January 29, 2021

Why I Built my Personal Website From Scratch – Design + Development with Webflow

Over the past few years, one of the most persistent additions in my yearly resolutions has been to build a personal website. It simply gathered dust in a note somewhere. After procrastinating for eternity, I finally designed and built my personal site ... in 2020 of all years.

It went live on 27th Dec, 2020. It was a historic day, a late Christmas miracle, if you will. Welcome to my tiny digital corner in the abyss of the world-wide web.

Before I begun, I laid down some of my objectives for this project. Designing, iterating a gazillion times, building it out oneself is an excruciating process. So why did I put myself through it, that too, in 2020?

  • Create a personal space with a blog where I can publish about any and all topics I care about
  • Create as a portfolio website, showcasing work and side projects
  • Create a real world project where I can learn tools and skills by fiddling with it (design process, Webflow, Analytics etc)

Creating a Personal Space in the Digital World

I have always enjoyed being in my own personal space – to be left alone with my own thoughts, and recharge after all the pre-COVID socialising. I've been living alone in my tiny apartment for over a year – no hassles, zero compromises and forced socialising with flatmates. With my personal website, I wished to create my own digital personal space – my own corner on the internet. I could design it the way I want, when I wanted to.

We control the layout of our website. We can create a page that reflects our taste, our personality, our style.

We control the narrative, too. It's here we can finally show our work the way it’s intended to be shown. We get to tell the story exactly as we wrote it, with context the audience or user doesn’t typically have. It’s our chance to own our work and put it in its best light.

– Tobias van Schneider, A love letter to my website

Building a Blog, Writing and Owning Distribution

Besides the fun in crafting this website, another incentive was to create a blog and write. Writing, taking notes and the written words have been my closest companions. This is how I express my introvert idiotic self.

In fact, I started writing for digital and print magazines, copywriting for startups before I became a Product Designer by profession. It does not mean I am a particularly good writer, marginally above average at best. But, writing is one skill I want to improve over time, with dedicated practice. My hypotheses was that a blog on my personal website would give me the right amount of incentive to write drunk, edit sober, and publish either way.

Occasionally I come across a designer, developer and I notice a trail of posts on their websites dating way back till early 2000s. Paul Stamatiou, who at the time of writing this article, had 1,211 posts since 2005. Such a longevity is inspiring. Seth Godin is a legend when it comes to writing with astonishing consistency. He has published an article everyday for over a decade. I wanted some of that.

A Medium or Substack blog would suffice if writing was the target though, right? Well yes, but no. An important motivation was to own the distribution – a fancy concept. Writing on Medium, Substack, Ghost is a mix of inexpensive, easy and has the possibility of monetisation at the end of it.

However, relying on these options is agreeing to the constraints of another for-profit business, in exchange for an easy setup, and well-designed experience. We've seen the exodus of long time publications and personal blogs out of Medium in the recent few years, most notably Hackernoon.

This played a tiny part in my decision to have a blog on my own website. In addition, the ability to craft a reading experience of my own, learn and improve it going forward, was very tempting. Existing blogging platforms, at the end of it, do come with constraints.

"It's only words
And words are all I have
To take your heart away
.
.
Da da da da da da da da da da"

Boyzone, Words

Curating a Highlight of my Design Career With a Portfolio

I've been a designer for over 4 years now, as an IC Designer mostly. I've donned many hats, as you do in early stage startups. I've been a Graphic Designer, Product Designer, Video Editor etc. On my very first design job, I went on a research trip to Uttar Pradesh. On the next job, I designed an android app from scratch. It's been a fascinating learning and career path so far.

This year, I am planning to share some of my older hideous projects, some of the recent ones in the form of case-studies. A personal website enables me to create a collection of such projects. Over the next few years of my career, hopefully this becomes one place I can come back to see the progress and cringe at my older design projects. I have already started with 2 case-studies, writing from memory and designing each page over the last year. It was a tiring process.

I also have a few tiny side-projects, either active or completed. The principal being Design Twitter where I curate interesting tweets from the underworld of design within Twitter. Designing and building my personal website was also a side-project of sorts.

Charlie Marie, Femke, Sara Brunettini, Brian Lovin are some of coolest designers, YouTubers, writers who have an enviable personal brand and personal websites. It provides a brief glimpse into all aspects of their careers and personality. That is something I aspire to do with my own website.

Learning by Doing, Tearing Things Apart and Fixing Them

Like most, I learn most when I can apply my knowledge to a project, fail and learn from those mistakes. Or by looking up answers on the web. I call my personal website as a Learning-driven Project. En-route to designing, building this site, learning a myriad of skills along the way was a very critical objective as well.

Webflow has emerged as one of my favourite creative tool. It offers the perfect balance of learning curve, flexibility over what's possible on the web – without writing a single line of code. Over the course of building my website, I was able to add to my existing knowledge of Webflow. Adding multiple pages, working with CMS were a few things new to me this time around. Additionally, I encountered a few bugs along the way, and learnt a thing or two in the process of quashing them. Since I have a real-world project, I am planning to explore more complex Webflow features, primarily Interactions.

Among other things, I am looking to learn more about analytics (Google Analytics, Hotjar etc), design systems, accessibility etc. A project to apply those learning will help me become better at them. This was the plan all along.

On sharing my website on one Twitter thread, I received a huge number of visits in a single day. I analysed Google Analytics, as best as I could, and wrote about some insights here.

A hideous bug I discovered on Safari – background colours that use transparency are end up being messed up. Fixed it by using hex code values, removing transparent values altogether

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