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15 Dec 2011

Blog Makeover 101

I swore not to write abstracts because 
1) I tend to wander and get lost and write four page long 'philosophy' (which makes perfect sense to me but may not for you) that I'm sure you don't want to read.
2) Too many people already do. And they do it faaar better than me.
But I was surprised that so many people liked my abstract, thank you:)

Let me harp for a minute here.
You know how important the layout of any blog is? Well, it is. Very important, that is. 
Content is still king but a shabby blog puts off readers, while a well-aligned, well put-together blog, that reflects you personality... who you are, can earn you followers. More importantly, you rub your hands in satisfaction every time you look at your page, for you know that it was all you.

I have been meaning to write a post on these lines for some time now, but I don't have the technical expertise to. I learn through trial-and-error so I'm not sure I should be doling out advice. So when the Moolady asked me if she could guest post about this, I jumped right at it.

For those who don't know the Moolady, here's presenting Sumitra Madireddy from The Daily Moo. She's been making some changes on her blog and I have to say, I'm pretty awed by the way she's put together all of it.

Over to her now:
Six Steps to a Beautiful Blog

Hi there! I recently gave my blog a complete makeover, and I’d like to share a few things I learnt in the process.

Last year I started a baking blog. I wanted it to look delicious. So, I decided to hire a designer instead of doing it myself. The design was really amazing, it cost me only $50. This year for my personal blog I went back to the same designer. Guess what? They’d upped their charges to $500! Wow, right!

Being a true blue Indian, I decided to “make it at home for free”. Since I worked with the designer last year, I realized that it’s actually not a very difficult job. It would probably take me longer to finish, but that was okay with me.

So here I am, blog complete, and I really like how it turned out. I spent a lot of time on it, sometimes even trashing everything and starting over. In the end, it was worth the effort.

Here I present, the 6-step guide to a blog makeover!
Note: These tips are best suited for the Blogger platform. I’m assuming you know your way around the Blogger ‘Design’ tab.

Step 1: Choose a Design
A blog design could be simple, photo or graphic. There could be several others too, but these are the most basic ones.

Simple blog designs don’t have images, just the blog name done in a very elegant font, maybe with a few geometric shapes or patterns. Photo designs are based around photographs – of yourself, your family, or your work. Graphic designs use illustrations – we’ll talk more about these in a while.

Step 2: Choose a Header Image
The next step is to select the images you want to place in the header. If you already have your own photographs to work with, then great! Else, you’ll have to scourge the net for suitable images. And also deal with copyrights and permissions.

The easiest way of getting permission to use an image, is to buy it. Professional designers ask you to choose something from a stock image website like iStockphoto and charge you extra for it. But of course, you can always look for freebies and use them with the owner’s permission.

Illustrations can really brighten up your blog, just like the cow on mine. Try to choose vector images. Unlike bitmap ones, they are made of strokes and not pixels. So you can change the size of the graphic without worrying about losing resolution. Just google ‘free vector images’ and you’ll get a ton of options available for free download. That’s how I found that adorable cow.

Step 3: Create the Header
You need a graphics or image editing software to do this, like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. So beg, borrow or bug the hell out of your boyfriend/best friend/colleague, whoever it is that gets you software. And then it’s design time! There are so many options to play around with; you’ll be lost in it for hours. If you don’t have access to these, try free software such as Gimp.

Start by deciding how you want to place the image, the type of font you would like to use for the blog title, etc. Here on, it’s totally your baby.

Step 4: Create a Background
A blog background can be a solid color or patterned. You could use free downloads, there are lots. They give you a piece of code to add as a Gadget and you’re done. Shabbyblogs has some good options.

Pretty wallpaper patterns with florals, polka dots, stripes, etc. are also available for free. You need to upload the image as a background through the Blogger Template Designer. Make sure you search for ‘seamless’ patterns, because the image will repeat itself and you don’t want ugly lines running throughout the background of your blog.

I created the background on my blog using Illustrator. I put a bunch of coloured circles in a seamless row and then uploaded the image to Blogger. It was easy and worked just fine.

Step 5: Choose the template
Now you need a template to put everything together. The new Blogger Template Designer has some wonderful options, you need to choose the one works best with your header and background. Not happy with the Blogger templates? There are countless free ones available out there. Take your pick!

After installing the template, upload the header and background. You might have to play around a little with the sizes and positioning before you get it right.

Step 6: Choose Fonts
Template Designer comes with some amazing fonts. Try out different combinations of fonts and colors till like what you see.

And, you’re done!

Some Useful Tips:
Pay attention to colors: A good practice is to go with the ones that are in the header image. For instance, I've worked with all the colors on the cow. The blog title is in eye-patch color, the circles in the background are from the snout, and the tab & sidebar colors are from the hooves.

Keep it simple: This is of course, not mandatory, but I like to follow it. You don’t want a very loud design that takes focus away from your content. I prefer to keep the post background white, that way, people don’t have to strain their eyes while reading.

Study Other Blogs: Take a look at several blogs before you decide on yours, so you’ll have many options to work with. Some of the good blog designers are: Designerblogs and Dcrdesign. Looking at their samples can give you some good ideas.

Use Tutorials: I couldn't stress on this point enough. There’s nothing that you can’t find a tutorial for online. Found something fancy on another blog that you want? Most likely, there will be a tutorial for it somewhere. Use Google, people!

These are the major tips I could think of. Please let me know if you have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them. 

Take care, and a huge thanks to PeeVee for letting me use her space to get these tips out to all you folks out there!

Well, now GO. Go pretty up your blog. Spare one day (it takes only one, even lesser, if you're really interested) to liven up the space that is part of you.

OH and she's making Bill Watterson proud with her Giveaway. Go enter.

P.S: Another awardee for the 'Rok My Sox' Award:) See!