Hands up if you’ve taken ages to update your blog design? It’s not an easy task. I don’t even know how I mocked up my first version back in 2008 (there were screenshots of leggings) but starting this blog has opened up an entire world of graphic design, HTML and multiple things I like the look of but don’t really get. After my last update in 2013, I knew that there were still problems with the code and hadn’t even considered a responsive design. So what did I do? The Internet equivalent of sticking my fingers in my ears and singing ‘la la la.’ Yes I was in denial, I knew I needed to sort my blog out but the options seemed a bit overwhelming and I had no idea where to start. Eventually I managed to motivate myself and start figuring out all the logistics, but it’s still taken well over a year, from the first pin going onto my secret board, to the relaunch day last Thursday. I thought I’d share the necessary stages in the hopes that it could help a few of you going through the same thing. It can be a long process but it’s definitely worth it in the end.
Understand Your Brand
Although I only started doing this once I’d found my graphic designer, it’s worth having a clearer idea of your identity beforehand. I’d never really considered business aims, goals or even what I was trying to communicate over the past seven years. Although it seems scary to think of your blog as a brand, it’s really important to have a clear aesthetic and focus so that you can establish a way of working. Blogging is something that we all take very seriously and but when traditional brands approach you and you’re still thinking small, then it isn’t really a fair exchange. How To Style Your brand is a useful book for this. Fiona Humberstone is a brand stylist with over fifteen years worth of experience and she guides you through the process of establishing an identity that works for you. It’s a great resource if you’re new to the principles of font pairing and logo design, plus there’s plenty of inspiration so you have a bit of a starting point.
The book also encourages you to think about your intentions for redesigning. What is it you really want to achieve? This is probably the first time I’ve had to really examine what I Want You To Know really represents. I knew that it could be perceived as aspirational at times, but I also wanted it to be seen as down-to-earth, relatable and a little bit silly. Eventually I settled on ‘The IWYTK reader makes the most of life, but accepts that there may be hiccups along the way (and that’s perfectly fine).’ It’s basically me and it reflects that fact that I want to make things as useful as possible, whether I’m sharing tips on spending 12 hours in Rotterdam or how I’m becoming more confident. Defining your focus can make your content a lot clearer and even kick-start ideas if you’re having a bit of a creative drought. It’s worth looking over your notes every so often to reacquaint yourself and make any tweaks when necessary.
TL:DR – Grab a notebook and start jotting down the values and aims of your blog. Even if it’s a hobby, it’s worth having a clear focus and guidelines so you can be prepared when brands get in touch.
This was probably my favourite part. I’ve always pinned interesting patterns, colours and fonts, plus my Screenshots folder on my phone is probably what’s taking up all the space. The problem was that I liked ALL THE THINGS. I had Midcentury typography, ice-cream colours, Celine adverts and a helluva lot of Futura. Each week would bring about another batch of design inspiration and eventually I had to reign it in and try to find someone who could help turn it into something tangible.
A few posts on It’s Nice That led me to the Behance portfolios of a few graphic designers. It’s an amazing platform you can quite easily get lost in, showcasing a diverse range of illustrators, branding specialists and developers. Once you find someone you like, it’s worth looking at the profiles they’ve ‘appreciated’ in order to find even more designers with a similar style. After many evenings spent scrolling, I’d soon created a shortlist and started firing off those e-mails.
TL:DR – Make a secret Pinterest board filled with inspiration and share with some trusted friends if needs be. Once you have a clear theme, it’s time to stop gathering and work out whether you want to DIY or outsource the next stages.
Set a budget
One big decision was working out how much I was willing to spend on a design. I’m the kind of girl who (sometimes) goes hunting for reduced food, so I considered attempting it myself and tweaking a template to keep the costs down before seeing sense. As much as I love graphic design, it’s not my forte and I knew that working with a professional would bring the best outcome from my inspiration. I also wanted the development process to be stress-free and was willing to invest a lot more into this, after being disappointed with the result last time.
It is tricky to know how much people charge as rates aren’t often displayed and it does take a bit of trial-and-error to email different designers and weigh up the options. As a guideline, graphic design for a blog like mine can vary from £300 (mates rates) up to £3000. Development tends to be more, allowing for the time taken to design, code, migrate and tweak everything. You can definitely find professionals who fit into different price brackets but you can’t expect people to value you as a blogger if you can’t do the same for others. If a price comes in a little higher than expected, then ask if there’s anything you can leave off. It helps if you have a contract/email stating all the work that will be included (so a logo, style guide and business card design for example) and you can always refer back to it just in case something isn’t delivered.
TL:DR – Reach out to a few professionals and ask others what they’ve spent to come up with a rough budget. Manage your expectations and make sure you know exactly what will be delivered for the price.
Let the branding take shape
I’d stumbled across Carmen Nácher’s portfolio whilst on Behance and loved her use of colour and typography. She was able to work to my budget and I was given a four-week timeline that would end in late January. The process started with a questionnaire about my ‘business’ and a lot of things I hadn’t really considered before. It wasn’t quite a therapy session but I was brutally honest about how I was feeling about my place in the blogging industry and what I wanted to represent. After about a week, I was presented with a handy document encompassing all my brand values and the beginnings of a mission statement. There was also a hint of her design process, she’d looked at my initial brief and had added the work of Tim Walker and director Xavier Dolan.
It was really useful to have an experienced outside perspective, especially since I wasn’t totally sure about changing my logo and completely losing the illustrations. Carmen used a similar font and added in her cleaner style for the graphics. One thing to remember is that you may need to ask your graphic designer for additional blog-related assets, such as a custom pin it button, a colour palette that includes link colours and a favicon. I decided to separate the graphic and web development purely because it seemed impossible to find someone who could do both in the style that I wanted. Once everything had been finalised, I was supplied with all my files and being a bit of a keen bean, I really wanted to start using my logo and colour palette right away.
TL:DR – Find someone whose work excites you and make sure you fill out your initial questionnaire as honestly as possible. Make sure you know how many revisions are included and give clear, detailed feedback.
All that technical stuff
After seeing how Olivia’s redesign turned out, I decided to work with Chaitra of Pinkpot Design Studio. One of the mistakes I made last time was not using a personal recommendation and knowing what the process entailed. You need someone who will be easy to contact, manage expectations and actually deliver what they promised. Even though Chaitra was based in Seattle, it actually worked quite well for me as I could get on with other things during the day before checking in via Skype later on.
Again I’d done a lot of research in terms of functionality and wanted ALL THE THINGS. Chaitra was able to take Carmen’s branding and create a design incorporating the elements that worked best, such as a floating navigation bar, interchangeable header and popular posts in the sidebar. Everything evolved quite naturally and it was great to have someone who could deal with me changing my mind over things like font size. It’s important to have a clear timeline in place, just so you know when certain things may be required from your end such as profile photos and hosting details. I wanted to completely rewrite my About, Contact and Disclosure pages but of course wasn’t ready with these when they were needed, so this delayed things a little. It’s worth setting aside a chunk of time to get all of the ‘serious’ stuff written, Chloé Digital & Media Marmalade have some great posts that really helped me.
TL:DR – Find your developer via a trusted source and make sure you give timely feedback to keep things running along smoothly. For more insight, make sure you read Chaitra’s post over on her blog!
The Migration Situation
So I’d put off a WordPress move for the best part of seven years and denial was probably a factor. Everybody seemed to think that I was using it anyway and I was happy to play along for a while. Eventually I realised that I wanted more options in terms of customisation and complete control just in case Blogger decided to radically change. The most important thing you’ll need is a hosting package, there are so many companies out there and everyone I asked seemed to be using a different one. You’ll need to factor in the size of your blog (in my case I needed to move 847 posts over) and whether they offer things like 24-hour support. Most of the time you’ll need to pay for at least a year upfront, so it’s important to factor this into your running costs. I went for Pixel Internet, it’s early days but the support team has been patient with my messages such as ‘Where is my mailbox????’
Once everything was migrated, the design still needed a few tweaks and I had the job of sorting out categories for the 847 posts (plus I was reminded of some of the random things I used to write). It’s worth remembering that if you’ve written posts since the migration, you’ll need to input them manually again along with any comments and make sure your permalinks are the same so that the SEO isn’t affected. My biggest lesson is that you have to accept that some things will take longer than you think. If you want to relaunch on a Monday, then start finding out what you need to do the week before instead of a few hours before (!) like I did. I didn’t realise that it would take over 24 hours to redirect my domain and you’ll need to allow a bit of time for testing everything on various devices. Also, if you’ve never used WordPress before, you’ll need to familiarise yourself with the interface. It’s early days but I’ve been finding the app a lot easier to use plus the fact you can see all your post revisions is really useful. This post has had 15!
TL:DR – Allow some time for the migration and testing across all platforms. Go on every page and double check that every little detail is working correctly, such as link hover colours, post truncating and any relevant plugins. Make sure you ask how to update simple bits within the code, just so you can keep things ticking over before any major help is needed.
I hope you enjoyed seeing this snippet of the design process! I probably should have sorted out a lot of these things ages ago but I wasn’t in the right headspace then and I probably wouldn’t have had the same result. There’s still a few things to sort out but the most important thing is to remember is that your site design should be an ongoing process. For this update I had to focus on making the design responsive but who knows what’ll be the ‘thing’ in the next few years. Once you have the foundations sorted, it should be relatively straightforward to refresh things as and when.