Blogging from a Designer’s Perspective
by Jay Hilgert
on April 2, 2007
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I started BittBox in January 07, and it’s been a learning experience to say the least. There have been many challenges, and tons of challenges still ahead. I wanted to spill my guts and try and give my story and perhaps persuade a couple of you to start your own blog, despite the ups and downs. Here’s what I’ve experienced so far:
It’s been a wild ride the past 3 months, and I think I can honestly say I’ve never been busier. I’m just like you. I work a normal 8-5 design job, and blog on the side in my spare time. I started this blog so I could share what I know about design with the rest of the world, but I was surprised as to how much I’ve learned just from blogging.
Blogging as a Designer makes you a better Designer
Yes, I said it. I’ve not only been sharing what I know with all of you, but all of you have been teaching me at the same time. I’ve learned keyboard shortcuts I never knew about, parallel techniques, easier ways to accomplish a similar effect, and lots more. Not to mention links to great sites that you all know about, and I’ve made a few friends to boot.
1. Starting a blog as a designer wasn’t easy, so if you think you’re up for the challenge, I have a few words of advice.
First of all, you’re a designer, not a programmer, so installing a blogging platform and setting up a mySQL database might seem completely alien to you. It took me quite a few calls to my host, and a lot of reading to understand how it all works. I can design and produce a website in both Flash and HTML, but the programming side of web design is over my head. I don’t know s*#t about PHP or mySQL, and the set up process was especially confusing, because all I wanted to do was start a blog and go! It’s not that easy. First you have to choose your blogging software, hosting, set up a database, and all that jazz. There is no way I can possibly explain it all here. I chose WordPress as my backbone, and I have my own hosting. I’m not sure if wordpress is the best, but it’s widely used, and it’s fairly user friendly.
When you first start, frequent the forums. There are pleny of generous people willing to help, and others with the same questions.
Don’t be afraid to email a blogger for help via email. You will be surprised at how fast you make friends. (from my experience, programmers and designers often trade skills to help each other out)
2. Coming up with good content on a regular basis
This is probably the biggest hurdle, because your blog depends on it. (I hope I’m doing a good job folks) People want new, fresh, interesting, and relevant. I have a slight advantage in the fact that I design 99% of the content I produce here on BittBox, but when push comes to shove, (like they say) Content is king. It’s a serious challenge to produce great content on a regular basis, and I do my best. The thing I like about content is the fact that if you stay focused and fill a role or “niche, ” people can relate your blog to a certain purpose or “subject.” This allows people to find what they want faster, if blogs they like have content on particular subject they want information about. There is never a niche that is full. If you are passionate about something, start a blog, and be better than everyone else. The readers will come.
I like writing my own content because it gives me the freedom to design things I wouldn’t normally get to design at my day job. I can use my blog as an outlet to get my ideas down on pixels, and share them with the rest of the world, without having a client that needs such a design.
3. Your blog design
When I first started BittBox, I was obsessed with the design of my blog. I started reading, and soon realized that It might be better to keep it simple. So, I went for simple over fancy. Yes It’s a design blog, but it also needs to functional, and as fast as possible. (again, I know nothing about PHP, so I try to use only the plugins I really want, or need.) I still have much to learn about page loading and speed (hey, I’m a designer) but for the time being, I tried to keep it simple, and I’ve received a few generous emails from fellow bloggers on how to improve my site. My point here is that people aren’t visiting your design blog to see its “design” over and over. They want information. So make it subtle, even simple, but don’t lose readers because your blog is too fancy. I’m personally going to wait to spice up the design of BittBox until I learn more about load times, and what affects load times. Like I said, lots of hurdles still ahead.
4. Pleasing the crowd
It’s no secret, your visitors will be diverse and from all over the globe. I provide a lot of Free files, and in the beginning, I got a lot of requests for multiple file formats. It was not a challenge to provide the formats, but where I was lacking was my ability to expect the unexpected. Anybody in the world can read your blog, and that’s a lot to wrap your head around. It’s often difficult to think about your visitors in the big picture. Luckily BittBox readers have been kind enough to comment when they have a request, and I try to accommodate as much as possible.
5. Accepting Criticism
Putting your own creations and opinions up for review by the entire world means you will most likely run into some people who find your designs disgusting. If you are like me, you have strong opinions about your own work, and you take pride in it (designers can be extremely competitive), but in the blogging world, you have to shake it off. Whenever someone hates my designs, or sends me a hate message, I just stop and think about why I started BittBox. To design things I’m interested in and share those designs with the world. It’s only natural that some people will either hate some of my posts/opinions or they simply don’t understand them. I’m OK with that. I Keep Blogging. (most of my readers defend me in the comments, and it’s much appreciated. This makes me think that the “haters” don’t stick around long anyway.)
Decide how you want to share your designs/knowledge and stick to it. You have to protect yourself, but at the same time you want to share. Personally, I like the sharing part. Creative Commons offers a great service if you want to protect your original content while sharing at the same time.
1. You learn more about design
Like I said earlier, you will be surprised at how much you learn by trying to teach. A good blog is essentially a community in itself, with frequent readers and commenters. These are people who are passionate about the same thing you are, and are also anxious to share knowledge.
2. You get to influence design on a global scale
It is extremely rewarding as a designer to help someone halfway across the planet. I’m going to be bold enough to say that most designers probably learn more after college (or on their own if they didn’t go to school for design) by helping each other online, and reading tutorials. I know I did. The design community as a whole is wired now, so we network, and learn from each other on a daily basis, and this is very cool.
3. You learn more about the web as a whole
When you start a design blog, you are going to be constantly trying to keep on top of networking venues like Technorati and MyBlogLog. These kinds of activities will lead you in new directions, away from general design, and help you to understand the web as a whole a little better, as well as a better understanding of what the “blogosphere” actually is. This, in turn, helps make you a better web designer. Knowledge is power.
4. You meet people from all over the globe and have access to resources you never thought possible
I’ve only been blogging for a few months, but I have met quite a few people through my experiences, and not just normal people. I’ve always wanted to get in touch with a programmer that I could rely on. I’ve met a couple top notch programmers willing to help me with problems I may encounter. To me this is priceless. I don’t have access to these talents at my day job, and I’m very curious about the programming side of the web, so I consider these contacts immensely valuable.
5. A little extra income
I make a little extra income from my blog, but it’s not the reason the blog exists. If you start a blog for money, you are blogging for the wrong reason. I do know that If you are passionate about something, and you start a blog, you will be more successful. (that’s what I’ve read, and it seems to be true) I like designing, so I design and share. I have readers who share my passion, and I’m here to help when I can.
In a nutshell. . .
I’ve ranted enough, but in a nutshell, I recommend starting your own design blog if you think you want to share knowledge. BittBox has been around for 3 months now, and it’s been a great experience. Thanks for all of your feedback, and I will continue to try and feed you freebies, tutorials, and random knowledge in order to help you along your way. I learned 99% of what I know from the web, and it’s my turn to give back. Cheers