Tuesday, 14 August, 2007

There’s been some interesting and varied reaction to the recent redesign of ProBlogger, but the sentiment, “hopefully this lifts the overall standard of blog design”, especially caught my attention.

ProBlogger is considered by many a flagship among blogs, and due to its prominence is probably the first place many new, and aspiring, bloggers look to when seeking inspiration for their own blogging endeavours.


The new ProBlogger, is, in my opinion, a vast improvement on the previous version.

I might sound like a worn record (yeah, they were around back in the day), but after ten years online, and as a former web designer, I can certainly say I’ve been around the houses when it comes to web design.

I’ve seen all sorts of design. I’ve seen some great design, and I’ve seen some poor design. I’ve also observed some appalling design.

And more often than not, it is the people who should know better, who seem to fall into the latter category.

I’m not referring to personal blogs or websites, instances where the design isn’t necessarily integral to the site’s purpose or function, but rather those who purport to be professional, “in business”, or experts in their field, and are going about advising others how they should be doing things.

There are plenty of “make money online” blogs that are examples of what I am talking about, and these are the people who need to lift their game. So called Internet Marketers who seem to forget that they are using the internet to ply their trade.

It seems it is all too easy to grab a ready made theme or template, (ones that are anything but practical and business like, at that) make a few hasty (and usually not so great) “modifications”, add some widgets, buttons and badges, and believe they are on the path to riches.

The result is in fact a website, or blog, that is a disorganised mess.

So what then is the key to good web design? What are some of the things bloggers can do to go about “lifting the overall standard of blog design”?

I thought looking at the websites of some household Australian institutions would make a good start. Hundreds of thousands of people visit these websites daily, and if they were not up to scratch, they would quickly lose traffic, and customers, to competitors.

National Australia Bank

The National Australia Bank, or NAB, as they now like to be known, one of Australia’s largest retail banks.

Sydney Morning Herald

The Sydney Morning Herald, one of Australia’s leading newspapers.

Who can say “less is more”?

Between them, a retail bank, and a newspaper of national status, these websites potentially have A LOT to offer. Probably far more than a specialist internet marketing blog! But does it look like content and information is bursting out at the seams? No, not at all.

The first thing you are going to say is, “but they have to, and can afford to, spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, on web development!” Which is exactly correct. Nevertheless we can still look at what they are doing, and apply it to our own work.

All sites feature clean, organised, and structured, design. A place for everything, and everything in its place. The use of standard and familiar fonts. The sensible use of colours, particularly for the backgrounds.

While colours are like personalities in a way, white or light and neutral colours, are usually a very safe bet for most websites with a commercial objective.

Good design is invisible, as the old saying goes.

Here are two example of well designed personal blogs, as a comparison. Take note of their clean, organised, and structured design.


Blogpond by Meg Tsiamis.


kottke.org by Jason Kottke.

Both are quite simple in design, yet very effective in execution.

This is the sort of direction you want to be going in, especially if you consider your online ventures a business, or commercial undertaking.

Thanks to the wide range of WordPress themes and Blogger templates though, you don’t require a great deal of web design skill, just the ability to select a professional looking theme or template.

While there are a large number to choose from, I’d recommend you start off by looking at Networker by Antbag, or Cutline, which are both WordPress themes, or Minima, by Stopdesign for Blogger.

And when credibility, and incoming traffic, could be on the line, raising the standard of blog design becomes very much in a blogger’s interest.

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  • Hey John! I appreciate you mentioning NetWorker.

    You make some very good observations, and I think it’s natural for a brand new blogger to end up with a “disorganised mess” as you put it. I got a good laugh over that……We all have to start somewhere. :-) Anyway, thanks again my friend!

    Anthony at 7:08 pm on Tuesday, 14 August, 2007
  • Now you have to look at Australia’s Worst Websites, Westpac would have to be one.

    Bryce at 7:52 pm on Tuesday, 14 August, 2007
  • I like that Antbag one a lot – the double-right-sidebar is all of the rage. I wonder if I could retroactively screw with my own blog easily to add that? From what I’ve seen, though, WordPress doesn’t seem to easily support two right sidebars (the left of the two sidebars on our site, for example, is part of the header PHP)

    Derami at 8:12 pm on Tuesday, 14 August, 2007
  • Hi John, wow – thanks for mentioning blogpond. It’s agonising trying to get it right and I really appreciate your comments.

    Interesting that you mention Cutline – I’ve just installed that for a business application (1.1 as I only needed the two columns). So far, so good – still tweaking.

    With regards to ProBlogger – I love the new layout. I think it really breathes new life into the old design. However, I think the Logo (and I couldn’t design a logo to save my life!), could have been a little more grabbing. But overall an excellent product.

    Meg at 11:20 pm on Tuesday, 14 August, 2007
  • I do like ProBlogger’s new design. I DON’T like the way Michelle Malkin redesigned her blog at michellemalkin.com – I can’t get used to it! Some say they don’t like the colours on my blog, but I’m happy with the layout (just wish it was 3-columns)!

    Nice blog you have here!

    Dave Lucas at 3:39 am on Wednesday, 15 August, 2007
  • @Anthony – Very happy to mention your theme! I can understand a newbie taking awhile to get the design of their blog right… it’s really those who claim to be “pro blogging” and dispensing “professional advice” who need to lift their game!

    @Bryce – yeah the Westpac site needs a freshen up for sure! Given a LOT of effort is poured into making banking sites functional, you’d think they could go the extra mile and make the interface more attractive.

    @Kurt – that’s odd about the double right side bars… I have one over at The InterChange Desk

    @Meg – I was looking for example sites while reading your copyright post, so I thought why look any further…! Hehe, the ProBlogger logo seems to remind me of a logo for a dance music label for some reason! :)

    @Dave – thanks for the compliment! I didn’t see Michelle’s old site, so can’t really make a comparison… Another three column comment though – there’s three column themes about isn’t there?

    John at 2:58 pm on Wednesday, 15 August, 2007
  • I’ve used Cutline for quite a while, and although it’s been good for me, I think I’m due for a change.

    swollenpickles at 4:06 pm on Wednesday, 15 August, 2007
  • Cutline would be one of but many suitable themes for business or professional use. I’m sure there are plenty of others :)

    John at 7:15 pm on Wednesday, 15 August, 2007
  • I agree that simplicity is a key factor of a good design, but some sites go over the top with it. It’s one thing to make a minimalist website, it’s another to make a boring one… :(

    (Love the new ProBlogger though!)

    Michael from Pro Blog Design at 9:20 pm on Wednesday, 15 August, 2007
  • thanks for the link and comments. It’s always a nervous thing to do redesigning a site but the comments have been very encouraging.

    Darren at 8:31 pm on Thursday, 16 August, 2007
  • I love Problogger, but I think there’s a little too much going on on the site. It’s hard for my eyes to find a place to rest and focus. The navigation is also confusing, if I’d never been to the site before I’d have no idea where to begin.

    beth at 11:27 pm on Thursday, 16 August, 2007
  • actually the old problogger seems better, the new one is too cluttered.

    live tv at 1:12 am on Friday, 17 August, 2007
  • @Michael – I think you’re right it’s a fine line, but overall I think less clutter is better, especially for sites or blogs with commercial or professional goals.

    @Darren – you’re welcome! Redesigning is nerve racking – I think it’s something I love to hate! ;)

    @Beth – trying to re/design sites that feature a lot of information and content is a tricky task… what to include and how to present the information… the challenge is always finding that happy balance.

    John at 1:58 pm on Friday, 17 August, 2007
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