Have WordPress themes killed web designers?

Friday, 18 January, 2008

Is web design dead? Are web designers on the verge of becoming obsolete, and facing extinction by way of a flood of pre-designed blog themes and templates?

Setting yourself up with a website, or blog, is far easier today than it was ten years ago, thanks to the wide range of free web publishing tools that are now available, such as WordPress, Blogger, TypePad, and Moveable Type, for example.

And with at least several thousand free-for-use themes or templates – that is, pre-designed interface layouts, to choose from – a would be blogger is spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding on a look for their blog.

The results of a recent survey at ProBlogger, which asked the question “Who Designed Your Blog?” make for interesting reading.

Of the 1828 bloggers who responded, 22 per cent said they did their own design. A further 35 per cent of respondents “considerably tweaked” an existing template, while 32 per cent made use of a default theme that came with the blogging application they are using.

Only a mere seven per cent of people engaged the services of a web designer to create their website.

While not all of the ProBlogger survey respondents are professional bloggers, or using blogs for business purposes, the results nevertheless underline just how easy it is for many people to forgo the expense of hiring a professional web designer, and do it themselves.

One scenario possibly sees sole traders, and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), only needing to engage the services of a graphic designer to create a brand or logo.

This can then be incorporated into as little as two website header and footer images, which in turn can be integrated into a suitably professional, pre-existing, theme or template.

While such a scenario may make a web designer cringe, and whether it is right or wrong, it appears to be a route more and more people will choose to take, especially since the freely available web publishing tools are becoming increasingly popular, and ever easier to use.

Of course web designers will not all go the way of the dodo, but as I see it demand for their services will become increasingly restricted to clients at the bigger end of town, and those who are absolutely insistent on specifically tailored web design solutions.

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Ivory

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.

ProBlogger

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

Blogpond by Meg Tsiamis.

kottke.org

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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