When we migrate to Xenforo, we are also launching a new editorial system (in development since 2012) for news, reviews and articles (written by our editorial team) and an all-new design.
The design of the new AVForums website was created by Critical Media, who were completely unfamiliar with Xenforo. At the point when the design process started, the Xenforo team were still tangled up by the ridiculous lawsuit from Internet Brands, so we intended to launch our new system with vBulletin. But once the lawsuit was dismissed, we decided to launch with Xenforo, meaning that the editorial system had to be modified to run as a Xenforo addon.
So Critical Media produced their designs without any consideration of how they would work Xenforo.
Since migrating to Xenforo will be the second change in forum platform for AVForums ever, and the first since we adopted vBulletin in 2001, I want everything about the change to be perfect.
It has to be as 'clean' and efficient as possible, including, of course a design which changes the core Xenforo templates as little as possible.
I wanted a unique style which both continues the design of the editorial system to create a seamless integration of editorial and community, and also maintains the excellent ease of use of Xenforo.
Choosing the right Xenforo designer
So the search was on for an expert in Xenforo design to create our new style. I asked for recommendations amongst the Xenforo community.
Some people very kindly offered to create a style free of charge, but I wanted to pay for the new design. I know that a good, experienced, established, professional designer would not be willing or able to work for free. I believe that you get what you pay for, and I needed confidence that whomever I chose would be able to do a great job efficiently.
At the same time, we have spent a small fortune on developing the editorial, so we had a very limited budget.
In the end I chose Mike Creuzer of Audentio because Xenforo design is his business, he has several highly praised designs in the resource manager and he was recommended by several people including Chris Deeming and Jon Wainwright with whom I have been working. He also responded quickly to my request for information, which is important when we are in the UK and he is in the States.
He was enthusiastic about working with us, so was able to pitch a good price. At the same time he was realistic about both the time frame and the cost to his business of the work involved.
We agreed the fees and he started work.
An important part of the process was being able to express what we needed on Skype.
Mike took on board that we wanted as few changes to the core templates as possible and implemented most css changes into a single avforums.css template. It means that when we upgrade (as we did recently, taking our beta site to 1.2.2), there are very few outdated templates.
What this illustrates is that Mike is conscious of the practical needs of a Xenforo administrator.
The design was pretty close from the start, and with some feedback from Critical Media and our editorial and advertising teams, we managed to refine the design to achieve all our goals.
Mike had an idea to stick the header, which we investigated. A sticky header means members always have instant access to their account links, alert and inbox information, the whole menu and the search box. We asked whether the header could compress when people scroll down. Mike agreed to code this for use, despite it not being part of the original brief.
Towards the end of the process, I wanted to have category icons on the forum list, and Mike was able to accommodate this no problem.
The PNG sprite he produced for the key images was great, and I used this as inspiration to produce a new SVG sprite with PNG fallback for IE8. This was a late choice for us, but was something I could do easily because of the way Mike implemented the design.
You will be able to see the design in action very soon at AVForums.com
I think that when you work with people, it's important to have some flexibility on both sides in order to get the job done. This is something we appreciated about Mike. He wouldn't let us take advantage of him, and we wouldn't want to do that. But we both appreciated that a bit more work would significantly enhance the result. So he spent a lot of time getting the header working perfectly across browsers, and we paid him a bonus to express our appreciation.
Critical Media wanted us to have a white background, and this works fine with the editorial pages where there are lots of images, but with Xenforo, there is much more white space, so I decided to make the background light grey. I just know that the 'usual suspects' amongst our membership would be complaining about needing sunglasses to use the forum, otherwise.
We are close to launch and there have been some recent tweaks. Mike has been extremely helpful and efficient in getting those tweaks done. I'm very impressed by how quickly he knows exactly what css needs changing. And I believe him when he assures me that he'll help fix any issues with the style should they arise.
The process of creating our design took a bit longer that I had planned, partly because of the extra header work and partly because Mike got married in the middle of the job! But it didn't impact the project in the end. And importantly, I am very pleased the design we have, both in how it looks and how it performs.
What we have now, I am confident, is a design that will reflect the professional and contemporary nature of AVForums while being intuitive and easy to use.
I would recommend Mike and Audentio.
The above image shows our design on Firefox, with CTRL+ pressed to zoom in to the maximum. Note how the logo and icons do not lose definition.