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How Do I Get a Professionally Designed Blog?

In this post Daniel Scocco answers a question from Reader Mar Joseph who asks:

I would like to have my site professionally designed as my lack of code knowledge is really holding me back. What are the best avenues to find designers?

First of all let’s identify the goal behind this question: to have a professional looking design. The reader is specifically asking about avenues to find designers, but that is not a necessary step to achieve the goal.

There are several ways to obtain a professional looking design for your blog. Some of them will cost you nothing, some will cost you a couple hundred bucks, and some may even cost thousands of dollars.

How much you should spend and when you should do it are question that you will need to answer by yourself. If you are just starting a blog, for example, a free solution could work well for the first months. After this initial period you will be in a better position to evaluate the potential of the blog (in terms of audience and revenues), and to decide how much you should spend in the design.

If you have a clear business plan for your blog and know where you are going to take it, on the other hand, you could invest $100 into a premium theme right from the start.

Part time bloggers might also want to wait the blog to generate some revenues, and then to reinvest that money into the design. This method would not touch one’s personal finances.

Once your blog is established and healthy, you could consider hiring a professional web designer to create a unique look for it. This solution will cost a significant amount of money, but it should be worth it in the long run.

Obviously the more you spend, the higher the quality of the final product, but the idea is that there are solutions for all pocket sizes. Below we will cover each of them.

Free solutions

Provided you are using WordPress, you will have literally thousands of freely available themes to choose from. You might need to spend some time looking for a professional looking one, but I am sure you will be able to find a theme that looks clean and professional, and that matches the content or niche of your blog. Here are some places to get started:

Even after finding a professional looking theme, however, you might want to learn the basics of HTML and CSS. In a matter of hours you should have enough knowledge to customize and tweak the selected theme a bit, as to make it different from other blogs that might be using it as well. Here are some resources that will help you with that goal:

Low cost solutions

If you have some money to invest into the design of your blog, you could start by purchasing a logo. A logo can be easily integrated into any theme or design, and it will give a unique look to your header and more strength to your brand. If you don’t want to spend a lot, head to the contest section of online forums like Digital Point or Sitepoint (now called 99Designs) and create a contest. You should already get some entries for a prize as low as $50.

If you have more money to spend you could consider hiring a professional logo designer or a company. Prices will be higher, but most of them offer several mock logos where you can choose from, and they will revise the work until you are 100% happy with it. Here are some places where you can get a quote.

An alternative low cost solution is to purchase a premium WordPress theme (which could also be used combined with a custom logo). Those themes are created by professional designers, and they sell anywhere from $30 up to $100 in some cases. Other people might purchase the same theme that you will be using, but this number should be significantly smaller than with a free theme. Secondly, most premium themes are high quality, bug free, and they come with some support from the designer. Here are companies and designers that sell premium WordPress themes:

High end solution

If your blog is already running strong, or if you have a clear business plan for it, you might want to get a professional designer to create a custom theme. Tailor made designs tend to cost at least $1,000, and this figure can jump to $5,000 and more in some special cases.

If you have the budget, however, it should be worth it. First and foremost because you will be able to make your design work around your goals and priorities, improving greatly the user experience in your blog. Secondly, a custom design will also fit your monetization strategy, probably improving your revenue streams (sometimes even creating new ones).

Here are is a list of renowned blog designers that you can consult with:

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Comments

  1. I would also highly consider checking out outsourcing options. There are many companies in India, for example, that you can outsource your blog design to and get a great design. I’m currently using DesignSaurus and those guys are wonderful.

    Spent hours and hours with me on every last detail and about half the price of what it would have cost me from quotes I got from here.

  2. Rhea says:

    I used a free template for a long time and then I thought it was time to get a ‘look’. I put an ad on Craig’s List/Boston for an expert blogger and a man named Stephen Labuda answered the ad. I was lucky he knew blogging as well as design. http://www.agency3.com/?page_id=7

  3. Tom Stine says:

    I went custom. I did some searching around, googling like crazy, and looked around elance.com. I found a reasonably price designer. I liked their work but after it was up, I stared fiddling with everything. In the process I learned a lot of php, wordpress design, etc. Great experience. I’m glad I went with a custom design though. Now I’m working on a new header!

  4. @Rhea, finding a local designer can be a good idea as well if you live in a big city. I think face to face communication can help the process.

    For people in smaller cities our outside the US, however, perhaps the web has more resources to offer.

    @Tom, how much did you spend, if you can share?

  5. teamray says:

    i am cheap

    so i am learning on my own to create my wordpress themes

    imho it isnt that hard to do

    the web has many tutorials out there

  6. Rubin says:

    Two observations:

    1. With more and more people using RSS to read blogs, isn’t blog design getting less relevant?

    2. Why doesn’t Blogger get any love?

  7. kj says:

    I’m actually quite pleased with the free theme I’ve got off the WordPress site. The only substantial change I’d like to make it to add a third column to separate ad stuff from content stuff.

    Can anyone tell me how tough this would be to do on my own? I barely know something about HTML and know nothing about CSS.

    Sorry if this is the wrong place to ask, but I’m a newbie!

    Cheers.

    http://spartansweblog.wordpress.com/

  8. Farfield says:

    I’m happy that I know just a little bit of html and php so when I have a template that I like, I can change things like colors etc so that it suits my needs.

    I’m still not really happy with the design of my blog though. So I’m looking for another template to use and adjust.

  9. jan says:

    Play around with free themes and then decide which path you want to walk.

    I once started designing my own theme, but although enthusiasm was there, along the way I found out (well, actually got the confirmation) that the time-result curve was not doing it for me. So knowing enough PHP and CSS, I bought a paid theme as it contained the functions and lay-out I liked, and I tweaked it to my likings… saved me a lot of time.

    For logo design: Sitepoint forums used to have a special department for that and it has split off just a few months ago. It is called 99designs and you can have multiple designers compete in a pitch for your logo-design from as low as USD 100.
    Besides logos you can also have compete to design your website, t-shirts or whatever… ;)

  10. Lindsey says:

    There are plenty of freelancers online who specialize in blog designs that offer “high end” services by making custom/tailor made themes but not for a “high end” price.

    Some of us advertise on craigslist, some just use our websites to generate clients/leads and some bid on jobs on one of the various freelance sites there are too.

    I think it’s important for people looking to hire a designer for their blog to make sure that they find the right fit (by reviewing the portfolio or live sites), not just the most popular/well known one.

    Also @Daniel Scocco I’ve consulted with all of my freelance clients via email/im and occasionally the phone. The web has a vast array of resources for both clients and freelancers living outside of any major cities.

  11. Jacob says:

    Don’t forget DesignDisease

  12. Muscle Post says:

    I used a free word press theme for my blog and customized it to look the way I want it (for now). I am definitely waiting to see how much traffic I can bring in and the revenue potential of the blog, and hopefully I can reinvest my earnings into a new design.

    I think I will go with a custom designed logo and a premium wordpress theme. There are some great premium themes out there, and the number of people with the same one is probably very minimal (at least compared to the free ones!)

  13. Luis Gross says:

    I went and purchased a premium theme then tweaked it to my likings aswell. I must say I couldn’t have done it all by myself. The nice people over at revolution theme have a great support forum and helped me out a lot. I think free themes are okay, but too many people have them and it’s not a very good look to have a highly duplicated theme in my opinion.

  14. thePig says:

    I recently launched my blog and learnt how to build my own wordpress theme.

    But building it is one thing, getting a great looking design is something different entirely. If my blog goes well I will definitely look to get a professional designer in the future.

  15. Alex D says:

    My opinion is that if you really want to do something good, you should start with a great template. We all know that the template it’s a part of the blog’s success.

  16. Don’t forget Blog Theme Machine :)

  17. Nick Cernis says:

    I used a premium WordPress theme and then took my time customising it over a period of several months. It’s a lovely feeling to see a unique look emerge over time, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s on a budget.

    I used http://headersup.com for the new header design — they’re worth a look!

  18. Melvin says:

    I think you guys forgot uniqueblogdesigns

  19. Mandy says:

    I started off with a free theme and I’m going to progress to a premium one, so thanks for the info it will be useful when trying to make a decision.

    The problem is there can be too much choice!

  20. I’m a big fan of Essence by iThemes. It’s very versatile for a great featured post area, but avoids the magazine style look.

  21. Sandy Naidu says:

    I use wordpress…I have been using wordpress even for my ‘non blog’ sites…I tweak it a bit to work to my ideas..So far I am happy – Though quite often I get quite tempted to buy a premium theme. I think free ones should be fine for me for now.

  22. Yes there are many more sites that have quality premium WordPress themes, as well as many talented designers. I just listed the ones I am familiar with, feel free to add more to the list or to share your experience with one.

  23. Herbert says:

    I don’t have the resources to hire a professional designer yet, and to me, premium themes have similar problems to free themes in that other people use them as well. So, I decided to modify free themes to my liking.

    Let me tell you this – the coding is not as hard as you may think, but DESIGNING is very difficult. Once you have an idea or a colour scheme, you can run with it – but even that usually takes a while as there is usually a lot of research involved.

  24. “Obviously the more you spend, the higher the quality of the final product.”
    I don’t 100% agree on this one with you Darren. As much as we would like to have standard prices in the design industry, so that quality jobs would be paid good bucks, it really depends on the market where the designer comes from.

    Elance is a great place to find quality works.
    The agency I work with has a $25 hourly rate, which is low, but covers the expanses. Even so, sometimes we can’t compete on blog design projects with freelancer with $5-10 hourly rates. Sometimes, clients chose them, and sometimes come back to us for a better job. Also, some clients came after having their blog designed with an agency with higher rates, but that didn’t offer the expected result.

    I think a good way to put it would be: “The more you spend, the more likely it is to get a quality design, but not mandatory.”

    The best thing to do is to look in your wallet, look and the designer’s portfolio, confront the 2 and see if you have a match.

    Anyway, I preferred to design my own blog, as I have quite some experience in this field.

    Great article otherwise, full of helpful resources!

  25. The designer who did my blog is great, inexpensive, and can do Blogger or WordPress. :)

    http://design.goofygirl.org/

  26. Oh, excuse me, the author is Daniel!

  27. aLien says:

    I’m a electrical engineer, i don’t know what HTML or even CSS is, but a few months of learning through some tutorial side. Now I’m able create a web site all by myself even though my side is a little simple :) . feel free to visit my side http://www.alienblogshop.com. Start learn from unlimited resources library : Internet :) .

  28. Thanks so much for this post. I had the same question and needed the same resources.

    Live From Las Vegas
    The Masked Milllionaire

  29. @Alex, thanks for the rich feedback.

    When I said “Obviously the more you spend, the higher the quality of the final product” I was comparing the free, low cost and high end solutions.

    That is, a premium WordPress theme should look better than a free one most of the times, and a custom design made by a professional designer should look better than the other two options.

    I completely agree with your point though, there are all sorts of designers out there, and the pixel per dollar quality might vary a lot from place to place.

  30. Joe says:

    I purchased the revolution developers package, so that I can use the themes as a base for any blog I may start up. I’m very pleased with the design, and think it looks great! There are always some snafus when you work on your own design, but I think that it’s worth it in the end!

  31. Adam Singer says:

    Darren’s typo is cracking me up: =)

    “Party time bloggers might also want to wait the blog to generate some revenues, and then to reinvest that money into the design. This method would not touch one’s personal finances.”

    Part-time? ;)

  32. Genesis says:

    Another option for those who have a 0 cash budget is to do a trade. I´m a freelance writer, for example, and can trade custom web content for a custom WordPress design. Most people should have a skill that they can trade, but writing and designing really work well as trade-offs.

  33. @Adam Singer, well party time bloggers need to save money for their parties as well :).

    Jokes apart that was my typo not Darren’s. I will ask him to fix it.

    @Genesis, good point.

  34. noneck says:

    WordPress isn’t the only blogging platform either, there’s moveable type, joomla, drupal, and more. If you want a blog that looks like all the rest, use WordPress, if you want something differnet and more customizeable, use the others.

  35. @noneck:

    Ok, I’m a WordPress fan all the way so, probably, this affects my judgement, but, to day WordPress blogs are too alike, that they are not customizable is a bit too much.

    Until now, with all my clients, I haven’t found a website that I couldn’t port to WP. Personal website, photoblog, news portal, links directory, real estate agency portfolio, web design agency portfolio, e-shop and the list can continue.

    It’s only a matter of how much time are you willing to invest in manipulating the code, using the plugins, working with custom fields. You can do basically anything. Don’t underestimate it. Further more, I do believe that there are much more free resources (themes, pluging, coding tips) available for WP than for any other platform. This huge response from the general public (along with all the prizes this platform receives yearly) must mean something.

    Damn, reading the comment again I feel like a WP Evangelist. :)

  36. Those are great suggestions for the different routes for getting a theme on your WordPress installation.

    If you are going to tweak an existing theme yourself, an absolute must-have tool is Firebug for Firefox. It lets you pick out the relevant style definition for a particular element in a snap.

    @noneck Alex is right. You can make WordPress look like anything, it just takes more customization. Just like you can take Joomla, Drupal, Zencart, or Oscommerce beyond the stock layouts.

  37. Bibokz says:

    Thanks for the tips, found it very informative. I’ve been working for several design; but blog’s user interface is one of the most important things to consider also.

  38. Nicole says:

    I decided to hire a professional and she made a WP theme for me, so I can even add/remove widgets very easily. Her websites is http://idesignstudios.com and I think she did a great job! Well worth the investment. Though, I wasn’t “only” going to have a blog as this will be my business, so a professional look was mandatory for where I want to take it. This sorta goes back to the question of whether design matters and I am in the camp that it does, whether the user thinks it does or not. I think the look “says something” to the user at first landing.

  39. Nicole says:

    @noneck I agree with the others. My website is using WordPress but it’s a unique design.

    OT: Why don’t you have a neck? Are you a body builder or something? :D

  40. BlueDrifter says:

    I learnt a lot from this post, thanks.

    And I started to learn the things of Html and CSS now.

    But still, I have a question here: Should we start bloging in BSP?

    It’s much earier and safer for greenhand but costly at the same time. Everything of your blog will depends on the BSP. And you may lost your RSS readers and Google PR when you try to move to some other place.

    Any way can avoid this? Especially avoid losing RSS readers.

    BTW, could you introduce some excellent blogs in Google Blogger? I suppose that’s where should I start.

  41. Ryan McLean says:

    I use wordpress and I swear by it. It is perfect for bloggers because you don’t need to know much html code (if any) and you can easily create a professionally looking blog from numerous free templates.
    I have done this and I am living the dream and earning money doing what I love to do. I believe my blog is fairly professional for what I paid for it (nothing)

  42. Viden says:

    I’m still learning how to create a simple great blog that attract more visitor. And of course how to write an informative original articles to my blog. But, thanks a lot for giving me idea about designing professional blog.

  43. @BlueDrifter, I would recommend starting in Blogger only if you have no clue what blogging is all about. Like what are posts, how to setup a blog, how to moderate comments and so on.

    If you have a basic grasp of how things work, and a minimum of technical knowledge (FTP, basic HTML), I would go straight with a owned domain name and WordPress.

  44. Hemu says:

    HEy Guyz, Get free wordpress themes and modify them to your style. Thats simple yaar.

  45. Mark Lancaster says:

    Hi Darren,

    Just thought I should point out – The Blog Studio link is heading to an apache test page so the site might be down or no longer available?

  46. John says:

    I used several free themes for about a year. Finally contacted 10 designers and chose one for $500 and a fast turnaround. The theme has paid for itself many times over with a custom fresh look that site my site apart. I think if you are blogging for fun use a free theme, but if this is a business you are looking to develop for profit you need to eventually go with a custom theme. If you want my designer’s info drop me a line — he is based in the USA and has been 100% reliable.

  47. Killer Picke says:

    I know a lot of guys who have found local web designers on craigslist, you could try there.

  48. Anne says:

    I wanted a unique WordPress blog and found a wonderful designer who modified an existing WP template for me for about half of what I’d spent for a completely custom design. We went through all the templates and narrowed it down to the one I liked best. I was very happy with the results.

  49. Careerbright says:

    Thanks Darren, this post seems like God sent :)
    After having being on blogger on for a long time now, it is time to move to your own hosted blog site. If you have a professional blog better not continue on blogger, who knows when they wrongfully cite your blog as a spam blog or they just shut down..
    Thanks DANIEL — You have some great advice here on getting a professional website. I shall be soon going for one.
    http://careerbright.blogspot.com

    Currently looking for great wordpress themes else the best way to go thereafter is to design your own, get a good knowledge of CSS and all then there is no dependency..

  50. GW says:

    I really like these themes: http://www.premiumnewstheme.com/the-themes/ . In my opinion they are some of the most professional looking, reasonably priced themes out there. But I read here that there’s something fishy going on. http://hellyeahdude.com/articles/what-not-to-put-into-wordpress-themes/ .