Thursday, June 23, 2005

Blog Branding and You...


A recent sneak peak at a fellow food blogger's new web design got my fingers typing away on the subject of blog design, in particular visual branding. I hope to continue this discussion here and give my fellow bloggers some design ideas to chew on.

Each of us has our own reasons for putting our culinary adventures online. We may be seeking fame and fortunes, or we may just hope to never lose a cherished recipe again (trusting of the electrons we are...). Whatever your reasons, your blog is getting drooled and poured over by your adoring fans- the best of whom return to your blog for continued hits.

A viewer's interaction with their computer, and hence your blog is a complex thing. Our blogs elicit attention by roping in readers through visual cues (a future posting about making sure your blog is helpful to screen readers is forth coming- please don't forget that the blind love to read about your food too!) as well as enticing words. Our posts may be crafted with careful detail, but its the visual state of your blog that will first get someone to pause and help them remember who you are.

The first thing a visitor to your site will typically see is your banner- that first space at the top of your blog. Ideas to consider regarding your blog's banner:

  • Does your banner have an image or is it your blog title only?

  • Does your banner convey the feelings and ideas of your blog?

  • Is your banner unique?

Blogs are as unique as their owners (well, the good ones are). There are no right answers as to what your banner should be. However, you'll soon begin to notice that the really good blogs all have something going for them... groovey banners!

Banner Samples from My Foodie Web Travels

My own banner creation simply was a riff on my blog title, Brownie Points. I figured being self referential was in order since my blog title has such a concretely defined word in it (that would be brownies...). If I created a banner that didn't have anything to do with brownies, I'd probably end up confusing my viewer. Traveler's Lunchbox does a similar banner with an image reference to its blog name. This tactic is a surefire winner and will keep your banner identity inline with your blog.

Pastry Life creates an interesting visual identity with banner imagery that stretches into the blog template. Right off the bat we know what this blog is about- pastry in an urban setting. And that information came even before I read the blog's by line.

Some blogs establish a visual brand without a typical banner. Check out Taste Everything Once's banner concept. Instead of the traditional defined "headline" field, we see an identifying image in the right hand corner. This de-emphesis relies on a signature layout to brand the blog rather than letting the banner space do all the work. Nordljus plays with banner expectations as well and breaks out of the blog mold with a left sided vertical banner. Plus this banner does double duty- working as an image gallery!

An interesting twist in the use of a banner for blog identity can be seen at Delicious Days. Nicky has managed a special feat by integrating a changing banner concept in her blog design. If you have a well defined sense of your blog's aesthetic, this is a delightful approach to take. Nicky changes her banner monthly, and yet her blog viewers are never confused about whose blog they are visiting... the sign of a gifted designer. This blog entices me to bring about seasonal color changes to my blog!

I am an image junky. I eat pictures like I eat pringles (in other words, keep 'em coming!). However I recognize the value of an image-less banner. They help a blog load quickly and set the stage for what really matters... your entry! 101 Cookbooks accomplishes this with a combination of a clean layout (white helps the food images jump off the page) and careful font choice in the blog title. A La Cuisine takes a similar tactic.

If you feel that creating an indentifying banner is still a bit overwhelming to take on, I ask you to consider the following blogs. Our own hard working and relentless Sweetnicks has made the best use of a standard banner by augmenting it with a charming "about me" photo. Anne's Food and Orangette have also successfully taken this simple approach that helps their viewers remember who they are.

I see many blogs, some especially famous food ones, that simply fail to establish who they are with their banners. I don't offer criticism unless its asked for, so I'm not naming names.

I urge all bloggers to rise above the included banner image/graphic that comes with a free template. Your banner space is a beautiful opportunity to create a bookmark for your viewers... why settle with something that isn't unique and doesn't speak of your own desires?


McAuliflower said...

currently trying to figure out how to force blogger to use a "more" id to collapse the entry...

drbiggles said...

Hey, you bet. Meathenge has a banner, at least I think it's there.
I couldn't agree more. I recently stumbled upon the Pragmatic Chef, he is fresh and new. Didn't have an About page, that kind of stuff. We talked about that and other things. Many of us, myself included, start just to have fun and lay it down. But you're right. There are finer points that need attention. You really should have some nice banner, an About paragraph and at least some kind of contact information listed. What might be handy here at the Skuu, is to have a list of what one should have on their blog when they first start, things to consider.


Sam said...

hey - mcauliflower - great post, thank you! It is very hard for blogger bloggers to change their templates. I can't tell you the number of hours and hours and hours I spent learning my template just by testing out each little piece of code parrot fashion.
I still don't understand a lot of it. It works - I am almost too scared to try and change anything about it although there are a few things I would like to improve
I think that might be the reason why so many blogger blogger's templates are still quite 'plain'.

BTW, regarding your comment, In the Food Blog S'cool archives there is an instruction on how to do the collpasable posts for blogger. I tried to set it up once for food blog scool but I mucked it all up. So I deleted it and just havent had to retry it since. I will when I have a bit of spare time one day.

I will try again. one day, promise, the same time as I set up the archives. Don't hold your breath just yet though. Maybe I should appoint a couple of blogger-savvy administrators to help me out with that stuff. Let me know, anyone out there, if you have an overwhelming desire to help out!

Jennifer said...

What a well thought out piece. I agree that branding and layout are important to stick out from the crowd. I sometimes can't remember the name of a blog I like, but you can bet I remember it instantly when I see it.

Sam said...

oh - a bit of my comment got replaced by a mystery.

It was meant to say something like: Blogger templates are so difficult to change, there is no guidance whatsoever. I think that might be the reason why so many blogger blogger's templates are still quite 'plain'.

Amy Sherman said...

Not just no guidance--blogger refuses to support any changes to templates. Grrrrr!

I have found some of the non-offiical blogger forums super useful when I wanted to make changes--like the recent change to my banner. It'll have to do until a bigger better redesign. I forsee a new design specialty out there for those interested in helping poor slaves to blogger templates.

paul said...

Great post.

I've got the cobbler's shoes syndrome- the most generic food blog name in the food blog world, a header that was supposed to be a consistent brand, yet feature some changing imagery, and an incorporated link to an about page that was never done.

If you want to stand out, you do need to have some sort of "personality identity", something that people can pin a label on. I see a lot of the generic templates used by thousands of bloggers, no identifying tagline (or worse - "Just Another Food Blog") and no info about where they are writing from. At least your first post should say something about who you are and where you are.

As for messing with templates, I understand the frustration, and I do this stuff for a living. Hours spent learning html and css are better spent cooking (and eating). However learning the technical stuff has always been part of any hobby. Hopefully this will spur a few of us to go under the hood and tinker.

Sam said...

Actually - Jennifer's Taste Everything Once blog is the best example I've seen in the food blog world of a blogspot blogger blog looking nothing like.

If you don't mind sharing all or some of your secrets, I am sure enquiring minds would love to know.

Rachael said...

I spent the better part of an afternoon once just changing the COLORS of my blog...and still dont like it. I am in awe of sites like The Travellers Lunchbox, but am resigned to my basic template since, as much as I love those, I am just not tech saavy enough to ever conjure something like that up. Big sigh. If you ever do visit my site, just IMAGINE its much more beautiful. :-)

Cate said...

Sam - thanks for the kind comments. Glad to hear SOMEONE thinks I'm "hardworking!" I know my banner could still use some work, as it smacks of a blogspot banner. That's one of the reasons why I put up the picture of Nicholas, in an effort to personalize it some. Always a work in progress. Taste Everything Once (Jennifer) has done a great job with her web site. Amy, can you share some of the blogger forums that have been helping you with your tweaking?

Cate said...

Since I can't figure out how to edit my comment, I meant to say McAuliflower -- thanks for the kind comments. Sorry 'bout that.

Derrick Schneider said...

As someone who's only modestly tweaked the standard template, I've been thinking of doing some redesigning. I have 0 design skills (as I always say, there's a reason I program server-side code), though I do have friends with some. I keep thinking I should recruit one of them. I also have less and less time these days, which makes such ambitions frustrating.

Still, perhaps this will motivate me to set aside some time for it.

McAuliflower said...

As more and more food blogs enter the scene (yikes, have you checked out the piling up IMBB-Egg entries? I have never heard of most of these blogs!), its becoming more and more important to distinguish oneself.

I feel like such a blog-bigot when I admit that I won't take the time to browse a food blog that isn't catching my eye. I'm getting picky, but the rise in food blogs is forcing it. Personality is what will get me to return.

Food Whore is a great example of the recipe-less food blog I'll continue to love. Waiter Rant too... I'll even look over his lack of visual desing because his stories are so good.

And of course Biggles is a great example of a blog so infused with smokey meaty personality, heck- I can smell you all the way up here in Oregon!

Enough with the fan club... I'm interested in people's thoughts on changing their own established blog's looks. We all want to change our sheets every once in awhile (changing how your blog looks is like changing the sheets on your bed? silly yes, but I'll stick with the comparison) ... but its scarey when every one is looking! (Sam- you touched on this in your IMBB interview regarding your blog name)

I'm jealous of Nicky's banner scheme at Delicious Days... this is a blog whose "sheet" change I anticipate (I'd love to see an archive of past banners on the site...).

I'd love to throw new pillows on the ol' blog with this amount of ease :)

Winslow said...

Hi all,

Thanks for a real interesting thread. I'm one of those "poor blogger slaves." When I started my blog last October, the template I chose seemed reasonably distinctive but that is less and less the case as time goes on. I've made some minor tweaks to the template, but creating a banner would be light-years beyond anything I've done before (I don't have a digital camera, either, so that's another factor that makes my blog a type-oriented blog and probably more boring visually).

On the other hand, this discussion has at least impelled me to start thinking about the issue. Thanks!

Jennifer said...

Wow! I've been stranded in southern California in a hotel with broken wi-fi, so I've been without Internet access. It is such a strange feeling to be disconnected, but it is so nice to check in and find such praise! I'm honestly touched.

As for Blogger tips, it is easiest to create your site from scratch outside of Blogger and then implement it into their template system. So instead of working your design around Blogger, work Blogger around your design.

Moira said...

Hmmm...great post! I've been thinking about a redesign myself, and trying to figure out what I want to change. Thanks for all of the suggestions- I have a lot more to mull over now!

Sam said...

But jennifer - I am such a dullard - where do we best look to find info on how to do what you are suggesting? Are there places we can go online (for free) that will help us create individual unique templates outside of blogger of course?

Cate said...

Hey, if anyone wants to throw out some tips on changing banner looks, I'm all ears! Particularly the colors, fonts and font sizes. I'd also love to put another picture up in the actual banner, in addition to my About Me area. Have at it - I'm a ready, willing and able pupil. ;)

linda said...

I was wondering if there was anyway to alter blogger's set templates? I want to put some background picture or colour in the box where my title is located (forgive the lack of technical terms). Can this be done?

Amy Sherman said...

here is a link to the blogger forum I use. They helped me figure out how to get rid of the template title and replace it with my own.

Amy Sherman said...

Oh, if anyone can recommend a designer I am more interested in hiring than diy for fear of messing it up worse than I already have!

linda said...

Thank you Amy, I got the information I needed.

clotilde said...

Great topic. I've been wanting to redesign Chocolate & Zucchini for quite a while, but it's a little daunting and I've never taken the time to do it. My photoshop skills are limited and I'm not sure I could come up with anything better -- just different! I would also want to keep some of the visual identity -- the fonts and colors I guess -- and I'm not sure where to start. I love what Nicky has done with Delicious Days, so bright and pure and simple! I've thought of hiring a professional designer to do it, but somehow I prefer the "home-baked" feel of something you've created yourself, even if it's far from perfect. I guess I'll have to try and put some time aside to tinker with it a bit, and see what I can come up with!

Sam said...

As the world's most famous food blogger, changing the look must be a daunting prospect for you, Clotilde. I have always liked the look of your site because it is simple and clean. All your photos have a set style too. Your logo really is your brand, so changing it would be an important step, not something to take lightly. Good luck - whatever direction you decide to take.
I agree that Nicky & Oliver's site is just gorgeous. Their pictures are always visually stunning so it's great that they have such a simple and stylish backdrop to stand out from.

sarah said...

this is such a fantastic topic...especially since after spending so much more time the food blogosphere of late,i'm starting to develop a serious design inferiority complex - lol!

so super anxious and eager to get STARTED blogging, i didn't think all that much about the actual design of the site so i kept it super simple - just doing a few minor mods to a blogger template, with the idea that i would go back to "personalize" it later, but who knew that i barely have the time to keep up with posting every day, let alone play with the template anymore?

i've also thought that it's not always a good idea to "re-brand" oneself too drastically, or too often (if at all). i worry about changing the look so much that people might get confused. consistency is very important in the branding world (that's my day job talking) but so is keeping things innovative and fresh. *sigh* so i am in a fix.

also, just a word on banners, and a tip from the day-sarah (internet strategist talking now) - be big in your brand, but don't let that necessarily translate to a BIG banner - physically, i mean. a big banner that takes up a lot of space means that a reader has to scroll a LOT to get through to your posts. and if it's so huge that your first post or headline doesn't even come through unless the reader scrolls, forget it.

just my worthless two cents :)

McAuliflower said...

Good points Sarah...

I think starting very simple is a good way to go. Better than an overly fluffy design.

Regarding re-Branding... a popular political site, Daily Kos just redesigned its layout this weekend.
New site vs old site.

Note how he kept the same colors and almost the same banner (a different crop on a similar image). Kos hired the cream of the crop (usability experts) to help him with this redesign.

I think with re-branding a site, it pays to change only one variable at a time (color vs layout change), and not any more quickly than 6 months to one year (as my Sweets recommended) between changes.

The Homework #1 entry was aimed at teaching beginners how to be diy'ers.

If you don't want to DIY- make sure to visit sites outside of the food blog sphere and bookmark the pretty ones. Drop their makers aline for advice or just absorb the details that make their design click for you.

Speaking of which- Martha Stewart's old site design would have been another good one to examine. She changed her colors more than seasonally and yet her site design was consistant. It's funny that her current design is different than what I'm familiar with. Perhaps I'll dig up her past layouts from a website archive site for us to study successful color changes in a site...

Jennifer Maiser said...

Can I put my .02 in here? Please, if possible, make your banner work for you. Make it a link to your home page! It is so frustrating when I expect a banner to click back to a home page and it doesn't.

Signed, the crabby 31 year old. :-)


Sam said...

Jen - with BLOGGER - the banner linking back to the home page doesn't work when you are in an archive. It does work if you go directly to a post within an archive post though.
I don't think any of us blogger bloggers would be able to fix that ourselves, I am guessing it would be a separate problem. Maybe it is a question that deserves its own post.

Jennifer said...

Wow - I just want to say I am very happy to have been able to steer clear of Blogger when I first started my site oh-so-long-ago! I knew very little html, but have learned more over time and have also taught myself a great deal in photoshop in order to build a site that I am proud of today. Just remember: whatever it looks like, make sure you enjoy it, and enjoy what you're writing about. Once it becomes a chore (design or content-wise) it's not a hobby anymore. McAuliflower - you did say you were going to bring this topic up - what a well thought out commentary.

Derrick Schneider said...

Well, this discussion finally encouraged me to fiddle with design stuff. I started with the banner, which came from a photo we took of all my freshly polished copper. That, I think, says a lot about me. I made it work as a link.

And I've also started playing with little touches; the dividing lines between posts use a color similar to what you see in the picture, and I need to fiddle with other things as well.

So thanks for the push!

Ana said...

Aren't we all on the same bandwaggon? I'm also trying to come up with a new design. It is going slowly because I don't know a lot about CSS. I've created a test blog in Blogger (Ana's Test Blog) where I fiddle with the CSS commands. I am thinking in designing the new template in the test site and then move it to my blog site.

I am using the site below to help me:

Lisa said...

I wish I new more about coding and CSS...nearly clueless! Everything I've done to my blog has been trial and error. I'm not happy with my "banner" if you can even call it that. I'd like it to flow more into the page. I am proud of the animated gif I made for it though. Back to tinkering with it some more! I wish blogger would offer more themed type templates. I'd love for mine to look more like some of the pros do.

Lisa said...

Oh...thanks for the CSS tutorial link ana!

Lisa said...

I did it! I created myself a nifty rid of the animated gif (it slowed page load anyway). The banner is also a link back to the home page. Thanks for all the help Now I want to change the colors to muted shades of pink...that'll take me a while.

Clare Eats said...

Well I finally changed my blog!
it is still pretty "blogger" but atleast I have my own colours and hearer now!

deccanheffalump said...

Is there any point in even trying to change the template of Typepad to try and get a banner without having to sign up for a Pro account.? Please help.

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