Friday, November 30, 2007

Redesign Your Blog #1: DREAM

After my recent blog redesign, which yielded this lovely brown design that is so much warmer and more relaxed than the previous red design, I've received a lot of comments and e-mails asking me for details about how to do a blog redesign. I've received enough questions that I decided I'm going to do an entire series about it. I hope it's helpful for you bloggers who, like me, aren't html experts or computer techs, but simply want to have a nice, personally-pleasing design that suits your blogging purposes and intentions.

Let me preface this whole series by saying these things:

  1. I am by NO means an expert. But if I have learned one thing by watching good "managers" and "governors", it is this: you don't have to be an expert about every little thing if you consult and can rely on experts who DO know what they're talking about. And the internet gives us the opportunity to connect with people who DO know about html, backgrounds, color codes, and all the rest. So throughout this series, I'll be referring you out, to tutorials, to tips, and to great resources-- all of which can help YOU redesign YOUR blog, if you are so inclined.
  2. This is written from one perspective: that of a non-tech-minded Blogger blogger (me). If you use Wordpress or some other blogging platform, you may be able to adapt these general principles, and many of the resources may still be helpful for you. But I can't answer questions or give advice about those other platforms, and frankly, even answering questions about the Blogger platform will be limited to my own experiences and whatever information a quick google search can provide.
  3. If you don't want to do any of this, you can always pay someone else to do it! There are advantages and disadvantages to this... but if you aren't in the mood or mode to fiddle with your own blog, then by ALL means, you can pay someone else to do it for you, usually costing anywhere from $50- $200, depending on what you want the designer to do. And there will be good results, I'm sure.
OK, onto the fun stuff. First up, here's what this blog looked like, prior to my recent redesign:This one lasted about 6 months... maybe a little longer. The one prior to that was the one I started out with-- pretty much a basic Blogger design in a fun green color. So I started out blogging with a standard Blogger-offered blog design, slowly implemented a few changes, and then went to a whole new redesign in May or so. I have slowly learned a little bit here and there about redesigning a blog, from a NON-expert point of view, and I think the best place to start is with DREAMING.

DREAM ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT!
To have a satisfactory outcome, I start with considering what I want. There are many things to consider (colors, theme, header, general "feel", usefulness of the layout, how many columns, etc.).

STEP #1 - Look at your current design.
Ask yourself: what works and what doesn't work about my current blog design? What are you tired of? In other words, what one or two things, if unfixed, are really going to continue to bug you? Perhaps it's the color (as it was in my case... I was tired of the over-energized red.). Perhaps it's that your design looks boring. Perhaps it's hard to read because of the font or layout of your blog. Figure out what bugs you, and determine to fix that/those things.

Remember to acknowledge, also, what you like about your blog. In my case, I liked the two-column layout. It's simple... text on one side, links and everything else on the sidebar. I liked the size of the header-- it is commanding without taking up the whole screen. I also like having a designed header rather than just the words in print that come standard with Blogger. So, figure out what you like, and try not to change those things.

STEP #2- Look at other blogs that you like.
You won't want to copy their "design"... in terms of exactly replicating their colors or "feel"... but you WILL want to think about what you like about different blogs you visit. Are links more simple to find and click on because they are in a different color? Do they have a combination of many colors and leave you feeling energized, or does the simplicity of the colors they use relax you? Does their blog design match the themes and subjects that they write about?

What is it exactly that you like about other blogs? A cute or fun header? Graphics and bold design, or simple pictures and backgrounds? A fancy signature at the end of each post? A layout that allows for more links and extras on the sidebar? Perhaps blogs you like to read have a more "down home" feel, or a more streamlined, academic look. Figure out what you like, and that's what you'll want to consider including in YOUR redesign.

STEP #3- Look at Blogger blog designs.
Look at the basic options Blogger offers to see if any of their "schemes" or "designs" suits your needs. It doesn't have to fit, colorwise... we're going to talk about how to change all of that. And even the sizes of columns can be played with. I'm talking basics... for example, do you like the order of the columns (some have links on the left, some on the right)... do you like the simplicity of the layout, that kind of thing.

Choose a blog design that will be easily adaptable. For example, don't choose one that has a big butterfly on the bottom right corner. Choose lines and formatting that suit your taste but that will also be easily personalized to your specific design requirements. My blog design is all based on the same basic layout I've used from the very beginning, called "Son of Moto"... it used to be thin and green, then I made it wider with reds, and now it's browns and simple. It's a good basic layout, and I'm happy with it... I just adjust it for my purposes.

STEP #4- Think about the colors, background, and/or theme you'll want to use.
If you're looking for a particular graphic or photo, go to a photo warehouse (I like inmagine.com) and browse for the kind of picture(s) you want to use.... if you're doing a teapot theme, for instance, search for teapots, tea, teacups, tea time, etc. If you're looking for something with a house in it, search for that.

You'll also want to consider if you'd like to have a background design. Go to a place like Squidfinger (you can also do a google search for blogger backgrounds, or blog background designs, etc., to find more design sites that offer these for free); each potential design will give you a basic tile of what the background would look like... I used a design from squidfinger, and completely love it. It's a simple way to distinguish your blog from others. I'll tell you how to use these in another post... but for now, just browse and maybe bookmark your favorite options.

Spend time thinking about what color combination you'd like to have. If, like me, you're not a naturally-inclined interior designer with aesthetically amazing color combinations oozing out of your brain, you'll want to look around you- browse magazines and websites to find color combinations that please you. Mine this time is a simple brown/cream/white theme. Last time, it was red and black with a touch of yellow, for an Asian feel. Think about what you're going for... perhaps a field of lavendar flowers? A nest with robin's eggs in it? A well-worn couch with a stack of books on it? A leather covered journal with a quill pen laid across it? Think of a theme that will match where you are in life, or that you'll simply like, and then coordinate your colors around that theme.

Don't limit yourself to one idea, but I wouldn't seriously pursue and try to work with more than two or three color combinations or theme ideas.

OK, SO I'VE SPENT TIME DREAMING, WHAT NOW?

Once you've DREAMED, determining what you want to get rid of, and what you want to keep from your current blog design, browsed other blogs to get ideas, looked at blogger templates to find a good, basic template, and decided on a basic theme or color scheme that you want to center on, even having selected a few possible pictures or graphics to include in your design, then you're ready for the next step-- getting into the nitty-gritty of DESIGN: designing your header and any other graphics you'll use on your blog (signatures, bullets, banners, etc.). That's next-up in this series of posts. Click here to read Redesign Your Blog, Part 2.

Then we'll talk about DEALING WITH HTML-- how to get your ideas to work... backgrounds, headers, widgets, etc. Click here to read Redesign Your Blog, Part 3. I hope this will be a helpful series for you as you consider redesigning your blog. If you're considering doing this, and have any specific questions or issues you'd like me to address, leave me a comment! I'd be glad to try to help you through any issues you're encountering (as long as you realize that I really am no expert!). ;)

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