Getting a New Blog Design 101

December 11, 2009 By Amanda Padgett

Since I just went through the process of getting a custom blog design for the third time, I feel like I know enough about the steps to share them with you. Hopefully it will help equip new bloggers for their first design, and help designers by working with better prepared customers.

Step One: Finding the Designer

Once you know you want a custom look for your blog, the first step is to find the designer you want to work with. Don’t rush into a contract with the first designer you come across. Instead, look at several designers before deciding on one, and here are the things to look for when shopping designers:

  1. Portfolio – do they do the style of design you want? If you really want a modern look for your blog and all they design are scrapbook style blog, then they may not be the best designer for you. Also, are the blogs in their portfolio pleasing to you? Are you impressed with her work?
  2. Prices – these will vary depending on the designer’s skill level and experience. The more experiences, highly trained designers will demand well over $100 for their work. The more self-taught, still-developing-their-skills designers will price their designs anywhere from $30 to $75.
  3. Waiting list or “queue” – this is how many bloggers they already have contracted to design for. If you are in a hurry for a new design and the designer you are looking at has a waiting list that reaches until March, then keep shopping.
  4. Policies – these can be different things, like how many revisions to the design they will do, which images you have to pick from, how many changes you can make after a design is installed. Most designers are very reasonable and set policies to protect themselves from being taken advantage of by needy bloggers who change their mind too much.

Step Two: Get a Vision for Your Blog
Before contacting the designer, look around for blogs you admire, both in the designer’s portfolio and around the Web. Decide what you really want or don’t want. Write down the URL address to blogs you like.

Don’t expect a designer to create a design exactly like a blog you show her. Not only does she want to create something original, exactly duplicating another blogger’s design is wrong and akin to stealing.

It is acceptable, however, to use another blog for inspiration. Your designer may use similar effects to achieve the design you invision, yet stay far from the original blog’s design. For example: I was very fond of many design elements used at A Soft Place to Land, and we were able to get some of the same effect for BBD using different images. You would not come here and think you were there and vice-versa.

Things to think about are:

  1. What style do you want? Scrapbook, modern, shabby-chic
  2. How many columns do you want for your blog? One, two, three?
  3. Do you want a menu or navigation bar?
  4. What style font do you like?
  5. Is load time a factor for you? Some backgrounds take the longer to load.
  6. Do you want post dividers, sidebar dividers, other design elements?

Step Three: Contact the Designer

Once you know the designer you want to work with, know the look you want for your blog, then you contact her to place an order.

  1. Follow whatever procedure they instruct you to on their site. Some just have you email them, others have you copy a questionnaire to paste into an email, and have you answer the questions in that email.
    • Make sure to fill out the questionnaire completely, including any pictures or images you want used (like a picture of a child you want put in your header). Sending those at a later date makes more work for the designer as she will have to sift through emails to find the “pieces and parts” you want for your blog, rather than just opening up the one email that should include everything.
  2. Pay the Paypal invoice they send you. This will secure your spot in their queue. They will invoice you for either all or half their design fee. (I have worked with two that require a deposit and one that required full payment). The final invoice will be sent after the design is final; you’ll be invoiced and must pay before they install it on your blog.
  3. Watch your spot on their queue. Don’t pester them with emails about when your turn is coming. Most all of them have a waiting list on their sites which you can keep track of yourself. Also, make sure that you are ready for when your design comes up. If you see that you’ll be on vacation, contact her so that she can move you down and another blogger up.
  4. Check your email often. This is VERY important through the whole process! They will be contacting you only via email, so stay on top of it. If they have a question for you and you do not respond in a timely manner, they will place your design on hold and go on to the next customer. This is their business and you are holding them up from another job.

Step Four: Designing the Blog

The first thing your designer will do is look at the questionnaire you filled out about what you like, don’t like, what blogs you like the look of, what styles you like, etc. Then she will create a first draft based on those answers. She will notify you, with an address for you to view the design. Once you see it, do the following things:

  1. Really look at the design. It may not be exactly what you envisioned or it may be nothing like you envisioned, but give it a few minutes to register for you. Then, pick out the things you DO like about it (if it isn’t want you want as a whole) and write them in a reply email to the designer. She will keep those effects while revamping the rest. Maybe give her some ideas in your reply so she knows better the direction to go in.
    • Example: When I was having a new design made for Moving Forward, Summer’s first draft was nothing like I envisioned, but there were a couple of things I liked about it. She kept those and then scrapped the rest. Her next version hit the mark much better.
  2. Be concise about changes you want made. If you love the first draft but need a few changes, list them all out in ONE email. Take your time before sending the email so that you have a chance to think of all the little tweaks and changes you would like. I am sure it is irritating to a designer to get 10 emails listing tiny little changes; put them in one email.
    • I struggle with this one, so know that it is an easy mistake to do. Bless Erin’s heart!
  3. Compare Browsers. If you use Internet Explorer, be sure to look at your new design on Firefox and vice-versa. Sometimes the design won’t “lay” right, and the designer will need to modify a few things. This step is necessary because your readers may be using a browser you are not and if your site is all quirky and out of sink, they won’t stick around.
  4. Don’t be too picky. Yes, you paid for a custom design, but don’t nickle and dime your designer to death; they can only do so much. If you paid $500 for your design, then you probably have more room to be ultra-particular about everything, but if you paid $55 for your design, be respectful of your designer’s time.
    • Example: The swirly font in my new design was a little two swirly for me. Erin gave me some other options, which didn’t suit me either and rather than have her spend more time searching, I stuck with this one, and I have since grown to love it!

Step Five: Making the Design Live

After the designer has made all the revisions you asked for and you are content with the final look of the blog, she will ask you for your ID and password to your blog. Or, you can make her an author to the blog and she will be able to go in and install that way. I have done it both ways and they work fine.

Things to remember during this step in the process are:

  1. Decide on a time when you want it installed. You will want to be around when it is so that you can move things around because some gadgets and text will be displaced during the transition. I call this time “unpacking.”
    • Example: I asked Erin not to install until the afternoon, when I would be home to “unpack.” I didn’t want the site to have things look out of place or in weird spots (to me).
  2. Be timely about back-end changes. If there are things you notice that need changing, email her right away, while she is still “on” your job. Don’t come to her three weeks later and say “oh, by the way, can you change…”
    • Things to look at are spacing of the text at the margins and sidebars, even in the comments. Those are often overlooked by bloggers during the process.
  3. Acknowledge your designer in a blog post. She has worked hard for you and word of mouth is one of the best forms of advertising in their line of business.
  4. Do NOT change the design. The blog template your designer has created is their creation, their name is attached to it. When you tamper with it, while keeping their name on it (usually in a button on the side or at the bottom) you may inadvertently put them at risk for legal trouble if you add an image that is not legally yours to use (usually done without knowing). If you wish to change something, first notify them.

Phew! That is the longest post I’ve ever written. I sure hope it proves useful! And, whoever wins the custom blog design I am giving away this week should read over steps two through five to make the process easier from herself and for Erin.

Designers – If you think of something you would like me to add or change, please contact me.