Guest post by Marianne
Hi there! My name is Marianne and I blog about my life, my creative adventures and my love for nesting at Songbird. I am a DIY girl, who loves to get her hands dirty and experiment with power tools. I am also DIY when it comes to blog design. A couple of months ago I gave my blog a total makeover and Amanda invited me, after giving my blog design her two thumbs up (thanks Amanda!), to share some of my insights and experiences with homemade blog designing.
We home and craft loving gals are a visual bunch, aren’t we? We want our homes and creative products to be as beautiful as possible. And since our blog is our home on the web, most of us really want our blog to be as eye pleasing as possible too.
Of course there are many talented and gifted women out there who have specialized in giving your blog a makeover and making it really beautiful. But rightfully so, these women like to get paid for their creative talent and their hard work. If you are like me, a hobby blogger whose blog doesn’t generate any income (yet), paying someone to work on your blog may not really be in your budget. So you are left to you own devices to make your blog more beautiful. And trust me, it can be done!
But before we dive into the world of blog templates, HTML coding and navigational bars, lets do some groundwork first. Just like when you are considering to give a thrift shop find a makeover: before you can get your paintbrush out and decide on the paint color you are going to use, you have to consider the way you are intending to use the piece, if it is needing repairs and how many layers of old chippy paint and dirt you have to remove first.
The same principle applies to blog design. Before you start concentrating on the pictures you are going to use in your header and the color scheme of your blog there are five things you have to think about first:
I know you are all tempted to say ‘no I blog just for me, because I like it’. But lets face it girls if we really only blogged for ourselves we wouldn’t make our blog public, we would keep it a private (online) journal. We all want other people to read our blog and admire and enjoy our hard work. So whenever you are considering doing anything to your blog, ask yourself first if that will make the blogging experience for your readers more pleasant. Your blog design should include all the elements that make your blog really useful and usable to your readers.
I think if you asked most women in our home and garden blog niche why they love blogging they would answer two things: because of the inspiration it gives them and second because of the community it makes them feel a part of. You and your blog are part of that community. So your blog design should be aimed at showcasing your projects and ideas, so that they provide maximum inspiration (lot’s of BIG pictures is one element of this) and at the same time give your visitor’s a sense that they are truly welcome and that it is fun visiting with you.
Ever wonder why those pictures in design magazines always look so beautiful, even when they do not resemble your style? It is because of the lack of clutter. You might see a carefully draped blanket somewhere, or a casually forgotten book on a chair (with a coordinating cover color of course!), but you will never see hundreds of knickknacks, leftover breakfast dishes or dirty socks in those pictures.
If you consider the blog designs you like best, I bet that they are pretty clutter free also. There are so many gadgets, and widgets and funny buttons available to add to our blogs these days. It is really tempting to fill up your sidebars with all of them. But often they are just clutter. Clutter that is distracting your readers from your content and might even make your blog really slow to load. So when considering to add another cutesy button remember the first rule: your blog is for your readers, will adding it make you blog more useful or usable?.
When I started to give my blog a makeover I started the way I start any project. I looked at the way others have done it. So I started to make a list of blogs, whose design I liked and then I started to break it down. What kind of layout did I like best, which banner drew me in the most, when did the size of the font or the pictures feel too small, which elements did I find very useful (or annoying). And then I started to try and incorporate those elements in my blog (or in some cases remove them from my existing design). When I thought I was nearly finished I asked a friend for her opinion and her reply made me almost start over completely. She said, “I like it, it looks very good, but it doesn’t look like you anymore”. And she was right, I was making a blog design like all the others. It wasn’t ‘me’ anymore. So I worked on it a lot longer, making it less like a beautiful online ‘house’ and more like my personal online ‘home’.
If you would have unlimited time you could make your blog the most beautiful blog in the world. There is always another design element you could add, a functionality you could improve or an opportunity to add even more beauty to your design. But if you did that, you wouldn’t have any time to blog anymore. And no matter how beautiful the design of your blog is, people come to visit you for your content. Content comes first, design comes second. So do step into the world of HTML coding, it is not as difficult as you might think, but keep your expectations real. Fiddling with your blog design can be addictive (ask me how I know that) but if it starts to interfere with your actual blogging it is counterproductive.