Misadventures in Blog Design
Sorry, this is going to be a LONG post, but I think the information warrants it!
I have mentioned before that content is king. Some of the blogging conferences have said content is queen because it sounds cuter for women bloggers, but in the internet marketing world, content is king and design is queen.
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I have worked in internet marketing for about 15 years now. All of that time has been at large corporations. And in that time I have been through 6 major website redesigns. These are million-dollar efforts that usually require the engagement of external web agencies to help with the information architecture (content buckets) and design work. And these agencies, when dealing with those dollar amounts work with project schedules, milestones, deliverables, etc.
So in September 2008 when I went to hire a blog designer image my surprise when I ended up getting screwed. Not once, but three times. This post is an attempt to save you from running into the same issues that I did.
My tips for you. Some of them are born out of things that actually happened to me, others come from working experience.
Decide your platform.
Some designers are experts in Blogger designs others in WordPress. You want to hire someone who is experienced in the platform of preference. There are some designers who can work in both, but usually, they are stronger in one than the other.
Have an idea of what you want.
Meaning, go to a stock photo site and create a lightbox or download comps of photos that appeal to you and put them into a Word or Powerpoint document. In my world, this is called a “mood board.” Its images you like or relate to.
A good designer will be able to get a sense of your personality or the things you like from this board. Also, if you already have something in mind, gather images that best represent what you are trying to get to.
Have an idea about colors.
Colors you like to use in the header and as accent colors. Do not have a black background for your blog, stick with white or a very light color. I have seen some places where black works but believe me, it is a minority.
Stick to Arial or Verdana font for your text.
Your font decision should be based on readability and availability, not on design aesthetics. A pretty font won't help you if your readers can't read it. This font is also available worldwide which might be important to you if you have readers from other countries.
To find a designer to work with, check out blogs you like and find out who they used. Also, ask your blogging friends even if you don't like their design, it might be just a personal taste thing. Alternate choices (but not great): Check out freelance sites like Elance.com. Or to check out Craigslist. Once you have narrowed in on a designer or two, then here are some tips.
Oh, how I wish I had used this tip when I hired my original designer. I didn't know I could do this. It was only when another blogging friend of mine, who had hired the same designer as I did, sent me a link to the designer's Yelp page which she had stumbled upon. When I saw that there were 10 reviews, 9 of them absolutely horrible, I knew I had made a big mistake!
Not on Yelp? Google them.
See what comes up. Go through 2 or 3 pages to check deeper in the searches. Maybe someone has blogged or tweeted about them (since Google will now be including Tweets in their search parameters).
Check out their T&C's.
It is normal that a designer, who is a small business owner, should have Terms and Conditions for doing business with them. However, if those terms and conditions printed out are taller than me, there might be a problem. This would indicate a couple of things.
Either the designer has had a lot of problem clients, or she (or he) has had to get out of a lot of sticky situations. And for goodness sake, READ the Terms & Conditions!
Check their portfolio and references.
One thing you should probably be aware of. This is true of agencies and smaller designers. A lot of times their websites are not that good. It should look nice, but it may not be outstanding. That's because they are usually more focused on their client's sites rather than their own site.
This is a good thing. But every designer's website should have a portfolio or reference work for you to review. Check out their client examples, go to the sites, and look at them. Contact the owners and see how they felt about working with the person you are thinking of hiring.
Go with your gut.
If you think something is not right, it's probably not. If you get radio silence for more than a week, something is wrong, unless the designer has said, I will get back to you in 2 weeks, then leave them alone for the two weeks, but two weeks and one day, contact them to check-in. You are paying for a service, you don't have to be demanding, but you should ensure that you are getting what you are paying for.
Be prepared to wait.
Work like this ebbs and flows and you may have caught your potential designer during a really busy period. This is okay as long as it is proactively communicated and followed upon. Honestly, if you compromise your initial design choice because you are too anxious to have a new design, you will probably pay now and pay later (I know!).
Does anyone else have tips they want to add? Do share!
I am thinking of getting a counter. How does that work, and do you have a site that you recommend? As much as I like writing, I equally dislike computers. I guess that makes me a stereotypical French Major.
@Jake – what kind? Email me @ MisadventuresWithAnd AT gmail DOT com
This was really helpful, Andi, as always. Thanks!
It’s the word of mouth recommendations that mean the most. Some designers are great at the nuts and bolts of design. They can do stunning logos and such, but they don’t know dookey about wordpress. A great logo that is not on a blogging platform won’t do you much good. Conversely, there are some great tech people out there who call themselves designers, but they really aren’t talented in a real artistic way. It’s a rare person who does both well. Glad you recommended the two women here.
i just realized why i’ve never hired someone to design by blog and just winged it. because i’ve worked in pr for 20 years and couldn’t afford to lose my shirt on a bum design, which i’ve seen happen – often. it’s why in my pr business i don’t use the billable hour. i charge flat fees and everyone knows up front what they’re paying – b/c the billable hour was scandalous when i was on the govt side – approving invoices. gahhhhh! now, that was a tangent. =)) you brought it out in me, andi. ha!
@Jen, you don’t look like you need any help! And yours is one of the few instances where black works!
Omg, I feel SO honored that I got another shout-out, haha!!! Yes, Melissa is AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!! Please if you are thinking about redesiging your blog head over to mine to see just how talented she is!
Andi – great post! At this point, I believe Shauna and I have partnered on 40 or so sites – she is MY designer, I consider part and parcel of the Writing Roads team. Finding her was like finding the perfect pair of jeans…
Personally I take No.2, Know what I want, as the most important lesson here – might be a good idea to just let our hands dirty with designs until we get a vague idea of what we want in our sites, and then ask the designer to polish or expand upon it?
Welcome Isao, that is an excellent idea and really helps the designer.
Timely post! Thanks. I will say about Shauna that when I tried to contact her, over several days, the form she uses for customers to submit inquiries was not working and it was the only way to contact her. I got tired of waiting and gave up! I stropped looking temporarily and moved on to other projects, but it was clear that for whatever reason, maybe work demands, she wasn’t checking her site regularly.
Oh sorry Laura, but it seems Shauna fixed it. If you ever consider re-doing your blog again check in with her or Melissa or Sean.
Thanks so much for this! Just love working with you. And these are some great tips!
And @Laura – I finally realized this a few weeks ago (about the form) and fixed the problem! So sorry you got lost in that mess. It is fixed now and would love to hear from you.
Welcome Shauna, you’re the best!
Aw, thank you so much for the mention, Andi! Great advice and interesting observations too.
I am a complete blogging beginner (have been at it for only a month or so) and I found this post very helpful. I am nowhere near ready to do most of the things you mention in this post, but it’s great to see where my blog could conceivably go in the future. Thanks for allowing us to learn from your mistakes!
This post is so valuable.
great tips and perfect timing for me! thank you!