Exploring a Game-Changing WordPress Design [Think Traffic Case Study] - ManageWP

Exploring a Game-Changing WordPress Design [Think Traffic Case Study]

Think Traffic

Very rarely am I truly blown away by a website’s design.

The last time it happened was when I first got a sneak peak at ManageWP’s new look. And before then — months ago — it was a site called Think Traffic, owned by the legend that is Corbett Barr.

Upon first seeing it I even caught myself uttering those immortal words: “Is this really a WordPress site?” I should know better, but it was involuntary. It is sites like this — featuring a design that is so damned sexy and elegant that you want to take it out for dinner — that truly showcase what is possible with WordPress. It makes a mockery of the idea that WordPress is “just a blogging platform”.

As soon as I saw the design, I knew that I needed to know more. So I sought out both Corbett and his ace designer, Chase Reeves. They were both kind enough to lend me their time in answering my questions as to how the new Think Traffic design came about.

A Little Background Information

The new Think Traffic design was announced in May 2012 and featured an entirely new (non-bloggy) homepage and a true responsive design. It was a complete overhaul, from top to bottom. Here’s how the site looked beforehand:

Think Traffic (Old Design)

And here’s how it looks now:

Think Traffic (New Design)

Quite the difference, wouldn’t you say? The two designs are like night and day. Now let’s find out how this all came together.

Corbett Barr on the New Think Traffic Design

Corbett BarrFirst of all, please tell us a little bit about the history of Think Traffic.

Think Traffic is a site I started in March of 2010. The goal from the beginning was always to help people build bigger/better audiences online. I didn’t set out pretending to have all the answers. Instead I always looked at the site as a conversation and case study.

What is the primary objective of your site — what action do you most want visitors to perform?

Our primary goal is to get readers to put our advice to use. If readers experience a positive outcome from something you’ve recommended doing, the rest is easy. It’s all about demonstrating your usefulness and building respect.

Beyond your primary objective, was there anything else you wanted to see from the new design?

The new design was meant to do two things: (1) better showcase our most useful content, and (2) make it more likely for visitors to connect with us (primarily by subscribing for email updates) so we could establish a long-term relationship

What didn’t you like about the old design? In what way(s) did it not perform to your requirements?

We liked the old design, but it was very much a standard blog design. Blogs are great for putting new thoughts into the world; they’re not so good for making use of existing content. We wanted to re-imagine Think Traffic as more than a blog. We also wanted our design to make a statement from a visual point of view to help the site stand out, and to position us better as a leader in the space.

Think Traffic Blog Post
Think Traffic’s new blog post page template.

Before you consulted with Chase, did you have a vision in mind for the new design?

I didn’t have a vision in terms of look-and-feel. I simply started with the basic requirements I just mentioned.

How well do you think the new design achieves your intended objectives?

We’re very happy with the design. Our readers and peers have had great feedback about it. I love the aesthetic qualities, and engagement, conversions and traffic are all through the roof.

Can you share any metrics with us (e.g. conversion rates) to demonstrate the success of the new design?

Our visitor-to-email-subscriber conversion rate more than doubled after implementing the new design. Traffic has also more than doubled in the five months since we rolled out the design.

Chase Reeves on the New Think Traffic Design

Chase Reeves
Yes — you should trust this man with your website’s design.

Who is Chase Reeves? What is your background in web design and WordPress development?

I am Chase Reeves. Born and raised in the bay area of California. Currently in Portland, OR, where the mustaches are all trimmed and the tweed is bike-pressed.

My background in web design and WP dev: self taught-ish over the long-haul. I don’t know why, I just wanted to make a website. So I got into it. I kept hearing about Thesis for WordPress, so I figured that was the way to go since they had forums. Those DIYThemes forums saved my bacon — probably a big reason why I didn’t give up when I was learning this stuff.

What originally attracted you to the Think Traffic project?

I had cocktails with Corbett at Blogworld in LA. A few shots of Fernet was all I needed to know Mr. Barr could roll with the best of ’em. True story: I didn’t know of the guy before we were at the bar taking shots of Fernet. I’ve learned a lot since then. Sort of a man-crush thing. {virtual wink at Corbett}

In Think Traffic you have created what I consider to be a unique and elegant design. How easy was it to develop the site in WordPress?

Thesis — what Think Traffic is built upon.

Thanks for your kind words! Dev in WordPress is very easy when you get rid of all the g’dam bells and whistles. We built it all on Thesis — I know it in and out so I design with that framework in mind, making the actual transition into code pretty simple, for the most part. There’s still those pesky social buttons Corbett (and the rest of internet) can’t seem to live without; hate those things.

What do you consider to be the fundamentals of effective blog design?

Here’s my thought on good design: don’t f*ck up the business. If the idea for the business is truly good, design’s job is to not screw that idea up. Great design is not mucking with a good thing. Excellent design is when you can raise up a good thing, make it true-er, more trustworthy, more resonant with the right person.

With Think Traffic we’re helping people fight particular dragons. They’re brave people, putting their butts on the line in small and big ways to try to make their lives a bit more their own. That’s a real story. There are real stakes. They have to deal with resistance, doubt, fear, family saying, “you’re dumb for trying”, etc.

Corbett has the education, he has the tools to help these people defeat the dragons. If the design of Think Traffic is good, it’s because it gets out of the way, makes the exchange between the hero (the site visitor) and the mentor (Corbett) as easy as possible…it doesn’t muck with it.

Corbett’s objectives for the new design were to (1) better showcase the best content on TT and (2) increase email subscription conversion rates. On a foundational level, how did you feel that this would best be achieved?

I wanted it to feel like it meant something to be a part of Think Traffic, like Think Traffic wasn’t just another site out there jockey-ing for your time and attention and interest. Corbett’s thoughts feel different, his way is different. He’s very transparent and honest and his ideas are trustworthy and good. I wanted to bring that out, make TT feel like a “no bullshit and not saying ‘no bullshit’ just cuz it’s a thing to say” kind of site.

So whenever we asked people to “subscribe”, I wanted to make it sound more like: “Hey, we know you, we know your struggles, we know you’re in the middle of a journey and you’ve got to slay the dragon. Your story matters. Join us.”

And highlighting some of the best content was directly in line with helping them on their journey. I know I sound like a Middle Earth historian right about now, but I actually do think about it this way. I’ve come to care a good deal about the small-time entrepreneur’s struggle. Working on this site was the beginning of that.

I’m sure people would love to know how the site came together. Can you share with us an overview of the design process, from start to finish?

I spent about a week reading every damn comment on the site. I visited commenters’ sites, kept track of language they used and all sorts of other things. I wanted to get to know these people, understand their struggles. And that’s when I started thinking about their story, the dragons they knew they had to face. So I wasted a lot of time on that in the best way.

From there it’s figure out the thing that this design can’t f*ck up. In this case it was the story of Corbett as Yoda, the reader as Luke Skywalker. Luke had a mission, Yoda had the tools and education. That was the nucleus of the design; get out of the way, don’t muck up that transaction.

Then I get into type. I wanted to go with a sans-serif typeface for the main body copy; clean and clear and easy to read wherever. I figure out that type and that size and then I put together the headings. Then, the metrics I discover in the type become the metrics I use throughout the site. For example, the space between the content column and the sidebar is 3x the line height. I’m a reader, not a mather, but looking at things this way helps me get brutally simple about them.

Think Traffic Typography
Examples of the beautiful typography that form the foundation of Think Traffic’s design.

(Sidenote: I know it’s the way we’re supposed to write online, little chunks of words, a sentence or two to a paragraph, but I hate the way the type looks on Think Traffic in little two line paragraphs. It’s so beautiful in a long article with big paragraphs.)

From there it’s throwing paint on the walls and seeing what sticks. The big feature box on the home page, I wasn’t sure what that thing would be. I explored and I think landed on the graph concept as an accident (as a bit of a hat nod to the previous Think Traffic logo).

I like making things bold. It has to be big, and ruthless about, “What is this thing? Why is it here?” That’s a trend you’ll see in my work (and all over Think Traffic).

What element of the design are you most pleased with and/or proud of?

I’m most proud of the fact that my ideas about ruthless simplicity and story and “being a part of something” were proven with flying colors. Other than that I’m pleased as punch at the way the feature box on the homepage responds to screen size.

If you had the opportunity to start on the design again, would you do anything differently?

No, I really dig the way this site is right now. There’s plenty of improvements we’ll be making, more ways to resonate with and serve/delight the visitors. But nothing about the thing is broken — we know because we hear the stories of the people in the audience doing the crazy stuff with their backsides and feeling alive. Thanks!

Wrapping Up

Think Traffic is as good a showcase of WordPress’ potential as any. It demonstrates two key things:

  1. WordPress offers no restrictions on design — on the contrary, it facilitates cutting edge visionary aesthetics.
  2. WordPress is much more than just a blogging platform.

Corbett and Chase have not only produced a great site, they have done a service to the WordPress community by demonstrating what is possible. We have only scratched the surface in terms of showcasing the Think Traffic design in this post, so be sure to head over to the site and check it out for yourself. And if you are a blogger, you’re going to want to make the site a regular fixture in your browser — Corbett’s advice on building an audience is invaluable.

As for Chase, you can find him at Matterful Dot Co. and Ice to the Brim, where he riffs on any number of topics. The more WordPress designers like him in the world, the better.

Now it’s over to you — what do you think of the new Think Traffic design? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section!

Tom Ewer

Tom Ewer is the founder of WordCandy.co. He has been a huge fan of WordPress since he first laid eyes on it, and has been writing educational and informative content for WordPress users since 2011. When he's not working, you're likely to find him outdoors somewhere – as far away from a screen as possible!


  1. Rick

    Great design combine with great resources spells success. The Think Traffic team really raised the bar with this design.

  2. Wil

    I think we’re now at the point where it’s almost expected that any website is using WordPress, as i would consider it the norm, not the exception. Think Traffic’s new website certainly shows what can be done with WordPress, but I’ve known that the possibilities are really endless and design doesn’t need to look “WordPress-ish”.

    I’d even go further in saying that many non-WordPress sites are designed themselves to emulate WordPress design.

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