Fake Plastic Doilies

Design. Style. Aesthetics. Three words I know nothing about.

You think my blog is bland? You should see my house. Every time Tanis comes to visit, she tries to take me fabric shopping. I'm a simple girl with simple needs. I like neutrals. I am boring. My blog is the absolute perfect representation of the person that I am....pasty white, with a little orange zest.

I think this is because my home growing up looked like a stoned clown had thrown up in it. We were the victims of circumstance. We only had that which we were given, which was an old leather pull-out sofa, an excessively large Sesame Street throw blanket, a block of burnt orange shag carpet and two player pianos.  For the record, if you're giving an impoverished family of 5 a player piano, good on ya. Music is the great equalizer. Also give them some fucking crackers.

After the jump, we're talking about the functionality of design in your blog. If you are quite happy with the design of your blog already, or if you have better things to do with your life than keep a blog, might I offer you some of the best damn* political writing I've seen to date this fine Friday? Otherwise, take your seats and get your pencils ready after the jump....

The first thing I'm going to say about designing your blog is don't. Unless you are a graphic designer, of websites, there's just too much you don't know. Trying to hack your CSS (cascading style sheets) and move this or change that can and probably will completely fubar the functionality of your template. Example: When I was on Blogspot, I decided to go with wide margins. I built myself a nifty little top-horizontal navigation bar (which, to my credit, worked lusciously)  and I expanded my margins to achieve the exact look I was going for...a wiiiiide posting area with one slim sidebar. It was beautiful. I loved it. Two full years later, I looked at it on another, newer computer, and realized my sleek little Virginia Slim sidebar that I had custom coded to do all kinds of awesome shit had been showing up in everyone's monitor smooshed into the footer of my blog. Why? Because I had no fucking clue what I was doing.

You don't have to pay through the teeth for a template. Sure, there are loads of big, expensive design companies that will charge you your left nut for a template, but there are also loads of bloggers who are looking to make an extra little income who will, and can, design you a perfectly lovely template that meets your needs and wants, and won't reflect the "design company's" trademark. Judith Shakespeare is my personal favorite...she's versatile (look at the difference between my blog and Redneck Mommy's. You'd never guess they came from the same hands), she's inexpensive, and she's a gem to work with. Temptation Designs does great work (see Blog Nosh, Maggie Dammit, Craftastrophe). Sweet Blog Designs is also very good, and will happily just design your twitter page (see We Covet and MamaPop). There are tons of other bloggers who will help you, too...ones who know enough not to totally fuck your blog up, but one's who are doing this for fun, so they aren't going to charge you much. I think Zoeyjane likes to dabble in design. I know there are more. The thing is, they're all bloggers. Using them is giving back to our community. I'm all for buying crap that I need from bloggers whenever I get the chance.

Also, and just as an aside, sometimes getting the perspective of you from someone that isn't can be a good thing. Like that bottle I used to have? I had not ONE thing to do with that. Judith came up with that all on her own, and it was the single greatest idea anyone's ever had in the history of ideas. I think we all would say without hesitation that her bottle was better than anything I could have come up with on my own.
Sometimes, people will give away templates for free. Like Erica M, who has a free Woo Themes Premium template to give away, just for you sweet readers o'mine. Just leave a comment on her post to enter. No Twitter retweet insanity or post-this-on-your-own blog crap required to enter. It's just the theme; you'll have to personalize it on your own, but a premium theme really is a great way to increase your blog's functionality and SEOity, if you're into that sort of thing.

The most important thing to remember when designing your blog is that every little element works together. Moving A changes B. Altering X affects Y. All this coding crap is like the Borg, and if you fuck with one Borg, The Collective comes calling to kick your ass. THERE IS NO ONE BORG. You have to tread lightly.

If you use Squarespace or free Wordpress, you can't screw too much up, really. There are ways, but it's unlikely that you're going to ruin your template. They're kind of rookie-proof. If you use Blogger, you stand a better chance of falling victim to the sort of sidebar debacle I found myself in for a few years, but someone will tell you, and Blogger has a lovely little reset button to start you back at square one.

Melanie had asked about uploading new templates and widening columns in Blogger, so here's the short answer. Which isn't very short:

To widen a column, you have to find out what width you have to work with. Your template's HTML is going to at least tell you how wide your blog is total and how wide your sidebars are. Then you know what you have to work with, but you have to factor in margins and padding and shit. If you have something like these (click to make'm bigger):

Then you know that you have a total of 950 px to work with, and 210 of them are currently begin used for your sidebar. Most post-area widths run around 450-550. If your HTML doesn't straight up tell you what your "body" px are, then you can adjust your sidebar px, and it will automatically adjust the rest to fit. Anything under 160 px for a sidebar is useless; just sayin. If you want a big fat sidebar, like one that will house one of those big, square ads like I have on top, you need 300px just for the ad, and a little extra for margins and padding. Mine is set to 360 px total.

To upload a new template to blogger, you just have to find the one you like and download it. Copy the code the download will spit out at you and paste it over whatever lives in the Edit HTML box in your dashboard. Voila! New template.

You can add all sorts of plugins that make your comments thread or add those oddly redundant signatures at the bottom of your posts or change your post titles from normal old fonts to typewriter print or swirly cursive, but any decent designer can build all of that into the functionality of your blog, which won't slow your page down like a plug-in will. Your blog design should reflect your personality, like your calling card for the modern age. It should reflect what you're trying to do online, whether that be highlighting your great photographs or selling wares or just rambling on and on without point for years on end. Not like I know anything about that. There are shit-tons of design options and ideas out there, and finding the right one for you takes time, a whole lot of thought and probably a little guidance.

In closing, you know, if you've skimmed this and just want it to be over: I am not a graphic designer. I am also not a licensed hairstylist or auto-mechanic. I will change my own oil on occasion and I have been know to throw some highlights in my hair from time to time, but like engine work or hair cuts or decent blow jobs, I believe that some things should just be left to professionals. If you're adding a nice little personalized header image to your blog, have at it. It you want your blog to be stylish and functional enough to make people's time in your space easy and pleasant, get professional help.

I'm pretty sure that each one of us who considers a string of code propagated through invisible wires "our space" is in need of all the professional help we can get.

*misguided political writing. But painfully well-written all the same.

Reminder (or The Point for those of you smart enough to not attempt reading my bullshit, enter for a free Premium Wordpress theme on Erica M's site, not here.)