Design Tools? I’m a writer, not a designer!
Yeah, you’re right. But the web is a very visual medium. And as a blogger with his/her own website you’re more than just a writer on some newspaper: the fact is that you’re the one who determines how the entire newspaper is going to look like!
And also, the newspaper is actually an eye-catching magazine, competing with many other flashy magazines on the epic magazine stand that is the web. Therefore, friend – if you want to succeed and get your readership, design can’t be avoided. But don’t worry, it’s not too hard, and it can actually be pretty fun, even if you’re not a natural born Picasso. Read on.
OK, I’m listening…
There are many ways to look at this, but here’s how I think about it: only three visual things are crucial for a blogger to get right. And if you get them right, the rest of your site will pretty much fall into place. And these three things are…
- Your homepage design
- The look of your posts
- Your featured photos
Is the first thing your visitors will see. It will decide if they leave or stay, it will decide if they’ll want to share your content.
Designing a webpage is very hard to get right on your own. Your best bet here (and it’s a good one) is to get a WordPress theme that looks nice from the start, and customize just little bits of it.
Your Blog Posts…
Should be very easy to read (that’s the most crucial thing), and not too bogged down with other elements, like a lot of widgets in the sidebar.
Clean is pretty much king here.
Get a nice looking WordPress theme, make sure you don’t crowd the page too much with widgets, and pick a great, readable font.
Will get both your posts and your homepage to look great. Photos are a big part of the impression a webpage makes.
But other than the impression they make inside your site, photos are the ambassadors of your website in social media.
For Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram the photos will be the thing that brings people to click and go into your site.
If you want to get traffic from Pinterest you will need to create good-looking tall and narrow photos/graphics like this one.
So the only thing you really need to design is the photos!
Yup. Most of the look of your site will be determined by your WordPress Theme, so that’s good news. You will still need to customize colors, font, and even a logo (which is not as important as most people think) – but I hope you’ll find this tinkering enjoyable.
If you don’t, get a more visual person by your side when it’s time to make these decisions. (one trick I sometimes use is to get a $5 logo from Fiverr, tell the designer there to use whatever colors he/she wants, and then base the website around colors that are complementary to that color, using a color wheel).
Creating the photos used to be complicated…
Getting good photos for your blog wasn’t easy: you had to have some good design skills for yourself, or outsource a photo for every post – if you wanted them all to look good. In the last few years, however, this is no longer the case…
Introducing: Canva and Stencil!
Many online tools have popped up that make it super easy, and pretty cheap, to create professional-looking photos for your blog. These are my two personal favorites:
Let’s quickly compare the two…
Is a tool with a loooot of options, and tons of pre-made layouts for every size graphic you can think about, from Facebook cover photo to website logo to CD cover to Etsy shop icon.
It’s really an amazing collection of graphics that were already designed by a professional, where you just need to change a tiny bit of it and make it yours – it already looks great. I was quite amazed the first time I saw it, really.
Stencil is something that feels a lot more minimalistic, and if you know what you want to do, a lot faster.
It doesn’t give you a million pre-made final products, but it does give you millions of images and little vector icons or graphics that you can easily incorporate into your design.
I find it faster and less fiddly than Canva, so I usually start with Stencil unless I want specific pre-made designs.
How much will they cost me?
Both of these services have a free tier which you can start with, and with both you will probably feel the need to upgrade to the paid tier pretty quickly. But feel free to start with free – your work will not be lost when you upgrade.
The paid tiers of both services will cost you $9-$13 monthly: not too expensive. Much cheaper than professional help or a Photoshop license (not to mention Photoshop lessons…)
If you don’t post a whole lot you also might be able to pay for one month to start your blog or your design efforts, get most of the work done and then move to the free tier for the months after that. See what works for you.