Hey everyone! Hope you're all having a great 4th of July holiday weekend. Since I don't have a red, white and blue recipe or an American flag costume to show off, I thought I'd write about something that you may benefit a little bit more from. (Even though, let's be honest, I'd look AMAZING in an American flag costume) Next year, I promise.
So instead, let's focus on making your blog (or anything, for that matter. Even your little cousin's second birthday party invite) look sexy with some simple tips and tricks that I've picked up over many years of being a designer. Graphic design is complicated, it takes years of dedication to fully understand the craft. For now, I won't bore you with those nerdy details – my goal is to keep it top line, distilled down to a simple form that can help you create beautiful work.
If you are going at it yourself without a graphic designer, here are a few rules to live by.
1. Keep it simple
Clutter is your worst enemy. Too many things on one page is not only visually disturbing, it also destroys whatever message you are trying to convey to your target audience. We're already suffering from content overload on the internet, give your visitors a break and make it easy on their eyes! Edit down until you can't anymore. A few examples of blogs that do a great job of this are Into Mind and Her Tasty Life. For starters, they embrace a lot of white space, let the photography pop off the page with minimal color elsewhere, and maintain an organized structure that follows a simple grid system.
2. Typography choices
A. Only use 2 fonts (3 tops!) one for the headline and one for the body copy. In this instance, they shouldn't look too similar. Adding more fonts than necessary creates visual clutter and your design starts to look really chaotic. It's usually best to use a sans serif (i.e. Helvetica and Arial) against a serif font (i.e. Garamond), distinguishing between the two purposes. You can use a sans serif for the headline and a serif for the body copy, or vice versa. If you use a script font for the headline, a clean sans serif works best for body copy. I'm not saying there aren't times that this rule shouldn't be broken – but it's usually a safe approach to design. Additionally, if your headline is bold, then your body copy should probably not be bold as well. Again, keep it simple!
B. Don't leave orphans! An orphan is a word that hangs out at the end of a sentence. Bring the word back up to its family so that it doesn't have to chill all by its lonesome:
C. Your body copy shouldn't be in 12 point, it's actually too big and starts to look like a 2nd grader's homework assignment. That's an old school rule, it looks much better at 10 or 11. However, if the font you choose is naturally smaller, it may be ok. Just use your best judgement so that it doesn't look horsey.
D. There are fonts that are an absolute NO! These include but are not limited to Papyrus, Comic Sans, and Curlz MT. They are famous for being really bad font choices and sometimes I use them as a joke and send out a project with Comic Sans as the headline to make my fellow designer friends laugh. There is an entire online world devoted to making fun of this font, and I can't let you guys fall victim to using it. Here are a few of my current rotating favorites, categorized for your convenience:
Use sites like myfonts.com and fonts.com to search for fonts. You can also peruse dafont.com and lostype.com for free fonts, though they have less legit options, and it's difficult to get legal clearance. If you are using Squarespace, they have already curated popular design fonts for you to use without hassle, and not to mention templates that basically solve for every visual dilemma you've ever had:) Since it's sometimes challenging to get a custom font on your site, I recommend Helvetica, Arial and Garamond out of the system fonts to choose from. Stay away from Times New Roman, it's generic and has no personality kinda like your ex-boyfriend.
3. Incorporating photography
As Pinterest has taught us, photography is huge and it can make or break your brand. If you are constantly posting cheesy stock photos or awkward stock photos then you are in big trouble. It doesn't come off as authentic and destroys everything you worked so hard to create. It also instantly dates your brand and nobody wants that! In a world where everyone is becoming a photographer, you want to make sure your images are solid. Though I am not a photographer, my job as a designer is to understand the best way to capture a brand visually, and this includes incorporating photography.
A. If you are shooting yourself, a good trick is to follow the rule of thirds, a simple principle that will help you capture much better photos.
B. If you are searching on stock sites, choose photos that feel ownable – something that uniquely reflects you and wouldn't work with any other brand. Lifestyle photos that are a dead on shot of a person looking at the camera and smiling are generic and exude no emotion, kinda like your other ex-boyfriend. However, when you source photos that feel like they are captured in the moment, true and not staged, you'll generate a much better response. Try using Foap, a new affordable stock site that uses photos taken from people like you and I, so that they feel less stock-ish. And hey! You can sell some of your own or even join a mission for a chance to win some cash.
4. Your logo
To be honest, this deserves a post of its own. A logo is a very complex subject in the design world, and the most important design your site will have. From the minute a user clicks on your site, it sets the tone for everything they will experience. Is it fun? Classy? Timeless? Does it feel modern and youthful or dated and unapproachable? In my opinion, the best logos are smart AND simple. For example, I love Victoria McGinley's identity. Clean and modern, her logo uses a well thought out monogram that merges her initials into one. Additionally, A Beautiful Mess has an awesome hand-written logo that feels a bit more humanistic and fun – a great representation of the brand. Done right, hand-written logos are amazing and can help balance an otherwise minimalistic site design.
If you can, I would recommend hiring a designer for at least the logo. If it's not an option, I would do something simple and straightforward. Pick a font (maybe one I recommended above!) and write out your name. However, it depends what you are going for and how you want to be represented. It's important to decide on that first and then go from there, because it will dictate how your logo comes to life. Are you minimal and sophisticated? Quirky and fun? What does that look like and what's the best way to execute it? If your thought-process calls for something custom, it's in your best interest to hire a pro. It will pay off huge in the long run.
If you're unaware, the programs us designers mostly use are Adobe Illustrator (good for vector art, logos and intricate graphics), Adobe Indesign (good for book design or anything with pages), and Adobe Photoshop (good for editing photos). Additionally, a really great source for inspiration is designspiration.net, where you can search for examples of websites, logos or anything awesome looking, to help influence your look and feel. I highly recommend pulling a bunch of examples before creating your blog. Put them in folders or create a secret Pinterest board (umm..nobody gonna steal your ideas!) and decide what you like about them. Is it the font choice? The colors? The way the navigation works? Then, take that information and twist it into your own look.
If you have any questions, or would like a quick critique of your design, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do my best to give you a detailed response. There is SO much to it, this is just scratching the surface! Have a great rest of your weekend!