Best Way to Design Blog Network Blogs?

Filed as News on September 18, 2007 9:36 am

Over at Free WordPress Themes, I recently wrote a post about how to best design blogs within a blog network. I whipped up this article based on my experiences having been part of blog networks for the past couple of years. The options are:

  • A similar design across the entire network, with color scheme variants;
  • Entirely unique designs for each blog; or,
  • Unique design for each blog, with each with familiar elements that can identify the blog with others within the network.

Using a single design across many blogs can be a real cost-saver (do you know how much it costs to commission a really good WP theme design these days?). And you get to establish your branding in terms of design–since all your sites look the same, your readers will be quick to identify sites as belonging to you.

However, the tradeoff here is that your sites will lose their individuality. They will look like boilerplate dseigns stamped on blogs, just to make a forced fit. It’s sometimes awkward.

Then again, having entirely unique designs for each blog might make the network look non-cohesive and un-networked.

In my opinion, a good balance between individuality and similarity does the trick.

I’ve realized that it makes better sense to design and conceptualize each site uniquely, but keeping something in common across the network, to retain that familiar feel. (I know this sounds–and actually is–very non-technical.) This way, things don’t get boring because of that all-too-similar look and feel across an entire network of sites.

Having unique themes for each blog makes it exciting for readers and us editors and contributors alike. But keeping the familiarity is also the challenge, because we want each of our sites to be closely identified with the network.

Do you agree with me on this? Any design gurus out there who would like to pitch in their two cents’ worth?

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  1. By TDH posted on September 18, 2007 at 11:39 am
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    Well, I’m obviously partial in this since I’m responsible for quite a few Splashpress redesigns, and have pushed on for the unique design, with a networking twist solution. That would be your third option in the bullet list above.

    The problem with taking one design and using it over a larger number of blogs is that they lose brand power and their uniqueness. It is, however, possible to take a good general design and swap colors, logos and major graphical elements, while maintaining the brand identity of the blog itself. That is probably the most cost-efficient solution, and the second best way to go if you ask me.

    What you never, NEVER, should do is slap up a general design on a bunch of blogs, and just change some colors and think you’re done, moving on, next one. You need to make a dedicated choice if you want to run the same theme all over your network, and you need to spend time and/or money to brand within the theme’s limits as well.

    Content is King and all that, I believe in it, but if the content isn’t delivered in a good enough way, if design solutions looks weird and dated, then it won’t reach its destination and what good is it?

    My two cents, as you put it. :)

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  2. By Jermayn Parker posted on September 19, 2007 at 4:43 am
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    An individual design is important, while content is king I would rather eat a four star meal on a nice plate than on the floor.

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  3. By Scott Gentry posted on September 20, 2007 at 2:45 am
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    I’ve done this both ways in the past. Currently we are in beta with a new brand and need the consistentcy – http://exec-summary.net/ Focused primarily on monetizing markets, there’s also content for fitness and technology. We will likely morph over time to slightly different designs within the framework, but keep a tabbed format atop.

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  4. Joseph Cizek » Designing for a Blog NetworkSeptember 23, 2007 at 6:08 am
  5. By Joseph Cizek posted on September 23, 2007 at 6:18 am
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    I just finished turning my personal blogging focuses from one blog into a small blogging network, while preserving my personal branding efforts.

    Starting at http://BlogFu.info, you’ll see that along with my blog on blogging tips, trends, and techniques, there is also my blog on online marketing (OffMadison.info) and my personal blog (JosephCizek.info). All these sites are being fed of one instance of WordPress.

    I opted to use WordPress versus WordPress MU (the multi-site & multi-user flavor) because I wanted to keep all the sites under similar visual design and branding, and share content easily among the sites. Without any hacking of the core WP code, I figured how to get all the important features of WP MU w/out actually using it.

    For anybody with multiple blogs – and for anybody considering establishing a blog network, I’ve found just using the standard WordPress is best.

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