[Site Review] Jim C. Hines: jimchines.com

[Note: This is my first site review, and I’m still working out the format. Apologies if it seems a bit awkward.]

Overview

jimchines.com is the site of author Jim C. Hines. He is a traditionally published fantasy author with a solid web following. His blog is a big draw to the site, especially when he’s posted one of his cover-pose photo shoots (the last batch of which were used to raised $15,000 for the Aicardi Syndrome Foundation).  The site is WordPress-based and managed by the author, as is clearly stated in the site’s footer.

Branding & Visuals

The only overt branding on this site is the header, which is visible on all pages. It’s one big image made up of the author’s various book covers, with a bit of fancy background. It also contains the actual site title as part of the image, which is generally considered bad practice these days. Once upon a time you couldn’t do fancy fonts without making an image, but there are now many ways to have both looks and readability. In this case, I suppose, since the title is equivalent to the URL, it’s less of a concern. Still not recommended. Also, the title font is dated and inconsistent with the rest of the site. Otherwise, the header is small enough that it doesn’t take away from the site content, although I find it a bit busy.

The only other “advertising” evident (outside of the bookstore page) is an image of his latest work in the left sidebar. This is subtle enough to ignore if you’re just there to read a blog post, but obvious enough that it’ll get noticed under most circumstances.

The color scheme is pleasing, if bland, but it fits well with the simplicity of the site overall. The design utilizes shades of black and blue on a white background. The shades are distinct enough that there’s no difficulty reading the text.  The font choice is sans-serif, easy to read on a screen, and the text is mainly black on white. Titles are the same font as the text, and are well-sized.

One thing that slightly confuses me is the tabular highlighting on several of the pages. It makes sense on the Bookstore page, where there’s one item per row, with several columns. Other pages, however, have images on the same line which are separate items, but the whole row highlights when hovered over. Granted, the images in each row are related, but it can be confusing to the user to have multiple items highlighted together.

Layout

The site is well-organized and has a clean layout. There is a header menu across the top, and two sidebars. Content is front and center, readily distinguished from the navigation.

The sidebars are well-ordered. The left sidebar focuses on Hines’ newest publications and his web presence beyond his site. It also contains links to free samples of his fiction work. The right sidebar is dedicated to his blog, which is a significant part of the site and has a large following. Here you can get yourself a subscription to the blog and see the most recent posts, as well as browse the archives by month or by tag.

The right sidebar also includes a Meta section, which is a WordPress default, and which I think is probably unnecessary. Since there’s only one active user, the Log In link is irrelevant, and the other links are redundant, since one can subscribe to posts and comments via other elements.

Navigation & Ease of Use

The header menu contains a lot of information, as there are twelve main topics. The menu items are clear and concise, although there’s so much information that they all kind of run together. I would suggest a menu with fewer items, perhaps by consolidating similar sections.

The sidebars are easier to read, although trying to sort through the tags dropdown is… time-consuming.

There is no footer navigation, which isn’t a problem on the book-related pages. The blog and long posts/pages, however, could benefit from basic navigation in the footer, even if it’s just a “scroll to top” link.

Mobile Version

No. There’s no “requirement” for having a mobile version, but it can make browsing a site difficult on smaller devices. There are numerous plugins for WordPress that can easily convert a site. Recommend this list to start.

Accessibility

WordPress is only partially successful in producing accessible pages. There are plugins and practices that can help, but the subject is far too complex to be addressed in a site review. [This is probably going to be a standard disclaimer on my reviews until I manage to write an essay about accessibility, at which point there will probably be a standard disclaimer linking to said post.]

Other Notes

I appreciate that there are good quality images of his book covers,  with multiple sizes, and easily located. It can be hard to find decent images for reviews/etc., so this is a big plus!
Hines is a trained crisis counselor and an outspoken advocate against sexual violence and rape culture. His site contains a section devoted to the subject, which includes his own related articles and links to outside resources. it may seem a little strange to have a section like this, but I say kudos for being brave enough to engage in discourse on such a difficult and complex topic. The only (purely cosmetic) criticism I have on that subject is that the large banner for RAINN at the bottom of the page is outdated and hard to read.

Verdict

This is a generally well-designed and maintained website. It might be considered plain by some, but it’s such an information-dense site that it doesn’t need anything more; extraneous imagery/tricks could overwhelm the user experience. I need a rating system that doesn’t conflict with my book reviews; until then, I’ll just say that visiting this website is an overall positive experience.

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