Does blog design matter? Part 2

I’m going to start getting down to the nitty gritty, and I’ve got to tell you, it ain’t pretty. Hey, that sounds like a great opening to a song…

First, a caveat or two. The sites I’m going to be looking at are the 10 most influential on _the entire internet_. Clearly they are doing something right. My thesis though, is not based on the state of the internet today, but on where its going in the very short term. Second, there’s the whole RSS issue. Yes, RSS is incredibly important, but it certainly doesn’t do away with the need for a well designed site. If anything, it makes typographically rich text even more important. Also, if I were to venture a guess, I’d say most first time readers find their way to blogs via links from another blog (ie from a blogroll) than they do from an rss feed. First impressions count. Like it or not.

For those not following along from the “beginning”: I’m looking at the top 10 most influential blogs on the internet as listed on “Technorati”:

Ok, let the fun begin.

*No.10 Common Dreams News Center*

*Design:* This is a tough one to start with. There’s obviously been some effort made here, but frankly, the design is, well, weak. This is a link blog, but it takes a bit of mousing around to even figure that out. Links are not differentiated from body type at all. The colour scheme seems totally random. For example, in the middle column, some titles are blue, some are red, some are green. There doesn’t seem to be any correlation between colour and content. The text is small for its line height. The centre column doesn’t have a title at all. I’m not sure if the links are internal or external. Are they news clippings or original articles?

*Suggestions:* Indicate the links! Either with a rollover effect, underlines, background colours, something, anything, please! I’d like to see a background colour other than white in the margins in order to move the content forward (hypocritical? sure, why not). The lists in the left and right sidebars is really hard to read. I’d love to see some type of custom bullet that changes from the a:link to the a:visted state. The code is an absolute mess, is totally table based and inaccessible. That’s going to have to change. The first thing I’d do (after rewriting the code) is come up with a method of indicating a link’s subject with either a colour code, a rollover effect or an icon. Next, I’d break up the page into more discreet sections, making it easier to find what folks are after.

*What will change (my predictions):* Common Dreams is an agenda driven site (as opposed to financially or career driven). They have a mission to make certain news items and viewpoints available. I’m assuming that they would like to maintain or improve their position of influence. In order to do so, they are going to have to make their site more user friendly. Their competition is going to grow and grow, and it won’t be long before their influence wanes as readers move to other sources. I’m not suggesting their current readership will abandon them, but their future growth will be hampered unless they make the site easier to use and intuitive.

*No.9 Binary Bonsai:*

*Design:* well duh. It’s only one of the best looking sites on the internet. That girl is so hot…

*Suggestions:* I really hate to say it, but light blue and pink are starting to look a bit dated. The mouse over effect (mouse over a link, and a window pops up with more info) is cool, but gets annoying quickly. I’d rethink that so it’s used more sparingly.

*Predictions:* I was surprised to see this site listed in the top 10. It’s the only design related site there. I assume folks are linking in to see what’s up from the creator of the Kubrick template. Frankly, I’d be surprised to see Binary Bonsai in the top 10 six months from now. Nothing against Michael at all, but there are just a lot more of _them_ than there are of _us_.

*No.8 Eschaton*

*Design:* none. I feel like I’ve stepped back in time to 1995. This is a poli-blog. The purpose of the site is to inform and possibly sway opinion. I get that this is a personal site, but man, it sure doesn’t convey any sense of authority, nor does it draw me in in any way.

*Suggestions*: HIRE A DESIGNER. Quick! Your site doesn’t need to be designer-y, if you feel there’s something wrong with that, but come on! My eyes are bleeding.

*Predictions:* This is supposed to be a highly influential site. There are loads of ads, so I can only assume there’s some money being made. I know I’d take one look at this site, and click away as fast as I could. Sure, I’m a design snob and all, but this site just screams cheap. Why would I take the opinions seriously? Why would I read them at all? A site doesn’t need to be slick to work, but again, as the volume of blogs and blog readers increase, this site’s percentage of total readership is going to slip, as will his ad revenue. Design doesn’t make a site like this, content does. But design can (and will) break a site like this, very shortly.

Three down, seven to go. It’s a long weekend, and I’m going to be offline until Monday, hanging with my family. I’m taking Zoe, the 4 year old skiing for the first time. Yes, skiing, at the end of March. Man I sure miss the west coast… This is going to be my first time on skis since my back went ka-boom 18 months ago. YEEEEEEEHHHHAAWWWWWWWWWW!