Thursday, April 7, 2011

Blog Designer Interview: Blogging Bella Designs.

When I decided to get my blog re-vamped I looked around quite a bit. There are many talented people out there so finding a designer was a bit daunting. I searched for a long time but could never quite commit. However, there was one designer that I kept going back to. I liked the way that she had before and after samples on her site with explanations stating exactly what she did.  I also liked that she had a questionnaire regarding what I (as the client) was looking for. Then I found the blog Books With Bite and drooled. It was exactly the kind of feel I wanted.

Staci of Blogging Bella Designs, worked quickly and efficiently, turning my ideas into reality. She researched tons of pictures, stayed up late and answered all my inane questions.  She was also really patient with me! I couldn’t quite settle on a font. I wasn’t sure if I wanted the text on an orange background or a more gold one. And could she flip the header and footer? Staci showed me what each option would look like and was very understanding of my indecisiveness. Ultimately, she came up with a design that surpassed my expectations. She also is a perfectionist and worked until elements showed up just right on the different browsers and let's not even get into how much effort she put into making my Twitter background look perfect.  (It looked great the first time she did it, but she wasn't satisfied until it was "just so.")
I’m a frustrated artist, so I really admire people who can draw, paint and design graphics. Their whole process just absolutely intrigues and fascinates me. So I thought I would ask Staci a few questions about exactly how she does it! I also wanted to point out that blog designers are important within the blogging community too!

How did you get started creating blogs?
I started blogging back in May 2008. I used to get a bad case of blog envy anytime I came across a professionally designed one. I couldn't afford to hire someone to design one for me so for awhile I made due with Blogger's dots template. Then when I grew tired of it, I used a freebie from the Cutest Blog on the Block. However, even that template grew boring after awhile, and there were always other blogs out there with the exact same template.

I wanted something unique so I started looking up how to do certain things on my own. I think the first big thing I did was change my blog to three columns. After that I looked up how to add a navigation bar and how to make my columns even across the bottom and added those features to my blog as well. I also scoured the internet for coupon codes so I could get a nice vector image from a stock site for cheap and make a better header than what I originally had.

For awhile there I was constantly tinkering with the look of my blog. My readers would always compliment me on my design changes, and a few would ask me for help with things on their blogs in the comments. After awhile, I started thinking that maybe I should design blogs as side job while looked for a real one. I asked my mom for a Wacom pen and tablet for one of my birthdays, bought the domain for Blogging Bella, and started setting up the site. The project got backburned for awhile after my mom died, but I eventually returned to it. I officially launched Blogging Bella in April 2010.

You said you had a wacom pen/tablet. So does that mean you draw a lot of your vector designs?
I do draw most of them, unless there is already an image out there that is perfect and the client has funds to purchase it. I usually look for predone images first, unless a client has specifically requested hand drawn.

The tablet and pen also work well in Photoshop for things like erasing, highlighting, shadowing, and cutting out images because it allows better precision than a standard mouse. It takes some getting used to though because it's not the same as drawing with a pencil and paper. You can't look down and see what you're drawing as you draw it. You have to look away from your hand at the screen.

I use Inkscape for my vectors because Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw are way out of my price range. For other things, I use, GIMP, Photoshop Elements, and every now and then Corel Painter Essentials.

You started blogging in 2008...what was your first blog about?
It's my personal blog, Just Bloggled. I guess it's mainly about me, the place I go to vent and attempt to be sarcastically witty. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I don't. I usually just blog about whatever is on my mind at the time.

So you're self taught?
Yes. I took one graphic design class in college as part of my art minor, but the class was a joke. The school didn't have enough Macs for everyone in the class so we would have to take turns using the few they had. Plus, the professor would give an assignment and then disappear to his darkroom because photography was the only subject he really cared about. There was never any real feedback or direction, and we never dealt with vectors or Photoshop. I have basically learned those things through trial and error and by playing around with different graphics programs.

As for all the html and css stuff involved with blog designing, I learned how to do them from online tutorials.

Are there any unique challenges to designing book blogs over other blogs?
I think one of the biggest challenges is finding a new way to convey that it is a book blog. How many different ways can you show someone reading before you end up repeating yourself? I want each design to be unique so sometimes I have to do a lot of brainstorming to think of a new spin on that basic concept. It helps if the blogger reads from a certain genre because then I can give the design that overall feel. However, if the blogger reads a little of everything it's a bit harder.

Another unique challenge is coming up with a ratings system for the book bloggers who want something beyond the basic stars and different from what every other book blogger is doing.

How do you translate your client's ideas into a finished design?
I have clients fill out a design questionnaire when they place an order. The more information they can provide on it, the better. For instance, if clients can tell me what colors they like and what colors they don't, if there are blog designs out there that they already love, or if there is a certain feel that they want on their blogs, that will help me in the long run create the design they want. If they can't, that's fine, too. In those cases, I usually spend time looking at what's on their blogs now, try to get a feel for the clients and their interests, and browse stock image sites for ideas. Based on what those ideas are, I'll either email them to the clients or do a couple of sample headers for them to choose from to see which one they like. I try to ask for client approval or input as I move from one design element to the other. That way at the end it's the design the client wanted as opposed to the one I did.

What is your favorite part about creating blogs?
Probably the big reveal at the end--getting the new design installed and seeing how it looks on the client's site as opposed to the test site. It's kind of like when you paint your living room. You don't really know how your color choice is going to turn out until you put all your furniture, artwork, and throw pillows back in place. I'm always happy when the design goes up, it works with everything that is there, and the site gets an instant pick me up.

I also like coming up with new ideas for the designs, even if that's the most challenging part, too.

You can also find Staci on Twitter, giving hilarious comment on Soap Operas, her dogs and exercise. Thank you once again Staci for being patient with me and letting me pick your brain.


Missie, The Unread Reader said...

I love this interview with Staci! If I were a talented designer like her, I think my favorite part of the process would be the big reveal as well because it is just so exciting to see your hard work pay off!

Logan E. Turner said...

I love all three of your blogs (Savy, Missie and you) so when I decide to revamp my design I'm definitely going to Staci. Awesome interview!

Savannah said...

HORRAY! I love Staci! Great post!!

Angelique said...

I LOVE your blog design, great interview with the artiste =)

Kate @Midnight Book Girl said...

She did a lovely job on your blog, I love it! I finally decided to bite the bullet and get my blog designed by someone with a sense of style and the ability to actually do it. Hopefully my new look will be up sometime in May!

Jeremy [Retro] said...

this is a pretty happening place you got going here... glad to see the hard work you do... maybe you would like to design the hba a new look or maybe suggest something?
jeremy [iZombie]
hba staffer

Jenny said...

Wow, that's awesome that your self taught! I'm a graphic designer (in print, not web) and I attempted to teach myself web design and it just didn't work out for me. I was so used to working in print that web was like learning a foreign language (which I've never been great at). Awesome post, thanks so much for sharing your talent with us Staci!

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