23 January 2013

“the look, the feel, the cotton”: tips on blog design

"I ♥ My Blog": Tips on Blog Design
If you’ve followed Our Lost Jungle over the past year, you know I’ve had some fun playing with the site’s design. I think I’ve finally settled on something I’m very happy with, and can stick with for a long time. But it wasn’t easy. There were other looks that made me happy … but not the eyes of my readers. There were things that seemed like they worked for a while, but after a while just didn’t sit right with me. And this process, long and slow (and sometimes stressful) as it has been, has made me think of the importance of sharing one pointed fact with you about falling—or staying—in love with your blog: The look and the feel of your site matter. What follows is a guide to some things to consider while developing the look, the feel, and what I like to call the “cotton” (get it?) of your blog.

the look

When it comes to the hierarchy of our websites, the general consensus is that content is king. But if the content is king, the look of your site is queen. And just as the saying goes, “Behind every good man is a good woman,” with our blogs the greatest content can be hampered by a faulty design. When it comes to the look of your blog, you want to consider some of the following as you work with your design:

Readability: Making your site readable could mean anything from making sure your fonts aren’t too small for people to read to choosing color palettes that don’t cause too much strain for your readers. One of the biggest problems with my old design was that it featured white text on a black background; it was feedback from a few readers that led me to change both the font and color scheme. The key is finding the look that is both appealing and accessible, for you and the people you hope to reach.

Personality: Just because you want your site to be readable doesn’t mean it has to be completely bland! Who you are can, and should, shine through in the design you implement on your site. It could be your color schemes, or a few fun fonts … Just be sure that when people see your blog, they can see a bit of you in the design choices you’ve made!

Novelty: What new, or fun, or cool, etc. elements can you bring to your site? Novelty with a blog doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing something your readers have never seen before. It does mean that you’re keeping your site up to date: updating information, giving them something different to look at (i.e. new blog updates, or sharing news as it comes in, etc.) so that readers don’t get bored with what you have to offer. Novelty, with a blog, is all about keeping things fresh.

“Uniquity”: One problem some blogs face is that the site owner sees something they like elsewhere and copy it … verbatim. It’s the little things that make your site unique. Whether it’s the icons you use for links to social media, the fonts or images you use in blog posts, or a uniquely designed header, you want to make sure your site isn’t just a cookie cut out of everything else that’s out there. Just as with personality, you want to make sure your site is an expression of who you are … not Joe Schmo and the thousand other Joe Schmos who came before!

the feel

If there’s one word you should keep in mind when it comes to the feel of your site, it’s “inviting.” There are a couple features your blog should have to make sure readers both get to know you and feel as though they are really welcome on your site:

About Me: A page that tells your readers who you are and what you’re all about is a must-have. Whether you call it your “About” page or a “Bio,” your readers should have a place where they can learn more about who you are if they want to. (By the way, an “About Me” or “Bio” page could also be the perfect place for your manifesto!)

Contact: Some bloggers like to have a contact page. Others prefer to just have a link to email. However you do it, you should give your readers a way to get in touch with you. Don’t get me wrong here … I know plenty of writers who like privacy, and would rather die than give out their email address (okay, that’s an exaggeration, but you know what I mean). “Contact” doesn’t have to mean you share your email, or address, or phone number. Links to your social media pages could do it. There’s also always the option of having a form rather than sharing your email address; a basic web form usually allows you some anonymity so that you and readers can communicate without sharing tons of personal info.

“Call to Action”: A call to action is simply an invitation for readers to do something with what you’ve presented. It's your way of inviting readers to interaction with you. Whether you ask a question at the end of your posts or invite readers to share their thoughts, they should know that a response is okay, and that it’s encouraged! A call to action should be an invitation, not a demand: a “please” or “feel free” is always better than “do this”!

You: Above all else, your readers should feel invited to get to learn more about you, or share in the journey you’ve already begun to share by blogging. How you appear on your blog can vary. Maybe you provide a page of links to your favorite websites. Maybe you have a page listing your publications or where they can find you elsewhere online. Maybe you share your reading list. Again, this isn’t an attempt to get you to “bare all”: you have a right to privacy. But your readers also have a right to feel welcomed by you, and nothing makes that sense of welcome more evident than an evident sense of your presence in and on your site!

the “cotton”

The “cotton” of your site is the stuff that helps you feel at home … It’s the “♥” in the “I ♥ My Blog” challenge. Here’s what I mean: I love to journal, but what really gets me pumped up to actually fill a new journal is designing the cover—as soon as I reach that perfect, “This book is MINE!” state, I can’t wait to start writing! As much as the design and feel of your blog is aimed at your reader, it’s important that you remember: this is your home. At the end of this post, you’ll find some articles to help you create the cotton of your site, including: personalized social media icons, a unique banner, a color palette you enjoy, etc.

I've received a lot of inquiries about the header design, and other graphics, on Our Lost Jungle. If you'd like to hear more about how these were created, please feel free to shoot me a message via the Contact Form, with the subject "Design," and I'll respond as soon as possible!

Your Turn

What are the elements you consider the most important when it comes to the look, the feel, and the “cotton” of your site? What do you still have to work on? Your task today is to think about your blog's design: if you feel you have the look and feel right, how can you improve the "cotton" of your site? Feel free to share your thoughts (and anything I missed!) in the comments below! 

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Check out these helpful articles to help you create the look, feel, and "cotton" of your site:

23 comments:

  1. How did you know this was going to be the next task on my list as I redefine my blog? I've already got the vision for the banner, the title, and the theme picked out, I just need to spend the time making it right. I'm really looking forward to it too.

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    1. Heather, that's great, especially that you're looking forward to it (which is so important to keep the love going strong)! Have fun as you take your next steps!

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  2. Khara, you've touched upon a sore spot for me. I have always and forever been a design girl in love with colors and the design of things. In my previous life, I focused almost exclusively on how things looked, leaving my writing to complete shambles. Since then, I've done a 180 on that and now focus just about 90% of my effortson writing, leaving only a mere 10% to design, SEO, etc.

    I've come to embrace a new motto not just in my blog but in my personal life: "being imperfect is ok." With that being said, my blog is new after having just switched over to wp.org. You'd think it was perfect, but it is not. I have placeholders for my "about" pages, etc. The theme is a generic theme that is pretty, but does not accurately reflect who I am as a person or writer.

    And you know what? As imperfect as my blog appears to others, I am still proud of it because it encapsulates an almost one-year journey to get to this point. As I continue to evolve both as a person, writer, and blogger, I will play around and change the look and feel of my blog 1,000 times, just as you did. In the meantime, it will continue to look imperfect, but I no longer have the same hangups I once had about producing and showcasing only perfect products.

    To me, achieving perfection is the epitome of stress. Life is too short for that and I'm happier being imperfect. Thank you for more food for thought.

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    1. Amanda, Did you switch from WP.com? and how come?

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    2. That's a great motto for all of us as writers, Amanda! The aim of designing our blogs isn't to be perfect ... it's to be happy, or find what's "perfect" for ourselves as the authors of our blogs. That's where the "cotton" comes from--working to find not only "what readers want" but that balance between what we "need" to give our readers (the feel) and what we want to give ourselves. The look really blossoms from that, too! Hopefully we can all find that "perfect" place of imperfection!

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    3. Amanda, I tried to hop over to your new site from your last post on your blogger site but it redirected me to my blogger dashboard. Good thing too because I don't use those blogs at all...lol. (Those were started as part of my CMNS degree a few years ago) I moved a stationary web site to the Wordpress.org several years ago and have loved WP.org but the coding of child themes for an individual look is killing me. :)

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  3. Khara, You give some great tips in this post, and wonderful links at the end! Like Amanda, I've just switched over to WP.org, and I need to tinker with some of the things you have mentioned- the social media buttons, the contact info, etc. This post comes at a perfect time and will be earmarked. Can I add to your tips that many bloggers don't have their name or picture anywhere near the top, so it's hard to identify with them. I recommend making sure that you have some way for your readers to "see" you easily.

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    1. That's a great tip, Julia! You're so right; that ability to not just "see" who we are, but actually see who we are, makes such a big connection. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. More great information, Khara. One of my goals is to explore other "visuals" that I can pair with my poetry in addition to photographs. I'm now playing with paints and markers and even crayons. I think reviewing the look of my blog fits in with this goal.

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    1. That sounds like a fun quest, Michelle! Best of luck to you with this goal.

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  5. Excellent post, Khara! I will be studying this in the next few days. This is perfect timing because I just gave my blog a new look, but wasn't sure if it was appealing to my readers. Who knew there was much more to a blog- look, feel, and COTTON!

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    1. Thanks, Romelle! I hope you continue to find what works for your blog!

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  6. I so much want to have my blog in dark colors and a really pretty font, but I know that those aren't good for readers. :(

    I need to do some research on blog design for blogger. My blog looks just like any other blogger blog. That may be how it is until I am self hosting and have my own domain name. We'll see.

    I love the title, btw. I read the title this morning,and thought it was odd, but when I read it tonight, I got it. LOL.

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    1. Kirra, dark colors and fun fonts can be hard to work with, but they can also work really nicely. I think the trick is working with varieties of "dark"; i.e. white on black can be a nightmare on the eyes, but a lighter shade of black (or a very dark shade of grey) with a slightly off white font is a little easier to deal with. Check out this poll from ProBlogger that deals with the question of dark or light backgrounds on blogs.

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  7. Loving the look of your blog! I have the same issue as Kirra. Since I'm using Blogger for posts, I'm a bit limited to what I can work with. It probably doesn't help that I'm not gifted at design...

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    1. Thanks, Jennifer! Blogger can definitely be tricky to play with (it took a lot of trial and error to get the layout and look to work that I currently have). One of my "tricks" was to just play with one element at a time; i.e. for this most recent look I started with the header, and then built around it slowly (by slowly I simply mean one element at a time; the redesign took maybe a day in broken up increments, but I applied one change at a time rather than multiple changes and hoping they all worked).

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  8. Ha, I’ve recently come across a blogger who is using the same template as Jeannine, you know, that peach and swirly look of her blog, and I’m like, no...that’s all wrong! (God I sound like Chloe) But it was a good lesson in branding. I think that for me the Genesis WP theme is working really well and I’m just learning child themes so I can customise it to some degree. What I’m really lacking though is the kind of originality which comes from a custom build like http://www.roostblog.com with custom built photo buttons and that whole, huge photo creative atmosphere, or something more like this tumbler blog: http://rhubarbinthegarden.tumblr.com/. Now I know one is Square Space and one is Tumbler, but for about $1500-3000 I can have a coder code me the look I want (or pretty darn close). The question is, do I want that, will it be better, and to what degree will spending that kind of money make a diference since I'm too lazy to sell thigs thru my blog anyway? And I def. have better things to spend the money on...like bills and mortgage! So I’m trying to learn the child theme and code manipulation by myself right now. (it hurts)
    I’ve resisted calls to action because I didn’t want to lead readers in a direction, but lately I’ve noticed that a call on another blog makes it sometimes easy for me to leave a comment, especially if it’s the blog of someone who has left me a comment and I think it’s then my duty to go see them but have very little interest in their blog...that’s no one in WSS ever of course. So I’ve started to leave little bread crumbs of action calls but I dislike those “at the end of the post” calls so try to sneak them into the copy.
    Contact ...um...not working so well mainly because I can’t figure out how to make the pages appear on the header in the child theme just now, (grump). But my about page I like very much. I’m bored with the, “Hi there, I’m a mom to my kids and a wife to my wonderful hubby...blah blah blah” intros, but have been thinking lately that there isn’t a lot of info about me in there so probably will link to a couple post where I talk about myself a little more.
    And the cotton...well...I just keep spinning it as I go along. Sometimes the weave is mighty fine and sometimes there are big holes, huge holes!

    Whoa...did I really just write that much in your comments? oops. :)

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    1. It sounds like you're really actively thinking about how your blog functions, Veronica, which is great! Your description of the "cotton" of your site made me think of some homemade paper I had that was beautiful; white and sturdy but full of holes. It made it hard to craft with but beautiful to work with! And maybe that's what we want for our blogs, to some extent ... it's difficult, but there's that beauty in working with them! Thanks for your comment! (And don't worry--I like long comments!)

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  9. I LOVE playing with design aspects like colors, backgrounds, and headers!! I moved my writer blog over to wordpress, then completely remodeled both my writing blog and my photo blog.

    Check them out and let me know what you think!!
    writing blog: http://beccabarray.wordpress.com/
    photo blog: http://rebeccabarray.com/

    I really need to post on my writer blog more, but I don't know what to post, besides my writing. X( But I love the way it looks!! Lol.

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    1. Rebecca, I stopped by both sites and love the way they look, too! What really stood out on the photo blog was the way you let colors pop, and the very mild background that allows those colors to stand out. Really nice!

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Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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