When I was a new manager, one of the steepest learning curves I had was how to adapt my communication style for the various groups I interfaced with: Technical, creative, executive. Fortunately, I had learned from my days as an arbitrage clerk that each group of workers requires a specific type of communication, so I spent a lot of time listening carefully to how other people talked.

So it makes sense that these tips on how to redesign a blog are really about how to communicate with a designer. Because good communication is essential to having a good experience doing a redesign.

1. Tell your designer you five most important things, in order.
This is what you want to convey in your blog. This will help the designer make interface choices – to help your audience focus on what you want them to see. For example, is your about me section really important? It is if you have a lot of expertise. Is your RSS information important? It is if you are aiming to build a large, loyal audience.

Also tell your designer the message you want to get across about yourself – are you friendly, authoritative, technical. This will help the designer figure out a look for your blog. The best way to get a design you love is to be really, really clear about what you want right here, at this stage.

2. Don’t ask your designer to train your dog.
Can your designer keep your dog from sleeping on your laptop? No. Of course your dog is not part of the designer’s job. Yet people dream up all sorts of non-design problems to toss over to the designer.

Problems like a boring bio, or a bad topic, or terrible category names (I have this last problem) are not design problems. If you comments section never gets used, the designer can’t fix that. Things are just going to be empty. And no designer can overcome the ugliness of a headline that is five lines long. Only you can rewrite incompetent headlines. Unless your blog is about design, design cannot compensate for lame content.

3. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
There are established conventions for blog design, and you need to have a totally incredible reason for bucking those conventions. For example, About Me is a heading and it goes on top. Just do that. Don’t bother with being inventive. It’s not worth it. Spend your energy being inventive with your content.

People want to know how to navigate your stuff as soon as they get there. I’ll learn a new navigation system to use Photoshop. There’s a lot of return on my time investment. I’m not learning a new navigation system to get through a blog I don’t even know if I’ll like. And don’t tell me that your radically new, reinvented blog interface is intuitive. It’s not. Because I intuitively look for an interface that is similar to the 55 million other blogs

4. Keep your design opinions to yourself.
There’s a reason you are not supporting yourself as a designer: You are not one. If you want to tell the designer what to design, then don’t hire one. My point is, leave the designer alone. If you don’t trust the designer to come up with something good on her own, then don’t hire her. If you think the designer doesn’t get it, then ask yourself if you have conveyed the information the designer needs.

In short, a bad design is often your own fault: You either hired someone who can’t design, or you gave bad information during point number one (above). In either case, you cannot solve this problem by becoming the designer yourself. You have to solve this problem by looking inside yourself to see where you went wrong. If you hired a bad designer, here’s an article on how to hire a better one.

5. Talk about your expertise, not the designer’s.
Instead of giving the designer instructions on how to do his job, tell him about your job. Note: This will be very difficult for people who have no idea what their goals are or how they are going to reach them. This is why good designers will not work with people who lack vision for themselves. Here are some examples:

Bad: What about blue? I really like the color blue.
Good: This design feels very edgy to me, but this blog should look like part of the establishment.

Bad: Good blog designs usually have an email me button on the top.
Good: My readers need to know how to contact me very easily, and I don’t think they’ll see the email me button where it is.

6. Know your own limitations.
With trepidation over the amount of work entailed, I agreed to add photos to my blog. I like how they look. But it turns out that my stock photos are pretty lame. And after about twenty emails from people explaining this problem to me, I have learned a bit about photos. So, like every project, you do your best at the stuff you’re best at, but there’s always room to learn. My learning area is the photos. For now, I opt for high quality, but free stock photos from sites like Burst.

One reader who complained about the stock photos is Annie. I asked her for suggestions on how to use photos differently and she sent some links. The links Annie sent showed me a different way to think about blogs. My favorite is HellomynameisHeather.

I’m annoyed that my new blog design has created a picture problem that I have to deal with, but it’s been a good opportunity to explore something new. And that, after all, is what blogging is all about.

10 replies
  1. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    This was an interesting post because I am currently trying to build a professional website and need to think about design.

    However, for blogs, I think it’s also important to remember that a large percentage of your audience is likely to read the blog via RSS feeder. In which case, design is almost (but not quite) irrelevant. Unless I come through to the site to leave a comment, I see the same format I’ve always seen in Bloglines and I don’t see any pictures. I came to see your new blog design because you posted it but otherwise I wouldn’t have known.

    Clearly a good design helps make a favourable first impression and it is important for readers that are yet to take the leap to subscribing. I’m not knocking it. But on the other hand, if you are aiming to build a large, loyal audience via RSS, rather than catering for lots of changing, passing traffic, then I would consider a good design a nice-to-have rather than a must-have.

    * * * * * *

    What good points you make, Caitlin. All stuff I hadn’t really thought of. But then, you get me to thinking that I still use the actual blogs as reference. To check the archives, for example. Or the blogroll. Or, if I’m feeling obsessive, to check other peoples’ traffic statistics…

    -Penelope

  2. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    You make it sound so awful I’d want to perfect my knowledge of HTML and do my own. Or shoot myself. One or the other. Heather’s photo of her green chandelier is hypnotic (in a good way). I was very impressed.

  3. Working Girl
    Working Girl says:

    I think the reason Heather’s photos work is that as well as being colorful and fun, they coordinate with the blog design, reinforce her voice, AND convey content. Imagine her blog without the photos. You would be sorry to see them go.

    Stock photos are usually just photos for the sake of photos. Would you miss them if they weren’t there? I’m thinking no.

    Thanks for this timely talk about blog design. I just designed my own–hired a web developer to do the code (was I the client-from-hell? I hope not) and it was a great learning experience. Fortunately, my website person has the patience of a saint.

    Your new look is fabulous. Much more engaging and readable. And snazzy!

  4. Bert Dell
    Bert Dell says:

    The design of your comment section is dumb, in that the comments seem to be separated by a line, so you can tell one comment from the next, but you put the name of the person who wrote the comment BELOW the line, so it seems to go with the next comment. Was this your designer’s idea, or is that an example of one you should meddled with?

  5. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    I am a designer and I a cannot tell you how happy I am that you posted this information so clearly. Many people seem to “hire” a designer so that -they- can do the design work and the designer can basically be the software junkie.
    I wouldn’t expect to hire an architect and then try to tell them how I want a building built. Rather, I would want to communicate my need and purpose for the building, my target patrons, etc. This style of communication is exceedingly helpful for designers as opposed to a list of instructions.
    Thanks for communicating it clearly here!

  6. Adil
    Adil says:

    Hallo,
    i hoch Entschuldigungen für nicht auf Englisch schreibt, war ich auf der Suche nach, und ich diese Website gefunden, Ich mag Ihre Post-und Ich mag Ihnen für den Austausch zu danken.

    Grüße

  7. Mary
    Mary says:

    Ich kann das gern übersetzen, Adil (aber es war schon einge google Übersetzung, nicht wahr?):

    Post from Adil, translation:

    Hi,
    I am sorry not to write in English…but I was searching for something like this. I like your post and I would like to thank you for experience you share.
    Adil

    I like your post as well…and now I came across this German post, so I decided to translate it spontaneously.:)

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