Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Our Interview with Sarah of Real Life Design

Today's interview is with blog designer and blogger Sarah, who hangs up her design shingle at Real Life Design and blogs at Real Life. Sarah also writes for High Country Mom Squad:

Your blog header designs incorporate a lot of texture. Where do you find your inspiration?

Most personal blogs are like a glimpse into someone's living room. They want you to come alongside them, and experience life with them. I'm really inspired by the many textures I see in fabric, paper, and the natural world, and how they fit with the blogger's personality. It may be layers of fall leaves, the softness of clay, or the pillows in my living room. My design partner, Jaime, who designs our scrapbook- style blogs, has shown me how layering can create great depth and richness in a design.
I also notice that the blogs you've designed for have very clear sidebar navigation with very little clutter. How can bloggers keep their sidebars clutter free? What are your tips for deciding what should stay and what should go?
I'm a big proponent of a horizontal navigation bar with links for home, about me, and contact, and more. Put favorite or best posts, awards, or your blogroll on a separate page, and link to it. I wrote a series of articles about creating a menu bar on Blogger here. The Be Centsable bloggers wanted readers to be able to easily navigate several categories of posts, so I made them a clear tabbed menu bar. They also have a really hip retro look that I love.

I also encourage Bloggers with two sidebars to reserve one for only text, or images that blend in with the design. (such as their own blog buttons) The other sidebar could include ads, pictures, or other random images.

On Typepad, a horizontal menu bar is only available for advanced users. A clear list with coordinating image buttons or font works well, as a navigation system. does this beautifully.

What online tools and resources do you find yourself returning to? Can you tell us about a few sites make your job as a designer easier? is a great source for color palette ideas. There are hundreds of color palettes created by others, or you can make your own, and experiment with patterns and backgrounds using those colors.

For learning how to change Blogger Templates, Tips for New Bloggers is a must-read! Royalty-free stock photo sites, like iStock and Dreamstime can help you find inspiration. Also, browsing many blogs and evaluating what you like, and what you don't, helps you hone in your own style.
You design for both Blogger and Wordpress. What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of each? Which would you recommend for a new blogger?
Well, this is sometimes a very touchy subject among Blogger and Wordpress loyalists! I write blogs using both, and I see the advantages and disadvantages of both as well.

Blogger Pros:

Blogger is extremely user friendly, and the drag and drop layout design is easy to use. To completely customize a Blogger blog, you need to know css and a little HTML, and those languages are relatively easy to learn. Blogger is continually adding new sidebar widget options with one click, no plugins to install.

The best feature of Blogger is that you can use your own custom url (ie: with the free version. You just pay for the domain name. You can even purchase your domain name with Google from within the Blogger program. It is rather easy to set up your own domain with little knowledge of mapping, DNS settings, etc. You are allowed to sell ads and make money from your free Blogger blog. This is a BIG perk!

Tip : For a more professional look, get rid of that Blogger Bar at the top. Here's how.

With Wordpress' free hosted version, you cannot use your custom url. With the free hosted version, you must have "" at the end of your web address. You have to pay a small fee to be able to customize the template, add backgrounds, etc, and you can't add plugins. You also can't earn any money with the hosted version. In my opinion, there is no advantage to a Wordpress-hosted blog.

Wordpress Pros:

If you'd like the self-hosted version, you have to purchase your domain name, hosting, and you'll probably have to hire an installer. I work with Alyssa from Wordpress Installatons for Hire when I design self-hosted Wordpress blogs. In order to add plugins, you need to know how to use an FTP client. There are definite advantages, but there is also homework involved.

While Blogger is always adding new sidebar widgets, there is no way to add third-party plug-ins, which can offer more sophisticated functionality. There are hundred of plugins for Wordpress that can do everything. Some examples are: Akismet spam-comment blocking, specialized contact forms, automatic upgrade, Comment-Luv (which finds the most recent post of each commenter), find similar posts to display at the end of each post.

On Blogger, it's hard to serve and track your own ads, but you can still do basic image ads. If you have self-hosted Wordpress, you can install an ad server like openx, but it is very technically advanced.

I would recommend Blogger for a beginner, unless you're willing to make an investment in self-hosting and hire an installer. When I began my Wordpress blog, I had a huge learning curve!
I love looking at how other sites are put together. I get a lot of inspiration for my own blogs that way. What are a few of your favorite sites in terms of design? What appeals to you about them?
I love Looking Toward Heaven. The design has so much texture and interest, but it is still simply elegant. The Art of Life is classic Scrapbook design, and I love the sepia look. It's so classic and elegant. Her menu images add a really nice touch. Musings of a Housewife uses soothing blue, and mocha, and the clean lines are very easy on the eyes. And lastly, From Under the Clutter is just purely fun, bright ad cheery!
Sarah is a WAHM of three girls, 7,5, and 2-1/2. She began Real Life Design in March 2008, after blogging at her personal blog, Real Life, for a year. Sarah found that she changed her design as often as she washed the dishes (about every three months), so she decided to play on other people's blogs! Sarah partners with a digital scrapbook designer, Jamie, and a Wordpress Installer, Alyssa to create completely unique spaces for you to share your life.

Check out the other interviews in our BlogCoach blogger interview series.