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A Basic Visual Design Guide for the Visually Incompetent

This guest post is by Anabelle of Read, Write, Live.

Have you ever woken up one day, looked at your blog’s header and other visual elements, and thought, “My, this is ugly!”

You need a visual redesign.

What to do?

There are two solutions to this problem: you hire a designer to work on your new visuals from scratch, or you try to do it yourself. The first solution can come at a cost, so cash-strapped bloggers can easily be tempted to try building their blog’s visual elements by themselves.

But what if, like me, you’re visually incompetent? I mean, really incompetent? You can’t draw a stick figure to save your life, and you know absolutely nothing about the basics of visual design. You’re a writer, after all, and writers are better off writing than playing around with pictures.

And yet, you can’t afford a designer, so you need to find a way, any way, to do it yourself.

In this article, I will share the lessons I have learned trying to redesign my blog visuals on my own—header, logo, and all.

Start with software that you understand

We’ve all tried to play with those complex professional photo and visual design programs. You load a picture or an empty canvas and you think “Wow, with all these great tools, I’m sure I can come up with something amazing!”

Well, not so much. After five minutes of trying to understand the functions of the program, you give up. This happened to me time and time again, until I discovered a nice little Mac app called Logoist.

Logoist is simple and has all the functions I need. I can use cliparts from its extensive library, add text, apply filters and effects and insert pictures and photos. Its interface is intuitive and it has a few tutorials to show you the ropes. It also has automatic grid lines that help align all your elements. This simplicity let me create more freely than any professional design program could.

There are a lot of apps and programs you can use for both Mac and PC. Some are free and most are reasonably priced. You don’t have to go for the $500 creative suite to get the job done.

Black and white are your friends

I’ve always worked under the principle that, when in doubt, you should take the simplest route. In visual design, black and white is a great base to start with.

A black and white design looks professional, clean, and easy to work with. You don’t have to worry about colors matching or clashing. You know your text and your visual elements will be readable on a computer screen, a tablet or a smartphone. Black and white reminds readers of printed paper, something that’s ubiquitous and familiar. It’s trustworthy.

But of course, black and white can become a little bland. To add variety, choose one (and when I say that, I really mean one) accent color for your sidebar widgets, for the picture in your logo, or for the blog title in your header.

For example, on my writer’s website, I decided to go with dark red. It’s a color I like, and I think it brings about the right amount of visual interest. On my blog, I count on the pictures inserted in my posts for a blast of color.

Play with fonts

For my blog’s header, I decided to keep everything simple and play with fonts rather than pictures or images. Each word of my title (Read, Write, Live) uses a different font that expresses something unique about that word.

“Read” is in a formal, serif type that you could find in a book or newspaper. “Write” is in a handwritten-looking font that illustrates the act of writing on paper and separates it visually the other two words. “Live” is in a bold, sans-serif font with unexpected lines. I added a small ornament (one of the cliparts in Logoist) in the middle for visual interest.

Here’s the logo version, with the first letter of each word:

Blog logo
Fonts are great because you can give personality to words and ideas before they are processed by the brain through reading. They leave an instant impression, and can make or break the viewer’s desire to read on.

A tool I love for choosing awesome fonts is Google Fonts. If you’re tired of Times New Roman and Comic Sans, Google Fonts has an impressive collection of independent, public domain fonts you can use.

Be yourself, be realistic

The most important thing when you’re stuck having to design your own visual elements without training is to be honest with yourself. If you don’t know how to use vector software, then don’t. There are a lot of solutions that are within your reach and your abilities.

You also need to be realistic: there is no substitute for a professional design. As much as a self-designed header and logo can fill in temporarily, as soon as you get a steady flow of readers, you’ll be expected to get some custom, professional visual design on your blog. But as a beginner or novice blogger, a handmade, simple header and minimal visual elements can go a long way

One last thing: remember to have fun. I can tell you that this kind of visual work can be absorbing and exciting when you really get into it. I didn’t know I could come up with something so attractive on my own. I was very proud of the results, and it got me compliments from readers too!

Have you ever tried to design your own visual elements? Do you have any other basic visual design tips you’d like to share with the visually incompetent among us? I’d love to hear from you!

Anabelle is visually incompetent and would rather write about books, writing and living life with purpose at Read, Write, Live. She’s also a professional freelance writer for hire.

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Comments

  1. Ben Troy says:

    Great post, You have very well explained the importance of blog design. A blog with a good design can have more benefits, compared to other. It will attract more customers compared to an ordinary blog

  2. Brodric P says:

    Blogs can be a powerful tool when done correct. You can have a lot of traffic from blogs. Affiliate Marketing is something that blogs can be used for as well as many other things.

  3. I love that you emphasize that you don’t have to hire or be a professional designer to have a great looking blog. I designed my logo using clip art included with Photoshop Elements and I think it looks designed. Your headers looks very sharp in black and white.

    • Anabelle says:

      Thank you!

      Yes, you don’t need them, but that always depends on your level of professionalism. I personally am not interested in turning it into a business so I can get away with it. Thanks for sharing your tips!

  4. Brad Dalton says:

    I use iconfinder.com and paint.net for windows. GIMP is good for Mac. Also dafont have some really nice free fonts. Use a nice background, crop it to size, drag your icon onto the background, position it and add your text then choose your font style.

    Pretty easy for anyone to use this method and make, logo’s headers and unique featured images for WordPress.

  5. If you’re on WordPress and know CSS, you can control the design of your site fully by going into Appearance > Editor in your WordPress dashboard, and editing the style sheet. You can do things mentioned in the article like change fonts and color scheme.

    For more CSS and WordPress tips, you should visit my blog in the link above.

    • Anabelle says:

      Yeah but that implies that you know CSS. This was really only for the header and graphic elements; I wasn’t talking so much about the blog design itself. But these are good tips for the more experienced user :)

  6. Pamela Miles says:

    Very helpful, thank you, Annabelle. Can Logoist be used for the headings on Facebook business pages as well?

  7. Arbaz Khan says:

    Very helpful post Annabelle.
    A good design always attracts more readers to your blog or website. Not only the design and the color combinations but the font selection can also have a great impact when it comes to overall site appeal.

  8. Really informative post Annabelle.
    Over the top website headers take away from the overall impression from your site. Drawing people to click on your header rather than your blog posts, or email subscribe button, or whatever call to action you have is detrimental to the health of your blog. Took a look at your site, love the header, says exactly what your blog is about in 3 words, brilliant!

    Chris

  9. Mi Muba says:

    There is a big difference between simplicity and naivety; just putting a mix of black and white can’t make your design simple for example if you run a blog on cherries here the best use of various levels of red color would make your design simple. So the choice of color depends upon the theme of your blog.
    After a long time I read such encouraging words about design simplicity otherwise every second blogger is nowadays make his or her blog a galaxy of colors. Thanks again for such informative post

  10. Shelby Roth says:

    Wow! This sounds so helpful to me much! I happen to be a victim in that and I think a basic visual design guide is the best and could work greatly. It is actually right that ugly blog headers can kill your blog and flatter away your readers.You have really dropped on time, thanks much for saving me Anabelle!

  11. This sounds so helpful information Anabelle! I really liked the idea about making a visual redesign. Blogging can sound a very powerful tool if it has a smart and great heading, you are true about font and color combination, I think this sounds a very appealing and attention-grabbing style of capturing traffics. Was also impressed by your discovery of Mac app -Logoist. I find it helpful to me. Thanks a lot for sharing. I look forward fro your next shout out!

  12. I am absolutely with you on simplicity; although I have a feeling that choice of color depends on the subject matter of your blog; for example, if you have a blog about art and colors, I think you will use definitely more than just black and white with a supplement.