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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!