If you are a blogger (or considering becoming one), blog design is something that is likely always on your mind. Bloggers are constantly trying to refresh their design because it’s the easiest way to breathe new life into a site and keep both our readers–and ourselves!–engaged. Whenever I am feeling unmotivated or start to lose some of my drive to blog, I first look at my design and start tweaking things. I changed my own design recently, as you can see, but I am still not satisfied and soon it will probably look completely different. Again.
When looking at my blog one of my biggest motivators has been my friend Casee Marie. Her design work for her own blog, The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower (and now her latest endeavor, Literary Inklings) has always seemed so effortless and such a perfect reflection of her personality and content. That is something I am still searching for myself, so I really look up to her and her sheer genius when it comes to blog design.
Which is why I am thrilled to bring you this guest post by Casee Marie… I know you’ll love it as much as I do!
Hello, Beautifully Invisible readers! I’m incredibly grateful to B for allowing me the opportunity to share my ramblings on blog design with you all. I’ve been privileged to receive great feedback on the designs of my blogs, and while this doesn’t make me any kind of authority on the subject I did want to share some of my thoughts, tips and tricks for getting your own great blog design – whatever your budget! These tips are primarily verbal; this isn’t necessarily a how-to, but more of an inspiration guide. For a bit more hands-on fun I’ll include some of my favorite resources as well!
Recognize exactly what you’re capable of – and what you’re not. Whatever you decide your best element of design is – if you can write a witty quip for your sidebar, or perhaps if you’ve got an eye for color – there’s a good chance you can work with it. For writers, learning to work with typography will give you the opportunity to make your writing into graphic design; for color lovers…we’ll talk about how you can work your magic a little later. If you’re not sure where your abilities really are, jot off an e-mail to a blogger friend and ask what they think you should focus your blog’s design on. (Just don’t ask me, ’cause I’m terrible at that sort of thing.)
When I was customizing the layout for my new literature blog (both of my sites run the Thesis theme) I was a constant visitor to The Bookworms (designed by Forever Design Studio) and The Ballroom Blog (designed by Jennifer Wu), two book-related blogs whose designs I especially adore. But you’ll notice that what I came up with on Literary Inklings doesn’t look a thing like them. The key is recognizing what you like – the softness of a color palette, the use of sidebar content, the openness of the entries. Then you can determine how to apply that inspiration to your design. Don’t be afraid to take a trip (or two or three) around the blogosphere to dredge up the inspiration!
A pixelated, low-quality header image will bring your blog’s entire look down. Resizing social networking icons through HTML code will make them look warped and awkward. (Making sure your images are the proper dimensions before you apply them will also help your blog load faster!) In my experience, both .JPG and .PNG files help images hold their quality; of course, programs like Photoshop generate high resolution imagery, but you can likely still create great images through freeware. I do recommend staying away from MS Paint, though, as you can literally see the quality dissipate on the image as soon as you save it. If you’re dealing with photography, make sure the pictures are the highest quality you can achieve and resize them in a program that will allow you to constrain the proportions (as in, it will do the math for you so you can resize an image without losing its shape).
Beyond the fact that you’ll be avoiding infringing on any artists’ copyrights, having a completely original blog design will help you to build your unique brand. If you don’t think you have the resources or ability to make an entire design yourself, you could always work with a designer! Get creative – if you can’t afford to pay someone, maybe you could work out a special sponsorship package in exchange for an original header image. (Keep in mind, though, that for a lot of blog designers their work may be their sole means of income so think carefully on it and don’t underestimate the importance of what they do!) For The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower‘s design, I couldn’t draw an Eiffel Tower by myself so to create the one in my logo I took a picture of an Eiffel Tower I own and worked it into clipart through Photoshop!
If you don’t feel equipped for the task of making your own header, buttons, etc. there are still plenty of options open to you. Working with color, I think, can create a great look. Why not make color your logo with a signature shade? Or use your own photography through your design. I’ve used my Eiffel Tower collectibles a lot in my design, photographing them with shoes and books to be used in various ways, including my Facebook timeline. Set yourself a nice bright, clean (preferably white) space and construct a little environment that reflects your blog (make sure to avoid showing any brand names, magazine editorials etc.). Incorporate your blog’s name, snap a picture, and you’ll have a header image! No fancy graphics needed.
Over-the-top designs can be fabulous when they’re done in the most practical way (for example: Delightfully Tacky). Look at your blog as if you’re a potential reader seeing it for the first time, or ask a friend to look at it objectively, and make sure your content is presented in a way that’s clear, legible and inviting. My best advice is that you can play around with header images and background patterns as much as you like, but keeping with a white content background and dark, dark grey text will keep your blog’s most important element free from feeling cluttered. (I’m not partial to flat-out black text on a white background unless you’re incorporating heavy black contrasts as a theme in your design. Otherwise black can look a little harsh!)
Who says you even want a header image? Or what if you want to put your header image in your sidebar? Or at the bottom of the blog? (Okay, I might not recommend that one, but you get the idea.) There’s no single formula to follow in order to have a nice blog design. So long as your design relays your brand, what you’re about, and maintains a convenient, practical aesthetic for readers you really can’t go wrong. That should be enough to inspire our creativity, right?
Font Squirrel – A great resource for fonts, everything available on Font Squirrel is free to use for commercial projects. (Each download includes the artist’s license so you can better understand their terms. Most request/require credit, which you can give in your footer or on a Resources page.)
Stock Exchange – If you really want to use images in your design, Stock Exchange is a great source for free stock photos. Be sure to double-check the availability restrictions set by the owner to make sure you’re handling the photo in the right way. For example, the owner of this photo asks to be notified whenever their work is used publicly.
ColourLovers – For those wanting to focus their design on color alone, ColourLovers is a must-have resource. Browse color palettes for inspiration, or to find colors that will work best for you. You can also find seamless patterns, perfect for background use. (Again, be sure to credit clearly – contacting the creator for use of patterns is especially appropriate, I think.)
Note: When working with colors the easiest way to go about it is to use the HEX codes. (For example, you’ll find the HEX codes for this palette under the individual colors further down on the page.) HEX codes are the HTML variant of color and are most often used in template and theme editors, such as Thesis on WordPress and Blogger’s template system. Because of the infinite number of colors in the HEX system, a resource like ColourLovers is perfect for building a palette that will compliment your content.
Pugly Pixel – Pugly Pixel is a fantastic design blog and a great resource for building your blog’s design. Browse the Freebies and Tutorials or the marketplace for inexpensive accessories. The Blog Bling Kit is an amazing grouping of some of the best of Pugly Pixel as well.
Photo-editing programs and softwares
PhotoFiltre – FREE! – While it doesn’t have a ton of capabilities, PhotoFiltre is an easy, quality way to optimize and resize your images, and a simple program for beginning your experimentation with graphic design.
PhotoImpression – $39.99 USD – I don’t remember much about this program, although as I recall I graduated to it from MS Paint when I was first teaching myself graphic design.
Paint Shop Pro X4 Ultimate – $59.99 USD (sale) – I love this program and would recommend it to anyone. It’s easy to use and experiment with and offers top elements like editing layers. This is a great step down monetarily from Photoshop without sacrificing performance.
And there you have it: my complete thoughts – or, a rather big portion of my thoughts – on blog design and how to make yours unique. I hope this was helpful, inspiring or at the very least an entertaining use of time for you readers. If you have any queries or just want to chat about blog design, feel free to drop me an e-mail!
Thanks for reading!
– Casee Marie