Making it pretty
Years ago I had to attend a series of lectures on chemistry and pharmacology. Yes, it was just as much fun as it sounds. The lecturer was a senior hospital chemist, quite brilliant. We were told she was brilliant. She looked a bit like a female version of University Challenge presenter Bamber Gascoigne, no mental pygmy he, so it wasn’t hard to believe she possessed a truly dazzling intellect. There was only one problem.
Actually, make that two problems, because she whispered to the blackboard. She shuffled in to the lecture hall half-hidden by her stack of books, and immediately turned her back to the class. She spent the next seven years — OK, it may only have been an hour — whispering indecipherable incantations at the board. She might have been explaining the formula of anti-psychotropic drugs or saying the Patronus Charm. It was impossible to tell.
I mention this to make a point: You can have the greatest mind since Vizzini but if you don’t communicate effectively your message your genius will remain a secret.
As with most things, when it comes to blogging, content is king. If you have something to say and you say it well you ought to have an audience. BUT…
People see before they read.
If your page is dull, migraine-inducing, or weird-not-in-a-good-way, your potential reader may well pack it in before they even begin. This is why today I’m going to look at the elements that make up your blog’s appearance. These are things you might not think twice about, but which can either invite or repulse, depending on the choices you make.
There are four main elements to consider: Layout, fonts, colours and graphics. There are other things, too, videos and music, and so forth, but for now we’ll just look at the basics.
Layout is how the page looks. Where the main body of the text goes; where the headers and subheaders sit. The placement of things like your tags. These come with your blog package. In fact, you’ll have so many options you probably won’t know what to do with yourself.
I was about to rush on and talk a bit more about layout, but let’s pause for a minute and think about this: you’ll have so many options you probably won’t know what to do with yourself. As a writer who also paints and takes photographs, my knee-jerk response to lots of options is “goodie!” But if the visual isn’t what you do best, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. As Captain Kirk once said about tribbles, too much of anything isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Once I knew a man called Richard. He couldn’t see colour. Everything appeared in shades of grey to him. When he bought clothes, he had to buy complete outfits and hang them all together, otherwise he didn’t know what shirt and tie went best with what suit.
Most of us think we have fabulous taste and yet, let’s be honest, a lot of us don’t. (Not you, of course, you’re the example we all want to follow. Really.) Using templates designed by graphics’ experts can make your life so much easier. WordPress calls their templates ‘themes’. They have more options than you can shake a stick at — though why you’d want to shake a stick… Anyway, here’s the link to their most currently featured, and you can also do a search or check out the most popular: WordPress themes.
It’s easy to get caught up in a lot of bells and whistles. You can have your blog set up in two or three columns, for instance. Or have your widgets — your twitter or FB links, for instance, basically all the stuff I have on the right of my page — on the top, the bottom, or anywhere you like.
Take a look at Gillian Flynn‘s site. She is the author of Gone Girl and other books. I’m in love with her website. It’s clean, clear, and unfussy. Everything is laid out in a logical manner. The basic black and white make it easy to read while the splashes of yellow lend it some pizzazz. Gorgeous!
Please don’t feed us a great big wall of text. Use your paragraphs. Use short, punchy sentences. Use quotes in a quote-box. Make the blog dynamic and visually appealing.
There are lots of places where you can get jazzy with your blog, but the font should not be one of them. You don’t want the shape of the words to interfere with the content. Keep in mind, some of your potential readers may have vision problems. Some may be dyslexic. A clean typeface on a clean background makes like simpler for everyone.
In a study, dyslexics reported they preferred Helvetica, Courier, Arial, Verdana and Computer Modern: good fonts for dyslexia Most people without dyslexia would probably say the same. Use italics and another variations sparingly. They really can be hard to read for some people. Keep it simple.
Simple applies to colours, too. For a truly nauseating look at how not to do colours, check out this. The focus on the linked site is bad advertising posters, but the exact same principles apply for blogging. Red fonts on a black background may seem cool as all giddy-up to you, but I bet your readers won’t get past the first paragraph. Many won’t even get that far. Neon colours? Please, no!
The lure of the virtual paintbox can be hard to resist when you’re starting out. Black, dark grey or dark blue print on a white or cream background seems so dull and you want us to know that you’re so hip. But consider this: you want your content to dazzle, not your jazzy colours. As Coco Chanel once said about fashion:
“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”
I tend to keep my graphics to a minimum. I’m a writer and I prefer to use prose to get my point across. If you’re a photographer or an artist, though, then of course you’ll want to show more of your pictures. That said, try not to overwhelm the visitor with too much on one page. Check out the sites of photographers you like. This one, by Colin Prior has plenty of images, but offered in a slide-show format so the pictures aren’t fighting each other for attention. If you’re interested in something this sophisticated, you should check if your blogging site offers it as an option. For a bit more information about adding videos and images, you might like this: cincopa Other graphic options include Infogr.am, Pixlr, and google slides Each offers toys that can really make your blog pop. Just a word of warning: once you get playing with the pretty pictures, it can be awfully hard to stop.
If words are your priority, you can get by with just a picture or two on the page. You used to be able to embed a video into WordPress but now you have to pay for it. Shame, because the right video could really liven up a blog, although as with anything else, you wouldn’t want to overdo it.
Other things to keep in mind
Consistency matters. Make a commitment to your blog and post it on as regular a basis as possible. Mine arrives usually around noon every Wednesday. Sometimes I post more often than that, but I try never to do less. And if I know I won’t be posting for a week or two, I let readers know when to expect me back.
Finally: what your blog or website should do
- Create a positive first impression
- Make it easy for a visitor to get to know you and your work
- Allow you to interact with potential readers
- Serve as a hub for all your social media activity