Tips For Dirty Bloggers Pt 1: Clean Up Your Design

Dirty Blogger
Does your blog's design need a spring clean?

Forgive me if I have got your hopes up, but we’re not talking about anything saucy in this series of 4 articles. But we are talking about some fundamentals of blogging that you should be looking to get right.

I gather you here, ladies and gentlemen (I like to give my posts some gravitas) to discuss the topic of ‘clean’ blogging. Everything about clean blogging is geared towards optimizing your corner of the web to be as presentable as possible. I am going to address four areas of cleanliness you should be keeping up to scratch, explain why it will benefit your blog, and reveal great examples for you to seek inspiration from.

So without further ado, let’s go ahead and explore the first spot of cleaning you need to pay attention to.

Clean Design

Clean Desk
A clear desk means a clear mind... (yep, I went there)

It seems that 90% of website owners do not appreciate the value of a clean design. You only have to look up a few random sites to see some real shockers.

Here’s a fact – we (people of the internet) are an impatient lot. There is just too much information out there for us to spend time trying to decifer everything we see.

We want relevant resources, and we want them presented to us in a clear and intuitive manner. Anything less usually has us wandering off to the next site.

If I didn’t know any better I would assume that there is some sort of competition between bloggers as to who can fill their sidebar with the most amount of crap. Just bear with me on this for a moment. You blog for your audience. How much of the stuff in your sidebar do you think is actually relevant to your reader? When they hit your blog, are they thinking, “Thank God he has all of that stuff in his sidebar!”, or “Where the hell do I start here?!”

Go Back To Basics

Here’s a controversial suggestion – strip your design back to just your post excerpts. Imagine a screen consisting of nothing but a list of your posts in reverse chronological order (as is the blogging norm). With every design decision you make from here on in, remember that it is all about the content. Unless you have a portfolio site or something similar, your readers want to read your articles. So the design should be all about facilitating that with ease.

For every additional item that you want to add to your site, ask yourself whether or not it will benefit your reader, or further the cause of your blog. That process, in part, might go something like this:

  • Title – yes. My reader needs to know where they are!
  • Navigation bar – yes. My reader needs to get around (stop smirking – not in that way).
  • Breadcrumbs – not sure. Could be unnecessary clutter. Is it vital to the reader getting around my site?
  • Three column design – hell no. What can’t I achieve with two columns that I can achieve with three?
  • Newsletter signup – absolutely. I want to get my reader’s email address so I can send them lots of lovely helpful messages.
  • Recent posts widget – why on earth is that useful? The recent posts are already there for everyone to see!
  • Popular posts widget – that’s a good’un. Of course my readers want to read my best content.
  • Twitter stream. If my readers want to read that, they’ll join my Twitter account.
  • A Facebook widget, showing a selection of my friends. Um – how does this benefit my readers?
  • Recent comments. Really?

I’ve just selected a few examples here. This list can go on almost forever (if certain blog designs are anything to go by).

Strike A Balance

You need to focus on minimalism whilst offering enough options for your reader to easily browse your blog. The less options your reader has, the more likely he or she is to keep clicking, rather than head away. And I should clarify at this point – minimalism does not have to mean ugly.

I could go nuts and give you 101 awesome designs beautifully tailored for usability, but I am going to give you just one. Why? Two reasons:

  1. It does lots of things well, but not everything. There is always room for improvement.
  2. I don’t want to limit your imagination – I want you to know what designs you think are great (especially if you think your own blog is worthy). Let me know in the comments section.

Social Triggers

Social Triggers

I’ve highlighted what this site does well above. Imagine yourself as a new visitor (in fact, you probably will be). Within a few short seconds, you know (a) what the site can offer you, and (b) where you should go next. Compared to some sites, this place is an absolute breeze.

In my opinion though, it does lean slightly too far into the minimalist camp. If you are an avid reader (as I am) and want to access the older posts that aren’t part of the recommended resources or popular articles, you have to click back through the reverse-chronological listings. A categories list, tag cloud, or search box would not go amiss.

As I have said, it is a case of striking that balance. I think I would always err on the side of minimalism, as although I find myself slightly frustrated by the shortcomings of Social Triggers, it is just so darn refreshing to not be overwhelmed with a design tornado.

Over To You, Noble Blogger

I’d love to know what your thoughts on design are. How does your blog compare to the above example? Are you happy with your cluttered blog? Or do you feel that design isn’t that important to usability? Let us know in the comments section!

Creative commons photos courtesy of abbamouse and William Hook