One of the many great things about WordPress (and PHP in general) is that your header is separate from the rest of your design & layout so it’s easy enough to create a distinct blog or blog-powered website design by just designing or redesigning the header alone. The header is the first thing you see when visiting a web page so your header needs to leave a great first impression or your site visitors won’t stay and browse. What makes a header pop and not suck is that it directs site visitors to where they should go, looks good and gives the overall impression of what the site is about.
WordPress has a great page on designing headers at codex.wordpress.org/Designing_Headers. You should definitely check it out if you’re a web designer. If you’re not, read it anyway.
Visit Web Design Galleries
In general, visiting web design galleries of the best designed sites on the web is a good idea. But it’s an even better idea if your stuck on design direction and also if you want to know what the new trends are in design. A couple I love are: CSSRemix, The Best Designs, CSS Vault and CSS Beauty. Or just take a look at your favorite websites (that are designed nicely) and think about why you like the design and why it works.
Know Your Logo
I hate designing logos. It’s an art in and of itself, of which I have no patience for. I’m not sure how many web/blog designers feel this way. Either way, I do believe hiring a graphic designer (preferably one with web experience) to design a logo for you or your business is a great idea. It’s not a given that your web designer will also create a logo for you. It might be ok, but if you’re concerned with “branding” yourself or your business, a graphic designer (with web experience) would know best how to go about it. But, again, make sure she/he knows how to go about it on the web.
Anyway, as far as logo design, if you or your business is a brand, your logo must be distinct so don’t skimp on the cash you’ll need to pay for it and the time it takes to create a great design. If you want to create a logo yourself, more power to you. But, I’d suggest doing a little research outside of just checking out the links I mentioned above. Take a look at other logos you see around you or on the web. Create a logo that’s fitting for you or your business in mood and font choices.
I’m not one for busy fonts like script fonts and funky fonts with extra bits and pieces that aren’t a part of the actual letters. But, these can work. A general rule (for me) is that if you’re going to use a funky font, the rest of the header should be more tamed. It’s like having a plaid couch in a living room. Plaid is a busy pattern, so perhaps your walls shouldn’t be caked in flowered wallpaper and your curtains shouldn’t be damask. Sometimes mixed colors and patterns work, usually if you’ve got a super eye for design. If not, leave it to the experts or go simple. Visit Typographica and The Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web. Visit a bookstore and peruse art books and design magazines. Also, look around you when you’re out and about everyday. Typography is everywhere.
Add a Little Somethin’-Somethin’
Simple goes a long way, but colors, patterns and doohickeys get you just a bit further. Take a look at Infinise Design (I just chose this randomly from CSS Remix). The header colors are simple, the layout is simple. But, what gives this header a little somethin’-somethin’ is that the header is a sidebar. A header I absolutely love is at 9rules.com. The site was just redesigned. The cool thing about this header is that it’s simple, fresh, has distinct graphics with the logo front and center (and popping), it has a bit of text and simple navigations across the top and in the center of the header. I think what makes this header work so well is the color scheme. Your eyes go to what’s most important (the three main sections and the logo since 9rules is a brand in my opinion) and the text is easy to read and right next to the logo which is bright as hell. The header alone makes you want to stick around even if you don’t know what 9rules is.
Prioritize Your Navigation in Your Header
People look to the header for main page navigation links. Sidebars are useful for the lesser pages, but don’t make people work harder than they have to in the few seconds it takes them to determine whether your site is a place they want to be. Or rather, taken another way, use your header for the navigation of those pages you want your site visitors to visit first and foremost. If you take a look at 9rules.com again, you see that the three most important sections (according to the large spaces and graphics devoted to the navigation buttons) are notes, entries and clips. ‘Nough said? Guide your readers as soon as they hit the web page. Romance them by hand holding. They don’t bite…for the most part.
A Great Header Defines Your Blog or Website
Overall, a header leads, that’s why it’s called a header. If you’re about to launch a brand new website, decide whether branding is an issue. If it is, talk to a graphic designer with experience in web. Or, look for a web designer who also does logos. If branding is not an issue, a web or blog designer can do a great job designing your logo with your entire layout in mind…provided that they design logos at all. If you’re looking for a redesign for a site with lots of good content that you need to fresh the look for, redesigning the header alone can boost web traffic, or clickthrough rates. A great header defines your entire site. Don’t skimp on the time (and money) it takes to create one.