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The Ultimate Guide to Creating Your Blog Logo

This guest post is by Liane of the Blog Design Team.

After almost three years of blogging, and about the same time spent discovering my addiction to graphic design, I’ve come to realize that both of my passion go hand in hand. Blogging and design is a match made in heaven. And my favorite project to work on? Logos, of course.

Sure, I’ve made designs for both online and offline business, but when a blogger knocks at my mail box, I give them special priority. That’s because, in truth, designing a blog logo is one of the trickiest things to do. Of course there would always be clients who’re easy to deal with and just give me free reign in creating the design (not recommended!), but more often than not, bloggers are particularly nitpicky (as you should be) at every step in the process. And I don’t blame them. I’ve been there, done that—I actually used my previous blog as a guinea pig for countless logo experiments.

In this post, I want to cover all the bases with regards to designing a blog logo—from its importance to a blog, to the process of creating your own. Even if you’re already happy with the logo you have right now, who knows? Within the next few months or years, you might revamp your blog or create a new blog altogether—and then, this guide ought to be useful.

What’s the big deal with a blog logo?

I know a lot of non-believers out there. These bloggers do away with logos and rely on other branding techniques such as their name as a brand (e.g. the blogs of Seth Godin and Matt Cutts). These cases are exceptions to the rule. If you are Matt Cutts or Seth Godin, would you even need a logo to begin with? In reality, the blogosphere is split on this issue. While some bloggers consider their own logo a requirement for branding, for others, it doesn’t really add any value.

At the end of the day, I think it’s a matter of personal choice whether or not you think a logo is something you want on your blog. But eventually, most bloggers realize they need to have one to help build their blogs and their reputations, for a number of reasons:

Branding

Among the sea of blogs out there, being noticed can be a challenge—especially for new blogs. And it won’t make it any easier if you just leave your blog’s name in plain text as your header. A logo is also useful once you start developing products and services, as using a logo in your ebook or videos, for example, looks much more credible than just using your domain name.

Recognition

Blogs gain popularity the moment they’re recognized and remembered by an audience. This is where logos play an important role—they represent you, and make it easier for readers to connect to your blog.

Authority

Okay, maybe logo isn’t much of a factor to your authority. Though that doesn’t mean it should be completely set aside. In terms of authority, I think a good logo should act as an important symbol of your authority and credibility.

The makings of a great blog logo

There’s no concrete formula for creating a great blog logo.

Most of the time, it’s just the blogger’s and/or the designer’s discretion that comes into play. Being both a blogger and a designer gave me a good perspective on this issue, and based on the clients I’ve handled, these criteria have proven to be standard for every blog logo design.

A color scheme that works

Don’t just randomly use any color you believe is nice. Aside from the aesthetic value, remember that your logo has to be coordinated with your blog theme. Make sure you use not only the right color, but the right shade as well. Otherwise, it may seem a bit out of place or, as I said, uncoordinated.

There are some bloggers who do it the other way around: they start with a logo, then build their blog. I guess that makes you freer to conceptualize the logo. But of course, if this is the case, you have to consider the theme you plan on using for the blog anyway.

By the way, if you’re not good at making color schemes, try Adobe Kuler.

Good typography

Blog logos usually follow the symbol-and-text design style, since they’re also used as the header image. This is why you’ll need one good, stand-out, typographical font. Of course, the type of font that’ll be suitable will vary with your blog niche (personal blogs tend to have more artsy fonts, while professional blogs tend to go for bolder, simpler typefaces) and your personal preferences. I suggest that you steer away from complicated fonts like grunge or macabre options unless that’s really the image you want to portray.

An original concept

This might sound obvious, but you have no idea how often bloggers want to replicate a logo of an A-list blogger. Some of the bloggers who want to emulate a popular blog’s logo seem to think that, as a prerequisite to being great, you have to look like someone who’s already great. But really, when did someone ever achieve greatness through imitation?

Good resolution

Always ask for your logo to be created at high resolution. That you if you want to make it smaller, you can just resize the original logo. The trouble arises when the resolution is poor, the logo’s too small, and it gets pixelized every time you make it bigger. Not a good thing!

Conveys your blog’s or your personality

It’s easy to get carried away by designing for the sake of an awesome design. But never forget that your logo is not a painting: it’s there to serve a purpose, and that is to be a symbol of your blog.

On creating your blog logo

Okay, so now that we’re done with the reasons and essentials of logo-making, it’s now time to get into the meat of the story—making the logo itself. You have two ways to make this happen. You can either do it yourself and take full control over what happens to your logo, or hire a designer to do it for you.

Whichever way you choose, I have prepared a set of guidelines that’ll make the process a bit easier—or at the very least, familiar—so you’ll know what to do and what not to.

The do-it-yourself (DIY) logo guide

A cold, hard truth first: you’ll need, at the very least, basic design and editing skills to do this. In my experience, bloggers who goes this route either have no spare funds to pay for the design service, or they’re confident that they can create the logo without professional help.

If you have only the most basic design skills, don’t worry. Who says logos should be complicated, or loaded with effects? they don’t! Simplicity is your best asset. If you have average-to-above average design skills, lucky you! However, if you don’t have any knowledge at all in the field of design, don’t lose hope yet. There are many fool-proof design software products out there: just search for a few basic tutorials, and you’ll get the hang of it.

Here are the steps you’ll need to follow to design your own logo:

Step 1. Get hold of a Photoshop or a similar product

If you don’t have one, be resourceful and look for free online alternatives. Just Google for “free online alternatives for Photoshop” and you’ll soon find a ton of them.

Step 2. Conceptualize

What do you want your logo to look and feel like? If you’re stuck for ideas (like most clients I’ve met), it helps to check out competitor sites. Not that you should copy them, but this can help to get your creative juices flowing. Consider the elements of your design, the font you want to use, the colors you want to use, and even the logo’s dimensions—especially if you’ll use it as your header.

Step 3. Check for originality

This is the step even designers often forget. While this step is a no-brainer, it’s very important. You wouldn’t want to be accused of being a copy-cat, would you?

Step 4. Execute the design

This could be the hardest part, especially if you have no or little knowledge of design. Here’s a little tip though: create the logo one section at a time. Execute your symbol first, before you start thinking about the text, or vice versa. Make sure you use a good font. If you desire certain effects or elements, you can always Google for tutorials (it never fails to amaze me how people frustrate themselves with software when they could so easily just Google for a tutorial!).

Be sure to save the file every now and then. There’s nothing more frustrating about creating a design than losing unsaved changes, or worse: losing the whole file. Back-ups help too. Once you’re done, convert the logo to .png or .gif image files. These are the files that are best for use on the Web.

In creating your own design, you are obviously in full control of everything. The down-side is that your blog logo design is limited to your own designing ability (or lack thereof). Back when I ran a blogging tips blog, I never paid a cent to designers. I did everything on my own, and that’s how I acquired the skills of logo design. Who knows, you might end up on the same path too!

The hire-a-designer logo guide

If you don’t trust yourself with anything that has to do with art and design, I guess it’s best to leave these things in the hands of good designers. Of course, you’ll need to have some funds to take this route.

It’s a common misconception that hiring a designer means that you need to shell out hundreds of bucks. In reality, the competition in the design industry makes the pricing competitive. In fact, you can have your own professional logo designed for under $100. So really, if you believe a great logo is a great investment (which is true), then justifying the fee isn’t really an issue.

If you plan on hiring a designer, or using the services of a design company, here are a few pointers that you should consider:

Always check the designer’s portfolio samples

Designers often use a set of styles that can be seen in action through their portfolio. It’s best if you check their previous work to ensure that you can trust them to make your logo to a standard that you’ll be happy with.

Ask to see client testimonials

From a designer’s perspective, I’d say trust the portfolio more than the testimonial. We all know stories on how testimonials can sometimes be manipulated, though there are of course designers that have genuinely good feedback for their excellent service. Nevertheless, it’s at least a good thing to make sure that clients speak highly of the designer. If you can, see if you can find any familiar names (or research them) to make sure that the testimonials are authentic.

Read the design policy, and terms and conditions

How will the designer create your design? How fast will they design it? What are the packages or offerings involved? What are the terms for revisions? Before you order, make sure that you know how the designer operates and how much the finished product will cost you (watch out for hidden fees!). If it’s a good design service then you don’t need to dig around their pages to figure out how the process will work. It should be transparent.

When you order, be specific about details and/or instructions

There are still a number of clients out there who provide one or two sentences of “instructions” and then expect the designer to come up with a design that’ll blow their minds. Let’s face it: designers are not psychics! They only do what they’re told to do (because it’s all about what the client wants) and would hesitate to venture beyond those instructions. Of course, you can always say to your designer, “I’ll let you do whatever you want,” but that’s the most frustrating instruction ever! It’s always better if you have a clear vision for your logo. It makes our job easier, it speeds up the process, and it so much lessens the need for revisions.

If you can’t tell the designer what to do, at the very least tell them what not to do

Okay, so maybe you’re really out of ideas. There’s one thing a designer will at least be grateful for—if you remind him or her of the things you don’t want to see in your logo. Then at least they’ll be aware of the major no-no’s of the design and can avoid obvious mistakes.

For revisions, make up your mind, and be nitpicky

It’s stressful if a client keeps on changing his or her mind about the design. First, it’s counter-productive. But you’ll also be very lucky if the design service offers unlimited revisions—if not, ongoing revisions will likely cost you extra. Be detail-specific if you ask for revisions. Trust me: your designer will want to get the job done to your satsifaction as soon as possible.

Happy with your design?

Thank your designer, and give them a testimonial. Not happy with your design? Perhaps you’ve chosen a design service that offer a second concept re-design, or a 100% refund policy. Again, this explains why it’s better to pick design services that are credible, reachable, and accountable.

Put your logo first

Whether you design it yourself or hire someone to help, a good blog logo can deliver a lot of benefits in the long run. It doesn’t really have to be expensive—all that matters is that you get to build a symbol of what your blog is all about.

Last but not least, remember that logos do not posses any magical abilities, so don’t expect that having one will immediately catapult you to success. You need to work hard for your logo and brand to become known, not the other way around.

If you have any logo-making stories, insights, of nightmares, I’d love to here about them in the comments.

Liane (blogger of 3 years) is now the Founder and Team Head of the Blog Design Team, the design service behind every blog and blog businesses. And btw, she’s just 18 :) Follow her in Twitter @HeyLiane.

Prepare for a Custom Blog Redesign in 5 Simple Steps

This guest post is by Josh Mullineaux, co-founder of Highlighter.com and Unique Blog Designs.

Over the past four years, my business has completed over 500 custom blog projects and through that experience, we’ve learned the ins and outs of a what contributes to a successful blog design.

Today, I wanted to share the five key factors I believe you should consider before hiring a blog designer. Thinking about these five factors in advance will help you make the most of your experience.

1. What are your goals for the project?

This sounds like an obvious question, but being able to communicate clearly your reasons for wanting a blog design will be extremely helpful for your designer, and will contribute to a more successful project.

I recommend having one or two main goals or objectives. Then, if necessary, create a subset of several more. For example, when I ask potential clients what their goals are for their projects, it isn’t usual for the blogger to respond with a really abstract answer: “I want my blog to look better,” or “I want my blog to be more visible.” Neither of these goals are specific enough to help us create a great blog design, so it’s my job to ask more specific questions at that point.

Get a head start by really thinking about what your goals are for the blog design. If it’s a new blog, you may have specific goals around branding either yourself or your blog business. If you’re redesigning an existing blog, you may have goals such as increasing the number of daily opt-ins to your email list, or changing the layout so your visitors are able to read the content they want more easily.

Again, the more specific you can be with your goals, the more successful your project is going to be.

2. Which sites do you like? What do you like about them?

Having a list of sites and blogs that you like and can reference is a huge help to your designer. This doesn’t mean that you have to have examples of sites that you want to copy, or sites that you like everything about—actually, the contrary is true. The best thing to do is gather sites that you like specific elements of. For example, you could really like the header of one site, the color scheme of another site, and the footer of yet another site.

I recommend having a list of at least three to five sites that you like. As with my first point, the more specific you are with what you like about the sites, the better. If you like the header of a site, think about what it is that you like about the header. There are usually multiple elements within the header of the site; you may like the position of the logo, or the way the navigation looks, or where the RSS icon is located, or that it’s tilted sideways, and so on.

3. What’s your budget?

Have a budget in mind for your project—this may determine who you hire. There are many possibilities for designing a blog interface, and a wide range of pricing options.

The least expensive option is to go with a premium WordPress theme that closely suits your needs. Expect to pay in the range of $50-$150 USD. For improved branding, you can also have a custom logo designed, which will usually cost you around $300 USD.

There are other options, such as 99designs.com, that can be less expensive than engaging a design agency or even a well-known freelance designer. The upside is that you’ll get good value for your money, but you will also have to put a lot more effort into preparing a great design brief, creating a layout description, and giving feedback on designs. A reasonable price to pay on 99designs for a custom blog design is around $1100 USD.

Going with a custom design firm or a well-known freelancer is going to be more expensive, but you will have the experience of working with a professional, and can expect customer service to be top notch. I would recommend speaking with at least three different agencies or designers before you select one. This way, you’ll get to know the process, get an idea of what they charge, and have a feel for who understands your needs and who doesn’t. For a professional custom blog design, I’d expect to pay a minimum of $3,500—more likely, closer to $5,000 USD.

4. What’s your timeline?

The timeline for the creation of a custom blog design comes down the schedule of the person or company doing the creative work. Designers usually have lead times of at least a couple weeks for starting new projects. For example, we estimate that a custom WordPress blog will usually take eight to 12 weeks from start to finish. If you need it quicker than that, you can expect to pay extra for rush delivery.

Some individual freelancers may be able to complete a project faster, and options like 99designs.com can also be quicker. The best advice here is to plan as far in advance as possible, get multiple quotes, and choose the one that works for your timeline.

5. Which sites has the designer created that you like?

There is no doubt that you have selected several possible designers for your project, and that you’ve selected them at least in part because of their past work. It’s important that you can identify which sites they’ve done that you like, and what you like about them, for referencing purposes when you are speaking with the designer.

Conclusion

Whichever route you choose to go through—agency, freelancer, 99designs.com—just remember that the more thought and work you put into the project before approaching designers, the more successful your project is going to be. Getting a custom blog designed can be a headache or a great experience, but fortunately you can do a lot to influence which way the project goes.

Josh Mullineaux is a co-founder of Highlighter.com and Unique Blog Designs.

Thesis Theme for WordPress Upgrades to Version 1.6

One of my favorite WordPress themes – Thesis – has in the last week released an update with some pretty cool features.

My strategy with blog design is like this. I generally aim towards a completely customized blog design that will give my blog a distinct look and brand – but before I work towards that I almost always start with a more affordable option because I like to test to see whether the blog is going to work or not.

As a result I’ve always been on the look out for great themes and when Chris Pearson and Brian Clark started DIYthemes and released the Thesis theme I was keen to test it.

I used Thesis as the first theme on TwiTip and have been very happy with it.

I’m actually about to release a complete overhaul of the design of that blog (completely custom) but in the year or so since TwiTip’s release I’ve been more than satisfied with Thesis. It’s been easy to use, it’s set up really well by default for Search Engine Optimization and it’s been easy to add extra things in (like advertising spots etc).

I never did much with changing much of the default design on TwiTip but many bloggers use Thesis as the basis for quite impressive customizations. You wouldn’t know it to look at but blogs like Chris Brogan, CopyBlogger, Laughing Squid and Rae Hoffman all use Thesis as the basis for their blog design.

The new update for Thesis (you get all these updates for free if you’ve already got it) takes the version up to 1.6. It includes new navigation menus with drop down menus and the ability to change colors throughout the themes without having to get into the code.

I’m told also that Thesis 2.0 is also being worked on and promises to be a fantastic update.

PS: here’s a cool video that shows just some of what Thesis is like to use – in it Chris Pearson plays around with changing the default layout in a number of ways to shot you how you can begin to customize it.

Run a Competition to Find Your Next WordPress Blog Design

One of the most common questions I’m asked by readers starting out with blogging is around blog design and how they can get an affordable but unique blog design.

The irony of this is that I’m a self confessed dud when it comes to blog design. These days I hire others to do custom designs for my blog – but of course this doesn’t come cheap.

A recent survey here on ProBlogger showed that 79% of readers here use free themes or design their blogs themselves – but what if you want something more unique and/or don’t have the ability to design a blog or tweak a free theme?

I had all these questions buzzing around in my head recently when I paid a visit to local design marketplace site 99designs. I didn’t expect anything to come out of the conversation but what did come out of it excited me because it could meet a need that I see many of our readers having.

What 99designs have put together is a way to run a competition to have a new WordPress blog design created for your blog for as little as $369.

Now before I go any further – $369 is out of many bloggers leagues – but it is certainly a cheaper option than hiring a designer for $2000-$3000 to do a custom job for you. It’s not going to be for everyone but is sure to be an attractive option for those looking for a mid priced design.

The process to run a competition is simple. Here’s how 99designs describe it:

1. Set your budget and requirements

Tell us your budget and what you want designed, and we will post it on 99designs.com

2. Designers will create designs just for you

Designers from around the world will compete to create the best looking design just for you. Most projects get over 20 different design concepts to choose from. Rate the designers you like, eliminate the ones you don’t like.

3. Choose your favorite design

Pick your favorite design as the winner. Show it off to your friends! The winning design is yours to keep forever.

4. We code and install your theme (optional extra)

Through our partner, Thinktank Media, we’ll have your new WordPress theme up and running on your blog in 5 working days. Our themes are coded on the Sandbox theme, so they’re compatible with both WordPress.org and WordPress.com blogs!

They also have a 100% money back guarantee if you run a competition and don’t find a design that you like.

Keep in mind that what you’re running the competition for is the ‘design’ – to have it coded and/or installed you either need to choose to pay extra for these options or do that part yourself.

I hope those of you looking to find a new design for your WordPress blog find this useful! Check it out here.

79% of Bloggers Pay Nothing for their Blog Design

Over the last few weeks the poll I’ve been running here on ProBlogger has asked people about who designed their blog. The results are in and it looks like that the vast majority of bloggers are not paying for themes.

61% of our readers are using free themes in some way – either using a default theme that the blog came with (11%), downloading a free template (21%) or taking a free theme and tweaking it (29%).

18% of our readers are designing their blogs completely on their own and while the market for premium themes does seem to be growing only 13% of you have paid for a theme.

The lowest response of all was for people to pay for someone else to design a blog for them (8%). That brings the total of those paying for their design in some way to 21%.

blog-design.png

Total Votes at the time of publishing these results: 2513

Theme Wars – Where WP Themes ‘Battle’

This is one of the cooler ideas I’ve seen in a while – it’s a WordPress theme site with a twist – ThemeWars.

Each week two WordPress themes are featured and readers are asked to vote for their favorite. While obviously the site’s about selling WP themes it’s also kind of fun and will be interesting to see what themes win each week. The winner gets put into the theme store once the week’s results are in.

Nice idea and the first two themes up for your vote are pretty nice themes too.

Designing a Custom WordPress Theme – Working with a Designer [PART 2]

Today, Amir Helzer from WPML (WordPress Multilingual) shares his experience building a custom WordPress theme.

In my previous post, I talked about what I do when commissioning custom WordPress theme design. It left where the job started. In this post, I’ll talk about the steps that follow – working with the designer towards a complete and functional theme, reviewing it and finalizing the project.

Reviewing prototypes

The first thing the designer needs to send me are prototypes of the website. These are non-functional documents (images). The designer isn’t creating a real web page for that, but rather using a drawing tool. Prototyping is a creative process. It’s when the web designer’s creative abilities get to shine.

Let the designer design, don’t do a review by committee

If you were a graphics designer, you’d have probably built your theme yourself. You’re probably not, so you asked a professional designer to help. The problem is, people don’t know how to review what they get so we start asking for feedback from others. The wife, our friends and colleagues all have something to say. Then, we compile that ‘rejects list’ and send to the designer. What we’ve done right now is make sure the designer can’t do anything.

Graphics design is a creative process and produces subjective results. Any given design will always generate criticism. If our objective is to come up with a design that makes everyone happy, we’ll end up with a pale design that has no character and no impact. Our site will not be memorable and will have no branding.

My suggestion is – leave the creative work to the designer and concentrate my efforts on functionality.

For WPML, these are the issues I raised during the prototyping stage:

  1. Make the top banner smaller and consume less page real estate.
  2. Make the text background white so it’s easier to read.
  3. Add a search box and language selector and integrate them in the top banner.
  4. Make the screen shots in the features page larger.

Create a detailed theme checklist

As the designer is building your theme, take the time to compile a comprehensive checklist of items you’re going to check. When get the first delivery, it’s like a new toy. You’ll want to play with it and show it around. It will be very helpful if you have a checklist to go through for each delivery, so nothing gets left out.

Here is my list:

  • All pages are HTML clean. To verify this, I review the theme in Firefox and use the HTML Validator extension. It displays the validation status of every page viewed so you can tell right away where there’s a problem.
  • Pages look the same in Firefox and IE7. Even if all pages are 100% HTML valid, they might display differently in different browsers (due to different CSS defaults).
    Check the home page (if it’s a the blog’s index or if it’s a special page).
  • Check samples of different templates (check for both enabled and disabled comments).
  • Check a post with and without comments.
  • Check a category page.
  • Check a tag page.
  • Check the search results page (and make sure that the search box is placed where it should).
  • Sidebar supports widgets.
  • Comments are threaded and properly coded (when I click on ‘reply to comment, the JS kicks in and the reply box is displayed under the comment).
  • Use the site navigation and see that I can get to any page.

Just to illustrate what I mean by testing on different browsers, have a look at these two screen shots:

Menu problem on IE7 - incorrect Z order of floating menu

Menu problem on IE7 - incorrect Z order of floating menu


fixed_problem_on_ie7_1

After correcting the Z-order - menus display correctly on IE7 and FF

These two shots were taken from a page that is 100% valid XHTML. No errors and no warnings. Still you can see that the navigation is completely broken on the top image and looks fine on the bottom one. This happened due to a weird IE7 bug which mixes z-order for elements if a page has more than one relative position blocks.

When the designer is ready with a new version the the theme, I review it in two stages. First on their server and then on my. If there are obvious errors, I like to see them immediately on their server before spending time uploading and installing it on my.

Logo graphics

An important part of the design is the logo. The logo that comes with the theme is great, but you also need to use it in other places. I use my logo graphics for business cards, banner ads and even in plugins. For this to work, you need to request the logo in a way that is independent of the rest of the theme design. I ask for the graphics as a high resolution transparent PNG (Portable Network Graphics).

Logo on red backgroundThen, when the designer sends me the logo, I put it on different backgrounds and magnify. This way, any artifacts are easier to spot. For starters, try while, black and red. If your transparent logo shows strange edges, it means that the transparency isn’t right and it needs fixing.

My logo includes the graphics itself and some text. I ask to get them separately, so that I can use either one or the other. Also remember to take note of the font type used in your logo. You’ll need that when creating printed material with it.

Wrap up

A custom theme for your blog will give it an identity. Like any other design project, it has its risks. When defined and managed properly, this can be a fun thing to do and produce excellent results that will bring your blog to the next level.

I hope that these tips help. Tell us about your experience getting custom design work.

This post was written by Amir Helzer, founder of WPML, a mega-plugin that aims to turn WordPress into a fully featured multilingual content management system.

Designing a Custom WordPress Theme – Working with a Designer

Today, Amir Helzer from WPML (WordPress Multilingual) shares his experience building a custom WordPress theme.

When you’re designing your blog all sorts of options are open to you – starting with a free theme (that you can later edit), through a premium customizable theme (like Thesis or Revolution2) and ending with a custom theme, created just for your site.

In January, Web Designer Matt Brett talked here about how to redesign a blog (and part 2). These posts covered the design goals, functionality and implementation. I’d like to talk about the process of working with the designer – the person who’s going to create your theme.

If you’re thinking about getting a custom theme, following these steps can make the process shorter, more productive and more enjoyable for both you and the designer.

1) State what you need and define the scope of the work

We’ll start with a list of everything that we need from this design:

A WordPress theme – sounds obvious, but you don’t want the designer to supply you just the PSD files, or a HTML file that you can turn into a theme yourself, right? Specify which version of WordPress you’re going to use it with.

Logo – a professionally designed logo can be expensive by itself, so make sure it’s included. When you ask for a logo, remember that you’ll also want to use it in printed material (like business cards or in magazines). This means asking for a high resolution version of your logo with transparent background.

Copyright – make sure it’s crystal clear that you have full copyright and exclusivity. This implies that the designer cannot use anything that violates the rights of others.

The discussion about copyright should clearly mention back-links. Web designers often give away free themes in exchange for credit links. If you want to link back to your designer’s site, that’s great, but you should decide that. You can instruct the designer to get your approval for any outgoing link placed in the theme.

Testing – ask the designers to supply a preview of your theme on their server. Normally, you can’t test their work on your live site. You might need to supply contents for this, or just do with the standard Lorem Ipsum.

2) WordPress theme basics – which elements to ask for

WordPress is evolving and theme design is more than just putting HTML in pages. You need to specify what kind of functionality you expect to get from your website.

List everything that you know you need. Here is what I told my designer when we started:

My design should include:

  • Front page
  • ‘Regular’ internal pages – for general purpose texts.
  • ‘Features’ internal pages – these pages should have a unique template that lets me highlight special features.
  • Posts (with threaded comments)
  • Category pages
  • Search

The design should have site-wide navigation including top tabs with drop-down menus, breadcrumbs trail navigation and context-dependent sidebar navigation. There should also be room reserved for the language switcher (inside the header).

The sidebar should be widget ready. Comments in posts and pages must support threading. Every page in the website must be HTML clean (pass HTML validation).

This list doesn’t tell the designer how I want the site to look, it just lists which things I need. Since she was doing a redesign for an existing site, I didn’t need to explain much about the contents for each page. If you’re getting a theme for a new site, there’s more explaining to do.

3) Prototypes come before the design

Even though you’ve chosen great designers, they’re not mind-readers. Ask the designer to provide prototypes before building any HTML or coding the theme. This way, you can approve the design concept before too much work has been put into it.

A prototype is normally delivered as an image (JPEG or PNG). During your work on the prototype, you need to take care of all the design issues. This includes the color scheme, look and feel, layout and content arrangement.

When you’ve accepted the prototype, know that this is how your site will appear. There’s not much room for design changes later on in the process. The designer’s job changes from design to implementation.

4) Payment and delivery terms

Last, but not least, before the project kicks off, you should agree on both payment and delivery terms.

Design work is not like building a railroad. You can’t pay per mile. However, there are some checkpoint on the way:

  • Prototype / wireframe design
  • Working draft
  • Completed and polished design

Both you and the designer would feel better if payment is split per delivery. You can make an initial payment, release payment when each milestone is met and the final payment is left for when the work completes and is fully reviewed.

Ready to begin your custom theme design? Here’s a quick checklist of what we talked about:

  1. Project overview
  2. Detailed scope of work
  3. Payment and delivery terms

In the next part of this post (tomorrow), we’ll talk about how to help the design go smoothly and make sure you’re getting everything you asked for.

This post was written by Amir Helzer, founder of WPML, a mega-plugin that aims to turn WordPress into a fully featured multilingual content management system.

Thesis WordPress Theme Version 1.5 Launches!

Regular readers of ProBlogger know that I’m a fan of Chris Pearson and his popular Thesis theme for WordPress.

I’ve been using Thesis on TwiTip since I started that blog back in November and have been very satisfied with it.

Chris has just launched version 1.5 of Thesis – a significant update upon the previous one. You can get a personal video tour of Thesis and many of the options and features that it has here.

Why I love Thesis?

I’m not a designer – I am hopeless on anything related to design.

For my two main blogs (ProBlogger and Digital Photography School) I’ve hired designers to come up with custom designs for my blogs. I intend to do this for TwiTip also at some point but while I’ve been building up the audience for that blog I wanted a clean and easy to use theme that would allow me to do a little customization.

Keep in mind I’m hopeless on design – so it had to be very easy to use. I also wanted something affordable to get me through the start up phase of the blog so that I could get it earning some money to help me pay for a custom design.

Thesis hit the mark for me. It’s easy to use, it’s a clean design in its default form and it has loads of customization options (see the video linked to above to see some of them). The other bonus of Thesis is that it’s well coded for SEO. TwiTip already ranks very well in Google, some of the credit for that is the coding of Thesis.

The other bonus with Thesis is the community of bloggers that has sprung up around it. They have a forum where there’s heaps of good information on how to use and customize Thesis.

Thesis costs $87 for a personal license or $164 for a developers license (where you can use it on as many blogs as you like).

If you’re in the market for a theme for your WordPress blog Thesis is a theme that you’ll want to consider.