Today is a big day here, for today is the day that Brain Pickings sheds a skin that never quite fit and is reborn into what it always aimed to be, visually and editorially.
I started Brain Pickings in 2005 as a text-only newsletter going out to eight people. At the time, I was in college full-time and working three jobs to pay my way. But I wanted to take it online, so I took a web design night class, sifted through several hundred hours of tutorials, and taught myself just enough design and code to be able to wrangle WordPress, still somewhat of an early-adopter enigma at the time. Over the next six years, Brain Pickings found its audience — folks like you and me with a cross-disciplinary curiosity for what the world has to offer, creatively and intellectually — but remained visually stunted. The irony of the disconnect between a heavy editorial focus on design and a layout that looked like a sixth-grader designed it, with their feet, never ceased haunting me. But I had made the decision very early on not to sell advertising on the site and instead fund it out-of-pocket, relying almost entirely on the generosity of readers, so I never had a budget for a “real” designer.
(If you ever wondered, all those banners on the site were pro-bono for causes, nonprofits and social enterprises I believe it and wanted to support by giving them share of voice, in lieu of being able to give them money — friends and fine folks like Holstee, Creative Commons, Do The Green Thing, Longreads, HappyRambles, TOMS Shoes and Dead SULs. I’m still brainstorming ways to keep supporting these guys, but it can no longer be at the expense of a clean and fluid reader experience.)
Today, I’m nervously excited and incredibly proud to unveil something years in the waiting: An honest, clean design that better reflects the heart and soul of Brain Pickings. Forgive the string of superlatives, but they come from sincerity: I’m unspeakably grateful to the infinitely talented, patient and generous Josh Boston for the beautiful work — please bake him cupcakes and give him some love on Twitter.
Lest we forget, this what Josh had to start with:
And here’s what he turned it into:
As a child of the mid-noughties, Brain Pickings adopted many of the decade’s conventions-turned-cliches. So today, “we” are also dropping the Royal We, which is to writing style what grungy textures and dot-rays are to design style — a worn and unnecessary adornment. Back in the day, I felt like the first-person plural made the tone more inclusive and Brain Pickings sound like a bigger operation than it was. But the truth is that, for the past six years, it’s been almost entirely me, writing into the wee small hours of the morning, with very occasional help from these good people, to whom I’m also very grateful. From now on, however, all articles will be in the much more human first-person singular, authentic to each writer’s byline. So say I.
Lastly, I owe two big THANK YOU’s for the generous in-kind support by MediaTemple, who swooped in to save the day when our… argh, my… this is going to be a harder transition than I thought, heh… old web host booted Brain Pickings with virtually no warning for “having outgrown [their] capacity,” and the lovely MailChimp, who have kindly taken on the Brain Pickings weekly newsletter.
And so it goes — a new dawn, a new day. I hope you enjoy it and here’s to many more years of cross-disciplinary interestingness.