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449 – 3 Day Professional Blog Design

Chris-GarrettChris Garrett (not the Chris Garrett from Performancing… there’s two of them out there!) emailed me this morning to tell me about a new service he’s put together for his blog design business.

It’s called 449 and is a service that promises to deliver you a professional blog design for £449 (at present that’s just over $834 USD or around $1100 AUD).

For that price you get a WordPress blog with free hosting and domain name for a year as well as the blog’s design.

Previous work from Chris can be seen here, here and here.

It’ll be interesting to see how his service goes. In my experience dealing with bloggers – there are a lot who aspire to professionally designed blogs but in most cases I find when I mention the type of prices that designers charge that people decide to either give the design a go themselves or go for a free template.

Is this a good deal?

I guess it comes down to personal taste (if you like his work), your own design ability, your blogging goals and aspirations as well as your budget. $834 isn’t the cheapest I’ve seen blog design advertised at but by no means is it the most expensive.

Effective Blog Architecture

Perhaps one of the most frustrating things for me as a professional blogger with decent depth in my archives – some really good content and some (perhaps more) not so great content – is figuring out the best way to present it. Blog architecture is a challenging topic since most blogs are structured pretty much identically.

Sometimes concepts are presented that just smack of “obvious”. Chris Pearson presented one such concept today. In his view, most of his readers (and I would venture most of my readers and most of Darren’s readers) consume blogs via RSS and RSS is reverse chronological by its nature. By default, most blogs are also ordered reverse chronologically.

Chris instead challenges his readers to think outside the box and avoid being redundant. If RSS is already reverse-chronological, why do the same thing on the web? Why not take a more nebulous approach to blog presentations – perhaps placing the “best of” on the home page or taking a Digg approach and letting entries with more comments migrate up to the front page.

The second approach is an idea that I had but would likely work best on a niche blog as opposed to personal blogs. The idea that mostly niche readers will read niche blogs suggests that a blogger would not get unrelated “junk entries” that garner a lot of comments on the front page.

I’m interested in hearing different ideas on presenting blog data in an alternate way. What are your thoughts?

More on Blog Design Pricing

Peter Flaschner has written his own piece on Blog Design Pricing (link removed as it was dead) in response to one Chris Pearson wrote last week. In his post Peter looks at some of the factors he considers when setting his prices and concludes:

‘Pricing is tricky. There’s no real science to it, and no standard estimating process to follow. When considering a range of estimates, be aware of the range of deliverables, the additional services included, the experience of the individual or team, and the supply and demand of the moment.’

Lessons from Eye Tracking

Picture 2-6Seth Godin has posted a fascinating video on his blog which shows eye tracking results of Squidoo. Lots can be gleaned by watching where people look on a website and while Squidoo is a little different from most blogs there are a number of take home lessons that I can see (none are particularly new and it is worth noting that each example in the video is a little different).

Pictures draw the eye – I was interested in a number of the examples to see that as people scrolled down a page that the first thing they often looked at was the thumbnail pictures – it was almost as if these were what were getting people to scroll.

Headings work well – similarly to pictures – headings and sub headings were often the first thing to be read upon scrolling. Quite often people read nothing more than the headings at all. Particularly good were headings in contrasting colors.

Blocks of Text Avoided – Most Squidoo pages don’t have large blocks of text but even medium sized ones were rarely read all the way through. In fact I saw little evidence of much reading at all – lots of scanning. Where people did seem to read they rarely finished a paragraph.

Lists seem popular – On a few occasions lists seemed to make those being tracked stop and do a little reading (although quite often people didn’t get to the bottom of lists and just read the headings of each point).

Buttons and Menus worked – I was surprised how much time some users seemed to hover over navigational elements of the design.

Ads were avoided – This didn’t surprise me at all. Seth says that it was because AdSense ads are familiar to we users and that’s the reason – I’d also argue that because Squidoo use the default design for their AdSense ads and position them low on the right hand side that they are never going to perform well.

Free Blogger Templates

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“Where do I find Free Blogger Templates?”

I’m regularly asked by bloggers using different blog platforms where they can get nice designs for their blogs, usually for free. I’m a WordPress User and therefore know a few good spots for WP templates (here, here, here, here, here, here and here for starters) but one of the platforms I’m less familiar with that many blogs use is Blogger.com.

Gecko and Fly have a nice list of well designed Blogger Templates that I think I’ll be sending people to from now on. Most are designs imported in from WP designs that are quite unlike Blogger.com default designs.

Share your Free Blogger Templates below if you’ve got any good sources.

Free Blogger Templates were found via blogHelper

CSS tips

If you are a blogger who wants to learn how to use CSS (cascading Style Sheets) to modify the look and feel of your blog and you are after some tips you might want to check out the latest post over at Business Logs where Mike gives his 5 CSS tips.

  1. Organize Your CSS
  2. Avoid Default Styles
  3. Use Your Utility Tags
  4. Use The Right Tool For The Job
  5. Name According To Where It Is, Not What It Looks Like

I won’t pretend I understand half of what he’s talking about (design is not my forte) but he is someone who knows how to design and so might be worth listening to on the topic.

Looks like Scrivs has some useful things to say on CSS also here.

TechCrunch Redesign Update

A few days back I linked to the design saga around the TechCrunch Redesign where the redesign of this popular blog came under significant critique. The design was done by Rachel Cunliffe from Cre8d but it was pretty obvious that there was some level of different perspectives between designer and blog owner if you look at the post announcing the redesign by Mike and the comment thread of Rachel’s announcement.

Reading between the lines it seems that Mike’s opinion as the blog owner won out and the new design was something that Rachel was not completely happy about. Ultimately the decision has to come down to a blog owner on how their blog will look and Rachel took the gracious approach of saying things like:

“Design is incredibly personal and I’m not taking the negative comments to heart because I know I’ve created what my client had in mind and wanted – layout, ads, exact colors and format.”

To me this indicates some level of respect for Mike as a client.

Today I headed over to Rachel’s blog to find that things have taken a new twist. She’s resigned as a result of Mike’s latest post which features a design submitted by another blog designer saying that he’s impressed by it and intends to steal some of it.

I’m a little disappointed by Mike’s post and by the whole way the saga has been handled. As much as I think Rachel’s stood by Mike as a client and worked to his desires his post to me is a little undermining of her work. Perhaps some will say Rachel overreacted by resigning but obviously she’s had enough and is moving on. What the full story that’s led to it doesn’t look like coming out but something’s caused her to react this way.

I have seen some fairly full on critiques of Rachel and her work this week with some saying some pretty terrible things about her despite her working to her clients wishes. I’m amazed that she’s put up with the rubbish that some have thrown her way.

Having said this there has been some acknowledgment by some of her talent and I only hope that out of it will come cliental who not only appreciate her work but who are also willing to take her advice and expertise on board in the design of their blogs.

As I said in my last post on the topic I do hope this brings about some worthwhile discussion on the topic of blog design and doesn’t degenerate into a personal attack-fest. Hopefully the matter can all be put to bed now and everyone can get on with their business of blogging and designing.

Update: Mike’s responded to the situation here and the comments arguing both sides are flowing.
Update II:
[Read more…]

TechCrunch Redesign Creates Discussion on Blog Design

I was chatting to an artist friend of mine about an exhibition he’s currently involved with that is causing quite a stir in some circles here in Melbourne. I asked him whether the extreme reactions that the exhibition caused bothered him or not and his reaction was that he was really happy about it because the dialogue (as emotional as it was) had caused people to think deeply about art and the messages that the art he’d produced was conveying. While many disagreed with elements of the exhibition it had caused even them to think through the reasons why they reacted in that way. His arguement was that ‘good art causes a polarization of opinions.’

I’m interested to follow some of the discussion caused by the redesign of uber-blog TechCrunch in the last 24 hours. It was done by designer Rachel Cunliffe (who did ProBlogger’s design also) and has been critiqued by quite a few bloggers (expressing a wide range of ideas on it).

Quite a lot of what has been said about the design is critical and there is some debate about how much impact TechCunch owners and editors played in changing Rachel’s original ideas.

I’m not really sure where I sit with the redesign as compared to the old one (I rarely read it in anything other than Bloglines so barely remember the old one) but I’m more interested in the discussion that it’s generated which has brought up some really worthwhile discussion points including:

  • the possible points of tension between a blog owner and designer
  • the placement of advertising on a blog
  • whether blogs should have ads on them
  • whether a blog’s design should reflect it’s topic – and how
  • what is ‘web 2.0’ design?

Read about some of the opinions and explanations of the new Tech Crunch design:

I’m sure there’s lots more out there – but as you’ll see there’s some useful discussion going on. I just hope it doesn’t turn into a bitch-fest and that people see this as an opportunity to discuss the principles of good blog design rather than see it as an opportunity to get personal and get into one-upmanship

Blog Comment Form Design

Smiley Cat Web Design had a cool showcase post a few weeks back that highlighted great comment section designs and today posted another showcase that is looking specifically at comment form designs.

Once again there are some nice examples there of some great blog design.