22 October 2013

Beginner Blogger's Bootcamp: Week Three: Blog Design

The Beginner Blogger's Bootcamp is a series of posts published once a week on Monday evenings. It is designed for new bloggers, those thinking of starting a blog, or seasoned bloggers wanting a refresher, and covers everything from starting a blog to photographing your nails to using social media. Check out past posts in this series.

Hi bloggers! Blog design was something I had not originally planned to deal with in this series. Yet, last week when I was writing about blogging platforms, it became clear to me that it was something that needed to be addressed. New bloggers often feel letdown by a lack of visitors to their blog. They concern themselves with the quality of their photographs or needing to show the latest polishes. But one thing that is often overlooked is blog design.

Blog design is more than just the look of your blog - it is the overall arrangement of your blog. It includes how things are organized and how viewers navigate your blog. A poor blog design can not only turn people off, but it can also make them very frustrated.

Necessary Components of the Well-Designed Blog

Consider this: you've just found a new blog and you want to search their site for nail art designs, only to find that they have no search box. Or perhaps you want to contact the blogger to see if they'd be interested in doing a guest post, or participate in a challenge, yet there's no apparent email or contact form. I know I've had similar experiences.

Setting up a blog is a lot of work, yet neglecting key components will only make it difficult for your visitors to navigate your site. In addition to the basic elements such as a header, the blog posts, and the comments box, here's a list of components that are important to have:
  • Contact info. If you don't want to use your personal email, set up a free Gmail or Hotmail address for your blog.
  • A search box. So that people can search your blog.
  • Social media icons. People need to know how to follow your blog!
  • An "About" paragraph on your front page, or a separate About page. People will want to know a little bit about you. Or if it's not clear from your homepage, they may need more information on what your blog is about.
  • An archive of past posts. Some bloggers organize this by months (a list of blog posts published each month), others organize it by tags. Either way is fine. If people like your blog they might be interested in perusing old content - make it easier for them. 

Think about arranging these elements in the most logical way. For example, your search box can go next to your archive of past posts. Or include your email in your "about" blurb.

The Nailasaurus (link) uses a very clean design with social media icons towards the top and blog pages clearly visible.

*Exercise: Which blogs appeal to you?*
Write down 2-3 blogs that you find visually appealing and don't have a problem navigating. For each one think about: 
  • What first attracted you to that blog?
  • On the home page, where is your eye drawn to?
  • What colours do they use?
  • How have they arranged the different elements (ex. blog posts, sidebar, social media icons)? Do they use one sidebar or two? And are they on the right side, left side, or both?
  • Is it cluttered or is it very neatly organized? Can you find things?

Vampy Varnish (link) uses a retro theme and a limited colour palette of robin egg blue, cream, and brown. Advertisements don't distract from the content of the blog or the design.

Blog Design Basics

Designing, or redesigning a blog is a topic that could easily fill a book. Much of that information is usually only helpful to intermediate/advanced bloggers. For a beginner blogger, it's good to have some guidelines but too much can be overwhelming. So for the new blogger, here are some tips to keep in mind when designing your blog:
  1. Keep your design very clean and uncluttered. Many bloggers have a tendency to add lots of widgets, ads, plug-ins, etc. so that the blog is not only difficult to read, but also takes forever to load. When it comes to blog design, less is more.
  2. Choose the right font. Do not choose a font for your blog posts that is very difficult to read. Avoid overly cursive or unusual fonts. Also avoid white font on a dark background - it is not only difficult to read but it makes the eyes tired. Stick to a dark font on a white/light background.
  3. Put things that are most important near the top of your blog. An example would be your social media icons, or your email subscription box. 
  4. Use a cohesive colour scheme. Whether you decide to use a monochromatic colour scheme (one colour plus black and white), analogous colour scheme (colours close to each other, i.e. blue and purple), or some other colour arrangement, stick with that arrangement throughout your blog. For example, Very Emily (http://www.emilydenisephotography.com/blog/) has a predominantly purple blog header, and she also uses purple in her social media icons, blog titles, and sidebar headings. 
  5. Organize your blog posts so they are easier to read. Avoid long paragraphs - instead break them up into smaller paragraphs. You may also want to use formatting elements like headings, sub-headings, and bulleted lists in order to make your blog posts easier to read and skim. Most people skim blog posts so it's a fact of life. 

Very Emily (link) puts a clear welcome message at the top of her sidebar, with her email address clearly visible and social media icons that match her header. This draws your eye from the header to the social media icons.

How To Get the Design You Want

Luckily there is enough information and templates out there so that you don't have to hire a blog designer. If you decide to go into blogging professionally, hiring a blog designer can be a good investment, but when you are starting out, you should avoid putting money into your blog until you know you are very serious about it and have been blogging for at least several months. 

Both Wordpress.com (the hosted version) and Blogger have very intuitive set-ups for changing your site design. Wordpress has different themes, while Blogger lets you change the arrangement, background, colours and fonts. Even something like creating a collage of your nail art designs, with your blog name added, can make a nice, and personalized header.

If you are having a hard time finding a template or theme to suit your blog, you may also want to peruse the following sites. Some templates are free while others are not. I would advise not paying for a template until you know you are serious and plan to stick with your blog. If you blog at Wordpress.com you can't upload a custom theme, however, there are more than 200 themes available for Wordpress (http://theme.wordpress.com/).

Blogger Templates:
BTemplates: http://btemplates.com/ (free)
Shabby Blogs: http://shabbyblogs.com/ (free)
Blogger Templates Hub: http://bloggertemplateshub.com/ (free)
Splashy Templates: http://www.splashytemplates.com/ (free)
Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/ (not free, usually around $40, just search for "Blogger templates")

Final Thoughts

Blog design doesn't have to be complicated. Just remember that less is more - keep your site clean, uncluttered and well organized, so that the focus is on your content and not your site or your background. If you want to go beyond the basics, you can always redesign your site after you have gotten a handle on writing and publishing blog posts. Remember, good blogs develop over years. It's very cliche, but it's just like the expression: "Rome wasn't built in a day!"

How do you feel about blog design? Is it something that's very important to you, or not at all?

See also:


  1. This was a great post! I think a the design can make or break a blog for me. If it's complicated, I won't bother reading it. But sometime's its hard to know what works for other people. I'm a student majoring in Graphic Design and designing for my blog was still something that I struggled with. I still struggle with it, I've only had my blog for 2 months but I still tweak things constantly. I use a blogger template and put my design work into it, I'm actually learning how to code websites in school and think it would be interesting to design my site from scratch but for now, I'm fine with the template haha! Also, sorry for the essay haha

  2. This is something I spend quite a bit of time on, haha. I'm always tweaking little details and trying to make my blog as clean, and easy to navigate as possible!

    Loving this series of posts so far, thank you!

  3. Thanks for doing a post on blog design! It helped me out alot. It also brought to my attention that I was missing widgets (ie. search box) that I originally thought I already had. :)

  4. Love this series, great examples :)

  5. This is such a great post and definitely something that I need to work on!

  6. Since I'm from a creative/visual background like yourself (film/photography), bad design can really ruin a blog for me and even if the content is A+, if the design's not there then I can't really get into it. It's awfully shallow of me but that's how the cookie crumbles! I'd like to think that my blog looks well but I'm sure there's something drastically wrong with it LOL

  7. Thank you so much for doing this, it helps me a lot :)

  8. Another helpful article. Thank you! It is hard to objectively review one's own blog - but you write out very clear things to look for and make it easier to see through the "personal goggles".

  9. For me some of the most frustrating things that I have experienced when navigating a blog are the lack of a search box, no archived posts, no social media icons/links and no way to contact the blogger at all. I rarely revisit those. Over all design can definitely be a selling point if you randomly land on a blog, regardless of content. Of course good content is what keeps you there, and keeps you coming back. But, the first impression on the landing page is a HUGE factor in checking out the content in the first place. It's like having a great magazine without an eye catching cover.

  10. I have been thinking about re-vamping my blog design for the past week or so and have actually been playing around with various backgrounds that I would like to try. I would suggest that if you already have a blog like myself that you set up a dummy one and just play around on it. It makes it much easier to transition and it's a great way to decide what you like best.

  11. This series has been so very helpful and greatly appreciated. I'm still trying to find the most ideal tempate. Thank you so much for the links. You did an awesome job on this series.


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