My First Blog Design: Taking Baby Steps

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2011-09-0116

Back in 2006, I found myself getting started with a small business idea and launching a personal finance blog. To get my business ideas off the ground, I discovered quickly that I needed to learn some new technologies that will allow me to create a presence on the internet. Here’s what I expressed back then:

Right now, I am learning to walk before I run. I’ve discovered that every day, there’s always something to absorb from cyberspace that will help shape my site’s goals. Granted I’m a novice, but I’m hoping to ramp up on my blog design in a few days or weeks. I wish I had a mentor who could teach me some of these things one-on-one, but for now, I must be content with the vast resources of the web to help me with my modest blog design attempts. This will be a work in progress for a good long time! I have realized a few things I thought I’d share. If you are a noob at this, you may want to keep these in mind:

  • you will never be content with your initial blog template
  • your initial attempts at configuring your layouts will fail miserably and will, unfortunately, suck
  • you will be frustrated and will be resigned to hair ripping moments
  • you will need to save your templates often
  • you will need some basic editing tools to help you
  • you will want to defer adding too many custom doodads to your site until after you’ve settled on a basic layout
  • you will appreciate web designers a hell of a lot more than you did before
  • you will no longer be stunned by the stratospheric fees web designers charge

The ironic thing was that I used to work in the software industry as a software engineer who built intranet applications, and it turns out that I still had to go through a learning curve in order to become a blogger. Granted, the technical stuff was not too hard to pick up (many non-technical people are very successful at it, after all!). But keep in mind that running a website as a business (or hobby) does entail learning new technologies that support a blogging platform, a blogging theme framework, a server environment and even a bug or project database, and more. Little did I know back then that I was setting myself up for a full blown enterprise. And yes, I am just one person!

There are certainly many, many moving parts when you are designing a blog or a website. But here is my short list of things I would do to get going:

How To Design Your First Blog

1. Do some research and start learning about Blogging. I’ve referred to material from off and on. You can also check and for ideas — these are built-in blogging communities that may give you some ideas about this particular online activity. You’ll be amused to know that even my own father, who was not entirely technically savvy, started a blog of his own that did quite well while he was actively managing it. If doing the technical set up is not your idea of fun, but you’d like to freelance as a writer or content provider anyway, then check out sites like, and for other possibilities. If you’re still dead set on blogging, then read on!

2. Check out sample blog themes. There are lots of free resources out there. You can, of course, use Thesis, which is what I use for this site and a few others. It’s highly customizable, but does have a cost (which to me, was well worth it).

3. Think about the user experience for your site. Pin down your “look and feel”. What kind of vibe do you want to generate — do you prefer a casual look or a more formal or professional feel?

4. Determine your navigational flow. Will you use tags, archives or categories? I prefer the latter two. Just don’t overdo this, as it would erode your user experience.

5. Identify the important elements of your site and design for those. These would be the menu, content, footer, sidebars and whether you’ll include social media elements or advertising.

6. Think about creating a custom design. You can always hire a professional designer to do the work for you. You can hire them from freelance sites or meet them through other webmasters.

7. Produce wireframes to visually lay out your site. This breathes some life into your concept.

8. Storyboard your site and create drafts from your wireframes. This step helps to develop your concept further.

9. Execute your design drafts. If you’ve got the technical know-how, then you can just jump right in and start working on your CSS and PHP files. This is a rather time-consuming exercise so you may want to hire someone to do the work.

If you are just starting off, I would recommend that you don’t do all of this at once. I would start out slowly with a built in FREE blog theme and learn the different elements of the “out of the box” framework that it has. As you get more experience on running and maintaining a blog, then think about customizing your site further in order to develop your own brand and to go for something more unique. Just to give you an idea how my site has evolved, check out the picture below. This was the very first iteration of “The Digerati Life” when I first “built” it. I used a (blogspot) theme and had a totally different name for the site back then, which completely betrayed my inexperience and naivete. Don’t ask me why I used this name to start with; my best explanation is that it may have been because blogs back then were deemed “cute” and “personal”. 😉

The Digerati Life's First Blog Design
The Digerati Life's Transition

As you can see, there’s nothing the least bit “sexy” about my first blog design. But you can check out the blog design evolution of my site here. Since my initial ruminations on this matter, I went through a fairly productive and eventful journey towards creating an online home business, and eventually found a way out of cubicle employment.

Created August 5, 2006. Updated September 1, 2011. Copyright © 2011 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Silicon Valley Blogger August 5, 2006 at 7:20 pm

Figuring out the layout can be quite time-consuming, especially when you first start out. I went from 1 column to 2 column then eventually back to 1 column. Some great lessons are learned when you do it yourself first before you seek professional help. 🙂

Manuel Viloria August 6, 2006 at 5:23 am

Hi! It’s always fun to tweak and experiment with templates. You might consider trying Wordpress on your own domain in the future.

Anyway, one step at a time… 🙂

Heath February 18, 2008 at 11:53 am

I have never tweaked templates but it sounds like a great way to spruce up a blog. If I can only find the time. Thanks for the tips.

Silicon Valley Blogger February 27, 2008 at 8:39 am

When I first started maintaining a web site, I didn’t realize how much work it would take under the covers to keep it going. I thought it was a simple matter of picking out a design, setting it up and doing some writing. But behind the scenes, there’s a lot going on as I tweak and experiment with this blog layout, trying to find a good balance between what you, dear readers, would like to see, and optimizing for site revenue.

It’s every blogger’s hope or dream to be successful enough to make a decent living by developing sites and producing helpful content for their readers. And that goes for me as well! There’s nothing more I’d like to hear than your feedback and thoughts on this site, especially as I change it up now and again.

Working Dollar February 27, 2008 at 11:02 am

When I first started maintaining a web site, I didn’t realize how much work it would be under the covers to keep it going. I thought it was a simple matter of picking out a design, setting it up and doing some writing.

I know exactly what you mean, blogging, design, etc. is tough work, but its fun. I love your blog and its format right now. I also enjoy the content. The lay out is not too busy.

I have been to some blogs where there is so much to look at that myy eyes get tired of trying to decide what to focus on. I alway like the “kiss” method myself – “keep it simple, stupid.” So, keep up the good work.

Silicon Valley Blogger February 27, 2008 at 11:32 am

Working Dollar,

Thanks so much for your thoughts! It gives me some assurance I am on the right track! It’s tough to gauge if things are “okay” or too much… we walk the fine line here with design/layout/content. I am contemplating on going back to my former “content in the middle” layout I used to have, and I’m hoping it isn’t a step back.

Tradeoffs to consider again: every time there’s a change, you gain something but perhaps lose a little something as well. Hopefully it balances out in the end to an acceptable result. 🙂

Patrick February 27, 2008 at 12:47 pm

I really like the content on the left for your site, especially when reading in IE6 (only from work, FireFox at home). The right sidebar used to render below the content. Of course, we all know IE6 has issues w/ WordPress… ughh…

I had no idea how much work it would be either, but I am proud of how much I have learned, and very thankful for everyone who has helped me along the way! 🙂

Money Blue Book February 27, 2008 at 2:15 pm


I’ve personally taken a month off from my contract work to tinker with blogging and my other part time ventures. I don’t regret a thing. It has allowed me to write more substantial and detail/content lengthy posts.

I’m personally a fan of the content one the left setup, but for ad purposes I know why bloggers would rather leave content in the middle. Good luck!

RacerX February 27, 2008 at 3:03 pm

Don’t change for change’s sake! Look at your data, and if an area isn’t performing up to snuff then address.

You have a great looking blog. Totally jealous. And it continues to improve. Looking forward to tracking your progress of which at least I am certain! All the best!

Mark Patterson February 27, 2008 at 5:51 pm

Your site is clean, with a nice color scheme. As I look at it more carefully I realize this is one of the main reasons I end up back at your site vs other sites in the PF niche (not to mention the quality of the content of course).

Silicon Valley Blogger February 27, 2008 at 5:58 pm

Thanks folks, I appreciate it! Yes, I so love the left content set up, but after a while of trying it out I found out it wasn’t as optimized for revenue so yes, it is a trade off on style/readability vs monetization. Though every site is different, I found that in my case there seemed to be a noticeable effect, so that would be the main reason for the changes.

Will readers forgive me for moving back to my previous “content in the middle” format? Again, the whole process of site design involves so much experimentation. Web sites and blogs are such dynamic beasts that you can be tinkering around with your blog all the way to retirement age and you’d still not be “done”. 😉

Again, I need to take on this information and see how to move forward. It only takes very little to alternate between left-content to mid-content layouts and back. But given what you’ve told me, I feel compelled to rethink my plans!

fathersez February 28, 2008 at 11:02 am

Ms. SVB,
I am a great admirer of your blog’s design, looks and content. I can’t think of or see anything that needs tweaking.


Lynnae @ Being February 28, 2008 at 3:33 pm

When I started blogging, I had no idea how much behind the scenes work there was! I enjoy it, but I was totally unprepared! I love your site design!

Suzanne Reisman April 3, 2008 at 10:32 am

Thank you for providing such good content! 🙂

Yashni Marad February 13, 2009 at 4:48 pm

I like your concepts but good luck with your blog. I’ve got to warn you though, online business is a tough nut to crack.

John Rowe September 4, 2011 at 11:08 am

Looks like things have progressed quite a lot since you had your first blog design. It’s nice to see the evolution. Keep it up. I wish I had the knack for doing something like this, but alas, I’m not the creative type. Best of luck to all bloggers! 🙂

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