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How To Design A Blog And Make It Successful In 3 Steps

Since the latest redesign of This Is Trouble to the current iteration, I’ve gotten many emails, tweets, and general responses asking how to design a blog. People have asked me to provide feedback on their current design, asked for my general tips, and I’ve even had a few people ask if I’d design a blog or website for them. And it’s not just for the current version of the website, either. I’ve gone through about four redesigns in the (almost!) year since I’ve ran this blog and received praise about every one.

However, there is a root question at the heart of all of this inquiries and comments, and it comes down to this: people want to know how I’ve managed to continuously make sharp-looking websites, and want to know if they have a chance of doing it themselves. For your reference, I’ve included a few things I’ve designed specifically for this blog. Below was how the website used to look prior to the current version. I went away from it because I found the mass amounts of pictures seemed to impact loading times, which was unacceptable to me.

how to design a blog

Below is a banner that I had planned to include on that website, but decided against it because it didn’t flow well enough with the rest of the design. I created the banner completely from scratch with Photoshop.

BANNER

And finally, here is the eBook cover for my San Diego Nightlife Guide book. I used Photoshop to create the actual text and blend the two pictures together, and then some handy eBook design software to put it on a 3D book.

book cover

So How Do You Design A Blog?

Let me get this disclaimer out of the way, first: I’ve been doing web design on some level for over a decade. It all started as a basic lesson in my computer class, and ended up becoming much more. I took a few classes at junior colleges, made a few thousand dollars on websites in high school, and have generally always played around with web and graphic design. I do some visual design on one of our internal company websites at my day job, and still take clients on the side. At the moment, I’m working on a website for an OC-based chiropractor.

I simply like to create something from nothing. It’s fulfilling.

With that being said, it’s not rocket science. Anyone with basic computer skills is certainly capable of creating a good looking website. These days, you don’t even need to know backend langauge(s), though it does help. However, with platforms like WordPress and Joomla, the barrier to entry has been lowered considerably. If you really, really want me to design a website or your blog, I’ll consider it if you want to get in touch. I may start offering real services in the future.

But, if you’re just a cheap bastard and want free advice on design, then read the tips below.

Step 1: The Foundation

This article is directed at bloggers, so I’ll assume you’re probably using the WordPress framework. WordPress is powerful and easy to use, but can also look terribly generic due to its global availability and ease of use. So if you’re going with WordPress, you want to stand out. In my opinion, you cannot go wrong with the Genesis or Themedy themes and framework. Genesis lies on top of the WordPress backbone, and allows further customization. However, as I stated, it’s easy to look generic.

These frameworks are so good that thousands of people use them, and many of them do not change from the default framework’s theme. Even if they do change slightly from the default theme, it’s usually to one that looks similarly plain. The really good Genesis or Themedy themes are paid, but there are good resources for free ones here and here, as well.

Step 2: Pick Out A Good Outfit

When you wake up in the morning, do you just pick random colors out of your closet to wear that day? Green pants and a pink shirt, like a watermelon? I sure hope not, if so you might want to get on with reading the rest of my website to improve yourself in general.

Web design is the same way, the colors need to flow. And if you are going to be bold and go with flashy colors – you must be damn sure you can pull it off correctly. This Is Trouble is even what I would consider a “bold” design, in that it doesn’t really utilize black, white, or grey as primary colors. My site utilizes a beige-brown as the primary and red as the secondary. Here are general rules of colors:

  • Black, white, and grey are your friends. You can’t go wrong with them, but it’s also hard to stand out.
  • If it “hurts” – literally, to read your site, then don’t make it live. Text and the background it resides on should flow flawlessly.
  • Stay away from black backgrounds. This is more my personal opinion. I hate dark backgrounds with a passion, to me it just seems so early 2000’s old school. What’s next, flashing GIFs all over the site and shitty background music?
  • Black backgrounds are ok, *IF* there is a lighter color frame resting on top of it which houses the content.

In general, match your website colors with how you’d wear clothes, and play it conservative, in general.

Step 3: Widgets, Plugins & More

Here’s a general list of everything I use, plugin/widget wise:

  • Aksimet (spam)
  • Jetpack
  • Disqus
  • Contact Form 7
  • Smart Archives
  • Pagebuilder
  • SEO Yoast
  • Social Media Widget

WordPress plugins are extremely powerful, and in no way should you limit yourself to the plugins I have listed above. Do some Google searching for “best WordPress plugins” and you’ll find plenty of Buzzfeed-like list posts that will give you more ideas than you would ever ask for.

Finally – Be Prepared To Be Frustrated When You Design A Blog

It’s generally very easy to install WordPress, get it online, and start posting. A monkey could figure that out. But, to really take your site to the next level you must familiarize yourself with the back end of your site and be willing to undergo the hardships of figuring it out. It is not easy, but there are countless resources out there to assist you.

It’s amazing how far a little Google searching or browsing the WordPress support forum will take you if you have the drive.

If you’re too lazy to do that, I’ll tell you right now you have no business starting a blog. It is work, but incredibly rewarding.

Because truthfully, starting this blog is one of the best things I ever did. I hope this helps get yours off the ground.

Resources To Design A Blog 

  1. GoDaddy for hosting, domains, and more. I’ve used them for years and their service is top notch.
  2. Free Genesis themes here and here
  3. Namemesh – domain research tool

What else can you do to design a killer blog? Chime in below.

  • July 3, 2014
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