This post is not about books. Don’t worry, there is a review forthcoming. There will always be books!
I told some people awhile back that I was going to chronicle the redesign of IB here, since I’m tackling it myself. I feel pretty awkward about it because I only know a little bit about what I’m doing here–which, really, is kind of what makes this a unique walkthrough. I always seem to miss steps when designers explain stuff, even when they dumb it down a lot (I am dumber than dumb, apparently), because they’ll always assume knowledge of something that I am not quite familiar with. The assumption is different with every designer, too, so I am always just a few pieces short of having a completed puzzle. Then I have to look at about a zillion other blogs until I find that “A-HA!” bit that makes everything clear. I’m hoping that, by going through the whole process here on the blog, someone else might be able to save themselves hours of reading and watching tutorials to find those hidden nuggets of information.
I could save myself a damn lot of time and effort by hiring a designer, but uh . . . . . . I don’t have money to hire a designer. Like, at all. I don’t make money off of this blog really, either, so for me, hiring a designer just seems a little wasteful of my resources. I know a lot of bloggers out there are in the same boat, hence, this series.
I don’t have a plan for this series, because I’m going to be updating in real(ish) time, with my real problems and frustrations and setbacks. I might fail in my original goal and have to improvise. We’ll learn together.
What I already know about web design
If you’re thinking about tackling your own blog design and you aren’t at least passing familiar with how to use all of this stuff, you’re going to be doing a lot of learning on the fly. If you don’t want to learn about all of this stuff, that’s okay; you won’t be able to do your redesign exactly the same way that I’m doing it, but I’ll do my best to offer tips throughout for people who are less code-savvy. If you do want to learn, I’ll start a page of resources that you can use to bone up on your coding skills. I can also start a glossary for terms that you might not be familiar with . . . including terms that I learn that I am not currently familiar with.
The basic plan for this redesign
One thing I’m not going to do–and what I don’t recommend that you do if you’re not someone who is very proficient at both WordPress and PHP–is creating my own theme. I’m basing my design on a theme called Thesis, made by DIYThemes. Thesis is pricey; the basic package is $87. (I saved up t-shirt money for awhile before I could afford to buy Thesis.) I didn’t want to buy a “premium” theme, which can run anywhere from $20 to $60 (or more, from what I’ve seen); I hate most themes, anyway, and I have a specific idea of how I want IB to look. Thesis, although it’s a little more than premium themes, allows me to create the design I want without having to code everything from scratch.
Thesis is a little tricky to learn to use at first, but it offers powerful customization without having to know how to code. It has a webpage “builder” in it that lets you customize damn near everything using CSS, but without having to write out a stylesheet or any PHP. I know that there are other themes out there that are similar (the main competitor for Thesis is Genesis by StudioPress, which is slightly cheaper at $60), but I have heard a lot of buzz about Thesis and it had some great tutorials available, so I went with it.
What I plan to do, if everything goes well, is create a “skin” for Thesis that has a magazine-style front page. This way, I still have powerful functionality (stuff like SEO, fast loading–all of the stuff that I would have no idea how to optimize if I created a theme from scratch, which I learned when I once created a theme from scratch. I almost cried when I had to scrap it) but I can make it look and act the way that I want.
If you don’t want to use Thesis for a redesign, don’t sweat it. There will still be posts that will relate to you, and I’ll try to give as many tips along the way as I possibly can for people not using the same method I’m using.
Who is this series for?
If you’re a blogger who isn’t really terribly web-design savvy, but do have some knowledge or are willing to learn it, this series is primarily for you. Or, if you want to see me struggle half-blind through redesigning my blog, drag up a chair and sit awhile!
This series is also mostly aimed at self-hosted WordPress users. I will be tackling the “if” and “why” of moving to self-hosted WordPress in an upcoming post. If you use a different blogging platform, you can still benefit from the basic design concepts; however, I have no idea how to integrate that into the platform you use. If you’re not self-hosted, you may still be able to benefit from some of these posts (that is, if I don’t totally fail to create something that would benefit anyone, ha!), but I will probably tackle custom CSS in a future post. If you’re interested in learning how to tweak CSS at your WordPress.com blog, leave me a comment and let me know. The more people who comment and tell me they’re interested, the higher up on the priority list the post will go. ;-)
Needless to say, this series is not for professional designers. I’m not a professional designer. I’m documenting the process of hacking my way through it, hoping that it might be helpful for other people who just can’t hire professionals. If you are a professional and you want to help out with comments, tips, links, and what-have-you–great! But please don’t make the mistake of thinking that I’m trying to hand out professional advice and leave me comments to that end. Be respectful, too, of other non-professional designers in this space. We’re not trying to trample on your profession or keep you from getting work; most of us couldn’t afford to pay you even if we wanted to hire you.
And believe me, I would love to hire you and not have to do this myself. Love.
In the next few posts, we’ll cover if and when to switch to self-hosted WordPress, the basic components of a blog, and start building a mock-up of what we want the site to look like. In the meanwhile, I’ll work on gathering resources–more difficult now that I’ve lost all of my stupid bookmarks when my computer crashed, but I will prevail!–and making a page for those. Meanwhile, we’ll return to our regularly-scheduled book programming shortly.