Blog Design: What not to wear

by Julie on July 7, 2009


Co-post by Julie Roads and Shauna Callaghan

So you’re starting a blog, or maybe you’re redesigning one. One of the first questions your designer asks is, ‘Send me some examples of blogs you don’t like and blogs you do like – and tell me why.’

Yikes, right? I mean, the ‘like’ and ‘don’t like’ piles are easy to make – but sometimes the ‘why’ is tough. You just get a certain feeling when you look at a site – it’s too busy, it makes you feel peaceful, it’s disorganized, it’s exciting. It’s all relative, it’s all personal.

Here are some what not to wear rules for your blog…

What’s In:

  • Clean & simple
  • Making sure visitors can find their way around easily
  • Sidebars that are colorful and informative and useful
  • A clear tagline – set the context, tell people where they are
  • Inviting participation with prominent feed and email subscriptions
  • Plugins that let you share information with the touch of a button (like retweet and sociable)
  • WordPress themes that are easy to customize and offer great functionality (and offer customer support!)
  • Solid Background Colors
  • Image themes, e.g. the checklist theme on this site (see header and sidebar titles)
  • Photos – beautiful images that illustrate your content and make your posts pop (try Creative Commons)
  • Branding – what is your niche, who is your audience? What design matches perfectly? Each niche and brand will have different design needs.
  • Good content (oh, whoops, that isn’t design, is it…)

What’s OUT:

  • Busy backgrounds
  • Lots and lots of stuff in your sidebars as filler
  • Blogger
  • Really tall header designs that take up your readers’ entire screen – keep it short and sleek, you want your readers to see at least some content on your site at first glance and you want them to have immediate access to your information
  • Stuff that flashes, moves or spins
  • Mixing styles – just choose one: professional, cartoony, modern, classic, etc…
  • Crazy, unreadable fonts anywhere but in the header
  • Font colors that are hard to read
  • Dark backgrounds with white writing

Bottomline: If you don’t know what you’re doing, hire a designer. It’s not worth the time and energy to try and design your own site if you have no clue – trust us. If you simply can’t afford a blog designer, choose a theme that you love ‘out of the box’ – and make sure they offer user support. You may have to pay for one of these themes – but not very much – and it’s worth it. Free themes are free for a reason.

Another warning: web designers are not necessarily blog designers. If the best web designer in the world is not familiar with blogs, blogging software and blogging best practices, you won’t get the blog you want. Been there, done that.

Blog well!

Shauna Callaghan is a WordPress designer and blogger, check her out at and

Julie Roads is a writer, blogger, speaker, consultant & teacher – best places to find her? On Twitter and her own site, Writing Roads (or right here on Soc Media 101 pssst – check the right sidebar!).

Image credit: karen_d

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Heather July 7, 2009 at 12:04 pm

There was lots of great info here.

But I’ll defend my non solid, busy background to the death thank you very much! Remember that bloggers need to consider their brand when working with a designer as well…there are things that can be communicated visually and they should be thought about at the design phase.

2 Julie July 7, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Heather – you’re totally right – and maybe we should say ‘solid or tastefully patterned’ because yours is really just right. Everyone, check it out here:

Shauna added the background bullet – and showed me a site with a dizzy, distracting and icky background that, believe me, did nothing for the site.

I mentioned picking a style and sticking with it – but not looking at best practices for your brand/market/niche – I’ll add that now. Thank you for adding this comment – fantastic stuff.

3 Mark Sherrick July 7, 2009 at 2:01 pm

you guys are that against blogger, eh? I use it because its simpler to me than wordpress and I try not to make things too busy, but I dunno if I did enough – I have a sidebar that’s not that crammed, at least I think so. Am I really making that big of a mistake by not importing to wordpress?

4 Julie July 7, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Well – it’s better for custom design, simple design, growth, plugins, etc. And I think it’s really easy to use. I’m always confused when I hear Blogger users saying that WP is difficult. It’s not – and like when I switched from PC to Mac – it just takes a few days and then ‘boom’ it’s totally natural and intuitive.

But, I do know some folks that love their blogger blogs…and if you get the right designer, they can look quite nice. But most of them just look like Blogger blogs…

5 Mark Sherrick July 7, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Thats true – but a generic blog on wordpress that isn’t changed much looks just as generic as a plain wordpress design.

I’m lazy, tbh, and blogger being integrated with Google is one of the reasons I chose it. I suppose that may be why it looks like it does, and doesn’t get many visitors. I actually did check out wordpress quickly once and found the initial setup process more annoying than livejournal – maybe once you setup its not a pain, I dunno yet.

6 Julie July 7, 2009 at 3:17 pm

…and you can have someone help you with the set-up. But, Mark – it’s the themes, THE THEMES! The sky’s seriously the limit for how you want to make your WP look, act and feel. There’s no reason to pick the most generic WP theme. That’s like going to Ben and Jerry’s and just asking for a glass of milk. Get some Chunky Monkey man!

7 Mark Sherrick July 7, 2009 at 4:02 pm


I guess I just haven’t been motivated to go hang gliding for White Castle, or hit the freezer case for some funky ice cream.

I guess having done things wrong in my blogging past sticks with me and I sometimes don’t want to bother – bad, I know.

8 Pat Zahn October 24, 2009 at 5:40 pm

No blog yet…trying to gather info before jumping in. It seems interesting to me that the the first website listed: violates two of the “What’s Out” rules: white on black, moving stuff?!

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