What is More Important - Site Design or Speed?

The past few days I’ve been looking into getting my site to be quicker. This quest was sparked by something that Ben Brooks wrote and I linked to. In his post he goes through his brief take on web design and what makes a site readable, comparing and contrasting some popular sites.

During my quest, I came across this free website speed test over at Pingdom.com - and Epic Beta’s results were less than optimal. Pingdom has a great tool to see how long your site will take to load, what all is loading in what order, and how big your site is when loaded. Initially, mine was over 6MB and took 5 or 6 seconds to load. I thought this was odd since I didn’t have any crazy graphics, but upon further digging I saw that all the pictures I had with my blog posts were drastically increasing the size of my home page. (the blog page at the time) The other things that were slowing down my site load times were some custom CSS I have as well as Bigfoot.js that I spent some considerable time figuring out so I could have those handy pop-up footnotes. [1]

I am not a programmer by any stretch of the immagination, so I host this site on Squarespace for it’s WSYIWYG simlicity. [2] With that, there’s not a lot that I can do other than poke around and see if any specific templates are faster, change my site to text only, or move to another web host. Well I wasn’t going move hosts, tried reducing the main page to primarily text (which I wasn’t quite a fan of), so I finally landed on switching templates.

Alex Honnold has a [website] that is hosted by Squarespace and I believe that they even used his website in a commercial…so I figured his would have to load fast right? Testing his site on Pingdom showed me how fast a landing page with some high resolution images could be…it was pretty fast! (close to 1 second) Googling “what squarespace template does alex honnold use” brought me to Squarespace’s promotional page that said that Alex was using a template called Shift and after messing around with that template for a couple days, viola!, my site was reborn with some beautiful high-res images, my blog page loaded in 1.84 seconds, and the size is now around 1.8MB. Not bad.

Now I’m probably an edge case, I like to tinker and have messed with this site’s template here and there over the past year. I enjoy that. But it got me wondering, what is more important to someone browsing the web looking for a place to settle in and read for a bit? Aesthetics or Speed?

Most folks who read Epic Beta do so by subscribing to the free RSS feed, so those folks are looking for content and page load times aren’t as important. Completely fine, that’s what I do too. While I would love to have numerous readers visiting my website every day, week, or month…I’m not a full time writer and doubt that will happen any time soon. These facts led me to decide that I wanted my website to be striking at first sight, drawing in those who share my interests in climbing and technology, and hopefully keeping them here for a bit of good reading or link discovery.

I had saved some beautiful, [royalty free photos] that I thought would set the mood of the site and used those as the first thing you see when you visit. If you’re curious about the quotes and why I picked them, well Royal Robbins is the closest thing I have to a climbing hero and, as I’m a dad, a Dr. Seuss quote about reading, learning, and travel seemed appropriate.

Epic Beta feels more modern and official to me now and I hope that you enjoy the new look. [3]

  1. Like this one  ↩

  2. What you see is what you get  ↩

  3. and hopefully it is a little faster to load now  ↩