When I was first studying design, there wasn’t much of a Web to use. So, I received most of my education and professional experience in that field learning print design.
In my closet I have several binders filled with things I made both professionally, personally and for school. This includes, flyers, brochures, buttons, newsletters, newspapers, booklets and more. However, as I was trying to pick up Web design, I brought a lot of what I learned in print design to the Web.
A lot of it was right, but a lot of it was very wrong and the Web, founded largely by people like me who grew up in the print design world, is just now waking up to some of those mistakes.
The truth is people don’t use the Web like they do a newspaper or a magazine. For an example, consider how far your nose is from your screen right now. Then, open up a book, hold it comfortably and take the same measurement, you’ll likely see a big difference.
So, if you want to create a good blog layout, you have to stop thinking like a print designer and break some of the rules you may have come to know and love, even without realizing it.
Here are five examples of rules that no blog design should break.
1. Clear, Large and Readable Body Copy
In the print world, body copy is usually fairly small, averaging between 10 and 12 points. This idea is beat into the heads of nearly every student who turns in an essay and is given instructions on font size, spacing and margins.
But while that size works well for printed works that you hold in your hand, it works less well for the Web where you are typically reading text farther away from your face and on a backlit screen. Simply put, 11 point font is just too small to comfortably be read on the Web.
Services like Readability and Evernote Clearly were designed because text on the Web is so difficult to read. In addition to getting rid of “clutter”, they also put the text in a much larger font than most sites display it in and use a more narrow column, making it easier to read through.
There’s no reason to limit yourself to smaller fonts on the Web. Larger ones are easier to read and can look very nice when done right, so experiment with fonts much bigger than 11 point, your readers’ eyes will thank you.
2. Right Hand Sidebar (if Any)
Back in the early days of the Web, there was a tremendous debate as to whether a sidebar should go on the left or the right side of the page. Since people read from left to right, the consensus was that left sidebars got more attention but right sidebars made things easier to read.
However, when it’s all said and done, the arguments for a right hand sidebar are just stronger.
When readers reach the end of a line and then drop down to go to the left hand side of the line below, a sidebar on the left side of the page interferes with that and forces the reader to find the beginning of the text they want. With a sidebar on the right, there is no such issue.
Though some still argue a sidebar on the left is good for advertising, if you want to put the focus on your content, you want to put that sidebar on the right and keep the left side clean, not only making your content easier to read, but also giving it the prized space in the upper left of your site.
3. Clean Colors
This is one area where print design and Web design go hand-in-hand. Clean colors are vital to readable and engaging content.
Don’t muddy up your color pallet. A white background with black text is best for readability and strong, powerful accent colors, preferably only one or two, can be used to highlight things that you want to draw attention to and give your site a unique look.
The more gray and muddled you make your site, the harder it is to read and the more likely your readers will just get frustrated and leave. Keep your site crisp, clear and focused with regard to its colors. It’s that simple.
4. Navigation at Top (if Any)
In print design, it’s not uncommon to put your table of contents some place where it is predictable but out of the way. However, if your site has a navigation menu, especially for static pages, put the menu for it at the top of the site, usually horizontally below the logo though some sites put it beside or even in the logo area.
The reason is because, if there is no left sidebar, the space above the content is the most prominent spot it can be placed and the easiest to access. Furthermore, it’s where most readers will expect to find that information, making it where most will look first.
Placing your menu anywhere else just adds to the steps a reader has to take to find the rest of your content and, makes it harder for them to find it.
5. Always Include Images
In the print world, images cost money. Not only do you have the cost of the image itself, but you have the cost of printing a color photo. Going from a one-color to a four-color print can make a project many times more expensive. On the Internet, however, there are no printing costs to worry about and free stock photo sites like Morguefile and Stock.XCHNG make it easy to find good, free stock photos you can use.
So there is little reason not to include images when you can and photos add a visual focus to your post that draws the eye, makes your site more attractive and breaks up your text some.
As long as you don’t treat Google as your personal stock photo library, you should have no trouble finding good, free images that you can use.
When it’s all said and done, print design and Web design are two different worlds. Though they share many of the same rules and ideas, there are many ways that they are very different and those differences are just as important as their similarities.
So when designing your blog, be mindful of these rules and don’t worry about them stifling your creativity. There is a lot that you can do within the bounds of these rules to make your site unique and interesting. While it may make creating a new design more difficult, the best and most creative designs marry an original design with usability and readability.
To get both, you have to follow some rules and overcome them. However, doing so isn’t as difficult as you might think and many find that narrowing their options a bit, gives them the focus to create something truly great.