WTF Blog Clutter: Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Ugly Blog Themes

Filed as Features on December 9, 2008 2:53 pm

In honor of my ongoing series on WTF Blog Design Clutter, I’d like to celebrate with a Twitter quote from NctrnlBst of Baker’s Hours:

@lorelleonwp where would I be without you? Friends don’t let friends use ugly blog themes. ? LOL

@lorelleonwp I believe the exact words were “coyote butt ugly” lol

Twitter comment from Nctrlbst on friends don't let friends use ugly themes

Just as friends don’t let friends drive drunk, do you have the courage to not let your friends host an ugly blog theme?

In this season of thankfulness, forgiveness, and festival honesty, why not tell your friends their blog designs suck?

How to Tell Friends Their Blog Designs Suck

I make a good part of my living telling people what is wrong with their sites. It’s hard work and someone has to do it, but it is also a skill. It is a combination of natural confidence and the nature of a true cynic, combined with expertise and experience. In other words, the expertise of living and working through a couple decades of web design development and technology combined with the experience of being knocked down by the best of the best for my site designs.

The first steps to take towards telling your friends that their blog designs suck begins with the relationship. While I’ve gotten great clients by yelling across a room at a blogger whom I do not personally know, “Your site sucks!” – it’s not really a great start to a long term relationship. I recommend you get to know the person and their blog personally first, before you start handing over “it sucks” condemnations.

Once you are on good terms with someone, you should know how they should respond to criticism. That will guide you, and help you recover if you step over some delicate line in the sand of trust.

The best friends I have are the ones who I trust to tell me the truth. They are the ones who will rush in to tell me I have toilet paper hanging off my clothes or stuck on my shoe. They are the ones who will move their hands all around their face, subtly or not, to indicate I have A) food in my teeth or on my face, B) a long hair growing out of my chin, or C) snot hanging out my nose while we are in public. These are also the people who will turn to me and say, “Well, that was stupid.” when stupid comes out of my mouth.

These are also the people I trust to tell me when purple clashes with my red hair, that black makes me look like I’m not just attending a funeral but in the casket, and that my new hair cut looks better on a dog than on a human being.

Not everyone’s taste is the same, so I surround myself with a lot of people who live by the truth, for the truth, and with the truth on a daily basis. To quote a dear and truthful friend of mine in Israel, “I don’t have life enough to mess around with anything but the truth.”

Dancing around the truth takes energy – a lot of energy. All the you know, I wish, have you ever thought about, it kinda needs, if I were you I’d, and other passive voice time wasters we use to dance around “your site sucks” takes a lot of time and a lot of energy. Why bother?

Because we’re just too nice. We don’t want to hurt feelings.

Guess what? Sucky sites do more than hurt feelings. They can lose readers and potential readers, not to mention what a truly sucky site does to search engines and page rank.

Taking Web Design Too Personally

Example of header art with kids drawing - disconnect from contentA client recently told me that they would NOT (in no uncertain terms) change their header art. “We’ve had it for two years and it is part of our brand. We use it in our marketing and ads, and it stays.”

This would be fine, but two years isn’t 50 years of brand identity association. In doing a little marketing research for the company, I found that few remember their logo or their header art. That’s not what people associate them with. It’s their content that is their identity, not their header art. So why hang onto something that isn’t working, and probably didn’t work when they first introduced it?

A little more research turns up the fact that a family member designed it. Ah, shucks, how wonderful. Kept it all in the family.

Sorry, it still sucks.

We make too many web design decisions based upon emotions and personal investments rather than logic and common sense. Sure, it’s nice that your daughter designed your blog, but it looks like a 16 year old designed your blog. Oh, she was 16 at the time? Great. How old is she now? Nineteen, you say? Maybe she could have another stab at it to get your site to look like a 19 year old designed it. Wouldn’t want your site to look like a professional touched it, would you?

The core of a web design should not be based upon favorites, friends, personalities, or emotions. The core design should be based upon logic, functionality, accessibility, and clarity. Miss any of those and I don’t care how personally invested you are in your blog’s design, you lose with your audience and possibly with search engines.

The layer that goes over the core design should reflect the personality of the blogger and their content. If they are blogging about working from home, family life, and related topics, then a picture of them holding their new baby is appropriate blog and social media image to portray. People who love family love working and being around others who are family-minded. However, the same picture on a site dedicated to restoring old cars would be a little distracting. A picture with the person with their car would be more appropriate. But appropriate often doesn’t matter when emotion enters into the design decision.

Matt Mullenweg blog design is personal, well, kinda. He has other blogs where he lets his non-WordPress hair down, but the world still churns around the WordPress news and events he publishes there. While his site contextually represents him as the business executive and founder of WordPress, his design of last year featured him a young cowboy with sticky notes and coffee stains near the WordPress logo. It put the emphasis on the WordPress mogul as a child genius.

His new design features a swirl of retro paisley designs in fun fall colors, doing away with the pictures of his youth while still looking energetic and artistic, a canvas to display the thousands of photographs he has uploaded and shares with his readers about his travels and conferences he attends and speaks at. It is more reflective of his artistic personality without distracting from the business at hand. The underlying architecture is easy-to-use, functional, clear, and logical. It works like a WordPress blog, even though it is the only one of its design.

Confronting someone over a design issue on their blog, especially one that has an emotional tie to the owner, is difficult, especially if you don’t know about the connection. A couple years ago, I told a client that the picture of a dog in the footer of their blog was really distracting and didn’t match with her overall professionally designed WordPress Theme. I thought maybe it was there to lend a bit of softness to the otherwise almost cold and determined design for this financial consultant.

“It’s my 16 year old dog that just died after a four year battle with cancer. He died in my arms a month ago.”

Ouch! Luckily, I didn’t say, “that dog picture sucks.” I was able to back off and come at the issue in a new way. “Have you considered what you are going to do to pay tribute to him?”

She hadn’t. We turned the photo into a campaign to raise money for her local animal shelter, directing the funds straight to the organization. This allowed her to blog about the love of her life, share even more photographs of her furry friend, and share her compassion for animals with others. The coffers overflowed from her readers and eventually she switched the fund rive to the national organization for more coverage to help animals. She also was able to increase her visibility and expertise through her animal rights and protection efforts.

The personal can work, but it must integrate into the overall theme of your blog, design and content. Share the personal in blog posts, not design elements. Otherwise, it is just sucky clutter.

Tell Your Friends When Their Blog Sucks

Give the gift of honesty this year and tell your friends when their blog sucks. Here are some quick tips:

  • Give constructive criticism.
  • Be specific and clear about what you are pointing to.
  • Offer to help them fix it for free.
  • Point out what is right with the blog design, not just what is wrong.

At the least, give the blog design gift this holiday season that keeps giving and point them to this WTF Blog Clutter article series. If you can’t be up front and honest, then let me. :D

WTF Blog Design Clutter Articles Series

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  1. By Corina posted on December 9, 2008 at 2:59 pm
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    You’re very right. There are some blogs that I visit rarely and when I do it’s a chore because they are so cluttered and confusing that I don’t know where the most recent post is. Some run so many ads on their blogs that it takes forever to load and I sometimes just go read another one instead of waiting.

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  2. By GoingLikeSixty posted on December 9, 2008 at 7:54 pm
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    AND, the cool thing about this post is I can forward it from a email-faker-outer…

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  3. By Terry Ng posted on December 9, 2008 at 10:08 pm
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    Great article Lorelle. Might I suggest that a high profile WordPress blog like your own could really use a nice makeover. :)

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