Complete redesign of Absolute Cross

Absolute Cross has been redesigned from the ground up, and tons of new content is on the way. Have a look at the details behind the new site.

It’s taken me several years to get here, but I’ve grabbed spare moments between web development work for my clients (not to mention some late-night coding here and there), slowly but surely chipping away at a total redesign of Absolute Cross from the ground up. I have an immense list of plans for the site’s growth beyond this point, but I decided it couldn’t hide out on my local development server for a single moment longer. So out into the world it has come. I haven’t had a chance to do extensive cross-browser testing yet, so some bugs (mainly in IE) will be fixed as soon as possible.

What’s under the hood? Drupal!

While the new visuals might be the most obvious change (and whew, it was needed badly haha), the most significant changes are under the hood. Until now, Absolute Cross has always been a mishmash of hand-coded static HTML, with a few lines of PHP tossed in here and there to glue some include files together. It was a mess, and that mess was very effective at keeping me from having time or energy to add new content to the site.

Over the past several years however, I’ve become an avid fan of the Drupal content management system, which I’ve used for many of my web design clients. I originally came across Drupal about 4 years ago while seeking out a new system for one of my sites called neverside (which, for anyone who’s been following that project, is on hold but might be revived some day). I dug deep into Drupal’s code and community, flailed around like a typical newbie for a while, and emerged on the other side with a healthy dose of Drupal expertise and a passion for open source (I also picked up a good bit of PHP and jQuery knowledge along the way as well).

As I worked on various projects, I began documenting what I learned about Drupal in the form of tutorials and lessons (as I tend to do about things I’m learning), and decided to join the official Drupal documentation team. Suffice it to say, when it came time to decide on the system to power Absolute Cross, Drupal was the obvious choice. I had hoped to use Drupal 7 for the site, as it was on the verge of release at the time Absolute Cross was nearing completion — however many of the modules the site needs aren’t available or stable yet for Drupal 7, not to mention upgrading now would further delay the release of the site, so I decided to stick with the tried-and-true Drupal 6 for now, and upgrade in the near future.

Case study on the site’s inner workings

I plan to write a full case study, as well as quite a few articles and tutorials on how I created every aspect of the site with Drupal, so I’ll save the details for later. I’ll also be sharing my custom code snippets, list of recommended modules, and anything else that might be helpful to people who want to learn Drupal.

A fresh new design

Over the years my design style has continuously evolved and matured, and the old design of Absolute Cross had grown painfully out of sync with where I’m currently at design-wise. The old design was the last phase of the design style I “grew up” on in the 90s, where my inspirations were good ole’ sites like Infinite Fish, Andy’s Art Attack, and the like (you know, back when we were using Photoshop 4.0 or so, and things like flashing animated gifs and midi files were all the rage). At the time, there weren’t many resources online yet about designing for the web, and as I had no other training or knowledge, the design style of my early inspirations made a deep impact on me. In fact, the lack of online learning resources at the time was part of what inspired me to create Absolute Cross in the first place, to share what I had learned with others.

In addition to web development, I’ve been doing design work for print over the past several years, which has helped me to grow and improve as a designer.

Changes for the new design

Some changes for the new design included dropping support for 800x600 screen resolution (so now there’s a lot more space to work with), and offering minimal support for old browsers like IE6. In addition, some jQuery and AJAX has been thrown into the mix here and there to enhance the site for visitors who have Javascript enabled. I’ve also added a variety of blocks to the sidebar and footer to highlight new/popular content and active discussions that are happening on the site, and tagging is now used to connect interrelated pages on the site.

New content added and more on the way

I’ve migrated all of my Drupal lessons to Absolute Cross, which were previously posted in a sub-section of my personal site, davidnewkerk.com. I put to rest some of the archaic content of Absolute Cross (such as the ancient Interfaces section, Paint Shop Pro tutorials, and the no-longer-relevant webmaster tips area). In their place I plan to add new modern website templates, a section for stock photography, additional textures, design/development-related book reviews, video screencasts, more lessons on Drupal as well as WordPress, Joomla, and other content management systems, and quite a bit more.

I’ve revamped the existing Photoshop tutorials a bit while cleaning them up and bringing them into the new system, but a more extensive overhaul is in order. The main tutorial listing pages for Photoshop and Flash have been left similar to their old format initially, but will soon be replaced by newly formatted pages that include tools to sort the content by topic, popularity, and other factors. I also plan to begin adding new up-to-date tutorials for Photoshop, as well as other design apps.

In addition, although a bit more work needs to be done to prepare the way, I’ll soon be seeking out additional authors and content contributors for the site… so lots of new content should be appearing here in the future.

Content in other mediums

Using Drupal’s Print module and a print CSS file, I’ve made clean versions of the site’s tutorials that will work much better for those who’d like to print out pages of the site. RSS feeds that highlight new tutorials and articles on Absolute Cross are now available. I’ll also be adding a mobile-friendly version of the site in the near future (having an iPhone myself has given me a distinct appreciation for sites that simplfy the mobile experience).

Register and join the fun

With Drupal now powering the site, visitors are able to register for an account if they’d like. For now this will just make it a bit easier and personal to post comments, though later I’ll be asking active contributors if they’d be interested in becoming content authors on the site. In return for writing new content, I’ll be giving content authors special profiles on the site and on the pages they write, including a link to their own site (which should send a good bit of traffic their way, since Absolute Cross still receives several thousand visitors a day).

So here we go…

Now that the site is online it’s time for me to start knocking out items on my “post release” checklist. The site may undergo various changes and adaptations in the near future as I assess how it’s working out for actual visitors and how it can be improved.

If you run into any bugs or issues on the site, please let me know on the bug-report contact form.

Hope you enjoy the site, and thanks for comin’ by!

5 comments

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So what about neverside?

1

Wow, personally as a designer and a developer with Drupal, I must say I am very impressed with your work mate, looks fantastic. Great themeing and great design.

2

Man…forget about Drupal…this site is still up!
I remember seeing some PS tutorials in 90s along with Dr. Ozone stuff, ahhh the memories.
Nice to see this domain ticking, keep it up.

3

I used to visite your website like 8 years ago, back in the days the designsbymark.com was hot. I re-visited your site like a year ago just to see that it was still the samen design. Just now, somehow something reminded me of your website and here I am now. Nice job.

4

David, I’m glad to see your site has stood the test of time. Keep up the great work! And thanks for the helpful tutorials!

5
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