Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

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The archive is one of those often-overlooked parts of a website that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Too often it’s thrown on a page that’s no different from any other page on the website, or it’s ignored altogether. The archive offers a lot of room for creativity, though. Whether you opt for an abbreviated one in the sidebar or footer or devote an entire page to it, the archive an opportunity to make your design stand out.

[Offtopic: By the way, did you know that Smashing Magazine has a mobile version? Try it out if you have an iPhone, Blackberry or another capable device.]

Common Design Approaches

While there is plenty of room for creativity, there is also a number of things to keep in mind to make sure your archive is functional and user-friendly.

1. Use as Much Space as You Need

There’s no sense cramming your archive into a space that’s too small. If your archive is extensive, consider devoting an entire page to it, rather than forcing it into the sidebar or footer.

Journal in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples
Neography uses a lot of white space to showcase its posts. Every single post is highlighted with red on the calendar. Also, short excerpts are displayed in the chronological order under the calendar. Nice design.

The opposite is also true. If your archive is small or fairly simple, you may not need an entire page for it. Instead, consider putting it in the sidebar or footer or even in a drop-down menu.

2. Make It Easy to Find

You archive should be findable by casual visitors. Put it (or a link to it) somewhere obvious: the header, footer or sidebar are the best choices. Label it clearly, too, so that visitors know this is your archive and not an off-site link.

Timelined1 in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples
Instead of naming its archive section “blog posts”, “older blog posts”, “recent articles” etc., Kyle Meyer calls it “Archives” and prominently places it in the main navigation on the top of the page. Also notice the archive design approach: the posts are placed vertically according to the timeline. An interesting solution.

There’s no point in having an archive if you make it impossible to find.

3. Clearly Delineate It

Especially if it appears in your sidebar or footer, your archive should be clearly defined and distinct from surrounding content. This can be achieved with a border, a different font, color, whatever you want. Make sure it’s immediately apparent where your archive begins and ends.

Thebolditalic in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

If your archive is on its own page, consider omitting things like the sidebar, which might add to the visual clutter. If not, make sure it’s at least obvious which parts of the page are the archive and which are the regular sidebar, header and footer content.

4. Use Categories

If your archive is big, use categories to make it easier for visitors to find content they’re interested in. Even in a smaller archive, categories can be useful. Just remember that too many categories can confuse users more than they help.

Colly in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples
On Colly.com users can browse archives by year or by categories.

Alternatives are a date-based archive (which works well for personal blogs but is less effective for topic-based websites) and a tag-based archive (which is particularly helpful on blogs with diverse content and for very large archives).

5. Don’t Show the Full Content

If you give the archive its own page, don’t show the full articles on that page. All that does is take up space and make it more difficult to navigate.

Thestraymuse in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Veerle2 in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples
On her redesigned portfolio site, Veerle Pieters gives her archive an own page and shows only excerpts of the articles together with illustrations. The excerpts are placed in two columns and are sorted by date.

Instead, include just the title or the title and a short excerpt (one or two sentences). This keeps the page looking clean and organized and makes skimming much easier.

6. Give Your Visitors Various View Options

If you are displaying excerpts on your archive page, it may be useful to provide users with an option to quickly scan the titles of the articles instead of scrolling the excerpts of the articles endlessly. A simple switcher would be enough. You may want to use cookies to save the current preference of the user, though.

Writings1 in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Writings2 in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples
VisitMix provides two view options to its readers: by default, the excerpts view is selected, but if you click on the corresponding icon in the right upper corner, the view changes right away. Unfortunately, this state is not saved, so if you prefer to browse archives in the “short” view, you would need to always click on the icon first.

7. Split Things Up

No one says your entire archive has to be contained within a single list. Especially if your archive is in the sidebar, consider breaking it up with lists of the most popular posts, random posts, most recent posts, etc.

Lists like these can help visitors find interesting and relevant content that they might not find in a conventional archive. They also add more visual interest to your website, depending on how you structure them. A list of random or featured posts also draws attention to posts deep in your archive that might not get much traffic otherwise.

Do You Even Need an Archive?

Not every website needs a dedicated archive. Some designers opt for just category-based navigation instead. Others have no archive navigation other than an “Old posts” link.

If your website has timeless content that visitors might find useful six months or a year down the line, then an archive can be valuable. On the other hand, if it’s a personal blog that has mainly a chronological structure, then you could safely forget about an archive unless you really want one.

Also, consider offering a category-based or tag cloud-based system to access older posts, instead of a formal archive. Either might be more useful for visitors looking for specific content. An archive, though, can present an interesting and efficient method for visitors to find content that they’re not explicitly searching for. Consider this carefully before deciding not to include one on your website.

Showcase

QN5 Blog
QN5 includes an area in the sidebar to show both recent posts and posts with the most comments.

Qn5music in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Qn5archive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

WellMedicated
WellMedicated includes a small section in its sidebar for most popular and most recent posts.

Wellmedicated in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Wellmedicatedarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

The Official Squarespace Blog
The Squarespace blog displays its archive by month, right alongside the category archive in the sidebar.

Squarespace in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Squarespacearchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Inspect Element
Inspect Element sets its “Most Popular Posts” section apart with a background texture.

Inspectelement in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Inspectelementarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Burciaga
The archive here is kept simple: just a list of links by date.

Ismaelburciaga in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Ismaelburciagaarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Learning jQuery
In addition to an “Archives” link in the header, Learning jQuery includes a brief list of popular posts at the top of the sidebar.

Learningjquery in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Learningjqueryarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

BHoff
BHoff’s archive is located in the sidebar, organized by date and shown alongside the category list.

Brianhoff1 in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Behoffarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

jord&chan
The archive here is in the footer, organized as a simple chart by month and year. Months with no entries are shown in lighter type than those with entries.

Jordandchan in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Jordandchanarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Cut & Taste
Cut & Taste puts its archive on a separate page, with a link in the header. On the archive page, articles are organized by date.

Cutandtaste in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Cutandtastearchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Web Is Love
Web Is Love has a brief list of its most popular articles in the sidebar. Other archived posts can be accessed through the categories in the header.

Webislove in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Webislovearchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Twirk Ethic
Twirk Ethic organizes its archive by category and displays it in an AJAX slider, linked from the main navigation. One of the most elegant solutions in this showcase.

Twirkethic in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Twirkethicarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Web Design Ledger
Web Design Ledger has an extensive list of recent posts in the sidebar, accompanied by thumbnails.

Webdesignledger in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Webdesignledgerarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

ThinkVitamin
ThinkVitamin puts lists of popular and recent posts in its sidebar.

Carsonified in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Carsonifiedarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Obox Design
Obox includes a brief list of recent posts at the top of its sidebar, with icons.

Obox in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Oboxarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Jason Santa Maria
Jason Santa Maria devotes a page to his archive, with a list of recent posts as well as lists broken up by category, date and tag.

Jasonsantamaria in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Jasonsantamariaarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Jaredigital Weblogue
A page is devoted to this archive, linked from the sidebar on the main blog page. The archive page itself is kept simple, with articles organized by date.

Jaredigital in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Jaredigitalarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Cynosura
The archive here also has its own page (linked from the header) and is organized by category.

Cynosura in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Cynosuraarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Maxvoltar
Maxvoltar’s archive is linked from the sidebar and is presented in a well-organized table on its own page.

Maxvoltar in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Maxvoltararchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Rustin Jessen
Rustin Jessen’s archive is given its own page and is organized by tag, type and date.

Rustinjessen in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Rustinjessenarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

City Cyclops Comics
City Cyclops Comics put both its comics archive and its blog archive on a single page, with the blog archive organized by date and positioned in the sidebar. The comics archive is given much more space and detail.

Citycyclops in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Citycyclopsarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

The FontFeed
The FontFeed offers a simple drop-down menu, among other options (“Search” and “Subscribe”), to browse its archives by month. Simple but effective.

Fontfeed in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Fontfeedarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Spyre Studios
Spyre Studios devotes a page to its archives and includes simple date-based links in the sidebar.

Spyrestudios in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Spyrestudiosarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Josdigital
Another website that devotes a page to its archive, this time with thumbnails for the main posts instead of text, as well as some featured posts with text excerpts below.

Josdigital in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Josdigitalarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Podlob
It makes sense for a photoblog to have a more visual archive, and this calendar with thumbnails works brilliantly. This kind of set-up is obviously best suited to blogs that are updated daily (or close to it).

Podlob in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Podlobarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Epaper Central
Another website with a simple sidebar-based list of recent posts.

Epapercentral in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Epapercentralarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Thomas Finley
Thomas Finley dedicates a full page to his archive, with an option for the latest posts as well as links by month.

Thomasfinley in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Thomasfinleyarchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Nonesuch Records
Nonesuch Records lets you browse its archive by date, category and artist, all in easy-to-use drop-down menus.

Nonesuch in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

Nonesucharchive in Website Archives Design: Good Practices and Examples

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© Cameron Chapman for Smashing Magazine, 2010. | Permalink | 29 comments | Add to del.icio.us | Digg this | Stumble on StumbleUpon! | Tweet it! | Submit to Reddit | Forum Smashing Magazine
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