You may be the most amazing blog writer – but could the look and feel of your site be turning away readers?
As writers, we shouldn’t expect to be jack-of-all-trades. In my experience, this mostly leads to mediocrity. However, there are some essential skills that you should definitely be familiar with.
So, let me put a question to you: How are your web design and layout skills? If they are a little rusty (or even non-existent), then you’ll be sure to benefit from my interview with professional graphic designer Rob Salter.
I asked him five specific questions on how and why you should implement a ‘visual makeover’ of your site.
Here’s what he told me…
1. Most writers want to make their websites look more appealing and professional. What’s your main advice to them?
I would first do an audit of your website and check that you have the structure and content you want. It doesn’t hurt to check and tweak your content to make sure it’s doing everything you need it to. This process can then help you to structure your next steps and inform how its presentation might need to be changed or tweaked to enhance your offer.
If you have budget available, then you should consider investing in the services of a design professional or agency, who can then collaborate with you to explore the creative opportunities of selling you and your services online. Good ones will challenge you about what you want to achieve with your business (with the website being just one channel of that), before going anywhere near how to present you and your business. This is a route for those writers who are serious about building their presence as a writer, and will involve developing your brand, rather than just your website.
If you don’t have budget, then your options narrow to using free themes and templates available with the many blogging platforms out there. There are plenty to choose from and the choice then becomes a matter of personal preference.
To help, here are a few links to various platforms for making websites on low to no budget:
The Grid – https://thegrid.io – which uses AI to help put your content front and centre. It’s not free, but may suit those willing to experiment with their website.
Squarespace – http://squarespace.com – is a big player in website creation and offers websites and online store facilities with many templates to choose from. A great place to start for those looking to have a few more options on a small budget.
Readymag – https://readymag.com – is a service that allows you to make magazines, presentations and websites. Their service could be useful to those writers looking to make a splash with one-off long-form content pieces or small, stylish portfolios that can be presented to prospective clients.
2. Can you tell us about the best font types and sizes to use for clear, easily-readable webpages?
I generally advocate reasonably large sizes for typesetting online. That way, everyone reading your content has a good chance of taking it in easily and quickly. It can also help you keep things concise, giving your message more chance to be remembered.
It’s important that text is given hierarchy through balanced sizing – large to small – to aid reading and interpretation. You don’t want small headlines and larger body copy, or all headers and body copy set at exactly the same size, or too close together. The conventions and best practice of setting type for the web (and in print) are there to be respected and followed where appropriate, so don’t go breaking them without good reason – you want the style to disappear and your message to be remembered, not the other way round.
High-contrast between text and its background is a necessity for me, so if you’ve got something to say and want it to be read, don’t hide it in light grey text on a white background, or on a busy looking image that makes it hard to discern the words – always make sure your words can be seen, as well as read.
When it comes to font types, the choice is yours, but be mindful that those you choose are being applied to do the right job and complement the look and feel you want to exude. Avoid setting headlines in italic, or body copy in an ornate or whimsical font, for instance. Use bold and italic fonts sparingly and for the right occasion – bold to emphasise key words, italic to quote passages of text. If you’re going for a modern look, then sans-serifs throughout are the way forward. If you want a more traditional feel, then its serifs all the way. You could even combine the two and have sans-serif headlines in a big, bold type complementing an elegant serif font for all your body copy.
There are lots of good resources online about typography. Here are a few to help you get started:
A good primer on choosing web fonts: http://www.printmag.com/design-education/online-design-courses/11-essential-tips-for-choosing-web-fonts
A fantastic, in-depth resource all about web typography: http://webtypography.net
More in-depth articles about typography and web fonts from the brilliant A List Apart: https://alistapart.com/blog/topic/typography-web-fonts
Google Fonts – https://fonts.google.com – is a good resource for playing around with their many font families and a good way to see how fonts look and feel together. Adobe Typekit – https://typekit.com – is a similar resource and also worth a play.
3. What’s your advice on image sizing, style and effects?
Stay authentic, by avoiding filters and other effects on your images. Everyone uses these styles and with social media tools easily letting users ‘filter’ the look of photography, there’s a danger your content is lost in a sea of sameness. I’d also recommend avoiding staged stock photography as this can look false and potentially work against what you want to say.
Sizing images is probably managed by your website template and done automatically on upload, so I can’t really comment on that. What I would say though, is I’m personally not a fan of full-screen, hero images that take over my browser and push the interesting content further down the page.
What would be great to see are writing sites that have no, or few, images. That would really show the power of words and the author’s writing skills. Although this approach might require some creative insight and design craft to bring it to life (see answer to question 1) and not be appropriate for every writer and their content.
4. Writers know the importance of headlines, but as a graphic designer, what tips can you give on making headlines stand out?
Every website is different, so it’s difficult to give specific styling advice, but I recommend keeping them short, relevant, intriguing, big and bold. As long as they offer sufficient contrast against surrounding content then they’ll stand out and attract attention.
5. Finally, what common mistakes do you see on writing sites, and how can these be rectified?
Things that bug me on some writing sites, certainly those by writers selling their wares, generally revolve around showing too much work (at length) and not capitalising on their own skills to sell their services.
Show only the most relevant work – the work you want to do, not what you think people want – and be inventive with showing your way with words on your site.
Don’t be afraid to inject personality into selling your services. People buy people, not businesses. Have a little fun with it if you can, and get across your personal take on the world, making sure to remain as professional as you feel you need to.
If you can package up what you do and offer it in a way that intrigues and delights, then I think that’s a really good place to be.
Rob Salter is a professional graphic designer, occasional illustrator and practicing writer who loves to learn and share knowledge about design and the wider world. He’s worked for various clients and organisations since starting out and tends to have a side project, or two, running in the background. One day he hopes to get something published.
Rob is available for freelance graphic and digital design work, and can be contacted via his website.