A New Look (and More) for The Mac Observer

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It always seems like a new design starts the moment the old one goes live. If that’s true, then this design has been 7 years in the making. More specifically, though, this one started in November, 2011 – still a respectable 10 months. We put out a call for – and solicited bids from – designers, and had an easy time choosing Eddie Machado of Themble

Our goal was to work with a designer much the same way a rock band might work with a record producer. In addition to helping us with the presentation, we wanted someone who could come in and tell us which of our ideas were good – and which were bad. In Eddie we found that and more. In addition to all the work done by Eddie, this project would not have gotten off the ground without the help of Adam Christianson. You know him as the host of The MacCast – and we do, too! – but he’s also been working with us steadily here at The Mac Observer for many years handling all of our backend and front-end tweaks. He’s a true rockstar, except he rarely gets to shine in the spotlight (here, anyway – on his podcast he does it all the time!). Today, Adam, you and Eddie shine here, too.

The Layout

You’re seeing it already, so the “picture’s worth 1000 words” concept applies. The general goal was to clean things up, both from a design perspective, but also from a content perspective. We wanted to make it easier for you to do what you came here to do. And depending on which page you’re on, that means something different. 

What Are You Looking For?

It drives me crazy to click a link to an article – expressing intent to read that article – only to have the first thing I see (the seemingly most important thing) be the site’s navigation that, presumably, is trying to lure me somewhere else. Frankly, that doesn’t make any sense to me, and we’re not going to do that to you any longer. Navigation is taking a HUGE back seat to content. Take a look at this page, for example. Header, site logo (with an ad next to it, yes), and then headline followed by the story. Clean, and getting you (presumably) exactly what you came to this specific page to do: read the article. Traditional navigation, of course, is way down at the bottom of the page.

But that’s not all. Astute readers perhaps have already realized that this new look and functionality for TMO is all about your intent. So what happens if you tell us that, yes, you’re on an article page but now you want to go elsewhere. Well… do that. Go up to the right and float over the “What Are You Looking For?” box. This ain’t your typical search box, kid. This is our main navigation, staying out of your way until you intend to use it. Play with it. Have fun with it. And use the comments or contact box on this article to tell us what you think.

The Spin

If this isn’t the first article you’ve read here under the new design, you may have already noticed something else: The Mac Observer Spin. Long-time readers of TMO will recognize this as something we’re bringing back. We pioneered this concept when we started the site, and now is the right time for us to bring it back, too. My cofounder, Bryan Chaffin, explains all about The Mac Observer Spin for you, so I’ll leave that to him.

A New Engine

This design isn’t just new on the front end, it’s an entirely new back-end for us, too, and that’s a large part of why this process took 10 months. We’ve been on ExpressionEngine for almost 4 years now, and we decided it was time to upgrade to the 2.x family of EE. Trick is, there’s no easy path to do that. It required a significant amount of effort under the hood, but it’s a much better platform for us — and for you. Just like when we went from our own, hand-crafted system to EE four years ago, this change to EE2 allows us to do SO much more for you going forward. Translation: the new design is a big change, but it’s only the beginning. There’s more to come.


Speaking of more to come, we have taken some efforts to clean up our mobile (specifically iPhone) offering, as well. However, it’s not everything we want. We needed to ship this thing, and the iPhone version is one place that will see a focus in the next round of revisions. Still, what you see there is definitely on the path to the way we want to present that for you, and we’re looking forward to being able to do that now that this “foundation migration” is complete.

The Forums

Expression Engine is, for better or for worse, one of the few content management systems that integrates with its own forums. That means those had to migrate simultaneously with us today, and the good news there is they, too, got a new design. The goal here, again, was to clean things up. One area where you’ll see a marked change is the actual thread view (where you see the actual posts). We’ve completely removed the sidebar for anyone who is logged in (accounts are, of course, still free to get). This means those of you that regularly visit the forums will get them full width and without sidebar-related distractions. In fact, for today, everyone gets them that way. We didn’t want to spoil the fun in case you weren’t logged in. 

I think that’s enough for today. As I said, this new foundation allows us to do even more for you, but the goal remains the same: delivering you our best content in the clearest, cleanest form possible, and getting you exactly what you intended to read. 

Enjoy, and please do let us know what you think!

Popular TMO Stories


Thomas Stafford

Nice work, guys. I need to give it a few days to sink in, but so far I really like how you’ve cleaned things up. Kudos!

Pat Mahon

Congratulations and good luck with the revamping of TMO.

I’m going to trudge off now and search the nooks and crannies to find my favourite bits. Really guys, it’s like when my wife tidies up, I can’t find anything for a week! grin

Seriously though, good job!


I can’t login to the new site using my existing login details.

Have the users details been ported over to the new look site ?


Slick, Clean, very cool.
I like it.
Nice job guys.


No problem logging in. I do like the new search box. And it will be interesting how the site works with an iPad.

Lee Dronick

“I can’t login to the new site using my existing login details.”

I too initially had trouble logging in. Ya need to enable cookies.

It will be take getting used to the new layout, but it looks good.

Can we no longer use bold and italic? Can we manually enter the code for that? I don’t want to try using HTML or BBCode until I hear from you.


Good job guys - I like the clean new look and seems a bit faster.

I miss the text listing of news, which allowed me to quickly review a few days’ worth at a time, but maybe I’ll discover a way to do that in the new look!

Looks great on iPhone now (that was always poor) and fine on iPad too!

Pat Mahon

Actually I didn’t have to enable cookies to login.

I’m using Safari 6.0 since the update and I just found that “Ask websites not to track me” is selected by default under the “Privacy” tab. Disabling that allowed me to login without changing my cookie settings as such.

Lee Dronick

Good tip Pat. I assume that you can turn the antitracking back on after logging in.

Pat Mahon

Yes Lee, now that you asked. I just turned it back on in Preferences , alt + quit Safari, closing all windows, followed the link from the notification email about these comments and hey presto, I’m still logged in.

I must so though that when I did login I asked TMO to remember my details…!

That should be as clear as mud… grin


Didn’t the AAPL Stock Price used to be on the front page, too? (Or perhaps it’s just “the age,” as my doctor keeps telling me…)


First of all I like the clean look. I also enjoy the better speed of the forum (Financial Board).

There are two things I miss. A clear(er) separation between the posts. Maybe just the same thickness as the line at the top above the first post.

What I really miss is the page navigation at the top of the forum. This makes me scroll down all to the bottom of the page to go to a different page.

Usually in the intraday I miss a lot of the action because of the time difference. I used to go to the last page (say 34) and then navigate back from there to where I left (e.g. 28)  the night before.

But now this implies scrolling all the way down on every other page - not comfortable.


Love the new look.  Very clean. Great job

Stephen Swift

Oh wow!  This is amazing… terrific work!



Overall I like the new look. I do miss the top navigation bar, though, as I tend to hop around the sites I visit. What I miss most of all, though, is in the forums.

Previously, I could see who originated a post, and who most recently responded to it. Now I can only see the latest response, not the originator of the post, unless I go into the post itself.

As for performance, I’ve had a lot of trouble with site responsiveness, but assume that’s just growing pains.

Nice to see the return of the TMO Spin!



Correction: The forums show who originated a post, but not the most recent post. It would be nice, again, to be able to see both the originator of the post and the most recent post.

Also, I’m logged into the site at the forums, but can’t seem to get logged back in at the article level, hence posting as a guest. FYI.



FYI, even though my last post wasn’t tagged as a guest, in order for me to post the last comment, and this one, I still have to enter a name, email address, and reCaptcha. Is it supposed to work that way?


I cannot log in either. I enabled cookies, logged in, got the “thank you” gray box but when I go to the comment form, I get the captcha stuff. Did it a few time. Then quit Safari and entered macobserver.com manually. Then clicked login and got the sad mac “Oops” you’re already logged in, but I still cannot comment without captcha.

I’m using Safari 4.1.3 on OS X 10.4.11 (an old G4 eMac)

Oh, and I like the new layout, but I miss the number on comments count in the “Popular” section on the right pane. Otherwise GREAT!

Dave Hamilton

Yes, I’ve temporarily disabled logins at the article level while we find an errant query (that didn’t come up in our pre-launch load testing). Fun. smile

And thank you, again, for your patience.

Lee Dronick

Now I can’t log in on my iPad

And I hate the captcha, too hard to read


Looks great.  I look forward to digging deeper!

Steven Seiller

Congrats! Love the clean, new look! I can feel your pain as I’ve been also redesigning a site.

There’s a few problems here and there. What is your preferred method for reporting them?

Wow, I love this page!

Lee Dronick

I guess that the webmaster was doing some work, some tweaks, as I am now autologging in as usual.



Autologged in as well. smile


Dave et al:

Congratulations on the new, clean look; and more importantly, the background on its development. Overalll, I like its simplicity and layout. I do have a couple of queries and one observation.

In addition to Lee’s questions on the bold and italic, it appears there is no way to add URL citations, nor for that matter to select and copy quotes from other commenters. Is this functionality that will be added later, or is this part of the new ‘look’, or is there now a new way of doing this?

Likewise, one used to be able to hold the cursor over a persons name and get a pop-up display of who they were without navigating to their profile. Is this, too, now gone? I found that useful, on occasion, to know how long a person had been following the site, for example, when deciding how best to frame a reply or explanation.

Just one more bit of feedback: when I first navigated to one of the articles, when I held my cursor over the ‘what are you looking for’ window, I got a pull-down menu that now seems strangely absent. Perhaps I just need to reload the page.

Keep up the great work.


I should add, the comment editing function, too, appears to have gone. I recommend bringing it back, if at all possible.


I strongly dislike the new format.  Is is way too spread out so that one has to scroll down to get a view of the recent forums.

My specialty is HCI, and I have done research in this area.  The new look is high on gloss, but not as useful.

Way too much white space. 


No text formatting tools?  Waaa!


Yeah, too much white space for me. I also don’t like how I can’t determine which threads I’ve read, as before, thread titles were bold or not bold. I would also like to see who the most recent poster was on a thread.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

I like this new look. Although I was surprised you were just EE based for four years. I’d have to dig through my research notes, but I remember when I was researching back-end tools for a big education project I was working on in early 2006, TMO forums were my starting point for investigating, and eventually choosing, ExpressionEngine.

Anyway, congratulations on getting this done and out!


The lack of a ‘quote’ tool is a little annoying.
Also, the notification emails I’ve received so far don’t have a hot link back to the article in question.  It’s been all copy/paste.  That can’t be a difficult fix, eight?

Dave Hamilton

I think we’ve finally settled in with regards to the “first day” issues. We had some load-related stuff to test that was truly only possible with your help. So thanks for that. smile

At this point, we’ve got a couple of urgent punch-list items left and then we’re going to let it sit for a couple of days. We’ll see how it goes, you’ll see how it goes, we’ll all get used to things and come Thursday or Friday we’ll solicit more feedback. I am extremely pleased with how things look. With that, I’m certain there are things we will all want changed, and I’m certain there are changes we will make very soon, but it’s too early to make any of those decisions right now.

So kick the tires, take a poke around, and then we’ll circle back in a couple of days to see where everything goes.

Thank you SO much for everything so far. We’re really excited about what we’ve done here, and are even MORE excited about where this can now take us.


I like the new layout.  However, the auto-refresh seems to be gone.  I keep TMO open all day.  I liked knowing the pages was always updating for me.  May I please have my auto-update back?


Roger that, Dave.


I agree with the comment from hledgard about way too much white space and no clear delineation between articles. The information density is very “thin” meaning not enough info conveyed.

Too much white space shocks the eyes and contributes to eye fatigue.


Your new interface rock!  Great job.

My only negative comment is regarding the new small Apple stock display on your main page.  It doesn’t tell much; is it raising?  Is it falling?  By how much?

I found that going into any article then show a improved widget.  Why wouldn’t you put this more relevant one also on your top page?


Next very bad thing: i’m pretty certain that my privacy settings were changed without my input.

Hint: you should be using opt-in for all the prefs. Nobody should be receiving comment emails or forum emails without having opted in.

Very, very bad.


Oh. My. GOD!!! Wow, you guys have really outdone yourselves. From a design point of view, the look and layout is absolutely top notch, all across the board.

All elements are clean, and “Web 2.0-ey”; the swinging MO logo that appears as you scroll down a page is a nice little piece of eye candy. And I really dig how your articles are laid out: title, graphic on left, leading paragraph on right… that’s exactly what I would have suggested months ago.

Awesome job guys. I really look forward to to visiting for months to come.

As an aside…. any thoughts on updating the MO logo? smile


Your new interface’s many horrible omissions & major failures also include:
- no way (I.e., no button/link) for iPhone users on your web pages to log in!
- your web pages on an iPhone’s Safari reject my TMO-registered email address as an invalid email address, again denying me login access.
- your Comment Box’s Guest email address entry box fails to open as a text-entry box, and denies all text-pasting at the (misplaced) blinking insertion point.


Site looks great… Tried to login from iPad three times and three crashes…. Not sure if it’s my iPad or the site….


Have tried the new site on this iPad. Had a problem with logging in at first. The login window was half off the screen in portrait. Logged in by switching to landscape as the login window would not scroll with the window. One attempt led to the blue header bar detaching from the page. Quit and tried later and it works correctly now.

I do miss some of the text tools from the old comment system. Should be able to edit a post. Do not see a way to quote a post either

Lee Dronick

Autologin is acting up for me. If I go off site for a while when I come back it shows that I am not logged in. When I click to go login it tells me that I am already logged in. I then click on the link to take me back the previous page I may or may not actually be logged in enough to comment. Growing pains I am sure, I am just letting you know.

Sidebar: I am reformmatting our master bedroom and to that end I am temporarily moving us into the spare bedroom, my adult son having just moved out for the umpteenth time. Anyway behind a chest of draws that have not been moved in decades I found an AOL disk mailer with CD, version 8.


“If I go off site for a while when I come back it shows that I am not logged in. When I click to go login it tells me that I am already logged in.”

Me too.  The way I know, is that the Guest posting box is active.  Odd behavior, since I keep TMO in a separate tab, and do my other Net business in their own tabs.


It seems I can now auto login again. Yeah!

But my preference to ignore Bosco is broken.

And the daily digest wasn’t sent out this morning


It would be great if I could log in and leave a comment than having to post as a guest.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

But my preference to ignore Bosco is broken.

The comments are an extra dose of inane when my block list isn’t working. I didn’t realize how many of you there were!


I almost missed the new design and all the other news today because your RSS feed URL has changed. I didn’t immediately see the new RSS link, so at first I thought you had done away with it.


One small complaint: I’m getting absurd hyphenations at line endings, like podc-ast, ti-me, and th-e.


Congratulations on launching your new-look website. Very clean and tidy. Navigation is a little mixed up—- I can’t find this article in “What Are You Looking For?” — Maybe this box should be expanded to include more, like Recent News.


And why is there acres of white space off to the right when scrolling through comments? - I got rid of my 14 inch CRT years ago. You are not alone though. The BBC site is even worse.



Well, it seems no matter how many times I sign up to receive TMO Express Daily Newsletter, the process (they send me an email with a link for confirming who I am) won’t complete.

That means fewer visits to TMO for me.

James Leo Ryan

A comment on the “new look”....

I do like the new appearance very, very much!

But I don’t like the logo for the Mac Observer. I like the typography within the logo but I feel the containing graphics are “out of date” and “distractingly cluttered”. So just have the typography and things will look far more sophisticated and elegant, and that is my opinion!


I am not fond of the new layout.  Seems like a ton of wasted space.  For the discussion forums I would much prefer a tried and true forum software such as vbulletin or phpbb.  They are fast, efficient and proven.  With a nice skin they could really make the forums here much easier to read and use.  Please consider this.


I love the redesign.  Great work on the multiple formatting (mobile).
Yet another reason to keep coming back.  Thanks.


Two suggestions both regarding a mobile(re:iPone ) version.
1. Larger type
2 Ability to see both the post and post’s author on one screen.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment


1) I’ve had your RSS feed in Google Reader for years.  Now it’s broken.

2) I’ve arrived here to read a post by Dave Hamilton.  Why am I immediately faced with two distracting, ugly, big side-bar pics of Jim Tanous and Jeff Butts?  You acknowledge the principle of a picture being worth “1000 words”.  So why give us 2,000 words of irrelevance?  This second point may come across as being unnecessarily sarcastic or bitchy - it’s honestly not meant to be.  I apologise if I offend with my wording, but before you fire off a sarky response, just step back for a moment and think about what I tried to explain…


> 1) I’ve had your RSS feed in Google Reader for years.  Now it’s broken.

Yup - that seems to be working now.  Thanks.


Now one has to scroll down to the bottom of a page to see the last page of a multiple page forum.  This is not good.

The builders of this new site should have to watch actual well-intentioned users struggle with the new design.

And the overwhelming use of extra white space is a real mistake.

Please, but usability above cosmetics, access to real content above great graphics ! !


Overall, somewhat better but not great. Navigation usability sucks, I hate having to click through tabs/panel/popup rubbish to get where I want to go. I already ad-blocked all the obnoxious author photos, thanks for making that easy at least (but better yet do away with them).

Still has a ways to go, obviously.


Looks good!


Up ‘til now, my biggest problem with this new format is that so far, I’ve still found no way to successfully log in to TMO on my iPhone; especially, I have not yet discovered any log-in button/link for iPhone users anywhere on your (Safari fo iPhone) web pages to log in!

Dave Hamilton

@burmayank - Indeed, there’s no obvious way to login on the mobile theme. That was a gametime “we’re going to ship this thing!” decision. You can *get* to the login screen at http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/store/login but that’s not obviously linked anywhere. As I said in the article, mobile is one of those “we have a foundation to build on” type of things. And build we shall. wink



Damn the torpedoes.  Jump in with both feet as you have.  Congrats on the new design.  Clean and easy on the eyes.  Always good to ruffle some feathers.

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