Our Love Affair With WordPress: Part 4 Episode 1 - Your Blog Design

October 29th, 2007 · No Comments · Category: (Web) Technology · Blogging · Design · Our Love Affair w/ WP · WordPress

We love WordPressLast time on “Our Love Affair With WordPress” you learned about blog content. You learned that good content is relevant, engaging, mostly free, cites sources, should contain visuals and ultimately reflects you or your business. So, let the courting continue with the pretty stuff, design. The allure of WordPress is its seemingly infinite capacity to change its looks from one blog to another, keeping things fresh and interesting for designers and visitors alike. The WordPress publishing platform is the blog designers wet dream because it is so flexible, open, and capable of creating a look as simple a look as Simpla to a more involved design like Alexified. Before we continue, I’d like to make sure we’re all on the same page about what design means in the blog (and website) design world. Design means structure, look, navigation and technology, not just the look of a blog. Savvy?

Ok, let’s continue. Like website design, there are many approaches to creating a good blog design. The design process usually begins with the same step: define purpose, decide on concept, and set goals. This usually involves deciding on the why the blog exists, who the target market is, what’s their technology savvyness, what browsers do they commonly use, how much sociability and interactivity is wanted or is necessary, who will be updating the site when it’s complete and what goals can be reached to measure the success of the blog. I’ll get into more detail later.

The second step depends on the designer. In the second step, some designers prefer to develop the information architecture next. Information architecture is the way information is grouped and the navigation is structured for a website or blog. Other designers prefer to set the mood/theme before deciding on the the information structure and navigation. I personally like to begin with the visuals first and then the structure. Not necessarily with a concrete vision of the look, but a mood. I like using mood boards. I don’t think there’s a wrong choice in choosing to create the architecture before the mood or vice versa. Some designers, like myself, just need to get to the art before the science to keep us motivated and focused. Others prefer the science first for the same reason.

Regardless of the choice in the second step, the order of the next steps are usually the same: design the visual elements, build the site with whatever programming language or code is necessary (HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript, etc.), test, then launch. How the site is built can also defer from designer to designer in that some prefer to code the website (by hand or using a publishing software like Dreamweaver) before transferring the pages to a content management system (like WordPress). I prefer coding on the content management system (WordPress) because I don’t like unnecessary extra steps.

So, here are the 7 typical steps of the blog design process Poles Apart Design uses to design a blog using WordPress:

  1. Define the purpose, decide on the concept and set the goals
  2. Set a mood
  3. Create information architecture (information structure and navigation)
  4. Design visual elements
  5. Build the site on WordPress using HTML, CS, PHP and JavaScript (if necessary)
  6. Test
  7. Launch

So, now, let’s study each step and see what it takes to complete each successfully.

Step 1. Define the Purpose, Decide on the Concept, Set the Goals

When a client comes to Poles Apart she’s asked to fill out a client survey which answers most if not all three questions for step 1. You’d be surprised how helpful it is for the client and not the designer to fill out the survey while talking with the designer. Having it come from the clients own lips, making them write it down not only gives us a sense of who they are and how committed they are in making the project a success, but it helps them just as much in that they are forced to answer questions they haven’t yet asked themselves. Questions that all clients should like, “how tech savvy is your target market?” Good question, huh? Why? Well, you wouldn’t put a Flash video on your blog if your target audience still uses Internet Explorer 5 on 7 year old (or older) computers, would you?

So, let’s begin with the first part of step 1, “define the purpose”. That’s easy right? Not always. You should just make a short list of why your site exists.

For example, perhaps a community blog for foreign independent film enthusiasts has the the following purposes:

  • Show the target audience that they are experts and “in the know”
  • Become the #1 place for all things related to foreign independent films
  • Increase the number of visitors who become subscribers and contributors
  • Create a loyal audience base
  • Perform target audience research to keep content relevant and audience interested
  • Keep target audience up to date of what’s going on in the genre

Now that you have a clear purpose, you must decide on the concept of your blog. Ask yourself how you envision the blog to function? How do you envision your audience to interact with your blog and how do you envision your blog to function in general? If your blog is a community blog for independent foreign film enthusiasts, perhaps you envision your blog to be very sociable and include a forum on top of commenting capabilities per article. Or perhaps letting subscribers of a certain level contribute to your blog by writing their own posts. Perhaps your community film blog will be “the” #1 hub for independent foreign film enthusiasts so you might consider including a release calendar for pending films, an RSS feed for “this weeks” releases, articles on films in production, interviews, reviews, etc. The tone of your blog is just as important. Is your blog serious, humorous, or playful in tone.

Once your concept and purpose is defined, you must set the goals that will solidify your purpose and concept. For example, your independent foreign films community blog goals might be to make the comments, subscribe and forum areas prominent to encourage site visitors to get involved with conversations as well as contribute by starting their own conversations. Another goal might be to run polls and surveys to gather information on how best to keep your audience interested and coming back for more. You may also want to continually increase page rank by creating opportunities for inbound links by creating special sections for articles and other content about sub genres in the foreign independent film industry. The goal when setting goals is to make sure they are measurable and tangible.

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