Create a Great-Looking Blog (When You Aren’t a Designer) - dummies

Create a Great-Looking Blog (When You Aren’t a Designer)

By Melissa Culbertson

Good designers don’t slap a design together. They think critically about each element that goes into the complete design, from the overall layout down to the colors.

You don’t have to be a design expert to whip up a nice-looking blog. Sure, you might want to know how to do this and that. The more you learn, though, the more you can add to your blog design over time, whether you’re enhancing the design or the functionality.

Strive for simplicity

What’s the sure sign of amateur designers? Overkill. Too many colors, too many fonts, too many different-sized thingamabobbers. Confident designers know that a blog design with minimal design elements can make a big statement.

As you work through your blog design, do a few self-checks periodically to ensure your design isn’t becoming too busy.

The blog In Jennie’s Kitchen presents a perfect example of a simple, clean, and effective blog design. The blog header uses only a warm, neutral color with a small blue line under her blog name. The small blog header size allows more of the photo from the most recent blog post to show, drawing your attention down into the content.

[Credit: © Jennie Perillo, In Jennie's Kitchen]
Credit: © Jennie Perillo, In Jennie’s Kitchen

Build a blog that’s intuitive

When you turn a doorknob, you instinctively know to turn it to the right. Because of this, you might be a little confused if you tried to open a door with a doorknob that turned to the left. Intuitive design means that your blog works in a way that most people expect it to, much like that doorknob.

For example, if a piece of text within a blog post is underlined, then most readers would try to click that text, expecting that it was a hyperlink that takes you to another page. A visitor looking to search for content on a blog looks for a search field, not a link or button that leads to a separate page to begin a search — or worse yet, they find no search box at all.

An intuitive blog design works so that visitors don’t need an instruction manual to get around the blog and find content that interests them. Part of achieving this means designing with website conventions in mind, like when to use underlined text, which signifies a link.

The other part of ensuring an intuitive design revolves around putting items visitors need within easy reach so they don’t have to dig too far, like a search box or a drop-down list of your categories.

Of course, you can’t ensure that every single person never has any problems navigating through your blog. However, you can find out a lot about your specific blog visitors through your blog analytics.

Keep design balanced

Is your blog header really “heavy” with design elements or text on one side but sparse on the other? Balance helps tie elements together so the design is more evenly weighted. The two types of balance are symmetrical and asymmetrical:

  • Symmetrical balance: Symmetry in design happens when a design is nearly the same on both sides of a central point. For example, you might have a design with a square on one side of a center line and a circle on the other side. That’s still symmetry. Symmetry in design can provide a sense of stability, harmony, and order.

  • Asymmetrical balance: Asymmetry just means the absence of symmetry. An asymmetrical design might have three design elements on one side and a large block of text on the other. Asymmetrical design creates interest and provides contrast. However, you don’t want a lopsided design, with several design elements on one side of your blog header and none on the other side.

You see asymmetrical blog designs more often than symmetrical, but both work when done well. These two header layouts show how balance can work in design. The layout on the top creates balance with a symmetrical design. On the bottom, the layout shifts the diamond to the left but provides balance with a large block of text beside the diamond.


Stay away from clutter

Think about that section of your house where papers, bills, and other things pile up. Wouldn’t it be easier to find that water bill if you had only 4 things sitting there and not 20?

One goal of good blog design is to draw attention to important parts of your blog, whether you want readers to notice an e-mail signup box or just your actual blog post. Think of clutter as attention’s arch-nemesis. Too much clutter scatters your reader’s attention all over the place.

When tweaking your blog design, you might find yourself adding “things” — especially to those sidebars. An affiliate banner ad there, a cool widget down there, a link to your most popular post over there, and so on. Next thing you know, your sidebar is stuffed with, well, stuff.

Sidebars are the main offenders, but clutter can be anywhere — in your blog header, your footer, or anywhere else you might want to add elements. This kind of clutter comes in the form of jumbling together too many design elements. For example, the individual design elements that make up a blog header might be well designed, but together they present no clear focus to make those elements work together.

The solution? Be ruthless in limiting what to add to your blog design. Good designers know that each element needs a purpose. You need a filter for what to include and what to remove. To help you filter, ask yourself these questions before adding new things to your blog design:

  • Does this design element solve a problem, like add balance to your design?

  • Are you adding a design element just to fill up space?

  • Does your overall design maintain a focal point when you add a new design element?

If you’re considering adding a functional element to your blog design, such as a special button or grouping of links, consider these questions:

  • How does this element fit into the purpose of your blog?

  • Does this element support one of your blog goals?

  • Is there a more effective place for this?

When you become deliberate in your design, you see that not everything deserves a spot in your blog design. Your design will be stronger for it!