Be Yourself in Blog Land: The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships

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Faces, themes, and blog templates - Be Yourself in Blog Land

This article is part of the series
Be Yourself in Blog Land
which includes:

  1. The Face That Launched
    a Thousand Ships
  2. Embrace the Fanboy Within
  3. Don’t Join the Rat Race
    Unless You Like the Bait
  4. (Wo)men of Mystery Wear
    Cheap Spandex Suits

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Who doesn’t like a pretty face? A show of hands please … anyone? … I didn’t think so. We all love a pretty face and most of us are willing to do just about anything for one. Helen, from the Greek myth of Troy, is said to have been one of the most beautiful women to walk the Earth, and people were willing to go to war for her. She was the face that launched a thousand ships. Now quickly snap back into our current age and ask yourself the honest answer to this question: Would the face of my blog inspire that kind of dedication?

Unfortunately, for the majority of the blogs out there, the answer would be a resounding NO! Why should you care? Because, in spite of everything you were told as a kid, the fact remains that we all judge books by their covers. I go a step further and take pride in the fact that I can spot a good book by its cover with a fair amount of accuracy. Appearances and “what lies beneath” are often more in-sync than the political-correctness-brigade would like to admit. People’s faces are not just window dressing, they are a big part of who they are, and the same goes for your blog. You cannot completely separate content from presentation in human beings, books, or blogs because we are very visual animals, and visual animals read a lot into what they see. What they read is often right.

To understand what you can do to make your blog theme a stunner, you first need to understand what the theme of a blog actually does for the reader. The reason I’ve been rambling on about human faces so far is because it’s something we can all relate to, and because many of the same reasons faces are important also hold true for the layout of your blog:

  1. Attraction

    When the animated progress bars have stopped crawling and the throbbing icons have stopped flashing, and a blog has finished loading into your browser window, your reaction to it is usually quite immediate. Some blogs you like instantly and others you dismiss. It’s much better for your blog to be in the former group. We like faces that are pleasingly proportioned, expressive, and distinct, and the least you should aim for with your blog layout is to tackle those essential elements.

    Make your blog template aesthetically sound. Notice that I didn’t say beautiful, because the definition of beauty in popular culture often changes from person to person, and over time. But the basics of what makes us feel in our gut that something we look at is pretty, is quite universal and ageless. Passing fads about hotness and sexiness might decide what the latest “Most Beautiful in the World” award winner looks like, but you will walk by many people on the street today who are attractive, and who will always be considered attractive. If you’re smart you should create a visual theme for your blog that is more like the attractive person on the street than the super model of the week, unless you want to change your template every few weeks.

    Create an aesthetically sound visual theme for your blog because it will make your readers like you, and it will make them want to show you off to their friends. Also, your blog will stand the test of time and be considered good looking a long time after all those desperate people with gaudy flashing text on their faces … err … homepages have gone out of vogue. Remember when that was considered sexy?

  2. Recognition

    There’s a very good reason nature made identical twins the exception in human genetics rather than the rule, it was so that it would be easy to tell whether it was Tommy or Johnny who slammed that ball through your stained-glass window. As a lucky side effect, the uniqueness of faces also made it easy to pick out your friend in a crowd. And if you are a baby, it made it easy to recognize your Mother’s face amongst all those people who insisted on looking down upon you and making strange gurgling noises.

    As you have gathered by now, the recognizability of faces is an important function, and that recognizability is even more important when you talk about the template of your blog. With faces you can’t just cut and paste a bit of genetic code to make a new and exact copy. Unfortunately, with blogs you can. Welcome to the world of free blog templates.

    Most blogs out there in the wild look exactly like each other. They are a mad scientist’s genetic experiment gone wrong, and suddenly the world has been inundated by hordes of one of the dozen or so popular variations. While we weren’t looking, zombie armies of people called Kubrick and Cutline (among others) have taken over the planet. Not to rubbish the originals, of course. In fact, they were model citizens. But after the 2 millionth iteration or so I just didn’t feel like chatting with them about the weather any more. The current state of blog layouts is like if every one on Earth decided to walk around everyday wearing identical prisoner uniforms and dashing rubber Nixon masks. And NO, dyeing your hair neon red is not an adequate personal statement!

    You know, there’s a reason all those bank robbers in the movies barge into the nearest 1st National wearing a rubber Nixon mask: they don’t want to be recognised! Unless you’re planning on pulling off the crime of the century by hot-linking images like a mad person and stealing unprecedented amounts of bandwidth from your grouchy neighbour’s taxidermy appreciation blog, do you really want to go around sporting that standard theme and being forever anonymous? [A friendly nudge to my brother the procrastinating theme designer šŸ™‚ ]

  3. Evaluation

    Over the past century or so scientists have scientifically proven that the hot brunette down the road or that handsome hunk across the street may not simply be a pretty face. It seems we are programmed to find faces attractive that show signs of good health. What that means is that while you might find Tom Cruise distinctively disturbing on some level, you still find him attractive because you want to have his baby — and I am assured women feel the same way šŸ˜€ . Yes folks, it’s all about the biology, and while you might not gaze dreamily at someone’s blog while secretly desiring to produce a lovely litter of bloglets together, your blog’s layout does say a lot about you and the content whether you like it or not.

    We make these subconscious evaluations all the time when we meet new people, and it’s not always about reproductive possibilities either. There’s a million other signs that we read and pass judgement on. People’s posture often says something about their confidence and their mood, wrinkles and furrows on their face often indicate their strongest prevailing emotions, and seeing them jumping up and down on one foot while holding the other often indicates that a wayward hammer was involved. All these subtle signs we read and evaluate without realising it, and we do the same when we come across a new blog.

    A well and cleanly laid out blog inspires confidence in the reader. It shows the reader that the author of this blog cares and is serious about his or her contribution to this online entity. If a blog author can’t bother to have a clear and well organised layout, can you as a reader trust them to do differently in their content? If the theme is haphazard and badly thrown together, can you depend on them for regular and significant content? If a blog has a generic theme slapped on without thought or any attempt at personalisation, and it is clear that no time was invested into it, can you as the reader invest yourself into yet another community? And last, but certainly not the least, are you ever going to take that new Death Metal blog seriously when it wears the bright and cheerful electric-blue Kubrick header with pride?

The look, or theme, or template, or layout of your blog is a crucial aspect of its personality, its identity, and its success. Like any of the decent human faces that we all grow so attached to during our lifetimes, your blog template needs to be attractive to stop readers in their tracks, recognisable to keep them coming back for more, and accurate in the message it sends and the way it portrays your content and ultimately you.

What would I see if I caught a quick glimpse of your blog from across the room? Would it be instant revulsion, or love at first sight? Give the visual aspect of your blog some thought, put in the effort and spend the time in getting it to look right. You can’t really be yourself in blog land if you look like everyone else, so I highly recommend you dress up, or down, for the occasion as might be appropriate. The numerous love-children that sprout from your torrid affairs with your smitten readers will be forever grateful.

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  1. This is a very insightful post that, I suspect, will help anyone who is very serious about their blog(ging).

    Hopefully you’ll provide another lesson at the next Surfer’s Paradise Hullabaloo! Carnival.

    Thanks for helping make the first one a success.

    If you can find a spot for a promotional post, to bring some of your students along, it would be much appreciated.

    1. Albert, thanks for the kind words. Happy to know you enjoyed the article, and especially glad that you like the blog layout.

      While I don’t personally think of myself as having a straight-forward profession, my single word answer to people who ask me what I do is usually “designer” ā€” it’s simpler that way. So, having a site that looked good was a prerequisite.

      Of course, my sense of design can be as unconventional as my career choices, so I rarely get to go all out and do the kinds of layouts I would actually like to do for clients ā€” they tend to be more conservative than I would like. I figured my own site was the best chance I would get to flex my design madness, so here it is as you see it.

      I got quite a bit of negative feedback about this layout in the early days of this site. But being the stubborn mule that I am, I stuck to it and cleaned up whatever genuine technical shortcomings I could find. After all that, I’m happy to hear that it is appreciated.

      Any future complainers shall be forwarded this testimonial:
      “… the blog template – yours really kicks ass, …”
      ā€” Albert [UrbanMonk.Net]

      šŸ˜‰ Thanks.

  2. Hah! I know how you feel – I’m also a designer although slowly I’m moving towards a new direction in life. And it really does feel like you’re cramped – like sticking an elephant in a shoebox sometimes. Your template definitely stands out, to hell with the naysayers šŸ˜‰

  3. Thank you for the article, Samir! Has changed the picture on my russian social network page in a pursuit to appear more serious and inspiring šŸ™‚ This is a very good point about being able to say whether it’s a good book based on what it cover looks like:) Maybe even more precisely – you can tell how much effort was put into it.

    1. You have a talent for digging up long forgotten articles, Ms. Kokhlova. šŸ™‚ Glad you liked it, and that it’s still helpful. You don’t need too much effort on your cover, but glad it gave you some food for thought.

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