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The Principles of Design: User Experience

Design for your readers.

Hi bloggers! My name’s Kjell Reigstad, and I’m a designer at Automattic. This is part eight in my monthly series on “The Principles of Design.” In this series, I share some of the basic tenets of design, and we explore how to apply them to your blog.

Previous installments:
Clarity
Visual Hierarchy
Color Harmony
Design Iteration & Feedback
Accessibility
Choosing Fonts
Readable Typography

Previously, we’ve explored how design tweaks to hierarchy, color, and typography are beneficial on a small scale, but today we’re going to take a step back and talk about designing a great overall experience for your readers.

Do you have a beloved restaurant that you return to over and over? Mine is Otto Pizzeria, in New York, where I know I can always expect a great experience:

  • Spectacular food that I can’t find elsewhere. (Try the Heriloom Caprese!)
  • Knowledgeable staff, quick to suggest a new dish I’d like.
  • A great ambiance — fancy enough for special evening, casual enough for a quick dinner.

When designing websites, we’re also aiming to create a great experience for visitors. (We call this “User Experience Design,” or UX.) The core ideas are pretty similar:

  • Fantastic, original content.
  • A well-organized site, so it’s easy to find what you’re looking for.
  • A welcoming, beautiful look and feel.

As a blogger, your “users” are typically your readers. If you’re able to provide them with a great experience, they’ll keep coming back for more. Here are a few tips to help you assess and improve your reader’s experience on your blog.

Understand your readers

Understanding your audience and the content they want is essential to providing them with a great experience on your site.

Stats

Your stats can can be a treasure trove of knowledge about your audience. You can see which posts resonate with them, what they’re searching for, and other helpful trends.

We’ve written before about your audience. WordPress.com blogs cover tons of different topics, so your audience could be just about anyone! If you write a small personal blog maybe your close friends are your readers. If you write a recipe blog, your audience is probably food lovers.

Once you pinpoint your audience, you need to find out what they are looking for on your site. Usually, this is your “Unique Value Proposition”: the reason people keep visiting. The easiest way to figure this out is just go ahead and ask them! Reach out to the people who comment and like your posts and ask what sets your blog apart from their perspective. Gathering feedback like this is essential to providing a great experience.

You can make adjustments to your site’s design based on this feedback. For example, if readers really love your photos, try a theme that focuses on bigger images. Or if they tend to really like posts on a specific topic, try prominently linking to that category in your sidebar. A great user experience connects readers with their favorite content as efficiently as possible.

Organize your content

Your blog is made up of thousands of little pieces of content and metadata: posts, pages, tags, categories, images, maybe even some videos. Without a plan, this content can become a dense wall of stuff. It’s important to organize your content in a way that’s intuitive to your reader, because if readers can’t find the content they’re looking for on your site, they’ll go elsewhere.

Information architecture is an area of design that aims to untangle, organize, and present information in a way that makes sense.

It’s a good idea to plan out the structure and navigation of your site. Start by thinking about the different types of posts and pages you have, and try organizing those into different sections. Sometimes it can be helpful to draw up a sitemap to help sort things out visually:

Sitemap

Keep in mind that blogs often change organically. You might start off writing personal essays, then shift to posting lots of photos. As your site evolves, it’s a good idea to continually re-evaluate how your content is organized.

A sitemap can give you a birds-eye view of your website and help define your key tags, categories, and menu items. To learn more about sitemaps, check out Wendy’s post, “Measure Twice, Cut Once.”

Organization is important even within single posts. Subtle typography tweaks like scale and emphasis can impact how readers absorb your blog’s content, and being smart about the way you divide up longer posts will have a positive effect as well.

Create ambiance

The overall visual aesthetic of your site is also a major part of the experience. Readers should feel comfortable and welcome when they visit.

Remember, every single element of your site impacts your overall message. Aim to keep both your design and content clear and concise.

Think of it this way: If a highly qualified job candidate showed up to a job interview in sweatpants and a smelly t-shirt, you probably wouldn’t be too excited to hire them. If you have a superbly organized site with great content, your look and feel should match. Sites that are appealing and desirable have a major leg up on sites that aren’t.

Start with a great theme and make it yours. Choose a lovely color scheme, and pair it with some great fonts. Many of the other posts in this series can really come in handy as well.

Learn more

That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the field of user experience. If you’d like to learn more, I’d suggest the following resources:

  • Usability.gov has a great primer on what goes into a great user experience.
  • The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman is a great book to inspire critical thinking about experiences and how you interact with the world around you.
  • UX Booth and A List Apart are full of great articles on the topic as well.

Do you have examples of sites that offer up a great overall experience? Feel free to share in the comments!

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  1. As the new year starts, I wanted to change the color of the text of my blog name. I’ve done this numerous times through the years including the first part of December, but all of a sudden the option to do it appears to be gone. I submitted a question to the forums but the only answer was another person who is experiencing the same problem. I believe it use to be under Settings, General. Advice??

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Keep in mind that blogs often change organically… As your site evolves, it’s a good idea to continually re-evaluate how your content is organized.”

    Such a great point. I didn’t realize when I started blogging how much my vision for my blog would grow. Now, one of my goal 2016 blog goals is to figure out a way to organize my posts so that it is easier for my readers navigate. I hate when poorly designed websites and blogs make it hard for me to explore. I don’t want that for my readers.

    http://mostlytruestoriesofkrenaep.com/

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  3. Great article on usability, I will definitely review my site based on these guidelines and checkout the rest of your series. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very informative and helpful to new bloggers like me. I will be thinking of the feeling my favorite restraints give me as I begin to design my new blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. One of the things I haven’t figured out, are themes where it’s not a fixed header option. Just featured photos. To me, that would dilute the branding of a blog…..that is if one doesn’t create an unique logo. Logo is not something I want to spend time since I have a personal blog. I have a full time job outside of all this.

    I agree simple organization of blog posts as the blog content grows, is helpful. Problem with me, I might be too smple.

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