As a new blogger, I picked a simple pre-defined design, started posting and quickly realized I wanted more than my design template can give me! Now what?
I’m a website designer, but in my haste to get into the blogosphere, I failed to apply key planning and design techniques to my own blog! I’m admitting that (though it may already be obvious) so that you can learn to take a less frustrating approach. A more disclipined design method is what I would have used had I been one of my own clients!
WHO KNEW YOU SHOULD MATCH CONTENT AND DESIGN?
Perhaps no one told you that the design must be well suited to the purpose of the blog and its visitors, and not just fit your personality. And even if someone had warned you, a blog’s purpose is often not well defined at the outset! Of course if you know a lot about template editing you can make changes to any starting template, but that can be daunting for the new blogger!
In today’s world anyone can create their own website or blog, and you may ask who needs a blog designer? Well, if you don’t have one, you need to take on the essentials of that function. You need to put yourself in your visitors’ shoes to see if your blog works for them! Content is king, but design can be an ‘bouncer.’
For most of us, once you pick a template, you’re committed to that layout or placement and size of the header, columns and footer. We often just select one of the standard blog designs that come with Blogger.com. There are 16 to choose from: 1 has a single column format and all of the others have 2-columns. None have the popular 3-column format. So, yes you can easily change the header image, change column backgrounds, add button images but you can’t change the basic structure without going deep under the ‘html’ hood — scary!
USE A TEST BLOG TO DESIGN YOUR BLOG’S STRUCTURE.
I suggest you create a test blog with a url that is hidden from Google search and not listed with your Blogger profile. You can then create test posts to help you fit the design to your real blog’s content. In the test posts you can talk to yourself and state what types of things go in each column of a possible design — that’s when you might realize you want 3 or 2 columns. Also look at the layout of other blogs with content like Google AdSense — are they in a separate column or mixed in with the posts or on the one and only sidebar. Many people advise putting ads at the top of the page, which is difficult on fewer than 3 columns. You can do the same thing on paper instead of in a test post — take time to layout your design. That makes it easier to define the structure.
There are lots of sources for other Blogger templates. Again, if you try these use your test posts, not your real content. The test posts can be copies of the real content. Installing a new template can be tricky, and you don’t want to lose your hard work on published posts!
THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN DESIGNING YOUR LAYOUT.
Do you need a menu to link to selected ‘blog pages’ that have distinct content? If so, design that into your layout and structure. For example instead of putting ‘contact us’ or ‘about us’ on the sidebar, you can create a post and link to it from the top menu.
( this one is from the Beautiful Beta blog. )
Maybe you have two large categories of posts and want to have them at the top for easy reference. For example, I could have one for design tips and one for marketing tips, listing relevant articles in the post page.
Color Scheme — colors carry lots of symbolism so be careful of a predominant color used for visitors of different cultures. For example the color red: (from About.com on Web Design) means good luck in China, purity in India, mourning in South Africa, danger in Western cultures. Colors of fonts against certain backgrounds also affect readiblity.
Graphics – is your blog mainly about photographs and images? Consider hosting your graphics at a free server and specify the url instead of having Blogger upload each image. You’ll notice that blogger assigns a strange long name for each image and displays a clickable thumbnail in the post. It’s difficult to use the same image in a new post or to move your images to another publishing platform.
Fixed column versus wide screen— not all of your international visitors have large screens, so fixed columns are an easy way to accommodate everyone and avoid scrolling . Many templates have either fixed or very wide structures. The ideal is a proportional definition (e.g. post column is 75% of available screen width, etc.). The actual posts are easier to read if the column is not too wide (I see this with my blog and intend to reduce the size when I add a third column).
Three column templates — again be sure they are meant for the “New Blogger” implementation. Some come with their own errors and no one to answer your questions so you must test them first.
This article is the first in a series of blogging design tips. The intent is to guide the new blogger toward a satisfying blog design. Established bloggers can find hope if they are not completely satisfied with their current design and afraid to make changes! Upcoming tips will show how to make a third column, install one of many ‘free templates’ and other ways to customize. So be sure to see the next tip by signing up for our RSS feed or email delivery!
UPDATE: 7/3/08 – Related post
I read a great post on Lenin Nair’s creative writing help blog – New wordpress template for blogger. I’ve found my template tweaking hero! Notice the main reason for the new template was to improve the blog’s performance and design. The blog now uses 2 columns but skillfully splits the right sidebar column as needed for special elements. (using DIV with two classes for left and right sidebar sections).