helps users to read the text without being distracted by attempts at meaning-making with images and colours that do not complement the text.
User Interface Design
While researching the design of other websites, I noted that sites about the craft of writing left plenty of white space on the page and used images sparingly.
I used the portfolio function of my theme to create portfolio pages that made use of big buttons to simplify and group each aspect of the site. This aligns with my original wire frame diagrams of the site.
In line with the text focus of the site I chose a serif font which is standard in printed books. This font is clearly legible on a white background and is easily scaled up and down. As audiences age and screen sizes get smaller, text needs to be very clear (Saltz, 2009).
The site is about encouraging quick reads from visitors who are largely viewing on small screens so it is important to ensure that navigation is clear and easily followed. Readers are guided to click on one of three main pathways depending on their interest. The site pages and posts can be accessed in a non-sequential and non-linear way (Walsh, 2006), so having enough content to generate related links at the bottom of each post is an important feature to guide users to other posts.
I asked other Digital Platforms students via the forums and in the presentation what they would like to see changed and the overwhelming response was that the navigation is clear and no changes were needed. Some felt that the text in the menu bar at the top of the page could be changed to white. While I agree, I am limited by the colour choices available in my chosen theme.
Links to the stories in the short story portfolio section are designed carefully to stand out as buttons using Johnson’s principles of figure/ground and similarity (Johnson, 2014). The coloured bars across the top of each image are a way to mix the typography and colours of the site with the images to ensure users recognise them as a navigation element.
Design for different screen sizes
User Experience Design across Digital Platforms
In recognition of the importance of social connections among individuals, the use of social media platforms is important to increase the ‘spreadability’ of content (Jenkins, Ford & Green 2013).
The purpose of connected social media accounts is to generate interest and traffic back to the website. Small Towns Small Fiction has engaged with Instagram and Twitter to achieve this. Both platforms feature the brand name, logo and prominent links to the web site.
Logo design is the primary aspect of creating a common look and feel across my web and social media platforms. A unique logo ensures that users always know they are looking at Small Towns Small Fiction, whether it’s the site, or the social accounts.
The varying types of content are shown in the examples below. Instagram is an excellent platform for supportive imagery. The images I have chosen for Instagram are based around themes of country and outdoors, with some Digital Platforms coursework included, mainly about typography and communication. My Twitter account focuses on the craft of writing (with some coursework and testing included) and is designed to engage fellow students and writers.
In an effort to engage and grow my audience further, I experimented with re-tweeting helpful writing tips and co-opted memes from popular culture into posts about short stories.
It is important to remember that these platforms are not personal platforms and that the content must match the narratives created on the site. The content posted to these platforms invite interactivity and extend the brand presence to a larger audience.
Of the three platforms, WordPress provides the richest analytic data.
The daily views graph clearly shows which days are the most popular. They are the Fridays when forum feedback closes and other students follow the links from the forums.
The yearly views graph provides a neat overview of total views, where they have been referred from and where in the world they are located. Twitter and Instagram have referred surprisingly little traffic to the site. The biggest driver of views to the site was personal promotion on Facebook and the instant exposure offered by WordPress reader to other bloggers.
I achieved my goal of attracting views from search engines. This indicates that the site has been indexed by Google and should continue to attract views.
Analytic data from Instagram does not go deep enough to gain any real insights about followers until the account reaches 100 followers. Data for number of visitors is available and suggests more work needs to be done to reach 100 followers.
Analytic data from Twitter suggests that while my tweets are shown to users many times (impressions), the resulting profile visits are just a tiny percentage of the total impressions. April was my biggest month, the statistics demonstrate the effect that posting more tweets has on overall audience reach and engagement.
I conducted A/B testing using Instagram and Twitter. A/B testing on Instagram involved using the same picture with different hashtags. The post using the hashtags #oldbuilding and #historical earned more likes than the same picture using hashtags #books #reading #study. Future Instagram hashtags should probably be more about the features of what is displayed rather than about books and reading.
Similar A/B testing on Twitter showed that using the hashtag #digiplat1 gained far more likes due to the active community using that hashtag.
Future Directions and Development
I intend for the site to continue after this project. I will continue to research and employ social media platforms to find the types of posts, hashtags and communities that will improve my readership and provide greater exposure for the site.
I considered absorbing the site into a larger writing portfolio of writing I have already created. I decided that the innovation potential of Small Towns Small Fiction using digital platforms to develop a community around creative writing is worth keeping separate.
As time goes by, a different community is evolving around the site which I can leverage to increase audience exposure for my creative writing efforts.
The process of socio-cognitive sensemaking (Nambisan, Lyytinen, Majchrzak & Song 2017) will continue, as I learn about what particular types of content works best, by either engaging the largest audience or generating the most interactivity.
Based on real time feedback received in class after the presentation, it is very clear that my audience is of a mature age. Starting a Facebook page is likely to give me greater access to a more mature audience not available on Twitter or Instagram.
The only changes I would make to the site would be to add sidebar widgets to the posts. Widget and menu locations are a function of the theme and careful consideration would need to be given to the merits of a new theme. Adding custom html code to the current theme is another option, but this would require professional assistance.
Small Towns Small Fiction has plenty of potential for growth. I just need to tap into the right online communities, and I will continue searching for them.
De Fiore, G, 1985. Drawing with color and imagination : studying the techniques of the old masters for working methods and a personal style / by Gaspare de Fiore ; translated from Italian by Joachim Neugroschel, Watson-Guptill, New York.
Jenkins, H, Ford, S & Green, J, 2013, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, New York University Press, New York.
Johnson, J, 2010, Designing with the Mind in Mind : A Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Rules, Elsevier Science & Technology, Saint Louis.
Nambisan, S, Lyytinen, K, Majchrzak, A & Song M, 2017, ‘Digital Innovation Management: Reinventing Innovation Management Research in a Digital World’, MIS Quarterly, vol. 41 no. 1, pp. 223-238.
Saltz, I, 2009, Typography Essentials : 100 Design Principles for Working with Type, Quarto Publishing Group USA, Osceola.
Tomas, K, 2013, ‘Virtual Reality: Why Magazines Should Adopt a Mobile-First Publishing Strategy’, Publishing Research Quarterly Vol. 29, no. 4, pp 301–317.
Walsh, M, 2006, ‘The ‘textual shift’: examining the reading process with print, visual and multimodal texts’, Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 24-37.