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How to Work With Designers to Design Your Blog

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.

If you don’t know of a good designer, you can try LinkedIn Groups and the freelance sites such as oDesk and Elance, which show potential candidates’ previous work history and client feedback.

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.

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Comments

  1. Ben Troy says:

    I often look for freelancers to design the blog header as this is most important to make first impresison on new visitors and redesign to remove unimportant part to be as friendly as possible

    • Rob Cubbon says:

      That’s a great way of cutting down design time and therefore expense. Coupling a great header with a great theme can be a viable solution.

  2. shubham says:

    Design is most important part of a blog and it should be done very carefully. Blog theme should be maked by keeping the readers in mind as what they will like.

  3. Ehsan Ullah says:

    Hey Rob, Nice to see you here at ProBlogger man.

    Having examples of websites or blogs that you like and want your own blog to design like that is nice idea. I have spent a lot of time on learning the every aspect of designing a WordPress theme myself, I didn’t hire anyone to do it for me. I wanted my blog to look simple and clean like Daily Blog Tips, so I tried to make it like that keeping my audience in my mind.

    Thanks for this post.

    • Rob Cubbon says:

      Thank you, Ehsan, it’s nice to be here. Designing your own WordPress theme is a great experience but it does take time :) I really like guideandnews.com nice and clean and simple and great logo!

  4. Sal Jumat says:

    Awesome advice. Thanks

  5. I really loved your encouraging tips above. Most especially thinking of your favorite blog and closing your eyes for a second; it is an inspiring thing to do when you need to focus. I’m actually impressed and at the same time helped so far. Thank you Rob, I look forward to your next!

    • Rob Cubbon says:

      Thank you, Carla, I’m glad I both inspired and helped you! What a compliment! I would love to write more here sometime.

  6. Shelby Roth says:

    Thanks for posting this Rob! I extremely agree with you with the popular WordPress themes and theme frameworks; we actually need not to work against them since their familiarity isn’t there for granted but with a pure reason. You really inspired me a lot and I have got every reason to thank for that. I look forward into your next shout out!

    • Rob Cubbon says:

      Thank you, Shelby, yes I think it’s right to work with WordPress, the themes and the theme frameworks rather than against them. At the same time to design a site that looks different from the original frameworks so no one can say “that looks like Thesis”! :)

  7. I absolutely love the advice Rob!

    You can also consult with your designer to come up with different graphics that could explain your content depending on what your blog is all about. You should also consider upgrading your brand over and above that of other bloggers; remember you are not the only one in the field! There are many of us and to keep your customers coming you have to keep an updated blog.

  8. Very immense tips! I like the information; it is in order and worth a read!

  9. Survey Crest says:

    Nice piece of advice Rob. It is important to have a good design when creating a blog, and to make your page in your way you will have to work with designers and how you work is equally important.

  10. Great post Rob. I can’t disagree with any of that.

    I imaged many bloggers run though all the budget options in order with a designer only coming in after some success.

    I’m also now a Genesis fan. I greatly admire Brian Gardner, but I wish they had more designers working on their themes. I think they lose out to some of the (over boated) theme makers because of the “hallo effect”.

    • Rob Cubbon says:

      Thanks, David, good to see you here! The great thing about the design of a blog, of course, is that you can always change it. So if someone has gone for a disappointing budget option or got their fingers burnt with a bad developer, they can always try again – after a few month rest a recuperation!

  11. Super tips Rob.

    Develop a vision. Then work with your designer to bring the vision to fruition.

    See your blog in detail. Step by step, create an orderly view of how you wish things to be.

    Relay to your designer to create YOUR blog.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Ryan

  12. You hit the nail on the head with knowing the audience and keeping functionality foremost. My readers are generally over 45 and the number one thing they all comment on is that they can read the print — it’s black on white, a little larger font size and even the sidebar has a larger font than many would consider “normal.”

    Also, many of my readers aren’t familiar with the little icons for Facebook, newsletters and so on. So I take the time (space) to put a short explanation and try to keep things simple. My readers aren’t dumb — but they’re not under-25 either, and many aren’t familiar with some of the technology.

    These were all things that I had to emphasize to the designer who helped me move the site to a new theme. While she had a lot of great ideas, I had to nix some as not being appropriate for my readers.

    • Rob Cubbon says:

      I’m glad you said all that, Carolyn, because I think there are lots of websites out there with too small body text. I have a minimum pixel rule of 16 for body text. People do appreciate it, and not just those from a certain generation. I agree with you about the sidebar size and the social media icons explanation. It’s about designing for your audience. Thank you.

    • Carolyn, such a good point about adding a short explanation by social media buttons and newsletters. Even those who are familiar with them might need a reason to be interested.

      On the other side perhaps some of us are getting over familiar with them and have started filtering them out. Maybe disappointed that some sites have big prominent icons, but don’t have much social to back it up.

      I must say on some themes those big social buttons can look so damn cool that they almost make you want to open an account not to lose them – I can forgive.

      Definitely, one to think about. Cracking comment – thanks

  13. Great tips. I’m currently looking for a designer and will definitely keep these tips in mind. Thank you. :)

  14. umashankar says:

    I would do a rough sketch in paper and start to design.

    • Rob Cubbon says:

      Very good point that I missed. A sketch of the home page that can be scanned and sent to a designer is very helpful. Than you Umashankar.

  15. Taran says:

    I always great to have good looking blog, great blog design leaves a good impression on visitors.