Bloggers in Kentucky went mainstream this week as one of the owners of The Blog Herald, and Blog Louisville Chris Pearson was featured in a news story in the Courier-Journal. Chris is one of our lead designers and has been hard at work working on a new set of clothes for this site as well as a few others.
David: What are the essential ingredients to a good blog design?
Chris:For me, good design is about the clarity of individual elements on the page. Good designs are smooth. Easy on the eye. They show a clear focus on essential elements and they use form to highlight the content.
David: Let’s take a look at a site you redesigned recently. The SEO Book(aff) a blog to promote Aaron Wall’s book and his consulting services.
Chris: Fortunately, we already had both a header graphic and a defined color scheme on seobook.com…Even a simple starting point such as this serves as a nice foundation upon which to build a design. Aaron’s primary goals were to achieve a very clean, professional look that would help him sell his ebook, cleverly entitled (not surprisingly) the SEO Book. The idea was to provide pre-defined areas to promote the book, but to seamlessly integrate these promotional areas into the blog design. Also, one of the goals of the design was to provide a framework within which the content and breadth of the site could later be expanded depending on the direction Aaron wanted to go. We started with Photoshop comps and quickly progressed into coding…The rest was history.
David: Do you think good blog design helps market the blog, and promote it? Or is it just prettiness?
Chris: I think there’s a threshold where your content can be so good or you can be so interesting that the design matters less. For most of us anonymous Joes out there, however, the design is a promotional vehicle that serves many purposes. First, a quality design can define a “mood” for a site…Be that professionalism, humor, girly stuff, a journalistic slant – whatever. Second, a great design can serve as a linking tool. If people like your site, you are bound to get some referral links on the strength of that alone. This is probably most noticeable within a community like 9rules, but I think it works across the board in varying degrees. Also, a savvy promoter can always submit a killer design to CSSbeauty, CSSvault, Unmatched Style, or any of the other promotional design sites out there.
David: Talk to us a little about inspirations in the field. Who has inspired some of your work?
Chris: I am quirky about my inspirations. Typically, I’ll take bits and pieces from sites I find when I’m just chasing down links, hopping from one site to the next. I might like the way a sidebar was done here, or I might like the way a post was structured on a different site…Or perhaps this one site had a header that was just wicked – you never know. Inspiration is everywhere on the web. So, I guess you could say that I’m inspired by everyone who has ever produced something that I liked :) I also take a lot of inspiration from magazine publications. They’ve been in the business a hell of a lot longer than web designers, so there are tons and tons of design elements to be had out there.
David: I see a lot of slick sites out there. What will encourage bigger sites to move towards more standardization, and is standardization important?
Chris: Well, to start with, standardization is huge. The growth and acceptance of things like RSS and microformats will basically force the larger online media outlets to adopt standards-based designs, so I look at this as an inevitability. In design, one of the biggest ongoing concerns is that of cross-browser compatibility. Acceptance of standards will mean that browser software will now have a basic foundation upon which to be built. Instead of all this “IE 6 blows, and I can’t get this crap to look right in Opera,” we’ll have harmony all over, and people can use whatever browser they please without fear of missing something due to standardization or interpretation differences. Peace of mind is huge. Standards are a must.
David: A little off topic but let’s talk about the NY Times Redesign. What’s your opinion?
Chris: The most interesting thing to me about the NYT design is the fact that they’ve chosen to go with a layout that is 975px wide. I am such a huge fan of the growing trend towards wider viewing panes, and I think in the case of a major news outlet like the NYT, that extra real estate is a must. On a more critical note, I think they could have used vertical spacing between articles and teasers a little more liberally, as the content appears very dense on the front page. That said, I think the bottom half of the home page is where they’ve really hit a home run. The incorporation of video (which CNN recently added as a homepage feature) is awesome, and the “Inside NYTimes.com” scrolling browser is an amazing feature. I am a big proponent of the use of pictures to tell a story (and to define a design), and the lower half of the NYT website accomplishes this with a bang. The upper half leaves a little to be desired, IMO. The internal pages are great, and the use of different headline and text sizes depending on the site navigation echoes a very strict attention to detail. Header is nice and clean, too. I hope other national newspapers take notice.
Onto blogs and the NY Times
As far as blogs go…I think the main influence can be seen in the video. I think video is the hot button right now in the blogosphere, and I think the NYT is totally keen on this fact. Then, of course, you see things like “blogged, emailed, and searched”. in the “most popular” section, and these are things that you often find in the sidebar of traditional blogs – ie. posts that have received the most comments, etc. So there are definitely “bloggish” elements in the design and they enhance the overall user experience.
David: Let’s talk about working for yourself (entrePersonified) vs Working for a firm. What are the pros and cons?
Chris: I see the whole experience as a huge positive. I have all the lateral mobility I want (in terms of investments, ventures, etc) coupled with projects that tend to be both exciting and cutting-edge.My clients are typically passionate, creative, talented people whose businesses are really in traction, so it’s just a total joy to work with them. In addition, I am able to dictate both my time and projects according to my interests and goals, and that kind of freedom is priceless.
David: So do you see advantages of being a designer, who’s also involved in a blog network?
Chris: I hate to sound like the happy ending of a children’s book, but there just aren’t a lot of negatives when you’re doing what you want to be doing. Or, perhaps it’s that those negatives simply don’t matter as much when the overall picture is so digestable. Well, this is where that lateral mobility thing comes into play. I have career/project/interest ADD in a big way. I like to learn new things, so when I exhaust a particular area, I usually move on to the next in an attempt to get my learning fix. Being involved in a blog network means that I can focus on other tasks as well, such as application or content development. I’m learning new things in new areas every day, and that’s infinitely rewarding. I don’t see myself as just a designer. Design is merely another skill that I want to master along the way, and I like to think I’m at least moving in that direction. Being in a blog network has opened the doors for me to try and master new skills without fear of a crushing financial blow from a lack of work. Then, there’s the whole exposure thing. It’s much easier to launch new projects if a lot of people know who you are. Enter the blog network :)
David: Ok, you’ve got the audience with your great answers. Let’s take this last question and just open it up. I’m a sucker for folks who want to self promote. Pitch us a softball.
Chris: Head on over to The Indie Virus, it’s a new experiment that I’d like to have some fun with, but there’s a catch – I’m going to need some help from you, my critical-thinking, curious readers. Essentially, I want to launch a viral linking campaign with some pretty loose guidelines for the links. I’ve constructed this in such a way that I (or anyone else who’s interested) will be able to monitor the progress of the experiment as it (hopefully) spreads across the blogosphere.
David: Thanks Chris. Always good to yak at you.