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I thought I’d try my hand again at doing another unsolicited redesign of a site that I enjoy, but has fallen by the wayside over the years. Back when I first started Internet-ing in the late 90’s one of my favorite sites to visit was TreeHugger. At the time there was really nothing like it, exploring alternatives and helping to usher in a green mentality. Over the years though it’s started to fade, becoming a monster of banner features and skyscraper ads. Everything is currently screaming look at me and the features themselves seem to be of little to no importance. That’s why this is the perfect candidate for a redesign. To be clear, this wasn’t sanctioned, paid for, or endorsed by TreeHugger or the Discovery Channel, this is simply me having fun.
The Logo & Mark
The first thing I did was try a light handed redesign of the logo and mark. I don’t think either has changed in years, still maintaining the flavor of early 2000’s. The vibe of the site has always been a mix of environmentalism with a tech twist, but the pixelated tree and hard angled (but not) font wasn’t really working anymore. Neither is the ‘A Discovery Company’ lockup that’s way too tight, see how the A and D caress the first E in Treehugger? My idea was to simplify the Treehugger logo and refresh the mark… literally.
The mark is a simple combination of two things: The computer symbol for refresh and a leaf. I thought about using a recycling logo, but it felt contrived and bit too on the mark. I also feel like the idea of refreshing is more positive than recycling. A leaf is the most basic way to identify nature, and plays together well with the word treehugger. Together they embody the spirit of what the site has always been, nature meets tech.
For the logo I kept things simple, using the free font Miso by Omkrets Architects. The font is similar to the old one, but is a little bit softer and less trying to be tech related. The ‘A Discovery Company’ byline has been severely minimized and reduced down using Jason Kottke’s font Silkscreen. Together I think they form a nice combination and could also work easily on business cards, letterheads, etc.
When I started playing around with the design, the first thing I thought about was color. Okay, I get it, TreeHugger, it has to be green, right? All I see when I look at the current site is this deathly, moldy shade of green in the background that’s totally unappealing. So I decided to opt for a light blue instead, which I called a much needed breath of fresh air. When comparing the two side-by-side the results are… breath taking (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
Another huge hurdle I faced was trying to figure out what was important on the site. Currently there’s zero hierarchy on the page, everything is competing to be seen and it’s a huge mess, the web equivalent of a hoarder. I decided to break the site down into three main parts: a featured section, a main column, and a side column. The featured area is just what it sounds like, a simple carousel displaying popular or important stories. I see that TreeHugger is quite dependent on ads, I counted 7 ad units on one page, so I decided to determine the height of the featured unit by the height of a search box and a med rec.
The main column, which features all of the articles, is simplified and made larger to give it the respect it deserves. Currently on the site the articles seem like passing thoughts, squeezed between two columns of ads and click-me-nows. They’re also inundated with every sharing tool possible as well as recommendations for other stories. It was all too much. There are a few more things like tags or an Outbrain style of related articles that I could have added, but let’s not ruin the magic.
The sidebar was the last hurdle to jump, and I thought he best way to handle it was to do what Cool Hunting has done. Basically, they have a few ads in the sidebar, as well as some of their own pertinent information that could entice a reader. The genius part is that they allow for about five posts to go by, lazy load more posts, and then lazy load the sidebar again. This allows them to get a ton of ad impressions, even though a user hasn’t click a single story. I tried to get the folks at Myspace to do this, but it never clicked (yet again, I can’t help myself).
Overall, I think the site is a thousand times better and more easy to digest. It’s amazing how much crap can pile up on an established website over time. I’m not really sure if TreeHugger has a design staff, but hopefully my redesign gets someone in the right place thinking about changing things up. It’s also worth mentioning that they could benefit from an improved footer as well, but that’s a can of worms I didn’t want to open.
I’m looking forward to hearing your feedback and what you think about my little experiment. All critical feedback is accepted, but please keep it polite. If you don’t have anything nice to say, keep it to yourself.