Redesigning an existing blog is a torment. Contrary to popular belief, the Chinese character for crisis is NOT the sign for “danger” and “opportunity” somehow placed together. The Chinese actually means a time of change, a dangerous moment. So to does blog re-design constitute a dangerous moment in the future of the blog. Here are my beginning thoughts (and years of experience).
Blog Design Needs to Fit both the Blogger–and the Audience
When designing a blog, we all have our imaginative premonitions (the Daily Word prompt–hey, it totally fitted!) about who our audiences will be. And also an imaginative concept of who WE ourselves will be in relation to our audiences. In my younger days, I wanted to be a gentle, authoritative teacher of HTML. (Back in 1993, that was easy. I built a site at a university where I was teaching at a liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest). Later, I built some different sites for different academic topics.
(They were so boring. I was so boring. Being an authority can be another term for “gas bag.” This is why I say I am a recovering academic.)
I’m not sure there is an audience for. . .whatever it was I was trying to do. The blog began to look (and feel) like a textbook. Wonky in all the wrong places.
In my last blog, I was much better as “ardent woman-in-technology mentor” but the blog itself suffered from the split-personality. I had a partner, a truly wonderful woman mentor whom I wanted to please. She really wasn’t all that into it, in the final analysis, but those were good, stimulating times. I kept re-designing the blog over and over trying to excite my partner. It was like a badly considered marriage in the end. I forgot the audience. I couldn’t figure out the audience or myself!
There were signs I was doing it wrong.
The structure was bad, the concept was ill-fitting and writing itself wasn’t any fun.
Designing for An Audience (and Yourself)
I believe you can’t leave yourself out of the equation. If you do, you’ll seem inauthentic (like my “authority” blogs of my academic days). I reflected on the fact that my most successful blog was about teaching HTML. It was fun. I liked teaching online, and my major audience were people who wanted to learn. In this current blog, I wanted to re-develop that light, newsy friend idea — someone who helps you go from newbie to an advanced beginner, able to manage their own site using WordPress.com’s Business Plan.
I chose The Entrepreneur design in large part because I like the cover — a strong, confident woman doing her thing.
However, it’s not up to my standards. It has a menu system that doesn’t meet my needs. It allegedly supports a variety of post formats–but really, it doesn’t. I’d have to fool around with some CSS to get the post formats for “quote” and “aside” and other fancy formats–because this theme has no special formatting for those types of formats — even though it “supports” those formats. So far, my research on how to transform those formats hasn’t turned up much. My CSS skills are rusty and re-learning this capability is a bit painful (though it may come to that).
I used The Entrepreneur theme in my most recent blog (the failed marriage) and I went back to it for this one. Now, I’m ready for something different. SO MANY DECISIONS!
Fooling Around with TRY and CUSTOMIZE!
You can always choose a new theme and the “Try and Customize” feature is awesome.
Here’s a theme I’m considering: Baskerville 2. If you click on the three dots menu, you can choose either a “live demo” — which uses dummy content and provides specifications or you can “try and customize.” This “try and customize” option takes your existing content and slaps the new theme on it–but you can go back if you don’t like it, just by closing the window and not activating it.
This way you can get a quick look at how YOUR blog would look in THIS wrapper.
I love this option. But I get pickier all the time. Partly this is because I created a great many custom images for this blog. In many instances, I would have to change those images or adapt them. The blog themes simply want smaller images. They cut off the text and it looks ugly.
Redesigning a blog with a good bit of varied content is much harder than a newish blog with only ten or twenty posts. I have 72 published posts (and 23 in drafts folder for development.) I want to add photos and videos, quotes, links and asides. I’m trying to figure out how to do this without getting too messy. I’ve blown up a blog design before, so I’m going about it as carefully as I can.
Here’s what my blog would look like in Baskerville 2. The “quote” text is horrible. I’d need to set the text color to white. I can also see that I’d have to stop my experiments with different texts and colors. This blog design will need a consistent palette.
I have spent a whole evening looking over the themes. It’s helped me to come up with a list of design requirements.
My Design Requirements
- Easy to navigate
- Has a “start here” menu placeholder (a good menu system)
- Featured content
- Excerpts, rather than full blog posts, so people can easily see new content but not be overwhelmed by my long posts
- A good search function
- Asymmetrical if possible? Something that mixed up quotes and pictures, maybe even video on the front page! No, maybe, I’m not sure. . .
- Pretty to look at –not too much of a visual blast
- Not “too slick” –something do-able by an aspiring advanced beginner.
Note that these requirements are all about helping the audience to understand the site–and pick and choose how they move through the material. Rather than just popping in for one article (my first goal!), now I want my audience to look at a few things of interest. The new Google Analytics goal I will be setting is to reduce the bounce rate.
I’m playing with the “post formats” in order to test new themes. So, for the next week or so, you’ll be seeing a good many different kinds of posts in this blog as we explore different features of themes.
More soon. Thanks for dropping by! ~ Lola