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Branding Your Blog: Let’s Get Visual

Creating a compelling visual identity for your blog will help you set yourself apart from the crowd.

bookcover

If you’re old and/or hip enough to remember the days when books were printed on paper and sold on shelves, you probably have a handful of favorite book covers. The visual design of a book not only grabs the attention of would-be readers, but also sets a tone for the content sandwiched between its covers. Covers and spines that all look alike make for wonderful soft furnishings, but in a world in which ideas have to compete for attention, they often don’t cut it.

Cookie cutter blogs with the same look and feel as countless others have the same impact. Which is to say, not very much. So in this three part series on visually branding your blog, we take a look at some tips and tactics for thinking through and putting into action some simple ways you can set your blog apart, whether you’re an artistic maestro itching to make a masterpiece of your magnum opus, or simply a concerned party worried that your blog is an unbearable aesthetic train wreck.

 Identity, Meet Visual Identity

Your writing, and by extension your blog, very likely has an identity all of its own. Whether that’s in the stylistic details of how you write, in the persistent themes and ideas you write about, or a combination of the two, when people read something you’ve written, they’re going to get an impression of you through your use of words.

Creating a visual identity, however simple, for your blog, only reinforces that idea. And if your visual identity is going to make sense in the context of your writing, it should spring from that writing. If you write about crafts, how could you translate the mood, feeling and act of crafting into the look of your blog?  If your blog is a personal journal about your travels, how could you make it feel more personal with a few visual flourishes, and how could you emphasise that it’s about travel to the casual reader? Today we’ll look at these problems and how to solve them.

The Why Behind the What

Before you get your marker pens and watercolors down from the attic, start thinking about why people would want to read your blog, what they’re likely to find there if they do, and what makes your blog unique. In other words, before putting pen to paper when it comes to visual design, it’s a good idea to think through why you’re doing what you’re doing. What are you hoping to achieve?

In the case of a book or movie poster, there are a few elements that make up the “why” of what it’s trying to achieve:

  • Stand out from the thousands of other brilliant ideas and offerings competing for peoples stretched attention.
  • Contextualize the book or movie so that passers-by can get a very quick idea if it’s the “sort of thing they like”. Is it literary fiction? Is it horror? Is it a heartwarming tale of a dog and cat on a one way mission to Mars?
  • Set the tone within that broader context you’ve settled on. A comedy-horror film will have a different look and feel to one played straight. A Tim Burton animation will visually position itself in a different way to a classic Disney film. A 1000-page academic treatise on the mating cycle of lesser spotted herons will likely present itself in a different way than an Idiot’s Guide to Heron Mating.

Let’s put this into action:

Action Time: Now to nail down some of the ideas that might inspire the look and feel of your blog:

  • Figure out your blog’s unique proposition, the thing that sets it apart from everything else. Get the ball rolling with “It’s the only blog that…” and take it from there.
  • Think about the broader context of your blog. Are there any other blogs like it? If your blog were turned into a book, where would it be filed in a library or bookstore?
  • Do some spontaneous mood setting. What kind of atmosphere would your blog have if it were a cafe, restaurant, or bar? Loud and exciting? Relaxed and peaceful? Jazz music and beard stroking by dim light? Think about the lighting, decor, furnishings, soundtrack, aromas, people you might find in there.

Toying With Taglines

Okay, okay, we’re nearly at the visual part. Before we get there though, let’s try and boil everything down into an elevator pitch of the mood, feel, intentions, and hopefully audience for your blog. We’ll do that by working on a one-liner. The conversational way you’d describe what your blog is and who it’s for if you had thirty seconds passing a friend in the street. Think of the blurb on the front or back of a book, or the one-liner on a movie poster, only less formal. The idea is that you’re going to let the would-be, fly-by reader know exactly what’s going on with this here blog before they commit to reading a post.

Action Time: Boiling down your whole blog into a useful sentence is tough. Here are some questions to ask yourself if you get stuck:

  • The old journalistic W’s: run your blog through the trusty old journalistic W’s of Who (who is this blog for); What (what’s it about);  When (what’s the average speed of posting? Is this a quick fire bulletin or a slow burn meditation?); Where (where is it being written/where are the audience located in geographic or psychological space), How (Ok, not a W, but don’t shoot the messenger – how are you/will you appeal to the casual or would-be reader? What kind of posts are you putting out?)
  • Jaws Meets Heat, On Mars: when scriptwriters pitch their ideas in Hollywood, they often use shorthand to get the gist across about their idea by mashing two existing, well-known examples together. Is your blog “Gawker, by way of Sartre”, “LOLCats meets political analysis”, or “A blog about pince-nez, in the style of popular 1970s tobacco advertising”? Possibly none of the above, but you get the idea.
  • At gunpoint: if you’re still sweating it and can’t commit to what the heck your blog is about, just imagine a maniacal clown with a 60-second egg-timer in one hand, a revolver, pointed at you, in the other, and a vacant, somewhat unpleasant stare. Set your own timer if you have to. Don’t anger the clown.

Hopefully that’s given you a tagline. A tagline you can use as your own secret inspiration for the visual funfair awaiting us, or a tagline you can use as, you know, your tagline.

Think Visual

So by now you know what your blog’s about. You’ve boiled it’s essence down to a killer tagline. You’re ready to start playing with visuals. Right?

Almost.

Action Time: Put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, or voice to… voice recorder. Answer the following quick questions as instinctively and spontaneously as you can:

  • What was the last book (magazine or movie) you paid for? How did the cover (or poster) convey that it wasn’t a book from a different genre? If it appealed to you when you picked it up, how so? If not, why not?
  • If your blog had a book cover (or movie poster) what would it look like? Describe it in simple terms, or make a quick doodle. Why did you make the decisions you did?
  • Does the subject of your blog have its own existing, popular “iconography” attached? Think knitting needles (crafts/knitting), typewriters (writing), dog leashes (dogs), ribbons (crafts, pretty things), blood spatters (crime/horror). If there aren’t any, how could you best represent the topic of your blog visually? If there are, how could you put a fresh twist on the familiar imagery?

Back of a Napkin

In the next post in the series, we’re going to be looking at how you can creatively use headers and image widgets in your sidebar to visually brand your blog. Until then, why not pitch your taglines, thoughts, and if you’re brave enough, your wild scribble-scratched napkin sketches of some of the ideas you’ve had about how you could visually brand your blog? And if you’re feeling especially nice, why not throw out some feedback to your fellow blog branders?

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  1. The concept of boiling down what my blog is “about” to one single theme is an issue I’ve been struggling with for years. This article really opened up that conversation for me a bit, and you’ve included some really thoughtful and helpful strategies. I still haven’t come up with a single answer to that fundamental question yet, but the conversation definitely has more direction for me now. Thanks!

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  2. I love browsing through fellow WordPress blogs, especially the eye catching and witty ones, for inspiration. I have changed mine a few times, but now I think I can finally use the popular phrase from the old classic “My Fair Lady”; “By George, I think she’s got it”. MAYBE…. *shrugs shoulders blushing*

    http://mychroniclife.wordpress.com

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  3. Thank you so much Michael. That’s such good information. I need to read this, as a rookie for all social networks.

    I can’t agree enough the visual is so important. However, it’s s—o— much work involved dealing with wordpress, which is such a pain in the butt to use. (love its features though). Quite honestly, I am pretty overwhelmed. Just the 1000 word writing challenge took me 20-24 hours. Forget about blogging everyday, it’s a sure way to get burned out.

    I don’t complaint the writing part, which I did a lot of search to make sure the story sound real in Seville Spain. But the 10-12 hours just to insert the 20 images from other websites is just too much. Took me a few minutes to copy and paste on simple notepad, but not on WordPress. Tried both visual, test input and different format. neither worked for majority of the images which shown as links or codes. some pictures showed first, then back to links later. Eventually I had to download everything into my picture files and upload that way. I don’t know whether other people have the same problem or better way of doing it. Thanks a lot

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    1. plus the youtube, twitter, facebook… how do you manage it. just not enough time of the day, on top of that, it’s absolutely not good sitting too much in front of computer. Very bad for your health. Love to hear any suggestions or solutions. Thanks

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      1. sorry for the rambling. But I really need to find a way out to keep blogging regularly and doing my videos, and have time to social connect. don’t know how it can be done. s—o— nervous because I need to plan a cool healthy (with some guilty pleasure twist) tasty Valentine’s romantic meal on low budget, plus make up dress up on youtube, on time. And need to blog as well, h—-u—h—-

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    2. @MABEL8BLE, sorry to hear you’ve been having a hard time. If you do find yourself hitting a brick wall, don’t suffer in silence. Between our support docs, help forums, and support team we hope we’ll be able to get you on the right road. I think you’re absolutely right to mention the need to step away from the computer, though. Like all things sitting in front of a screen needs to be done in moderation and balanced with other more real-world activities.

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      1. Hello Michael,

        Thank you so much for helping and your advice. There’s so much to learn. I have yet to take time to study your widget 101. Went through the quick lesson a little. got some widget in my blog!!! Thrilled. Have a wonderful weekend.

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  4. This series of blogs is exactly what I needed at this time. I have been adjusting to blogging and posting so I didn’t have time to think about my blog appearance. One of my goals for 2013 was to touch up my blog appearance. I had finally separated my art and photography from my writing blog but was lost as to how to make the blogs look more professional. This series will help me so much. Thank you for taking the time to present it.
    I hope you’ll pop over to my blogs and give me a little help as to what might go with each one. My writing blog is about my life’s experience, some spiritual grounding, a little poetry and prose sprinkled with humor from time to time. I wold call it a hybrid that develops from the m any corners of my mind. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks,
    Isadora

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  5. This might seem a cheap way to get hits, but would anyone mind taking a look at my front page, telling me what they think?

    The blog’s various writery things, (reviews, story structure, writer’s thoughts) as well as links to things I’ve written elsewhere. Just wondering how well people think my main photo fits the theme.

    https://noonebutabloghead.wordpress.com/

    Thanks in advance to anyone who does take alook!

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    1. I love your main photo – it is very unique, has lots of personality, and fits the theme of your blog very well. However it is also very large for a header, and a bit much to scroll past on every page. Personally I’d shrink it a little, and/or crop it a bit closer to the typewriter on the top and bottom, but I’d definitely keep it.

      The multiple versions of your about page are also amusing and show lots of personality. But if someone just clicks on “About” without using the pull-down menu, they get a blank page that could do with a few links to the various about pages.

      Your titles of categories are also creative, and set a tone for what to expect, which seems accurate based on my brief visit.

      Hope that helps. Return the critique? http://seasreflectingstarlight.com/

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  6. Great post! I recorded my answers to the questions at the end and realized my blog isn’t nearly where I want it to be visually. I like white space but I think my blog could stand to have a makeover with incorporating colors and widgets. I also noticed that my tagline is informative, but bland. Nobody wants to read a boring blog. I need to make mine stand out!

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  7. Reblogged this on imPRez and commented:
    Think of the journalist’s Ws and THINK visual. You need to guide the reader with your typography, whether it is bigger type, changing fonts or colors, the reader should know where to start to read and where to finish, without missing a single spot on your page/story.
    Prioritizing information does not mean including flashy colors. You can do it with plain black and white. Tell someone that won’t be biased to read the blog, and walk you through exactly how he/she read it. This may help you figure out is your design needs tweaks or you’ve done a perfect job!

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      1. Hi Katherine! I just looked at yours. I love the template. It really separates the side bar and the blog posts. Which template is it? I also saw you have everything linked, and it branches out, which is good! OH! And thank you for sharing the recipes too! 😉 –
        Sorry it took me so long to read your blog. I actually ran into your comment checking my blog’s stats. Now I’ll get notifications for the thread.

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      2. Andrea! Thanks for these kind words! 🙂 The name of the theme is “A Simpler Time” and I chose it for the color and the fact that it doesn’t hurt my eyes. (!) I still have lots to learn about it. I noticed that today, for some reason, IT HAS BEGUN DISPLAYING MY PHOTO INSTEAD OF THE POST PHOTO FOR THE ‘TOP POSTS AND PAGES’ WIDGET, AND IT’S NOT EVEN MY GRAVATAR PHOTO, BUT JUST A RANDOM ONE OFF, i THINK, ANOTHER BLOG I HAVE. How corny and what a disappointment! It was some work, trying to get more of the features up and going on my site, and this makes me want to delete it! 😐 Hope someone up there is reading these posts . . . Oh, and you are welcome for the recipes! 🙂 Katharine

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  8. I’ve had the same blog “brand” for the last 2 years. I don’t wish to use my header with ever-changing photos since I think it visually weakens my “brand”. And no, I deliberately chose not to use a bike logo/design because my blog isn’t simply about cycling. What do others think?

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    1. I’m on your blog right now. Impressive. The fish are spot on. I’m actually in your ‘my words elsewhere’ section now. The title is magnetic. Sit Index is also cool. Your blog is cool; the theme and your style of writing; your content doesn’t overwhelm, it reassures. I don’t know what ‘Ms Daily’ thinks, but as far as ‘eye’ can see, the ‘wheels are spinning’ at the right pace over at Cycle Write. Take a bow. Cheers.

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      1. Sometimes the fish widget doesn’t show on certain browsers. So might have to rethink that. I wish that the site index allowed automatic selection of post date at least. You have such lovely way of expressing yourself lexborgia.

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    2. I like your theme as-is, but if you are looking for other ways to convey biking without resorting to the standard bike logos, you could include pictures of trails or things and places that you see while biking. I also like using a static header image. Your title and menu convey your theme quite well.

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      1. Thanks for the feedback. I will have to think about that in terms of trails, etc. I know alot of other cycling blogs do that: show a pic from the perspective of the bike saddle position.

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    1. Your blog has eye catching potential. However you need to pull together some disparate themes, Buddhism, art, technical advice, even animals in a more organized way by main topic menus. It helps group ideas and concepts for the reader since you have diverse interests.

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  9. This is intriguing! Branding a blog in the same way you brand a company has never occured to me. The taglines, the look and feel, the title–they all work together to create an identity for your blog. I am excited to focus on my blog’s identity and change the appearance so that it reflects that personality. Thanks for the tips; I look forward to reading the rest!

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