Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Approaching your blog like an interior designer

Designing a blog is in many ways like decorating a living room. You’ll make decisions about the impression you want to create, the color and mood you want to reflect, and the size and space you want to address. And much as you do when you redecorate that living room or rearrange its furniture, you’ll find yourself making choices more than once. What guides all decisions, however—whether you’re redoing a room or revamping a blog—is the people who are going to use the room or read the blog. In other words, as you make design decisions—whether you’re a beginning or long-time blogger—how you intend to reach out to your audience will play a major role.

While this post will not provide you with everything you need to know in order to design or revamp your entire blog, you may find some general guidelines that are helpful. Click on the images to view sample blogs.

Identity. Pretend you are a stranger, visiting your blog for the first time. Is it clear from your banner’s title and subtitle what the purpose of your blog is? Would a graphic image enhance that understanding? Do you need to add a further explanation in a side bar? Does the reader know who you are? Consider adding a photograph of yourself so that your readers can begin to identify with you.

When you visit the blog of Scottie Acres, for example, you know immediately that Dayna loves Scottish terriers. Her blog banner, as well as her side bar, provide a clear identity.

Layout. Take a look at your blog to see how much white space you have. White space represents breathing space for the reader. Take a tip from print magazines. Note that most magazines print text in multiple narrow columns, breaking them up with images. Two or three columns is probably the most commonly-used format, both in print publications and on the Web. Don’t force your readers to rock their heads back and forth to read a long line of text. This becomes tedious very quickly! Interestingly, you can fit more text into multiple narrow columns than you can into a single wide column.

A great example of a balanced layout is found in the blog of The Filigree Garden. Liv combines text and visuals in a balanced format that will leave you breathless only because of its beauty.

Typeface. Use unusual or fancy typefaces sparingly. Allow the content to speak for itself, not for the typeface to draw attention to itself. A rule of thumb that the print publishing industry often uses is a limitation of two typefaces. Often one typeface will feature seriphs, or “tails” that are added to the letters (as in Times New Roman), while the other typeface will have no seriphs at all (as in Arial). At all costs, avoid using italicized and/or bolded text for the main body of your post. The reader will tire very rapidly, and move on! If you browse through various blogs, you will discover that typeface size is also important. Older readers will find tiny text difficult to read, while overly large text creates an impression that the audience is very young. Again, readability should guide you in making typeface decisions.

In Coffee Pot People, Ani limits herself to one readable typeface and varies it only by size (one size for titles and a smaller size for body text) and weight (boldfaced text).

Color. In choosing colors for your blog (both text and background), let content, mood, readability—and a color wheel—guide your decisions. Avoid using too many colors; two or three complementary colors are more than enough. If you choose a dark background such as black or navy blue, select text that will not appear to make the letters vibrate. Conversely, if you choose a light background, make sure that the text contrasts adequately so that it’s visible.

Very bright or very dark colors can sometimes tire the reader’s eyes, but in The Spinal Column, Brett balances a dark background with subdued blue text lines that have been spaced wider apart, giving the eye a visual break.

Navigation. Readers have a tendency to focus on the upper half of a Web page (or on the upper third of a printed page). For that reason, place information (especially links) that you really want your readers to notice in the top half of your blog page. Newspapers use a similar principle, utilizing an inverted paragraph format when publishing articles. The most important information is near the beginning of the article, with successive paragraphs containing less critical information.

Place links to information in places where readers would expect them to be, and make sure the link itself clearly identifies what will be seen when the reader clicks on that link, especially if downloading of a file follows. No one likes to be surprised in this way.

In Kimbuktu, Kym clearly wants the reader to focus on her beautiful bags. Almost the first item you see is an Etsy Mini, a widget consisting of pictures that are really direct links to items in her shop. In addition, a side bar contains links to a Gallery of her products, besides other information.

A word about widgets. Many bloggers use pre-designed Web gadgets known as “widgets” to draw attention to their blog. Some widgets are hit counters that track where visitors come from, while others allow you to show slide shows or display videos. There are even widgets that allow readers to vote, assess personality, compose pictures, solve puzzles and much, much more. While these are certainly fun, less is more. Be mindful that widgets that include moving graphical representations may be difficult or impossible for your readers to view, since not all browsers accommodate them equally or well.

As with every other suggestion in this post, let your audience needs and a sense of balance guide how many widgets you include in your blog design. Keep in mind that many widgets are designed as marketing tools for someone else, so your needs and the designer’s may not always match. Research the source of these tools carefully, and read fine print acceptance agreements before you use them.

Maggie’s Crafting Adventures features a VerticalResponse marketing widget designed to increase her readership. By entering an e-mail address, individuals may subscribe to Maggie’s newsletter.

The above suggestions for blog design are not hard and fast rules; as with any so-called rules, there are often good reasons for breaking them. But hopefully these guidelines will serve as a starting point as you assess your own blog design needs. Think about your blog in the same way that an interior designer would approach your living room, and you’ll know where to start. For more information about why and how to blog, read an earlier post: “What’s the buzz about blogging?

10 comments:

Precious Quilts said...

Nice, useful information.

Dayna said...

very good read and excellent tips with examples. Thanks for using Scottie Acres.

Gunnels blog said...

Thanks for very good tips!

Sixsisters said...

Thanks for the tips Judy.qnsqrp

ZudaGay said...

Well written and great bloggy tips, Judy! Thank you!

Anitra Cameron said...

Great article! You've given me some great ideas, and also a little thrill, seeing my banner here!

joonbeam said...

Another helpful and well composed feature post, Judy. Thank you for all you do for our team.

The Filigree Garden said...

Very nice collection of helpful hints with plenty of helpful examples. Thank you for your kind comments on my blog. It is always a work in progress, so I like to get as many hints as I can. :-)

maryeb said...

Great post. I especially appreciate the info on widgets.

Pam said...

Very good information. Like the way you suggested looking at one's blog as a stranger might look at it! Hope that I can find time to compare my blog against these tips! Good examples that you used to support your tips!