Redesigning The Duck

Back in 2004 when I decided to come to China I immediately hit the blogs to get a “feel” for what life for expats was like there.

There were three blogs that immediately became my favourites, and have largely remained so in the nearly four years since.

That I’ve now had the privilege of (re)designing two of these sites is something, I don’t mind admitting, I’m a bit proud of.

Derrick’s site, Mask of China, which has gone from a blog to an online showcase of his amazing photography, was the first site my biz, Dao By Design, ever did. He was the one that took a chance on me and kicked off my transition from ESL teacher to full-time Web designer/developer.

And as of sometime late last night, The Peking Duck joins Derrick’s site in my now year-old portfolio.

In the time between the two, I’ve designed, migrated, implemented, or otherwise fiddled with nearly two dozen other sites (including my own little pieces of the Web: The Humanaught, Lost Laowai, Hao Hao Report, Dao By Design, Tip. Trick. Mod. and Your China Pal) – however, I can’t think of a project that had me as nervous as redesigning The Duck.

Richard, TPD’s creator and primary author, is a legend in the China blogsphere. With six years and 4,500+ posts in his archives, he routinely gets more than 100 comments per post – even on posts that barely reach a paragraph in length! Needless to say, a lot of folks were going to be looking at this design – folks that liked to speak their mind.

Add to it that his commenters tend to be some of the most opinionated and critical (alright, occasionally in a discerning way) folks cruising the China blogsphere (hell, I’m one of them), and well… you can likely see why I was a bit more apprehensive of the wave of feedback to come than say the comparatively anonymous consultant firm’s site I designed not long ago.

That said, Richard couldn’t have been a better person to work for. With the exception of just a few guiding principles, he virtually gave me full creative license.

The Peking Duck RedesignMy focus with the redesign was to freshen the overall look, bring it up to date, incorporate some of the things that have become standard blogware (social bookmarking links, gravatars, obvious rss links, etc.) in the years since the original design, and – perhaps most importantly – update the damn map.

Anyone that’s read The Duck knows that Richard has made several moves across Asia in the course of the blog’s life. However, the site’s map – which detailed Richard’s travels between Hong Kong, Beijing and Singapore – hadn’t been updated to reflect his additional move to Taiwan and somewhat recent return to Beijing. As a reader, it had always bugged me, so was nice to be the one to finally draw in the lines.

On the technical side of things, the project also called for a migration from Movable Type to WordPress, a switch in the right direction in my books. Though MT once ruled the self-hosted blog world, there’s little argument that WordPress has (some time ago) usurped the seminary blog platform as the new king. When it comes to support, features, and scalability (through plugins, widgets, etc.), WP wins hands down.

Anyway, go take a look, and let me know what you think. If you notice any problems, please do let me know – before the piranhas in the duck pond get me. 🙂

25 Responses

  1. Niiiice redesign there. It definitely looks like one of your designs, but you’ve kept the feel of the original TPD site too. Are their gravatars or is everyone a duck* on the site?

    * Yes, I’m aware of the connotations of this in China.

  2. A much needed improvement over the old design. There is one thing though. People that follow the duck using an RSS reader (like me) won’t know that the feed URL changed.

    The old URL ( should redirect to the new feed URL or somebody should at least put up a post saying that the URL changed. This one got me until I saw your post here about the redesign.

  3. Looks great. Also like the fact that your can read full posts in the feed as opposed to being directed right to the site. I am one window/tab kind of guy.


  4. @Matthew: Cheers. Gravatars are for all – the default is a duck. 🙂

    @Shaun – Sorry about that. I know Richard’s extremely busy at the moment and not able to post about the changes – but you’re right, a post should be made regarding RSS feed changes. I’ve just inserted a 301 redirect to point the old feed to the new one. Hopefully that’ll help until folks get the update.

    @Jason: Cheers.

  5. Hi Ryan,

    I am trying to enter web development world as well. What technology did you use on web server side?

  6. I think your designs are awesome. You’ve done a great job in TPD’s site; even the “piranhas” agree!! 🙂


  7. @Nicki: Though a PS3 is a tempting prize, I’ve too much paying work keeping me busy at the moment to enter contests. Smart way to get a redesign done though – ya shell out a few hundred bucks for a PS3 and you get all the klever kiddie koders to submit a whole bunch of designs for you to choose from.

    @Nick: Cheers m8.

    @Anonymous: Really, anonymous? I mean, you couldn’t just put some name in there? It uses WordPress.

    @Aorijia: I like you 🙂

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  9. LOL to the oatmeal and the Filet mignon, although I’m afraid my filet mignon is turning out to be Philly cheesesteak. I’ll be tinkering for a while before I get it right.

    Superb work on the Duck. I’m astounded and inspired.


  10. Ryan, you did an amazing job and I really appreciate this post. I’m just sorry that I haven’t had the time to write a post on my own site thanking you, since I’m on the road and working late every night this week. Patience. 🙂

  11. Ryan, you wrote not just “Web designer” but also “Web developer”. What scripting languages do you use? PHP, Perl, Javascript? How do you parse XML? What database do you use?

    Or you mean you are more on “Graphic designer” side?

    Sorry for not putting a name. Next time I’ll do it:-) But on the other hand what about freedom of self-expression?:-)

  12. I concur, excellent work on the site. As Matthew said, it retains the feel of the original The Peking Duck site while highlighting your own stylistic input.

  13. Awesome stuff Ryan.

    If you want to turn your business into a charity that focuses on poor English teachers in Chengdu, please let me know.

  14. I’ve just been informed by my friend/server-provider that I’m gonna be kicked off his server in the near future! Fug!

    That, plus the fact that I’m still using Movable Type 3.121 from 2004 is giving me a lot of blogger anxiety. I’ve got to upgrade to WordPress.


  15. @All: Cheers.

    @Richard: No worries at all – no praise needed. Just happy you like it.

    @Michael: It’s a process, I’ll say that. WP makes the transfer somewhat easier by having a great import tool – however, make sure your MT export is UTF-8 encoding. I learned the hard way (Duck, back online soon – damn MT).

    @Anonymous: How do you not have freedom of self-expression by putting in a name? My point was that you can put anything in that “name” box – there’s no check to see if it’s your real name. But to go the distance and put anonymous… just seems… weird.

    I say Web designer and developer because I don’t just fiddle in Photoshop, but rather also slice and dice designs into usable HTML/PHP/CSS. Additionally, I use the term “developer” in a more general sense to refer to the fact that I “develop” sites (both for clients and for myself).

  16. Hey there. I have a favor to ask of someone. I recently received a postcard from Hong Kong, completely written in Chinese. Could someone with the awesome ability to read and understand Chinese hop on over to my blog and translate it for me? Thanks in advance. I really appreciate it.

    Oh, and Ryan, you did a wonderful job on the redesign. Looks great!

  17. @Gabrielle: Way to hi-jack the thread 😉 I see your Sinosplice hi-jack yielded results. Cool stuff.

    I wish I got postcards – of course, I should probably send more than I get, as I am the one that lives in foreign lands. Would love to get a postcard from my hometown though.. haha.

  18. @Fili: Yeah, that’s quite a hit. It’s likely search traffic as the bots spider the new permalink structure.

    I wanted to put in a redirect from old posts to new, and spent a good chunk of time on it, but the Duck’s old archive structure is completely ducked up. For example, 000009.php should be post #9, which would translate into WP as ?p=9 and then get mod_rewritten into a pretty SEF url… but 000009.php is actually post #324… there’s no pattern to redirect to.

    Hopefully the fact that the site now has SEF/keyword URLs and still maintains solid authority will push the SERP-based traffic back up to its former levels.

    And cheers for the kind words about the design.

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