I've always had a sort of philosophy regarding how to run this site, both in terms of how it was designed from the ground up, and also regarding the content creation side of it. Since everything in this site is handcoded, everything has an intention for being there, and with that comes a certain mindset that may not coincide with other webmasters.
I'll start with more of how I think about the site when it comes to creating stuff and displaying it on here, and then I'll be covering the more design aspects of the site and how I tackled refining its structure and aesthetics.
At the end of 2020, I wrote an article called My Website is a Personal Museum, where I talked about how my site was almost like a museum of sorts; one that is dedicated to my own work.
As of writing this (more than a year later), my perceptions have evolved a little bit (and I expect it to change the longer I use this site). I started thinking of my website as a literal house. This falls somewhat in line with my older article Social Media and Neocities, where I likened Neocities to a suburban neighbourhood, compared to the cutthroat market of modern social media platforms.
What do you typically do in your own house? Well, you decorate, sort things in a way that makes you happy to live in it, store things that may prove to have some utilitarian or sentimental value to you, etc. It's less of a public space (like a museum), but more so a personal place that people visit every once in a while. The doors are left unlocked so people can visit any time they want, but it's still your house.
The site was created first and foremost for myself, despite the fact that it's public. I had essentially claimed some land in cyberspace to cultivate a home of my own, the only terms being that it was public. That's it. I could do whatever I want on the property, as long as my neighbours were allowed to visit.
And that's exactly how I treat this website: I do my own thing on here, since I'm the person who will be seeing it the most. The various sections of my website could be seen as their own separate spaces within a home. The writings and resources pages I treat as a sort of library, the digital garden as a literal garden, the gallery as the many decorations I have around, etc. I've organized it in a way that makes sense to me, and decorated everything to my tastes. Whether or not it conforms to "modern web design principles" is none of my concern.
Do I still acknowledge that other people may visit? Of course. There's a reason why many homes have a receiving area where visitors can lounge around; a reason why people decorate their house to look nice. You also want the visitors to feel at home, but not in a way that they'd feel at home at their own house. There's a certain level of intrigue when visiting someone else's house. You get to see how they organize themselves, their habits, their tastes, etc. But even when you're in a foreign place, you still feel welcome.
I think the one thing that has stuck with me while maintaining this site is the mentality of why I create stuff on here. I don't create for the site, but rather, I create work and the site is simply there to hold it. That's it.
Other people have seen the act of maintaining a website itself as the hobby, instead of the things that they put in the site. That is, their site only gets updated when they want to do the activity of “updating their site”.
Ever since I’ve started my site, I revolved it around my creative work (writing and art). So if I stop creating art, or writing, only then will the site stop being updated. I don’t really update my site only because I want to update it, but because I had something that I did in my own time to share through the site. It’s the vessel which grants access to my work, but it's not the main reason why I create my work.
Typically the issue I see when maintaining the site becomes the central focus instead of the actual things inside of it is that you simply run out of things to add. The only way to fill your site with stuff is to keep adding more pages, instead of creating depth within already existing sections, which is quite difficult if a lot of one's website is full of one-off pages. It certainly is fun doing that for a while, but eventually you run out of steam, which is something that I was all too familiar with from my older websites.
I suppose I hold a more pragmatic view of my site. The site centers around the things I do, instead of it being its own self-contained hobby that I invest my time into.
I think since most of us here in Neocities have come from other social media platforms, we feel some sort of burden to keep on updating. I sometimes see people apologizing for not updating as often as they "should", despite the fact that no one really ever had a standard for how often you should be updating on here.
I don't recall apologizing for not updating often enough, and I don't think I ever will. I do acknowledge when it has been a while, but I’m not going to apologize for it. Things in this house run on my own schedule, not someone else's. Sometimes I'll be on "vacation" and nothing happens for a few weeks or months, but I always come back, because where else do you yearn for when you're in a foreign place asides from home?
As long as I'm creating something, the site will be updated. It's why my site has slowly branched out from the original writings and gallery sections. Pandora's Box is a great example of this, where there are sections that aren't the main focus of my site, but are there simply because I wanted to make something different, yet still adhering to my interests.
The design of this site I’d say has gone through a much smoother process compared to some of the older sites I’ve made on Neocities.
A thing that I've learned after creating a bunch of sites is that I should do my design in an incremental fashion. That is, slowly making improvements to the site as you go along. I've made the exhausting mistake of constantly redesigning my site over and over, not liking every single one, and then completely burning out to the point where I stopped making stuff entirely. I had put too much value on the frame that was to be holding my painting, rather than the painting itself.
So when I had all of these experiences under my belt, I decided to do a bottom-up approach when I made this particular site. Instead of thinking up some grand design that'll forever be in place, I started with a base design that did all of the necessary functionalities (hold my writings and my art) and then make small adjustments and improvements from there.
People who saw this site in its infancy would know that there wasn't any real pivotal moment where I did a full redesign. The current design (which has stuck for a substantially long time) was a result of simply implementing small design ideas and flourishes as time progressed.
A good example of this is my home page, which houses all of the links to the other sections. The Minecraft-themed buttons weren't a design choice I had planned initially. In fact, they all used to be simple hyperlinks. Boring blue hyperlinks, in text, all in a boring column. They worked as intended, but since I had no other ideas for what to place there, that's what stuck for a few months. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.
I had toyed with the idea of making more graphical representations of the sections, but I wasn't really sure as to what style I wanted to create those in. I looked at old Maplestory pixel art and their icons to see if something similar to that will work with my site's design, but I wasn't feeling it.
After some time, I stumbled upon a Neocities site who had random Minecraft block icons strewn haphazardly on their page. They weren't even links to anywhere. When I saw that, I was like "wait, I could use those as menu icons for my home page!" So I did, and it stuck ever since.
There were plenty of other design choices that I made that weren't implemented at the same time. The logo at the top of every page on my site outside of Pandora's Box used to be simple text that was made with a fancy text generator. The background used to be closer to teal than the blue it is now. The font was discretely changed from Arial to Helvetica Neue. The gallery, though holding all of my artwork, has gone through many layout changes and categorization over the months. The design is always changing, always evolving.
I haven't made much changes over the last few months, and that's because I'm content with where the website is at right now. There were a few times where I felt like I wanted to do a redesign, but that was intentionally stifled when I created Pandora's Box; it’s where I can make whatever page designs I want without having to redesign the entire website all over again, or breaking the theme unexpectedly.
It was important that I emphasized the work being posted on the site as opposed to the actual site itself, because that allowed me to take my time to refine the design. Before, I would feel like my site should look good before I can post my work in it, but this time around I let the design rest for a bit while I slowly thought of ways to make adjustments to it. It allowed me to make more intentional and longer-lasting design decisions that I would actually keep, instead of making impulsive design changes back-to-back and burn myself out. The energy that would've been expended doing constant redesigns would instead be used to focus on the stuff that is more important, which is the site's actual content.
Sure, my site looked barebones for like 8-10 months, but it wasn't barebones in terms of things to read and see. Going from this design to that design, over and over, doesn't help the site. Ultimately, this type of indecision shows that the facade which holds the content is being more emphasized than the site itself. Each design may be cooler than the last, but I personally wouldn't have any incentive to return to that site again unless they changed their design, which isn't a good precedent to set. At that point, people only come to your site to see the redesign than to see you as an individual and what you have to say and show.
Like how I designed the site from the ground up, the aesthetics also evolved as time progressed.
Initially I went for a more brutalistic web aesthetic: monochromatic, text-heavy, and very little unnecessary images and decorations. It wasn’t necessarily because I wanted it to stay that way, but again, I didn’t know what to put as a design. All I wanted to start was a place to put my stuff, so I kept the design simple.
Overtime though, it started moving towards what you could describe as a “cute” aesthetic for lack of a better term. Most of the graphical assets I made for this site were inspired by Animal Crossing, despite the fact that I’ve never owned a single Nintendo product in my entire life. I just found their designs charming, that’s all. I think the overall colour that I chose for this site (a pastel blue) influenced the types of artistic style that resulted in the current aesthetic.
I kept the monochromatic nature of this site because I’m straight up lazy. I don't have to think about how certain elements have to be coloured since it's practically all decided for me. Also, having too many colours can be quite straining to the eyes and lead to a lack of focus for the viewer, especially if all of the graphics had their own distinct colours. A nice consistently homogenous design throughout the site makes it easy to get acquainted with, and overall it’s easy on the eyes.
I get some guestbook comments saying how my site is very calming, peaceful, etc. and to be honest that was something I never considered when designing it, but it’s a neat byproduct nonetheless. I could lie and say that design ideas X, Y, and Z were intentionally fabricated to create this sort of atmosphere, but in reality I just like the colour blue.
A common type of structure that I’ve seen for websites in general is the type where every single page in the website has a menu, either in the form of a sidebar or a bar at the top. This allows people to jump to every page that they want to from anywhere in the website.
I opted to do a sort of tree structure, where the website is split into different branches, and those branches lead to even more sub branches. Instead of having a main navigation bar that houses a link to every section of my site, there’s instead the home page that has a link to every major section. Going into each section will lead you to more sections relevant to it.
In reality, the only difference between the global navigation menu and the tree structure is where you access the main sections. There will inherently be some pages that are nested within the main sections that cannot be accessed through a menu. Simply having a clickable button (in my case it's the site’s logo) which is on every page and always jumps to the home page makes up for the possible inconvenience of not having a globalized navigation menu.
With greater flexibility means that there's a lot more to think about when it comes to running a website. And with that comes variety, and variety is the spice of life as they say.
The fact that all of this is even possible shows that there are plenty of ways to go about creating and maintaining your site. Typically when you create an account in other platforms, all you can really focus on is the philosophy regarding pushing out content down those streams, since there's very little you can do in terms of design. And even then, they implicitly want you to compromise that also, by creating systems that give you favour when you do something that the platform likes, and taking said favour away when you step out of line. This leads to very samey ways and methods of posting your work in the Internet, and that's simply uninteresting.
In reality, no two webmasters design and maintain their site the same way, but in other places it's typically "do it this way, or you fail", and that is a rather sad way to express yourself online.