To put the General Discussion at the bottom, quite frankly, reflects one of two things:
- The designers are out of touch with the user base and general behavior of users who do go to forums.
- The designers want to engineer behavior or manufacture interest elsewhere. It is more self serving than community serving.
With that out of the way, I am curious as to what the actual statistics when it comes section activity. If the users prioritize one section over another naturally, then they are showing you where the importance is for them. So you can be community centric in your design, going with what the users are naturally prioritizing, or you can try to punish or coerce them into shifting their interest into different sections. The latter has never really worked out from what I have seen. All you do is alienate the user base and reduce traffic overall.
When users have an interest in something, they like to discuss it, or read what others are saying about it. This is normal human behavior. The number of sub-categories in any section also can present a problem. General discussion is simple, you have news, general talk and off topic (plus 2.8 specific). It boils down to really just two options, the news and what people are discussing. The two choices, as opposed to 8-10 in art, code…ect make it more accessible.
For art, well it was always been “prioritized” in so much that banners existed on the top. Prominently showcasing the best work that people would be interested in. This has always doubled as an access point to the art section as a whole. Ideally if you wanted it just to link to the art section, have a graphic in the banner that always does just that, “Hey check out other work done by Blender users” in graphic form, or under the banner a link that shifts the page down to where the art section is.
Having Coding and Game Engine be seen as “higher priority” to the users than the General Discussion section is simply insane. We know it, you know it. So why do something that is clearly outside of the realm of common sense?
As for support, this section is indeed important. I’d put right under the General discussion and News in term of what should have the easiest accessibility. Thing is, for support itself… users generally look for something specific they need help with. So what does this translate to in practice? Using the search function or finding the section via search engine. The section placement should reflect that general behavior.
Now this is just a guess, but it could be that some are being influenced by thePolycount forum’s design or direction. This is not a bad thing if so, however in that case it is important to point out a few things:
Their new forum design resulted in less over all forum activity, sections consolidation has less visual noise, and the website as a whole is simply more readable and less convoluted. I don’t think this approach works well for Blender Artist as a whole, as it is software specific as opposed to industry specific (in polycount’s case). The readability and presentation however show what could be done (curated homepage for example).
If something is not broken, don’t fix it. The art has already been presented as a priority due to the banner as an access point. Just build on top of whats already being done there instead of trying to drown the news + general discussion section. Build upon what was already working, instead of attempt to coerce different user behavior.
Heck I would go even so far as to recommend changing the home page for the forums, much in the same way polycount does. The home page would be what you as the designers want to present, such as top art, selected news, and the latest discussions (which takes up too much space with the current design). It can literally be anything, even links to the latest version of Blender or merchandise. Designers get to curate what they want presented.
At that point the actual forum page can remain the way it used to be, with the News and General discussion on top, followed by Art and Support on the left and right (remove recent discussions due to it being on the new homepage), and under that everything else.
Clean, efficient, and it gives the designers the ability to curate what they want to see without trying to ruin the previous level of accessibility.