On blog design and some tweaks

I came across an article yesterday that got me thinking, about blog design. You know I like photography but I also have other design related interests (yeah, I used to read books on city planning just for the heck of it). And while I don’t have the skills to create a really original blog design, I really appreciate a decent looking site. I try to balance my desire for simplicity with other stuff that I figured I need on a blog. When I read this post by Oliver Reichenstein, it challenged my notions about what a blog needs and conventions that have become the norm on most sites. His post has tons of juicy bits like this one:

If you’re unknown, social media buttons make you look like a dog waiting for the crumbs from the table. You might have magnificent writing skills and a lot to say, but you will still only get a few retweets and likes. Yes, it’s not fair, but that’s the way it is. If you’re known, you will get attention, even for the mediocre. If you’re not known, no matter how good you are, initially you won’t. That button that says “2 retweets” will be read as: “This is not so great, but please read it anyway? Please?”

To someone like me with a blog that is maybe, one or at most two steps above unknown, his words were an eye opener. I might not agree with everything he wrote but my disagreement is not based on any hard or even anecdotal information. It’s just that conventional wisdom and conventional design have brainwashed me into thinking in a particular way. So I decided to experiment with my site design last night. The changes are subtle and most readers probably will not even notice them. But for me, it is a move to simplify this site, at least somewhat. My main efforts were around cleaning up the right hand column and getting rid of all the extra stuff that I originally thought would be cool. I got rid of widgets, combined things and reduced the noise. There are more things I would like to change but can’t since I live within the constraints of a free WordPress.com site. I also decided to remove the WordPress Like, FaceBook and Twitter buttons displayed after every post on the front page. I wasn’t bold enough to remove these buttons completely, though. I still have them at the end, just above the comments section, when you click into a post. For now, I find any feedback valuable from my readership, whether they are Facebook Likes, WordPress Likes or comments. So yes, despite my experiment with simplicity, I do like getting feedback and would love to have people tweet or “Facebook Like” my posts (do I sound too desperate?) It’s just that now, you will have to click into the article to do so. There several ways to do so including clicking on the title of the post.

Speaking of blog changes, some readers my have noticed that I’ve added gray boxes at the end of some posts. I’ve given this a lot of thought and I wanted to come up with a semi-elegant way to show affiliate links. I wanted these to be visible, of course, but not too loud and not too in your face. I was also trying to avoid standard looking banner ads. We live in a world where we are bombarded with so much advertising so I wanted to put these in in the least intrusive way that I can think of. I’m not sure if I’ve achieved it but, I’m giving it a try. I’m also keeping these links topical so they are about the products I talk about in the post, not some random product like a blender.

If you think there is any value to this blog and the information I’m sharing, I will certainly appreciate if you click on my affiliate links from time to time. I have set up accounts at Amazon, B&H Photo, Adorama and Cameta Camera. if you click on any of these links before you buy anything, your price does not change and I get a small commission from these stores. I’ve shopped many times at these websites; this is where I get my gear online (I also buy local at Precision Camera), so I trust these guys.

15 thoughts on “On blog design and some tweaks

  1. What pisses me off more that the FB and tweet buttons are the begging for clicks on the referral links and the Support this site crap. Sorry to be blunt but it’s just pathetic. I must be the last independent out there with no affiliate ties and I plan to stay that way. Just my opinion.

  2. Well, the tweet, friend, google + stuff don’t bother me since I don’t have accounts with any of them and I’m so used to ignoring them I really don’t notice them. The affiliate links also don’t bother me since I really prefer that to seeing glaring ads. What drives me nuts is white text on black backgrounds and gray text on almost white backgrounds. But since Safari added the Reader feature I get uncluttered black text on a white background on almost any site and it is not as big an issue. To be honest, I hate something about 90% of the layouts of the blogs I read regularly. 🙂

    atmtx: good layout, hate white on black text
    VSL: very good, text is almost black
    Robin Wong: good, text could be darker
    TOP: Nice layout, almost black text, damned ads, wish it formatted better on a wide screen
    Daring Fireball: OK layout, dark gray is better than black as a background
    Librarian in black: OK layout, black on white
    about 12 others that

    The one thing all of the site I read on a regular basis have in common is good to great content. I can put up with or work around bad (to me) design if the content is worth it. The best design in the world can’t overcome bad content.

    1. William, thanks for the feedback. I agree that white text on a black background is a bit harsh. I originally started with black because I like photos on a black background but I know that is a personal preference. I actually like Daring Fireball’s simple layout and I like the dark gray too. However, I’m fairly limited in the customization I can do to the site, based on using the free WordPress template. I also think it would be easier to read with a larger font but I can’t change the either. Maybe some day I will shell out the bucks to have complete control of the layout.

      1. Like I said, Safari Reader so I can keep reading. 🙂 Now if the Reader function would only show the comments section…..

        I agree about photos looking better on a dark background. My SmugMug account uses a dark gray to black fade as the background. I also realize that the provider sites (WordPress, etc.) are to blame for many of the really bad designs out there and most allowed designs seem to go for drama rather than legibility. And almost all of the basic fonts are too small on blogs. Or is it my eyes getting old……..

      2. WIlliam, I was quite surprised by the limited selection of templates and I struggled to get something that looked decent. Yeah, I’m getting older too and the new higher resolution displays make the fonts even smaller. Reader does certainly help.

  3. Andy, I too have a free WordPress blog, and use the black and dark gray background with white font. I can increase the font size by simply including an html font tag (, then close it at the end of my post (). You might want to try that.

    1. Van, thank you. Looks like I will need to check every blog post, instead of a global setting. I’ll reach out to you to get the html, when I want to experiment.

  4. So far it looks like I am the only one commenting that actually likes white print on black; not really certain I like the gray on black, but that’s because it’s difficult for me to see, actually. On another note, I like the placement of your affiliate links. What method did you use to attach your affiliate links to your site? I’ve recently applied with Adorama and probably will do so with BH Photo as well and maybe Amazon, since I use all three of them to order camera gear and accessories and totally believe in them. Like you, I’d like to be able to continue adding to my camera arsenal (grin).

    1. Thank you Rebecca. Aesthetically I really like the Black. I like how it showcases the photographs. Text wise I think it might be a bit harder to read than black text on white. I guess It comes down to choices and dealing with the upsides and downsides.

      All my affiliate links as well as all most posts are hand coded in html. I manually create all my links.

  5. Although I’m a daily reader of your blog, I must confess I didn’t immediately notice the change. I think that is because I’ve always appreciated your site’s straight forward simple design so these tweaks just refined some of the edges. Of course it’s your interesting and fresh contents that keeps me coming back to a site. But poor or annoying design can drive me away from a desirable site. A perfect example is your friends Kirk Tuck’s blog. Until his recent design change I had been a long term daily reader, I liked the content and like his sometimes cantankerous ways. Although his design is nice the fact is that I do 80-90% of my web reading on an iPad. I know he says it does work on an iPad but it only works sometimes, kinda-sorta, and when it does it ‘s so slow and herby-jerky that it’s unreadable, but it’s his site so he can do what he wants. I just can’t follow it any more.

    So for me, your simple, straight forward, well organized, easy to use site is superior and will keep me coming back.

    I realize you provide this site for free and any renumeration you can get from affiliated links is perfectly acceptable. I don’t mind small, tasteful affiliate tiles and will frequently use them. It’s the obnoxious flashing and moving ones that drive me away/

    I don’t know what the answer is and realize you need to be “found” someway, but for me all the Like, Fav, G+, Twitter buttons, I think the quote about about the “dog waiting for crumbs from the table” says it all. So as long as they’re desecrate I guess that’s OK. As they say, you can’t please all the people. I just never click them.

    Thanks for your site.

    Ed (Sacramento)

    1. Ed, I really appreciate your well thought out feedback. One of the challenges with doing a blog is not knowing how many readers I truly have or if they like the content or the site design. Yours and other people’s feedback are invaluable.

      Kirk’s new format is interesting and it has some good and bad points. But yes, I agree that it does not seem to work as well on an iPad. I’ve tested my site on an iPad and it seems to work well, in some ways better than on a PC/Mac. The iPad makes it easier to zoom in on the text and read a section, if the font is too small, for example. I believe iPad and tablet compatibility is really important since I think it will be the future of computing, at least for reading content. I’m sure I will continue to use a full computer for photo editing and blog content creation, though.

      1. That’s pretty much how I use my iPad and MBP. Consume on the iPad and produce (photo editing etc.) on my MBP with attached large monitor and RAID drive. b-t-w I neglected to mention how much I like those gorgeous images of the ’37 Cady. My first car was a ’38 Olds business coupe, bought it for al of $50 back in the day and the insurance cost $250. Nowhere near as classy at the Caddy but, the Cady reminded me of some fond memories.

        Ed

      2. My wife has a iPad 2, I’m thinking of getting a iPad 3 this year. It might also be useful for showing my portfolio.
        Thanks Ed, for you kind words regarding the Caddy.

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