“No matter how great your blog looks, if it's hard to navigate, you've defeated your own purpose. Great design is a good marriage of form and function.”
We think Jess Graves of The Love List hits the nail on the head with that statement. There's no denying that when a new reader lands on your blog, the first thing they're going to take in is your design. They may not directly judge it, but your header, your ease of navigation and the formatting of your posts is of paramount importance to them.
If you're not getting it from us, it's certain that just about anyone will tell you to “keep it simple” when it comes your blog's aesthetic. Simple can be a loaded word though, and it certainly doesn't mean plain. So what does it mean, and how can you apply it to your blog?
Graphic and web designer Breanna Rose, who has designed for sites like Verily Magazine, it can be a lover and Kenzie Poo, among others says, “I'm drawn to organized and clean design. That doesn't necessarily mean there has to be white space everywhere – no way. It just means that whatever the aesthetic may be, it's done in a tasteful way!”
She adds, “I think design on blogs is most successful when it's not overdone. Photoshop is such a great tool, but it doesn't mean you need to slap design elements on everything. Keep it simple and be consistent has always been my motto!” The consistency she's talking about starts with small changes you can make without a complete make-over.
“Same-width photos on a blog can make SUCH a huge difference in how your content is displayed. When images are piled up at several different widths, it can be hard on the eyes and turn away readers,” Breanna says.
So you're ready for a change. Now what?
We've watched many of our favorite blogs undergo a design overhaul lately, including Stripes + Sequins, Court + Hudson, Style Bubble and yes, The Love List. (Style Bubble is a perfect example of design that's smart and functional but full of personality.)
“I did my redesign myself,” says Jess. “It wasn't difficult because I already have a very defined aesthetic, so it was really just a more grown-up version of my pre-existing brand to reflect my own growth. I have a graphic design background though, so for those who don't, I'd definitely recommend hiring a professional designer.”
Hiring a designer doesn't necessarily mean spending a pretty penny for a prettier site. There are plenty of freelancers and up-and-coming graphic and web designers with low rates who want to build their portfolio. Try running some online searches or look at the design credits on some of your favorite blogs for a starting point.
If you do hire a designer, Jess recommends having a firm grasp on what you want going into the project, so your brand and your ideas don't get lost. “That's not to say there's no room to evolve,” she adds, “but the better the art direction you give your designer, the happier with the result you'll be.”
Start by looking at your favorite blogs and magazines. Take note of the design elements you like (yes, actually write them down), and how you might twist and adapt them for your personality and taste. Maybe even draw a sketch or two!
As independent bloggers we're naturally self-starters, so there's no reason you can't take the design of your blog into your hands. There are innumerable tutorials available online for just about any customizations you could want to make, whether you're on Blogger, WordPress, Typepad or something else.
Kira of Her New Leaf, has a blog that focuses on DIY, crafting, blogging – as well as a special section called “Primp My Blog.” (How cute is that?) Here you'll find her own guide and tools for all kinds of aspects of blog design from social and “Pin It” buttons to themes, favicons, fonts and even spring cleaning tips. (Also note that her blog is by no means all black-and-white, and has colorful flourishes everywhere, but is so easy to navigate!)
She notes that beyond the aesthetic appeal of your blog, there are some technical aspects to consider as well. “Knowing how your blog functions in different browsers and on different screen resolutions is essential!” says Kira. “Just because it looks good on your screen doesn't mean it will work everywhere.” She also added that many readers will access your blog through mobile, so it's key to make sure your site is optimized for mobile viewing.
Branding & Details
For Jess, establishing (or maintaining) your brand identity is a top priority. “Define your brand and stick to it as soon as you can! The more comfortable you get in your brand identity, the easier it will be to know what feels like you and what doesn't — and your readers will be able to see that. The more defined your aesthetic, the more honed-in you are on what makes you you, that's when a great brand emerges.“
Breanna's key to design success is putting a lot of thought into the little things. “Think about each and every detail you're putting out there,” she says. “Think about why you have it and if you need it. The quote “Keep things as simple as possible, but not simpler” by Einstein says it all! Good design will help your blog on so many levels. Are you proud of your blog? If not, think about how design can change things.”
image credit: Zack Zhang for Harper's Bazaar