Lunacy Unleashed

Notes from the field in the War on Spam

Give your blog design a spring cleaning

There’s too much stuff on your blog.

Seriously.

It’s okay, though. I’m not mad at you.

In fact, not only is there too much stuff on your blog, it’s poorly organized, difficult to see, and a real pain in the ass just to look at. And it’s not doing me any good when I visit your blog.

This rant came about as I was viewing one of my blogs on my new Palm T|X handheld, and trying to cut its download time down. This threw me into a whole new world: that of mobile computing. You see, on a mobile device, there’s very limited screen space, and anything more than minimal user input is a real pain in the ass. So the more stuff that appears on your blog, the worse off you are. And sidebars are the kiss of death.

But even without the constraints of the mobile devices, blog clutter and bad design are serious problems. Let’s take an example:

Below the Beltway Screenshot Below the Beltway Screenshot Below the Beltway Screenshot

Now this blog has excellent content. Unfortunately, the blog’s design has several problems, all of which compound the others to make it very difficult to deal with.

First off, it has a color scheme with poor contrast. It uses a dark blue background, light blue links, and black borders. The effect of the color choices leads people to look not at the content, but at the borders! It takes an amazing amount of will to actually focus on the content, and to focus on links takes even more concentration. So the choice of colors does not naturally lead a reader to where the blogger presumably wants the reader.

Second, it uses a three-column layout. A three-column layout can be done well, but it rarely is. Instead, people usually use three-column layouts so that they can get many more links to many more places onto every page. That’s what this blog does.

What the hell is this crap? — Butt-head

What’s so wrong with lots of links to lots of places? Too much clutter. This blog contains no fewer than six blogrolls with literally hundreds of links to other blogs in its two sidebars, and in the format and colors used, they are all but indistinguishable. Who is really going to wade through all of those links in all of those blogrolls? It’s certainly important to promote one’s blog, and to help promote others, but at a certain point it becomes excessive, and nobody pays attention to it.

Or they do what I did the first several times I saw this blog, and others with similar problems: they leave without reading anything.

And then there are the ads. In the right-hand sidebar, one can see ads from Amazon and Google, but the ads are very poorly integrated into the site. So they are almost certainly getting much less attention than they otherwise would. This has a direct negative impact on the income this blogger makes from his blog.

Oh, and I have one more bone to pick, and that’s with those chicklets. You know, the little buttons inviting you to subscribe to every feed aggregator service you’ve ever heard of, and a few dozen you’ve never heard of. It’s been my experience that almost nobody ever clicks on them. As you can see, this person doesn’t seem to have had much luck getting people to subscribe to his RSS feed, despite being very well linked to. (You don’t get to be a Large Mammal in TTLB unless you’re fairly decent sized.) (And they could also be subscribed to his Atom feed, and not showing in that count, a side effect of using Blogger.) But the buttons, when all thrown together, are just plain ugly. I’ve theorized that one would get better results with just one or two buttons, and that seems to be playing out fairly well for me. Even if it doesn’t, my site looks a lot better for not having the chicklets.

After studying real users in the real world, I’ve found that they have a much better time with simpler, cleaner looking sites. So I’ve tried to keep the clutter and extra features to a minimum. Of course, with a blog, you have extensive navigational controls which are going to take up quite a bit of space. But all the rest can go, as I discovered. Or almost all.

Now pick up your PDA or smartphone and use its built-in Web browser to visit http://www.ioerror.us/ . Hopefully you do this after viewing it in your Web browser. If all goes well, you’ll see a radically different site; it’s been stripped of almost everything, is about five times smaller, downloads much faster, and dare I say it, I think I like it stripped down.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away. — Antoine de Saint-Exuper

What’s cluttering up your blog theme? Is it easy to read? What can you get rid of to improve your blog’s appearance and usability?

March 28, 2006 - Posted by | Blogging, Design, WordPress, WordPress.com

11 Comments

  1. [...] IO ERROR has written a post about cleaning up your blogs design: [...]

    Pingback by WordPress theme park » Give your blog design a spring cleaning | March 28, 2006

  2. Interesting read, I just redesigned my site with the Hemingway theme. Maybe bad contrast, but clean design I think.

    Comment by Ronald | March 29, 2006

  3. So you have a second version of your site for mobile devices?

    Comment by beev | March 30, 2006

  4. Interesting to see this on a WordPress.com site. I mean, it’s easy for us to point at other people, but we don’t have a whole lot of choice with themes, either.

    Comment by James | March 30, 2006

  5. I post here because it’s completely off topic for the site in question. And yes, it is a completely different theme, displayed only to mobile devices. Try it!

    Comment by Michael Hampton | March 30, 2006

  6. I’m confused. http://www.ioerror.us looks like a normal webpage. Are you saying it displays in a more simplified form on a mobile device? If so, how have you achieved that?

    Comment by beev | March 30, 2006

  7. Through solid programming. :) As I said over on ProBlogger, I’m going to make a downloadable plugin out of it. Probably will be a few days, though.

    Now that you’ve looked at it from your computer, pull out your phone and look at it there. I promise, no heavy graphics or anything to drain away your £££.

    Comment by Michael Hampton | March 30, 2006

  8. My phone is an antique! Due for a new one soon, though. Will check it out then…

    Comment by beev | March 30, 2006

  9. This post was a great read and some good points made, thanks. I just ‘cleaned up’ my own blog and added a new design, lots of good comments about the new look so I guess I did ok. I am no techie so I need to K I S S …..
    Cheers from Canada, Geraldine

    Comment by veggiesyarnsandtails | March 30, 2006

  10. A good read, some nice advice.

    Rushi
    http://rushi.wordpress.com

    Comment by Rushi Vishavadia | March 30, 2006

  11. I am a new blogger and have almost zero computing skills. I simply want to tell people how to set the world to rights. I am used to pages of print in a book and I see no way to improve on such a layout. So all that Mr Io Error (if I have got his or her name right) says here is Sweet music to my ears. No funny things on the sides? Exactly! I was delighted to see the simplicity of my own blog on WordPress. It will do me fine. One arty designer motivation called Minimalism has been applied to the colour of the text so that you indeed cannot read it, but the Magpie-collector the let’s-be-clever motivations led to the clutter.

    ‘Cy’ (war baby KXPC 237)

    Comment by Cy | March 30, 2006


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