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Blog Bloke’s Design Critique for the Day

Lately I’ve been on a design kick so I’ve been analyzing a lot of different blogs out there — what their strengths and weaknesses are. What I like and don’t like.

This will be the beginning of a series of posts where I’m going to analyse the blog themes of certain a-listers out there. After all, they paid someone to make it for them so they deserve to get value for their money spent.

This will be a great learning experience for all of us including myself as I prepare to make my move over to Wordpress.

Recently Darren Rowse did a blog redesign so I thought I would start with him (I’m not picking on you Darren). I’ve been looking at it more closely and this is what I think (I’m trying to think of a more delicate way to put this but I can’t. So here goes.)

Is it just me or does Darren’s new blog theme really look ugly harsh on the eyes? Sorry mate, but that’s what I think and in some ways I miss your old blog. At least it had character, but those stark colours make me shudder and there’s a general lack of symmetry in the overall look of the homepage.

You are wasting valuable real estate with the video of the day spot. Why? Because you aren’t making new videos every day. So that particular spot is being wasted most of the time, and what makes it even worse is it’s in the crucial area above the fold. (For those of you who don’t know what that means, it’s the page you first see on your screen before scrolling down).

And that featured post area at the top. I’m not sure about that because what it says to me is the rest of the posts (that are relegated to smaller areas) are not as important. So from a psychological point of view, viewers might just skip over those posts.

On the other hand, most of the posts can be viewed above the fold and that can be a good thing. But when you consider how small it looks on a larger screen resolution, older farts like myself might have to get out the magnifying glass just to read it. So I’m not sure if the concept is worthwhile just to save a viewer from scrolling down.

One thing that I do like is the greatest hits “Best of” bar with the submenus. I’m thinking of doing the same myself.

The right sidebar isn’t making the best use of real estate either. The top bar is wider than what you need for just your newsfeed subscribe button. Also, take a look at the area below your advertising and you will see more wasted space. Hmm…

I’m also not convinced with the reasoning behind making the footer into a sidebar (or in this case a bottombar). I think it’s a fad that will just fade away.

It only makes sense if the content area flows into it. So many blogs that I’ve seen doing the same don’t, and so viewers will not continue scrolling down to read it. But in your case I’m glad to see that the content does flow.

Anyhow, that’s what I think and it’s my critique for the day. But don’t worry, I still love you bro. Cheers!

What do you think? Is my analysis fair or did I miss the boat?

Written October 14th, 2007 by | 8 Comments | Filed under: Design Tips ,

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There are 8 Comments so far to “Blog Bloke’s Design Critique for the Day”

  1. Hey Bloke ! Me again !
    I think Darren’s post pages are just fine and works well.
    But I do agree you that Darren needs to re-think the layout of this homepage.

    I certainly do not miss his old yellow design because it was an eye-sore and the aggressive marketing was obvious.

    I disagree with you on the comment about the bottom-bar. It works best on a one column layout. I think that one column layouts are ideal for personal diaries.
    In-fact I am going to do a bottom-bar for my next re-design.

    I really don’t have any suggestions Darren but the way I see it, he has (a lot of)/(too much) information there on his homepage !

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  2. Yes, of course a single column layout would require a large footer to compensate for the lack of a sidebar. So long as (like I said) the content flows directly down to it.

    But what if the content above the fold is of no interest to the passive viewer? They might not bother to scroll down to see the rest.

    That’s the weakness of a design like that.

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  3. Always appreciate feedback on this type of thing BB - I’m sure they’ll help me as I continue to evolve things.

    Here’s a few reflections on your reflections:

    In terms of it looking ugly - I guess what colors look ugly is a matter of opinion. I did have more readers tell me that the old one was ugly than I’ve had tell me this one is :-) More important to me is whether it’s readable - I had quite a few people tell me that they couldn’t read the orange on my old design - it was too light and didn’t work on some displays. It was also a little retina frying for some.

    I’d be interested to know which ’stark colors’ make you gag though. Is it the terra-cotta browny color - similar to your link color btw ;-)

    The symmetry thing is a bit of an issue and something I did look at in our design. Will give that one some more thought - although it’s always a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle doing these things.

    The video space is prominent. I’ve had pretty good reaction to it so far - but would love to find a way to update it more often (they take so much work to put together though).

    You ask why I put it so prominently - the main reason is that I think it adds something personal to the blog. I guess I was attempting to add a ‘face’ and ‘voice’ to the blog and at the same time to experiment with a medium that grows more and more each month.

    It does take a lot of space - however it’s been quite incredible to see the impact of doing it. Comments on those videos are quite high and interestingly they draw our a different kind of person to comment than those that comment on my text posts. I guess what I’m experimenting with is engaging with readers who have different learning styles rather than just going with text in every post.

    Featured Posts - the idea behind these was that because I post 3-5 posts a day that quite often key posts slide down the page fairly quickly without giving readers the chance to discuss them to the fullest extent. Leaving key posts to sit in that more prominent position has kept conversations going longer, has resulted in more comments on those posts and has also meant that smaller, less important posts (or perhaps I should call them posts that don’t lend themselves to as much discussion) don’t dominate the key position on the page as much. Again - it’s an experiment with highlighting posts that I think will connect with readers more than other posts - but seems to be working quite well so far.

    Interestingly it doesn’t seem to have meant that non ‘featured’ posts get ignored or skipped. The heat map tracking tests I’ve done show that the other posts on the page get clicked at a pretty high rate - in fact that whole front page is a clicking frenzy and drives a lot of traffic in different directions into the blog.

    The ‘best of’ section does very well - in fact in the heat maps it is the hottest zone of the page. Really worth experimenting with - I’d encourage anyone to do it.

    Your reflections on the sidebar are good. It’s wide mainly because it looked too crowded when it was narrower - but there is some wasted space - particularly down low. Got to find a way to make the poll look better too.

    The footer area is an interesting one. I wasn’t convinced about it when I first saw people using them - but it’s been fascinating to watch the heatmap tests. There’s a lot of action down there. Of course I’d love to highlight a lot of that stuff up higher - but there’s only so much room above the fold.

    What I did find interesting though was that the CTR on links in the footer is actually higher than when I had those same links in my old sidebar. I can’t work out why - but I’m not complaining :-) My theory is that my old sidebar was so long that people just saw it as a cluttered mess as they scrolled. While there’s the same amount of content in my current footer at least when people get to it they are not scrolling and the screen is still - I suspect people are scanning over it and actually ’seeing’ more because the screen is stationary. Just my untested theory.

    What I’d like to do is find a way to get people visiting the footer more. I’ve got a few ideas on how to do that - I actually think that as more blogs and sites use the footer as a key zone on them that readers might become more and more used to scrolling down - just an untested theory.

    One thing I’d add to the critique is that the top right hand banner position where I’m rotating ads that point deeper into my blog isn’t performing as well as I’d liked. I’ve got to find a way to utilize that above the fold area better.

    Anyway - thanks for the critique. I hope I don’t come off as too defensive here - just thought it might add to the conversation to hear a little of my reasoning and some of the results.

    Thanks

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  4. Terra-cotta ? LOL

    Hey, thanks for being a good sport Darren and I knew this post would smoke you out :-)

    I had a good idea why you did what you did so I thought I would play a little devil’s advocate to get your comments as well. And boy oh boy did it ever work. Your comments turned into a post in itself.

    Your blog reminds me a lot of sites like Blogcritics that have multiple writers and are more content management sites than blogs.

    I think what bothers me the most about it is when you look at it in a large resolution it has no symmetry. To me it looks like a disjointed jigsaw puzzle that’s just begging to be put into place.

    I find the colours to be “stark” or dark and unfriendly and the background gags me. But I guess like you said it’s all a matter of taste. I realize that you are going for the business look but I think it needs a little more colour enhancement and friendlying up.

    Perhaps because your previous theme had so much colour that you have now gone in the opposite direction.

    Balance my friend … and remember white is our friend.

    The video being so prominent would be good idea if you were videoing every day. But you’re not and it’s sitting there like a lame duck most of the time. Like I’ve already told you I enjoy your videos and it’s something that I think you have an affinity for so I’m recommending that you do it more often or put it off to the side so your fresher content is getting the attention.

    The same thing goes for the featured post. It can sometimes be days old and it’s taking up valuable real estate.

    If your footer is working it’s because your content is taking the reader’s eye down to it. So in your case it’s working. But time and again I’ve seen similar blogs where the content stops half-way down and then nothing. Nobody is going to continue scrolling under those circumstances and it will go unnoticed.

    Methinks a balance between width and length is probably more preferable — i.e. a square looking shape as opposed to a rectangular one.

    Regarding the top right-hand banner I’ve never liked it myself. Again, I think it needs a splash of colour separating it from the rest of your blog.

    Thanks again for being a good sport ole sport. This has been interesting and it’s also helped me personally to decide what I want for my next theme.

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  5. Oh, there’s one more thing I forgot to mention.

    You stated that your video experiment is to engage viewers with “different learning styles”. I can understand your reasoning, but you have forgotten those who also have different disabilities.

    Your video won’t help much the deaf person who can’t hear a word that you are saying (besides admiring how handsome you look :).

    Of course you can always get around that by providing a transcript of your post. But that presents another problem in itself and would depend on what your speaking style is.

    If you have already prepared your post in advance then you can easily just read it when making the video and then just paste it below. However, I get the distinct impression that you are working from just a summary of ideas and flying off-the-cuff, which makes the issue a little more difficult.

    Paying for a transcribing service can be expensive so what I suggest is this. Playback an MP3 stream of just the audio portion into Dragon Naturally Speaking which has about a 90% accuracy and you will have your transcript.

    Done!

    You can send me my consulting fee by Paypal.

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  6. The new theme is so much easier on the eye than the old ProBlogger site. I avoided visiting it wherever possible and resorted to reading via Google Reader wherever possible. I only ever visited the site to leave a comment and only then if I were wearing my heavy duty Oakleys…

    I’m interested to hear that Darren is getting good results with the footer layout. I’ve been toying with the idea of making my footer more useful but had reservations as to whether users actually clicked through so I might just have to revisit that one.

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  7. Not to sound like a broken record Mike, just make certain that your content flows down to the footerbar to make it work.

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  8. Thanks, Where can I get information about good plugins for Wordpress?

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