Blog Design: You Can Make It Beautiful

June 28, 2012 by Michelle

I love my little bloggy home.  It’s been a great place to put up my feet and stand on my soapbox for years.  Is it perfect?  Well, of course not, and I don’t pretend that it is.  For a long time, it’s been good enough, but I want to do so much more with it.  I want to get all my social media buttons up there.  I’m tired of the background I have right now and want the whole design to be cleaner.  I know this, and at Type A Conference, I was able to take some steps towards doing this.  I already posted my recap from the blog coding session I attended that turned most of it from Greek to say Spanish for me.  The next logical step was  blog design (a link to a .pdf of their slides).  Love the tips.

I have also posted other Type A Conference recaps:
Keynote session with Chris Garrett
Don’t Rank Me: Getting Past Scores and Numbers with Kelly Whalen and David Binkowski
Time Management with Amy Bair
Taking Over the World with Google+ with Lynette Young
Vlogging for Bloggers: From Keyboard to Camcorder with Christie Crowder
Blog Coding with Peter Pollock and Caitlin

Blog Design: You Can Make It Beautiful
Laurie Smithwick @upsideup
Mel Culbertson @melaculbertson
Brittany VanderLinden @brittanyvandy

Laurie:  I’m going to teach you to win at blog design.  I run a graphic design firm in Charlotte.  I can teach you how to make your blog beautiful.  I don’t blog anymore, but I did when I had free time.  I was a graphic designer since 1993.  These were in the days when computer courses were not required.  I’ve been working with Photoshop since version 2.0.  I’ve been in love with graphic design since I found out that it was a thing when I was 12.  I worked in the music industry doing CD package design.  Since right now the most fun thing in the world is online, that’s where I spend my time.

Brittany: I will tell you what looks really good on a site, what to pay for what not to pay for, and what works well on a site.  We’ll get into a lot of things that are easy to put in the back of your head and use on your site when you have the time or inclination and give you tips and tricks and things to avoid on your site.

Mel: I got into blogging in 2009.  I blog at Adventuroos.com and another Momcomm.com.  I also have a blog critique site, too.

Why Blog design Matters
You’ve got a blog, and your blog is filled with content.  Why does it matter whether or not your design looks good?  Back in 2004 and 2005, the key was that we were getting online and that was so cool and empowering, the fact that we coul publish our words online was amazing.  Slowly people started making their sites look better and better, and that was a mystery how they did it.  It still is somewhat of a mystery how you have everything work together to make a good design.

What you need to do to make your blog an amazing space is to make it look good.  People like things that look good.  It’s why iPhones sell well.  It’s why Macs sell well.  If you are writing great content and your great has a great design, then you have a great blog.

You’re working away at night on your blog.  You’re picking colors and choosing fonts and widgets and sidebars.  In your mind, it’s going great and you’re a WordPress mastermind, and in your mind, your blog is gorgeous and it zings and it has pretty fonts and pictures.  Then you hit save and view your blog, and you’re shocked that it’s not what you thought.  The fonts are awful, and it’s crowded.  Everything is wrong with the site.

What is it that we designers know that enable us to know how to make sites that zing and pop?  It’s a really easy answer.  There are rules to web design and to graphic design, lots of rules.  There are a fairly finite number of rules.  What differentiates you from us is that we know all those rules and we follow them religiously.  We don’t break the rules.

The top 10 biggest design mistakes
We want to get this out of the way so we don’t talk negatively.  We want you to know if you have any of these mistakes, so you can take care of them right away.

Mel: I’ve done 75 blog critiques, and I’ve seen many of the same mistakes and issues over and over again.

1) Sizing issues – a header that is so big with no navigation.  Everything above the scroll bar is above the fold.  Do you see just an image with no way to get around there, or do you see something that you can navigate?  Things can also be too small, not necessarily the header – it could be the font is too small and it’s hard to read.
2) Lack of sharing buttons – Someone reads a post that they love and you can’t find the buttons to share with all their Twitter followers.  If you want people to spread what you wrote, you need to have the buttons not just when you go into the post but up at the top of your posts so that they can get to the sharing easier.
3) Mismatched purposes – Maybe you’re very humorous and your blog is very dark.  It can also be a mismatch that it doesn’t fit with your goal. If you want to do freelance writing, it is a blog that has nothing that says “I can freelance with you or I want to do advertising”  Think about that as you look at your blog.  What are you trying to accomplish, and does your design and what you have in your naviagation say what you have in your blog?
4) Lack of images – Just about evey blog post you write should have an image in it.  It can be more than just no images in the design, but in your content, too.  It gives your eyes a break.  We like something to focus on beyond just text.
5) Clutter – If you have a lot of blog badges, look at your sidebar and see what’s helping you meet your goals.  Do you say that you’re a contributing writer, or do you just toss up the badge?  People don’t know if you’re advertising or just a big fan.    If you have too many blog badges in your sidebar, you’re taking people away.  If there’s something important to you, you can keep it but maybe take something else away.
6) Formatting – The first paragraph I ever wrote was how to improve your writing without improving your writing.  Online we skim, we look at bullets and want things in chunks.  You may just type it all out, but when you preview it, look for places to rest.  Where can I add images and make breaks for the readers.
7) Fonts – Is that a Comic Sans font?  There may be plenty of fonts you love, but they may not fit the style of your writing.
8) Poor Images – Food blogging needs good images.  If it’s dark or not well composed, it may not speak to how good that food is.  If you have a tiny picture and you try to blow it up, it may look pixelated.  There are some that are really overused images, too.  You don’t want to use either the same stock images (cartoon moms) or same images in lots of posts.
10) Old Stuff – “I’m going to TypeA 2011!”  Lots of times we forget what we have on our sidebar.  Schedule some time every month or so to look at your site to see if there is anything that is old or outdated or that you’re not doing any more, take it off your site.

Under the hood
Brittany: I’m going to talk not only about how people see your blog but how search engines see your blog.  The very foundation is what goes beneath your images, and you want that as clean as possible.
Behind the scenes, Google and other search engines read your blog.  They can’t see pictures, so they see only the text adcode.  A header should see the name of the header and a simple image location that it has an H1 tag associated with it so that Google knows that this is important.  Google knows that your name is important to your blog.  The same thing happens when you use titles and subheaders.  

You want to view your blog in source to check to ensure that what Google is seeing is important is what’s important to you.   If you’ve been blogging for a long time, you need to be able to make the coding look right, especially for widgets.  Or you have badges that you want to show and one is 50 pixels and one is 75 and they don’t look good together.  You will get a badge design in html and simply paste it onto your site.  Don’t do that; check to make sure that all your badges are the same width and that they are all justified the same way.  

CSS is what modifies your blog’s design colors and layout.  It’s good to know how to look at your CSS on your site.  You will not break your site with CSS.  You can with PHP but not CSS.  I like this color pink, but I don’t know how to change it or I don’t know how to center my nav bar.  Look at what your blog thinks your header is called in your CSS and then change that.

PHP is where you break your blog.  Back up your blog before you change any of this.  If you have the energy and desire to do it, you can make major functionality changes to your blog yourself. It’s amazing what you can do to make your site work the way you want to.

This a header (we see the view of it).  Behind the scenes, you want the search engines to see what you want them to see.  If you change the blog name, you need to ensure that the coding source behind that has the right tags behind it.

There is a plug in in Firefox called Firebug that allows you to see how your site is laid out.  You can change things on your blog for pretend without actually making it different.  You right click on area of the blog, and it gives you the CSS and the code behind that element.  It also shows you the layout button that will show you the size and margins and padding that it had built in so you can figure out how you may want to change it.  On any blog where you love the way it looks, you can look up in general terms how they did it and how you can do it on your site.  Google Chrome has something similar to Inspect Elements to do something very similar.  If you don’t have the money for a high end designer, check out some blogs you like to see what others have done to get some pointers before you get to your own site.

For SEO purposes and for reader purposes, you want to see the important things first.  Right away, you want to ensure that any theme you have isn’t interrupted by the layout you have so that Google still sees your content and categories first.  SEOBrowser.com will help you check this.  You can check any blog you want with this.

Planning is key
You want to think about what you’re putting on your blog and what you’re not.  What is your content and what is linking to other’s content?  If you have a product you’re selling or something that you want there – your subscriptions, etc., are they where you want them?  Make sure you plan out space for your ads, those mostly are prescribed where they can go.  Brand ambassadorships and conference badges and such, put them further down.  How many do you want, and where you do you want them?  Blog rolls should really be on a separate page.

Think about your links (RSS/Social Media icons, email subscriptions/newsletters, categories, highlighted posts, search, your shop or product, facebook interaction) versus links to others (paid ads, ambassador badges, blog badges, conference badges, blog rolls, charities).  If it doesn’t load in a second, people will go to another site instead.  Make sure that you’re not loading down your site with blog links that have to pull from elsewhere that slow things down.

Don’t have too many categories.  It’s really hard for parent bloggers because we write so many things, but you need to have some focus for your readers and for Google to know what you’re writing about.  Try to not have too many categories – no more than 10 and preferably fewer.

If there are blogs you really like and read, you can put them on a resource page.  If you have an area of expertise, you can link up other resources on that page that lead your readers to other sites that have great content.

Consider where you put each element.  Most blogs have a header, content, sidebar, and footer.  Think about this when you color it out and doodle it in.  Everything is up top for Dear Chrissy; she has a great design with everything that is compact.  She doesn’t have too many colors, and she has pictures telling people what to read next rather than the links to other posts with text.  She has a great place and visibilty to her Facebook and other social media buttons.  Your colors have to fit you.  It still needs to be a well designed site, and you have to like it yourself.  Know that not everyone will like your colors or your design or even your writing, and that’s ok.

Make it easy to use
Mel:  How many times have you been to a blog and you couldn’t find where to comment or where to share a post or where to go after you read that post?  It’s because they made it hard to get around the site.  You want to have good functionality and navigation so they can see and then want to share your content.

Think about the things you use every day.  Navigation is the force field.  If it isn’t good, it keeps your content where it is.  With Zappos you have two way free shipping so you can try multiple shoes.  Starbucks you can load money from Paypal onto the app and hold your phone up to the cashier to pay.  They’ve made it easy, and you can, too.  For this presentation, did you see that we put our twitter handles on the bottom of each slide?

You want to make it easy toget around your site.  You want to keep people within three clicks.  If there are no breadcrumbs or trail, there’s no way to get back out.  You don’t want to click home and go all the way there, just back a little.  Make sure it’s easy to do that.  It means there is extra work on the back end, but it’s worth it.  Think of the Starbucks app – they didn’t just toss something out there; they did hard work, and it’s great.

Think about going into Target.  Think about all the products as the posts on your blog.  You want people to be able to find your content.  Target has endcaps to showcase things.  You want to do the same for your popular posts – things that are trending right now or are seasonal.  People will read your most current post.  If they really like it, they’ll want to see what else you’ve done.  There are widgets and pages you can create, but make sure they can easily find other popular content.

Related posts – you want to have things available.  It’s like the little widgets at the bottom of posts.  In Target, it’s having the toys near batteries.  Maybe you wrote a two part series, then ensure you link your first post into the second one to ensure others can find them.

The categories are like the areas in target, but you want to keep them 10 and under so they aren’t overwhelming for others.  In Blogger, you have labels.  Category is the recipe, label is the chicken.  You can sometimes create subcategories.  What Google sees with categories is that the fewer categories you have, the more authority you have in those categories. If you have 90 categories and 2 posts in each, then you have little authority per Google.  If you have fewer tags and more posts in each of those tags, Google knows that you have more authority there.  Go with fewer labels – use them as categories.

Your eye can’t focus on a 90 category drop down list, but it can on a 10 item list, so it helps readers, too.  You can delete categories, but look to see what categories those posts might fit in instead.  There are plug ins to help you recategorize tags instead of doing them manually.  You can also go into your WordPress editor and pull up a category and then bulk edit them, too.  Convert things to tags instead, and that’s where you can put more details.  Subcategories are ok, too.  Think about how often you click on someone else’s tag cloud – is it valuable to even have one?

If you have a structure on your blog with the date and the name of the post, that’s fine.  However if you have tags as a part of the permalink and change the the tags, you will have to do a 301 redirect.  If ProBlogger links to your site and you have changed your site, then you want to ask them to update the link.  Look to see if there are any big sites that have linked to you, and that’s where you want to ensure that they have updated their links to you.  There is some disagreement over whether just doing a 301 redirect works just as well.

The search box is like “I know I need to get that particular thing.”  Instead of walking down the aisles, you ask someone in Target. You want to be sure you have a functional search box.  It should be above the fold and very easy to find.  Sometimes, someone may have come to your site and they had to go offline and want to find it again, so they’ll want to search.  Make it easy for them.  A lot of people have it in their header.

Featured pages.  That relates to the popular posts.  Right after Type A last year, I did a blog business card series.  I ended with a blog business card showcase. It’s still relevant this year, but it was unless someone happened to see it under blogging, they would never find this series.  Instead, I pulled those posts out and created a separate page and created a graphic on my home page saying “Bloggy business card series” that has then a nice landing place for someone who is interested in these.

Archives?  I can understand the value of them, but your sidebar is valueable real estate.  There aren’t many people who will click through your posts that way.  People will love your cloth diaper post and want to find more about that, but they are less likely to go through to see what you wrote last February.  If you have a good search button, this is even less necessary or helpful.

Finding your posts.  There are some people who have taken some of the things that you’re known for and pulled them out to create the categories with an image or some sort of call out instead of just doing a drop down menu.  It makes it easier to find the posts that you wrote.  Visually, it doesn’t always have to be perfect.  Have a navigation bar for your big categories and then clicking on it goes to those posts.  If you have a frequently asked questions, ensure there’s a link there.  If you’re a food blogger, what are the top ingredients you use, what are your favorite tools?  Have those in another page.

Avoid large amouts of text on dark backgrounds.  As far as reading long blog posts, it hurts our eyes to read.  Use simple fonts for large blocks of text.  While you might have a pretty font for your header or your blog title, you don’t want a scripty font or all caps for your blog post itself.  You want something simple for reading.

Format your subheadings, bullets, and paragraphs.  Think of it as design to help tell your story and make it more visually appealing.  If I said something like “My heart stopped.” If that’s at the end of a paragraph, it doesn’t have the same impact as if it’s a a stand alone sentence in its own paragraph.

Don’t forget to use images in your posts.  It really makes a difference.

Where is the comment button on your site?  Most likely, people read the post and then want to comment.  I’ve seen sites where you read it and then have to scroll up to the top to comment.  That’s fine if people are coming back and want to post or you get 50 comments on a post.  It’s awesome if you see that people get that excited about your writing, but make sure there is also a comment link on the bottom.  Also have the button to post comments on the home page of your site and not within the post, so people can comment without having to read the post, then click on the title and scroll down before they can comment.  You want to make it easy to interact with you.

Think about blog moderation.  Don’t do it, as it provides a look of mistrust between you and the reader.  Use Akismet or something similar instead.  It is so easy and so smart, and it learns your rules.  If you don’t have it, install it now. If you are not a business, you don’t have to pay.  There is a free account there; you just have to search around their site to find it.  Or use WordPress Ban where  you can ban certain IP addresses.  There is another one from CommentLuv called GrowMap Anti Spambot Plugin that is a “click here if you’re not a spammer” where you can make that really fun.

Blogspot: If you have a blogger blog, you have various options of letting people comment.  If you don’t have a name/URL option for commenting, it makes it really hard for WordPress people to comment because it takes you to creating a blogger blog instead of your gmail account.

Don’t do word verification, especially if you do giveaways.  Turn it off.  It’s incredibly limiting if you’re commenting on a site, and it’s so hard to read.  It’s making the barrier between the reader and the blog greater.  You want to remove the barriers from getting people to do what you want on your site.  Word verification is painful.

Sharing
You have to have sharing on your sites.  We’re not just bloggers.  We’re online all over and we want to be able to have those discussions wherever we are, not just on your blog.

Customize this when necessary.  You want to them to be customized to go into the settings to have it all connected to your actual posts.  You don’t want to have it a “via” one.  Don’t give Share This your credit.  Don’t make people cut and copy your post title and then your URL to be able to share it.  Use Dig Dig or Share This or Sociable, etc.  They are very easy to use and customize.

Do you have “too much jam?”  There was a store that would do taste tests. They had 24 jams and then 6 jams.  With 24, 60% stopped and 3% purchased.  They did a test and put out only 6 jams to sample instead of 24.  With 6, 40% stopped but 30% purchased.  Give people a choice, but not too many.  Everyone will win.

Calls to action.  Think about one action – do you want them to follow you on Twitter?  Like your Facebook page?  Give them one simple thing to do but not too many.  You can create a document that has all this and then rotate out your call to action periodically.  For every post, take five to ten minutes to think about what you want to do and how the SEO engine and the like will interpret what you’re trying to do.

Sharing buttons – don’t have too many of them.  How many of the ones out there that you have never heard of?  Select the ones where your readers are – G+, Facebook, InShare, LinkedIn, Pinterest, wherever your readers are.

What’s in a design
Laurie: It’s all about layout, fonts, colors and themes.  Here are some cheekily written tips:

Look your readers in the eye.  You want to get their attention, so see where they’re looking and then put your stuff there.

Establish a hieracrchy.  Make it easy for your readers to know what you want them to see first, make it bigger or brighter or bolder.  Make it a rule so that they always know what to do first and second
Whitespace is your friend.  You do not need to fill up every space.  If you do, your reader won’t know where to look.  Give your content space to breathe.

Be consistently consistent.  Once you’re sitting down and working on your website, you will sit down and make up your rules.  If you always make your headlines red, always make them red.  If you always do black and white photos, always do that because that will affeect the mood of your site. That will help your readers move their way aorund your site most easily.

Remember how your art history teacher told you that artists told you how to enter and exit a painting and how to move around the painting?  If you look at this painting, you start looking by the door with the bright light next to the pitch dark.  Your eye will keep moving because it wants to move around; we move around constantly.  You want to put your most important things where they eye rests.

As designers, we want to help our readers move their eyes around.  What’s interesting about looking at websites, is that we look at the same things. Heat maps study impressions from your eyes where your eyes are looking.  Every single one of the heat maps is the upper left to start. Because we read from left to right and top to bottom.  You want your logo or blog title to be at the top of the page, skewing to the left side.  After that, you can see where things move down and to the right, then the move to the middle of the bit.  You notice that for a lot of the business websites, there isn’t much happening on the right side, but for blogging this is different.  Get your content and title in the upper left.

Basic Lefty Layout
1        2
2        3
Here, the logo at the top is number one, then left sidebar and rest of the top is the same weight (2), then move to the 3 area.  On other sites, you can put pictures much bigger that are the ones you want people to look at first.  Size is a great way to say to someone that this is more important than something else.  Lots of blog themes have galleries built into them now, so you can have just a page of imagees you want to show off.

The Righty
1
2        3
Big header at the top, link and such on the sidebar, and the content in a big chunk on the left.  By what is more narrow versus wider, you can see what is more important.  You can use color as a style element to differentiate the hierarchy, too.

The Hug
1
2        3        4
You still have your big header at the time, and then you have 2 sidebars (2 and 4) with the content in the middle (3).  If you aren’t very clear as to what’s on the left versus what’s on the right, it isn’t clear what’s where.  Some people have all their self promotion on one side and outside links/ads on the other side.  If you do this, make sure you don’t make people dizzy looking at them.

There are now landing pages more often.  If someone comes to find you and they just find your blog, you want to be sure they also know you’re teaching photography classes online.  A lot of people allow you to still get to your blog but then also have the other interests/businesses listed so that those are not lost anywhere.

A standard browser is 1024 wide.  Don’t make things a lot bigger or a lot smaller.  990 should be your outer limit of what you should have for your blog content across all columns to ensure everyone can see your page without scrolling.  Take a look at how far people can see above the fold.  Make sure your stuff fits there and fits well.  If you don’t, your things won’t be seen.  Your content is your major thing on your blog.  Make sure it’s bigger than your sidebar.  Especially with double sidebars where you have a smaller content window, be careful on your sizes.

If you look at your analytics, you can see  what the majority of your readers’ moniitor resolutions are.  You can see the lowest common denominator – now it’s 1024×768.  If you’re using a new computer, you’re using a higher resolution so change your resolution to that lowest common denominator and then make sure you see what they’re seeing on your site so yo know what’s falling below the fold.

Fonts and Your Design
Fonts are communicating things about you before  you’ve said a word.  They know if you write in all script or all clean fonts, and that’s saying something about you.  Fonts are not a way to make things look more designed.  If you use too many, it’s a great way to make sure people know you aren’t a designer. You never want to use more than 3 fonts in anything.  Two is better.  If you can make it 1 with other colors and sizes and bolding, that’s winning.  We’re in a post modern time where we like things clean.  Do it if you can.

Don’t use clashing fonts.  If you’ve chosen Georgia as your body font, don’t use Times in your header. They’re so similar, so there’s no reason to change the font.  If you’re going to do something different, use a sans serif font.

The world of fonts online is changing.  Next year, I’ll be saying something different.  You need to specfiy one of those safe 16 or so fonts at least as your secondary fonts so that they can be a backup.  (Georgia, Times, Arial, all those basic ones that come with the Microsoft set).  Say you really love the font Avaneer but the majority of the world doens’t have it, then make sure you specify Arial as the second font so that those who don’t have it on their computer don’t get something you don’t want them to have.  This is something that you change in your CSS.  All the ones in that font list list should all be the same family of fonts.  You don’t want them to be so different that someone who doesn’t have your first font will make your blog not look how you want it to look.  You do want to specify something because Times or Courier are what is the browser standard, and you don’t want people to see your page in that font.

FontSquirrel is a great source for web fonts.  There is a great new thing called Type Kit that just got bought by Adobe, which constantly acquires expensive fonts.  You then pay Type Kit a very small fee – there is a free version for small traffic, a low fee one for medium traffic like a million hits a month, and then there’s another version.  You can get the medium one for $50 per year. They have an enormous and constantly growing list of really good fonts.

What this means is that means FontSquirrel is hosting the fonts on their servers, and you’re just linking to them so everyone sees it.  You can specify the font, and everyone in the world sees that font exactly the way you want them to.  Your theme may have things preset for  your H1 and H2 – for example, your theme says that the character spacing should be X, which may make a font you want to use look wrong because the natural spacing for that font is different. If you, you need to adjust it so that your style sheet and blog know what you’re using and it clears up those issues.  The biggest downside is that every so often their sites are down and then sites look awful.  Google web fonts are not always great but the fonts are usually free.  They may not be built as well as the vetted fonts coming into the Type Kit is bringing in.

There are a lot of mobile themes.  WordPress Touch is great and so instant, but it has all your fonts over ridden with their CSS.  If you want to do your fonts, then you may have to go into the CSS for that plug in and update it.  Now you’re getting into responsive web design so that it shrinks and shrinks, depending on your screen size.

Fonts communicate in various ways.  Each font conveys a different image.  You want your font to convey who you are.  You can play around to see what works and doesn’t work.  Look at dafont.com that is a huge site filled with free fonts.  They organize their fonts by descriptive words like childike or graffiti or grungy to give you a little bit of education.  Spend an hour playing around there to see what they convey and help you choose your fonts.

Make sure you choose a font that is easy to read.  Sans serif is the easiest to read.  Times New Roman is tight and weirdly hard to read.  You lose some of the serifs on small screens and they look blurry.

Colors:
Mel: The same rules apply as fonts.  Don’t overdo it on color.  Even if you’re doing a rainbow you can do it with 5 colors and not 19.  There are some great color palette sites, and Mel is going to write a post about this to share tonight.

Use colors to do things on your site.  They don’t need to be just purely decorative.  Make rules.  If you use red, it’s a search term, if I use blue it’s headlines.

Take photos of things and pull out colors from there to create palettes, too.  You can pull out shades of a single color to make it look like you’re using more colors than you are, providing you choose to use them not wildly.  If you are a big bold person, go with that big bold color.  You can embrace it, but check your taste level and be sure that your taste level matches.  Ask around if you aren’t sure.  Ask someone whose taste you trust.

You can find those color palettes from your lunch or a building you pass on the way to work or even your kid at the park.  It’s amazing how unifying the world is.  You can pull them out so easily.  There are actually sites that can pull out the hexcodes for colors in a photo so you can use them.

Buy the DesignHire It, Buy It, DIY It

Buying A Designed Template
Mel:   I admit that I don’t know tons of code and most comes from print design.  I bought a framework (Genesis now, Thesis originally).  You can buy a framework that requires a little more tweaking on your side.  It’s the bones on your site that you can change to move things around where you want them to be so that it reflects who you are.  There’s also Headway and Canvas in addition to Genesis and Thesis.  With them, you can then add a skin that’s a litlte more design-y.  Many of the frameworks are very bare bones.  You can also buy just a design flat out and then change colors and logos, but you’re not doing it from scratch.  It’s less expensive than buying a custom design, and there’s lots of functionality built in.  Many look great.
  
You can go to Studiopress.com and then to the marketplace to buy Genesis designs.  Thesis hasn’t been updated in awhile, and if you’re someone who really likes to tinker and play with code, Thesis may be a good choice because you have to figure a lot of things out where Genesis has a lot of things already done for you.  Genesis is so much more elegant and beautiful.  If you do want to tinker, it’s harder to do it in Genesis because the tools aren’t built in to do that.  Genesis is working on building up their forums and support groups.  If you don’t want to go under the hood and not want to think about it much, then Genesis might be a better choice, but it’s a personal choice.

Hire a Designer
Laurie: Hiring a designer or a programmer is expensive.  If you like to get in under the hood of your blog and it’s fun for you, do not hire someone.  If you hire someone, they may have opinions.  They will never tell you that your blog looks great and we don’t need to change anything.

A lot of people take a journey – they start off with their blogger them and then their wordpress them and then a year or two later, they say they’re not a designer, I just want to write.  That’s when I get a phone call.  “I’ve reached the limit of what I want do and just want to write.”  That’s a great time to hire a designer because you can tell them exactly what you want.

Yes, they’re going to design it, but before that, you can make special requests.   You get to say what matters to me.  Your site is going to be unique.  In theory – and it depends on the designer you hire – the design will look like your website and not a theme.  A lot of people have the sites where they look just like the themes that are out there, but the colors are different.  With a designer, at 2am you have support when your site isn’t working.  You can say you need help and because you’ve paid them, they’re still going to be on your team to keep the site looking good.

For example, I have a client loves layers and is a fashion designer.  She makes inspiration boards and layers her clothes.  This comes across very clearly, so the site got designed cleanly but with the spirit of layers.

If you’ve reached the point where you just want to get back to writing or you’ve reached the end of your ability and want to go further, that’s when you call another designer.

DIY Your Design
Brittany:  You can do a combination of these by hiring a designer to do your header or buttons and then put them on your site.  I know exactly what I want, and I couldn’t get that from a designer.  I was so frustrated and I would have trouble working with a friend because I needed to get what I want.

You can do DIY blog design piece by piece and learn it bit by bit.  You can buy just a header or just a layout and then ask people to teach you to do different things.  What if I want to get into my font or change my color?  Sometimes your agreement with your designer runs out and you want to change something.  Make sure you at least learn a bit about your site to be able to make changes when you want.

You can buy things from anywhere, but make sure they’re optimized for SEO and they work with the way you want to put them.  Start with something little, and see if you can do it.  Google your way to glory – it’s amazing what you can find.

Figure out your budget and a realistic one.  If you only have a certain amount, spend it on the part you can’t learn to do and keep your design simple so it isn’t as difficult to fit into your budget.  You may have to save up; you won’t get it for $200 anywhere if it’s complex.  Take pride in your blog.  The better it looks the happier people will be when they go on there.

Once you learn some real html and CSS basics, you can really start to understand what’s going on in your site.  There are all sorts of sites that will give you some learning and tools for this.  If you know just a little bit of this, you can conquer the world.

If you are unhappy with a theme, you can move off that theme.  If you don’t like the programmer, there is no reason you can’t start fresh.  It’s the nature of the internet where you don’t have to print a whole new book to make something new or change it.

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