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The Feel of Blog Design

June 25, 2010

I am not formally trained in design or the psychological effects of design, so I don’t have much idea about the science of it, but I am aware that that design indeed has psychological effects on people. Artists of all kinds and marketers of all kinds work with design to support their messages and goals.

Maybe I’m just exposing myself (since I know this applies to me), but I think that many bloggers aren’t able to put a lot into design. I can see some reasons for this — our medium can often be stifling. With a wordpress.com blog or a blogspot blog, there are only so many themes to choose (for free), and customization can only go so far (for free). But even when one has a self-hosted blog, another part of the problem is lack of knowledge. Even if I bought CSS support for wordpress.com blogs or whatever, I wouldn’t know what to do (without breaking everything). And even if I knew CSS, I would still not formally know design.

Nevertheless, as I’ve thought about it, I have realized that I have been particularly affected by design. Different kinds of design give me a different impression of the blogs that I’ve been at, whether for good or for bad. Here are some of my emotional reactions to certain blogs.

Faith Promoting Rumor1) Faith-Promoting Rumor

This site is gorgeous. It has a warm, cozy, even chocolately color scheme that is immediately inviting, and I also love the typefaces chosen. The banner picture seems a double-edged sword…the books continue the invitation, implying a cozy library or study room. But these books are not for the faint of heart. I know I am far too stupid to visit FPR regularly. The site’s design seems minimalist and streamlined too…the blog features a two-column structure, with the sidebar sparse, purposeful. You have recent comments, the sideblog, and some top posts, and that’s about it.

Times and Seasons2) Times & Seasons

T&S recently was redesigned, and I think the redesign is intriguing. In contrast to FPR, T&S’s redesign is busier, and perhaps almost overwhelming (the grid structure of posts on the front page is a touch daunting.) Also, this site features a three-column structure (protip: this is my favorite structure), divided in a systematic and sensical way. For everything inside T&S (e.g., recent comments), go to the left. For everything “outside” of T&S (e.g., notes from all over), go to the right. T&S has enough color framing the site not to seem sterile and unappealing, but the inside of the site is clean and fresh. All in all, the simplicity of color balances the complex arrangement of content.

Nine Moons3) Nine Moons

Behold — the right column’s crowning image. I’ve probably seen all of these images quite a few times now, but I always love refreshing for some of my favorites (e.g., the journal or the napkin). While Nine-Moons also has three columns, I must say that…I do not like that they are both on the right. While the ultimate impact is that the page is “split” between blog content on the left and sidebar content on the right, this is precisely problematic for me…the site seems wobbly. (Especially since the sidebar doesn’t extend so far…so reading a long comment thread triggers agoraphobia.)

USU SHAFT4) USU SHAFT

Heh, this article was actually inspired by comments about this blog. My comments at the time were that the blog seems too dark and foreboding, and as a result, I am not attracted to it. I think when I was younger, I was much more a fan of the dark background with light text color scheme…Although I guess I can see why one would want to limit comment nesting (if not eliminate it), the one-deep comment nesting seems counter-intuitive to me…Officially, one person can cross-examinate another, but the first person can’t go deeper to rebut. (Of course, there are unofficial ways…everyone can just “reply” to the first person.)

5) Mormon Matters

Mormon MattersA comment by the founder of this site is what made me realize that even if some people wanted to make design changes, they wouldn’t be able to because they don’t know how. (Not saying that John is hopeless and clueless or that I am any better). I guess my issue with Mormon Matters from a design perspective is that the colorfulness of the logo is not matched throughout the site, so the heart of the site seems drab and sterile. I am also not a fan of the font, which doesn’t seem to even “fit” the sterility.

6) Keepapitchinin (and, to some extent, Splendid Sun, and By Common Consent)

Keepapitchinin

When I first saw Keepapitchinin, I thought it was just another (albeit historically-minded) group blog. Perhaps that’s because Ardis Parshall updates (by herself) more regular than many group bloggers. But I was also reminded of the design of By Common Consent, which I had seen earlier. Well…it turns out that the striking similarity is not mere coincidence. J. Stapley designed all of these (and more, if I’m not mistaken…since this kind of theme seems even more familiar). Of course, the similarity isn’t the only intriguing thing. The differences are also. As far as color schemes, for example, I find Keepa’s most refreshing (but with such cool blues, what else was possible?); Splendid Sun carries the idea of a splendid sun well (although the conflicting gradients of the site itself and the banner image are distracting); BCC’s colors, in contrast to the other two, seem muted, disappointing for the monumental site.

7) Main Street Plaza

Main Street PlazaThis blog’s design seems chaotic and disorganized, but I guess the nature of disaffection itself can often be chaotic and disorganized. While I like the banner image, its repetition seems a bit tacky. I have the same impression of people’s whose wallpapers are tiled images — repeated tiling works for simpler patterns but wasn’t made for photos, in my untrained opinion. Like busy wallpapers, the nature of the tiled images here obscures that lies on top of it (particularly, the site tagline). Like Nine Moons, MSP teeters…but, oddly enough, to the other side. Here, the right columns are much heavier than the left. This heaviness is incredibly discomforting. I feel a sense of dread when I accidentally press the “End” button and scroll to the bottom, and I feel like I might hurt myself if I tried looking through that entire blogroll.

(See what I did there?)

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13 Comments
  1. The trouble is that improving the design requires (1) design know-how, (2) tech know-how, and (3) time. Personally, I’d love to redesign all of my sites. As a software engineer, I can figure out the tech part, and I can do OK with graphic design (look at this ad that I designed for the Sunstone Symposium program).

    But it would take me a few days of work to do it right. And that’s a few days that I just don’t have to spare. I barely have time to come up with a new blog post every now and then… 😉

  2. LOL! I love this post. I’m very much a minimalist when it comes to design. I get horribly distracted by flashy things and busy layouts that have too much information. It’s not just web sights, it’s everything. OS interfaces, software interfaces, book, magazine, news print layouts, microwave control panels, overly stylish vehicle instrument panels, etc.

    I rarely visit a blog because of the difficulty of reading it directly on the blog. Instead I opt to read it through the “filter” that Google Reader offers me. It strips away all design and just gives me the text. It’s not perfect and sometimes it filters too much so I end up having to visit the blog directly. Quote often when I do, I suddenly remember why it is I never actually visit the sight directly.

  3. chanson, I understand your point on the time issue. When I took a break from being a college student bum to being a 9-11PM overtime non-bum, that swallowed up all of my time. I’ve never recovered, even though now I am a bum again. Also, nice ad!

    TGD

    That’s interesting. I *despise* google reader and other RSS programs…(one, because it’s not on the same exact page as my email…even though I can get there relatively quickly from there.) So, when I read blog entries via google reader, I just click through to the blog anyway.

    If I don’t read a blog (other than from design reasons), it’s because 1) it’s not conveniently accessible (if I can’t subscribe by email instead of RSS, then I probably will only check RSS once in a blue moon, whereas I check my email every day), 2) comments are not conveniently accessible (if comments aren’t subscribe by email, then I KNOW I’m not going to subscribe by RSS to those…which means I’ll probably comment once an never more.) I can think of a few other annoyances, but it really all points to my extreme laziness.

  4. There is a blog that I will always click through to visit directly mainly because the banner picture makes my day with it’s cute little piggy picture. 🙂
    http://cjstutz.blogspot.com/

  5. Thanks, glad you like the ad! 😀

  6. Does anyone here second Andrew’s assessment of the SHAFT blog? If so, I may try to tinker with its appearance and layout.

  7. I’m so glad that everyone didn’t take the time to point out everything wrong with IrrDisG.

    I’d really like to get numbered commenting, but my theme doesn’t seem to allow it.

    Also, Jon…maybe definitely I’m just stupid, but I can’t seem to figure a way to subscribe to your site. Since it is not an xml, google reader doesn’t automatically pick it up and I just get the raw code.

    • I’m not familiar with how all that works, sorry Andrew. I’m not the brains behind the SHAFT site; we have a site administrator and I’ll try to remember to ask him about site subscription.

      • That won’t be necessary…I figured it out…

  8. Sounds to me like Andrew is volunteering to help with an MSP re-design!!

    PS. I really like the MSP blogroll, as it has all sorts of blogs that I read on a regular basis on the side. I understand that it could be seen as bulky, but it has utilitarian value (at least for me personally).

  9. I also like the utilitarian value of the blogroll for the same reason (which is why I also have a relatively long blogroll), so I’m still trying to figure out a way to feature plenty of links without getting into information overload.

  10. I just noticed this post and that we were lavished with praise! Thanks so much! I’ve floated the idea of changing our design but maybe we will leave it!

  11. You can always feel free to change…as long as you change for the better. It’s a delicate act.

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