Pity your poor readers.
Playing with your blog design is a lot of fun. Frankly, it’s much more fun than, say, writing. Why come up with 500 words when I could change my theme fifty times? I could post today…or I could redo my menus so that each tab is a different color of the rainbow! And yes, I would like a slowly revolving gif of a monkey riding a hippo in my sidebar, thank you.
Fonts, colors, backgrounds, widgets, CSS, galleries: the tools and options for presenting your words and images to your readers are endless. It’s a good idea to make your site look pretty and visually compelling, but more is not necessarily better.
Remember, your readers primarily want to be able to read your posts without getting a headache, having to click around endlessly, or waiting for five minutes for your site to load.
When you’re changing up your blog design, it’s best to make choices that are considerate of your readers. Here are some things to think about:
Most themes have a simple background by default, which you can change to a color or pattern, or even replace with an image you particularly like.
A unique background can set your theme apart, but it can also make your text impossible to read. If your theme has a solid post content area, and the background appears as a frame around it, you can go a little nuts with the pattern.
However, if your theme displays the background directly behind your text, it’s best to stick with a solid color that doesn’t obscure your words.
Put some thought into your font choices: is the text primarily to get attention (site title, headings), is it text that readers will need to spend some time reading carefully (body), or is it somewhere in between (captions, menus)?
Colorful fonts can be difficult to read, as can overly tiny or large font sizes. While it might seem boring, there’s a very good reason the vast majority of text, whether in print or on the web, uses a standard black font on a white background.
Alignment and Spacing
Typically, we read left to right (except for right-to-left languages, such as Arabic). Our eyes naturally scan left to right on a screen or in a book without our even having to think about it. For this reason, centered text is very difficult to comprehend, as you might have noticed while trying to read this paragraph here.
Also, big blocks of dense text can be hard to parse, particularly on the web where we’re used to skimming between blocks of text first, then narrowing in on what interests us.
Keep these things in mind when you are structruing your posts. Unless you’re captioning an image, it’s best to stick with left-alignment for text. And if you have a longer post, break it up with some internal headings or pagination.
Not everybody has a speedy internet connection, and the more content you put on a single page, the longer it will take for your readers to load your site.
Here are a few tricks to speed up your site load:
- Limit the number of posts that load per page. Ten posts per page is pretty standard.
- Optimize your images. Huge images take forever to load. You can decrease the file size without comprimising the image quality.
- Choose widgets carefully. Not only are fifty widgets in one sidebar distracting and cluttered, they’ll also make your site load slow as molasses. Pick only those you really need, or try putting different widgets on your different pages using the Visibility setting.
The ability to include music, video, and even interactive elements is part of what makes the internet so much fun. You don’t have to limit yourself to words alone to create an experience for your readers: you have multi-media tools at your disposal!
However, it’s easy to abuse the bells and whistles. Few things will make a reader close a tab faster than music or video that automatically plays when your site is opened. Pop-up ads or banners that obscure your content infuriate everyone, and too many distracting animated gifs and icons in your header or sidebar can turn your site into an eyesore.
Here at WordPress.com, we don’t allow some of the more atrocious tricks (such as pop-ups), but you can still ruin your site if you’re determined. So be sure to use a light touch with anything that squawks, sings, dances, or rotates.
None of this advice is intended to discourage you from expressing yourself. You need not limit yourself to the web design equivalent of decorating with beige.
But when you’re getting fancy, keep the reader experience in mind. Your site design should complement your posts and images, not distract from them.
Did I miss any good tips for reader-friendly layout and design? If so, please share them in the comments!