Blog design generally sucks. It seems to be a fact of life. People have accepted that blogs look like blogs and refuse to try and think past that. On multiple occasions I have gotten into arguments about what a blog “should” look like. My argument is always that a blog is just a website and that whatever design best presents the information should determine its look. Unfortunately there are many that don’t agree and think every blog needs to have two columns and every entry on the homepage.
I’ve been thinking a lot about information architecture lately and I thought that maybe I could share some of those thoughts as they relate to blog design. Information architecture essentially determines how information is to be arranged, that can mean anything from a site map that determines what pages link together to a wireframe that determines the hierarchy of information on a page. (If you want to read more check out What is information architecture?)
So much blog design doesn’t give the slightest thought to whether the information is organized in a clear and concise manner, instead going with the status quo. Does it really make sense to have 30 entries on your homepage? Is a two-column layout the best choice based on your content? Do you need to list the last 4 songs you listened to on your homepage or is there some other place to put it?
I’m not sure I can answer those questions. They require taking a good, long look at your audience and deciding what is best for them. It’s important to understand who is coming to your site and how they’re getting there. Are the people that visit your homepage the same as the people who comment? (Often they are not on this site because many commenters are subscribed to the RSS feed, for example.)
My big point is that it’s important to challenge conventions in this stuff. For those of you who have been following this site for a while you’ve seen a number of different designs. I’m happy to report that I’m almost completely happy with the current design and I could explain the thinking behind every piece. I have also gotten far more comments on the current design than any of the previous, leading me to believe I must have something right.
Anyway, I decided it might be helpful to make a list of the questions I think people should ask themselves. So . . .
Questions to ask yourself when designing a blog.
- Is your search box accessible? (Because most blogs have horrendous archive pages, search becomes a very important way for visitors to find old entries.)
- Are you organizing your information by more than just date? (Functioning Form has some good tips for better-architected blog archives.)
- Are you displaying too much information on your homepage? (Adaptive Path wrote a very good article about corporate homepages suffering from the disease of trying to be too much to too many.)
- Do you know what the most important thing on the page is at all times? (Most often it will be the content. And in that case . . . )
- If your content is the most important feature of the site does the design reflect and communicate that?
- Is your navigation easy to locate? (That was a problem of this site for a long time and I’m not convinced navigation is as important in blogs as it is in other places.)
- Is it easy to get from an individual entry to the archive? (Especially for those coming from search engines, it should be easy to find more related content.)
- Have you prepared for what happens when bad things happen? (A customized comment error message and a good 404 message are recommended).
- Is it easy to find your contact information? (Blogs are very personal and it’s often nice to reach out to the authors. Make yourself easy to find.)
- Do you really need all those links at the bottom of an entry? (This is really a pet-peeve of mine. Do you really need a link to permalink, comments and trackbacks? They all go to the same page!)
- Is your RSS feed embedded into all your pages?
- Have you explained whether your comments allow html? (I fail at this one.)
- Have you designed a comment preview page? (There’s nothing that kills a nicely designed blog like a comment preview page that hasn’t been touched.)
I think that’s it for now. Give them some thought and if you’ve got any to add, please do. I’ll be returning with more thoughts specifically on the awfulness of blog archives (including this one).