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Welcome back to The Ultimate Guide to Book Blogging! If you’ve never been here before you can catch up on previous posts in the series here.
Today we’re getting to the fun part–designing the beautiful web space that will become your online home. There are three steps in that process that I’ll be covering–the first is choosing a solid framework on which to build your blog, the second is choosing a design, and the third is designing your logo. Finally, we’ll go over some general good practices for designing an amazing blog!
The Genesis Framework and Why It’s Your New Best Friend
You’re probably wondering what a framework is and that is an excellent question. A framework (or a theme framework to be more precise) is a body of code that acts as the foundation for further WordPress web development. Once the core framework is installed, you can install any one of a number of child themes on top of it, which is what will give your blog its finished look. There are a number of theme frameworks out there, but I firmly believe that Genesis is by far the best. You know that Bible story about the man who built his house on sand and the man who build his house on solid rock? The Genesis framework is the rock of WordPress web development and that is exactly where you want to build your digital home.
When I first started blogging, before I had any idea what the heck I was doing, my designer built my blog on the Genesis framework. I had no idea how good I had it until I did a redesign in 2013 and the new web developer used a different framework, saying that she felt there was no difference in quality between Genesis and other top frameworks. Big. Fat. Mistake. There is a HUGE difference between Genesis and other frameworks. Here are a few things I love about the Genesis framework.
- It’s affordable. The Genesis framework costs just $59.95 and that includes unlimited updates and support. You can also buy the framework with a child theme for a discount, and once you purchase Genesis, you get a returning customer discount on any child themes you purchase in the future.
- It’s SEO-friendly. This means that your blog has a greater chance of showing up higher in search engine results.
- It’s user-friendly. Blogging will always require some level of technical skill and an ability to adapt and learn new things, but Genesis makes that process much easier.
- It’s highly customizable. Because Genesis is such a popular framework, there are a ton of developers designing amazing child themes all the time. This means that there are endless ways to customize your blog and make it truly yours.
- It’s not just a product–it’s a community. If you need to troubleshoot a theme problem, rest assured that there is no lack of help for Genesis users. The popularity of the framework has spawned a community of designers, developers, and tech-savvy individuals who can help you should you run into problems. There are also a ton of tutorials on the StudioPress website. (StudioPress is the company that makes Genesis.)
Do yourself a favor and build your blog on the Genesis framework. I’ve been using it for three of my five years as a book blogger and I am never ever switching again!
Custom vs. Premade Designs
When I was first starting out, the only way to have a one-of-a-kind blog was to hire a designer. It was expensive. Very, very expensive. It makes my teeth itch thinking about how much I’ve spent on outside designers over the last five years. Truth be told, I’m a little bit envious of those of you who are just starting out, because nowadays having a beautiful, unique blog is a lot more affordable. Custom themes used to be the standard for serious bloggers, but now highly customizable premade child themes are all the rage. In fact, many designers who previously did custom work are turning to a premade-only business model. This passive income model is financially advantageous for designers and bloggers.
So, where can you find beautiful Genesis child themes? The StudioPress website is a great place to start. You can purchase a child theme and the Genesis framework together for a discount. I personally have a couple of favorite premade theme designers. The first is Shay Bocks, whose Foodie Pro theme I am currently using on this blog. The Foodie Pro theme is, in my opinion, the greatest premade theme out there. It’s highly customizable and totally user-friendly, plus Shay has a ton of tutorials on her website to make the set-up process a breeze.
I’m also a big fan of Pretty Darn Cute Design. Lindsey Riel, the owner and designer-in-chief, makes gorgeous feminine WordPress themes that will make you want to ditch shoe shopping for theme shopping. She also offers theme setup services for an additional cost.
The Perfect Logo
Now that you’ve installed the Genesis framework and your fabulous new child theme, it’s time to fill in that header space with the thing that will identify your blog as yours–the perfect custom logo. You have two options for logo design–you can go the DIY route or you can shill out some cash and hire a designer. Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons.
[bctt tweet=”Ready to design your dream #blog? Here’s a guide to help you get started:”]
Designing your own logo may sound like the cheaper option, but that’s not necessarily true. You will most likely have to purchase software–either Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. (Illustrator is generally more suited to logo design than Photoshop, though you can certainly do a lot with Photoshop.) Then you will have to learn how to use the software, which can take some time. On the upside, having and knowing how to use a program like Photoshop or Illustrator will definitely come in handy down the road. In fact, I think Photoshop is practically a requirement if you’re serious about blogging.
Design services vary in cost, but the good news is that logo and/or header design is generally much less expensive than custom theme design. How much you end up paying will depend on the skill of the designer and how big her business is. Hiring a designer is much easier than designing your own logo, but the downside is that you won’t be able to modify it yourself if you decide a change is in order. If you decide to hire a designer, visit some of your favorite blogs and check to see who designed them. Ultimately you should choose a designer whose work reflects your aesthetic values.
Elements of a Good Blog Design
Here are some general blog design guidelines to steer you in the right direction.
- It should be clean. The age of packed sidebars and glittering blog buttons is over. Minimalism is in. If you have a sidebar, keep if free of clutter and highlight only the essentials. Don’t put GIFs or automatically playing videos on your home page and for the love of all that is good in this world DO NOT install a widget that plays music when someone visits your website.
- It should be easy to navigate. We’ll be talking more about organizing your blog in a couple of weeks, but for now, just make sure that you use some of that valuable sidebar and/or footer space to make your blog easily navigable. Notice how I’ve placed a search bar right at the top of my sidebar. If you scroll down to my footer you’ll see that I also have a dropdown category menu and a tag cloud to make it easier for visitors to find stuff.
- It should be Retina ready. If you have a Mac with a Retina screen you’ve probably noticed that the graphics on certain websites might seem just a little bit fuzzy. That’s because those websites are not Retina ready. Making a website totally Retina ready can be a bit complicated, which is why not all of the images you see on my blog are always crystal clear–but the main elements of my design are. Here’s a handy guide for making your website Retina ready.
- It should be consistent. You should have a consistent color scheme for your blog. Once you design a logo, come up with a color palette that matches/compliments it and implement that throughout your theme. Notice how the links in this blog post are the same shade of red as my header. That’s what you want.
- It should be yours. Above all, you’re blog design should be uniquely yours. Don’t try to copy another blogger’s design and don’t afraid to be different! Your blog should reflect who you are–no one else.
Have fun exploring the wonderful world of blog design! And be sure to let me know when your blog is up and running!
Questions? Leave them in the comments section below.
Check out The Ultimate Guide to Book Blogging for more tips and tricks on how to become a book blogging wiz!