This guest post is by Rob Cubbon.
Psychologists have long been aware of the halo effect—a situation in which our judgment of a person’s character is influenced by our overall impression of them.
The same is true of websites. Rightly or wrongly, we judge a website first and foremost by the way it looks.
Think of your favorite blog and close your eyes for a second. Can you picture elements of the blog’s design (the logo, the colors) clearly? I bet you can; and I bet you like it!
So now that you know how crucial a blog’s design is to its success, how do you go about getting a great blog design if you’re not a designer?
What type of blog design do you require?
The first thing you need to decide is exactly what sort of blog design you require. Do you need:
- A small amount of customization of an existing theme: This would be the cheapest and simplest option—you could just have your logo tacked onto the Genesis Generate theme, for example.
- A fully customized child theme built on top of a solid theme framework: You might use Genesis or Thesis, with more unique features.
- A completely customized WordPress theme.
Either of the first two options would be sufficient for most blogs. A general rule would be the less you change a chosen theme, the less you’ll spend on design and the simpler the process will be.
I’ve had to “rescue” many blogs where someone has created a completely custom theme that the owner then finds unwieldy and difficult to work with. WordPress is the most ubiquitous CMS on the planet for a reason. The popular WordPress themes and theme frameworks are popular for a reason. Work with them rather than against them!
Working out the brief
Next, you must spend a good deal of time working out your brief. While a good designer will likely have their own questions to ask you, you’ll have trouble finding good designers if you don’t know what you want or need in the first place.
To begin, ask yourself which sites you admire. What is it about them you like? Is it the colors, the look and feel, the functionality? Visit them and answer these questions as specifically as you can.
Then, think about your own site. These are some of the major points you should include in your brief:
- What should it look like? Do you have any examples of websites you wish to emulate without copying?
- Who is your target audience? List the target readers’ ages, genders, geographic locationd, what sort of work do they do, etc.
- Would you like the site to be responsive to phones and tablets?
- Do you need a logo? What other logos do you like, or would like yours to be on a par with? Specify that you’d like the logo supplied as a small image, a large image, and in the original vector file format.
- Do you require any other design collateral? For example, business cards, email templates, a Twitter background, a Facebook page design, a YouTube channel background, etc.
- What functionality do you require? Do you want to be able to change around widgets such as featured posts, signup boxes, featured video, etc., on your home page as well as the sidebar(s)?
Don’t sacrifice user experience for design. Websites first and foremost need to work. So don’t get too complicated with the design brief. Simplicity is key.
Your brief should also include URLs of example websites you like and the specific parts of the sites you want to emulate on your blog.
Choosing a designer
Regardless of your budget, always try to find one person who can competently do all the work you require (design, development, email templates, logo design, etc.) if it is at all possible. You’ll win on two counts: simplicity and cost.
Once you start to get responses, you can begin to whittle them down. Some of the replies you get can be easily rejected. Other designers may have excellent portfolios but can be passed over because their skills aren’t appropriate. If a designer doesn’t have a blog design that you like in their portfolio, then it’s not a good idea to choose them.
If you have chosen a child theme on the Genesis theme framework, for example, you can specify this in the job description, and then only consider designers who have experience with Genesis.
Narrow the candidates down to a group of about five to ten, and then contact these designers with your brief. After they’ve reviewed it, they’ll be able to answer your questions about availability, timeframes, and costs. You will be able to remove more of them from consideration once you have this information.
At this point, check the the candidate’s references. Contact anyone who has previously employed their services and ask how the project went, as well as any other specific questions you’d answers to. This not only gives you peace of mind, it can also give you tips for working with particular designers.
Hopefully at the end of that process, you’ll be left with one or two designers who will be a perfect fit for you.
Working with contracts and copyright
Contracts and copyright are huge topics that vary enormously from country to country and from designer to designer.
If you are dealing with a designer through oDesk or other freelancing sites, you’ll use the contractual and payment arrangements there.
If you’ve contacted a designer privately, they’ll likely send through contracts in order to specify payment and work arrangements. Always read these contracts and suggest amendments, if necessary, to ensure the contracts specify exactly the deliverables and the timeframes expected of the designer.
Copyright ownership also needs to be covered. Copyright to designs tends to stay with the creator—the designer. This can be signed over for a fee, but that rarely happens. The work of the designer should only be used for the initially intended purposes, so don’t imagine you can repurpose a design for some other reason down the track.
Communicating with the designer
A good designer will ask you the right questions about the website you envisage, and will prepare and amend visuals of the home page and other pages in the site so you’ll know what you’re getting.
If you have chosen a designer online, there may be language, cultural, and geographical barriers to communication. This makes the initial brief writing and communication even more important. In these cases, you may want to start with the logo design to see how well you work together, and then move on to the website if that goes well.
But in all cases, make sure you and your designer agree on every detail of the brief and contracts, and understand the work involved.
What you can do
There are many elements that go towards creating a great looking blog, but if you can communicate the values of simplicity and clarity to the designer, you’ll be halfway there!
What about your tips? If you’ve ever worked with a designer to design a blog, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Rob Cubbon is a web designer and blogger.