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A Little Surprise Is Waiting For You Here.

No, this is not a broken page or a sneaky landing page. Today marks an important milestone in Smashing Magazine’s life, and this very page is an early preview of what’s coming up next: many experiments, new challenges, but still a good ol’ obsession with quality content. A complete overhaul, both visually and technically, a fine new printed magazine, and a shiny new Smashing Membership, with nifty features and goodies for you, our lovely community. Curious? Well, fasten your seatbelt and browse around — it’s going to be quite a journey!

Today, we are happy to announce the public open beta of the next Smashing Magazine,, with a new design, but one with a few bugs and issues that have to be… you know, smashed first. (Sorry about that!) The big-bang release is scheduled for later this year (probably early May to June). Some things now might be broken or just plain weird — we still have a bit of work to do, so do please let us know if you encounter any issues (and you definitely will!).

The Almighty Smashing Magazine’s Redesign

Over the last 18 months, we’ve been working with Dan Mall, Sara Soueidan, Marko Dugonjić, Ilya Pukhalski, Matt Biilman, Ricardo Gimenes, Sara Drasner, Andrew Clarke and the Netlify team on a complete overhaul of this little website, both technical and visual.

What’s different? Well, everything. The website won’t be running on WordPress anymore; in fact, it won’t have a back end at all. We are moving to a JAMstack: articles published directly to Netlify CDNs, with a custom shop based on an open-sourced headless E-Commerce GoCommerce and a job board that’s all just static HTML; content editing with Netlify’s new open-source, Git-Based CMS, real-time search powered by Algolia, full HTTP/2 support, and the whole website running as a progressive web app with a service worker in the background (thanks to the awesome Service Worker Toolbox library). Booo-yah!

We don’t really have a back-end any more. Instead, static HTML, advanced JavaScript APIs, running as a progressive web app with a service worker in the background and blazingly fast performance — served from a CDN near you.

How does it work? Quite simple, actually. Content is stored in Markdown files. HTML is pre-baked using the static site generator Hugo, combined with a modern asset pipeline built with Gulp and webpack, all based on the Victor Hugo boilerplate.

We’ve spiced it all up with a handful of fancy APIs, including ones by Stripe for payments, Algolia for search, Cloudinary for responsive images, and Netlify’s open-source APIs GoCommerce (a headless e-commerce API), GoTrue for authentication, and GoTell for our more than 150,000 comments.

The shiny new Smashing Magazine. After 18 months, we are now finally happy to launch the public, open beta.

Every time content changes, it’s all pushed to Netlify’s CDN nodes close to you. We do our best to ensure that content is accessible and enhanced progressively, with performance in mind. If JavaScript isn’t available or if the network is slow, then we deliver content via static fallbacks (for example, by linking directly to Google search), as well as a service worker that persistently stores CSS, JavaScripts, SVGs, font files and other assets in its cache. The dynamic components in JavaScript are all based on Preact, and most pages you’ll see on the website will have been fully pre-rendered, prebuilt and deployed, ready to be served from a CDN near you.

Why Such A Big Change?

That’s a good question to ask. There are a couple of reasons. In the past, we were using WordPress as a CMS, our job board was running on Ruby, and at one point we switched to Shopify from Magento for our online shop. Not only was maintenance of four separate platforms incredibly complicated, but designing a consistent, smashing experience the way we envisioned it proved to be nearly impossible due to technical restrictions or requirements imposed by these platforms.

Indeed, developing for every platform separately was quite expensive and slow, and in many ways, creating a cohesive experience where a user would literally “flow” from one area to another was remarkably difficult. As a result, because some areas were more important from the business perspective, they were growing and evolving fast, while the others were decaying in the dark. This led to an inconsistent, incosehive, and, frankly, quite annoying and frustrating experience. And even once we’ve committed to make some major changes to unify the experience, it turned out to be a big, challenging undertaking since we were using different platforms, stacks and at some point even different designs.

Inline search on SmashingMag
For inline search, by default, we deliver Google search, and if there are no JavaScript errors, we enhance the experience with inline search powered by Algolia’s API.

Performance was another reason. With a proper CDN, full HTTP/2 support and service workers in place, last year we managed to beat the performance results we ever had. However, even with a fancy nginx setup, the performance we could get with a pre-built page enhanced with JavaScript was nothing short of breathtaking. At this point we aren’t quite where we want to be, and we are looking forward to optimize the HTTP/2 delivery and add some minor and major improvements and measure the results. But the initial test showed the Start Render time hitting around 500–600ms, and Time To Interactive steadily being below 1s. We weren’t able to reach the same level of performance with WordPress and LAMP stack in place.

For the first time in 10 years, we were able to define a smashing experience from scratch and implement it from very start to finish. It’s not a big revelation: when it comes to interaction design, asking all the right questions is not enough; it also matters how and when those questions are asked. With the redesign, we had the freedom to explore slightly unconventional ways of asking these questions. If you look closely, you will find some of these (unusual) decisions pretty much everywhere on the site.

Visual Overhaul: It’s All About Cats

As you might have noticed, visually we’ve introduced some major changes as well. In the previous design, we always struggled to find good spots to prominently display our products — books and eBooks and job board postings and conferences; a major goal of the redesign was to change that. We looked for a way to bring our products to the forefront, but without making them feel like blatant, boring, cheap advertising; they had to fit the overall visual language and layout we were developing.

The truth is that you’re probably using an ad blocker (in fact, more than 60% of our readers do), so if most users don’t see the ads, what’s the point of having them in the first place? Instead of pushing advertising over the edge, we’ve taken the drastic decision of removing advertising almost entirely, focusing instead on featuring our lovely products.

Look closely... can you spot them all?
The new design does feature many cats. In fact, if you look closely, you’ll find 56 cats spread across the website. Can you spot them all? The first three people who do will get a ticket to a SmashingConf of their choice — guaranteed! Good luck!

As part of the relaunch, we took our time to study and rediscover our signature and personality, and we’ve highlighted it prominently in every component of every page. Have you noticed yet something consistently shining through in the new design? Yep, that’s right. It’s cats. We designed 56 different cats (yes, cats) that will be appearing throughout the website in various places, and if you take the time to find them all, then you’d probably deserve a free ticket to one of our conferences. We’ve also leaned even more heavily towards the signature defined by our logo: Most elements on the page are tilted at just the right angle. We’re also using transitions and animations (work in progress!) to keep interactions smooth and clear, which we didn’t do before.

Now, the redesign is just a part of the story. We’ve got something new cookin’, too: the Smashing Membership, with webinars, workshops and whopping discounts and Smashing Magazine Print, our new, physical, printed magazine — and we wanted them to become an integral part of the site. After years of refining the ideas, now it’s finally happening. However, they deserve a standalone article — just like a detailed overview of the design process and what we’ve learned in the last 18 months.

Its been a long journey already, but it was all worth it.
It’s been a long journey already, but it was all worth it.

Up For The Next Part Of Our Journey?

So, here we go! Please feel free to browse around — and be prepared to discover all kinds of cats… oh, things. As it is always the case with an open beta, there are still a good number of bugs to be smashed, and we are on it. Still, please do report issues and bugs on GitHub — the more, the merrier! We can’t wait to read your feedback in good ol’ social media and in the comments. Meow! — and look out for the next articles of the series! 😉

Articles in the series

(ms, il, al)

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