What Elements Are Necessary In The Design Of A Blog Post?

In the spirit of design simplicity I’ve been thinking about the essence of a blog post. What’s absolutely necessary and what’s desirable to include in the design of a typical blog post?

When I look at the existing design here I see a lot of clutter at the top of the page in the form of navigation, rss subscription information, and banner ads.

Is all the post meta information needed? Do previous and next posts links need to be included and if so should they spell out the title of the blog post they point to? How useful are links to popular posts and recent comments in the sidebar.

The design gets cleaner as you scroll down the page, but should the content column be wider to give the content more room to breathe? How about the comments and the social posting buttons?

As busy as this place looks to me, it’s still far cleaner than many of the blogs you come across, which seem to be designed with the philosophy of stuff everything in that can be stuffed on the page.

What’s the right balance? What absolutely needs to be here and what could be eliminated?

Post It notes on a corkboard for a blog design

What Needs to be Included in a Blog Post Design?

The answer, of course, depends on the specific design. A blog with an advertising revenue model naturally needs ads, while one with a different model doesn’t.

I want to consider every part of the page, from the header all the way down to the footer. While design elements like a logo or copyright notice aren’t specifically unique to a blog post, we should still decide if these boilerplate elements belong in its design.

Below are some of the elements that might be included in the design of a single blog post and in fact all of them find their way into many blog designs. As you look over the list keep 2 things in mind.

  • Notice how many of these items you initially think need to be in the design
  • Ask yourself how many of these items really do need to be in the design.

I’m dividing the different elements into groups based on their purpose, though you could certainly group them differently.

There are also many potential elements I’m not including. The list is off the top of my head to show how quickly the design can become more complex than it needs to be.

The Post

Of all the possible things to include in the design of a blog, the post content is probably the only essential and necessary element. Without it you don’t have a blog post after all.

The post title is probably a close second.

  • post content — Could include text, images, video, audio, or anything that passes itself off as content.
  • post title — very close to essential – important to orient the visitor and quickly communicate what the post is about
  • post meta — date and time communicate relevancy and recency
  • comments — some would argue a blog post without comments is not a blog
  • comment form — would naturally be included if comments are included
  • trackbacks — extends the conversation to other sites

I think it’s important to include date time information, though perhaps not absolutely necessary. I doubt I’ll ever include trackbacks into any future design of this site and I often debate the usefulness of blog comments.

Branding

Both logo and author credit are clearly branding and if you’re trying to grow your brand are probably best to include.

  • logo
  • post author
  • copyright

Copyright isn’t really a branding element, though it didn’t fit anywhere else and since it will include the name of the site it does help reinforce the brand.

At the same time it doesn’t do anything to prevent theft or alter the legality of stealing the post. Does it need to be included?

17th century map of the world

Navigation

You likely want to include some form of navigation on the page, though one might argue the only goal a blog post should have is to be read and so why point anyone elsewhere.

However, have you ever stopped to consider all the possible ways navigation is included in blog posts?

  • global navigation bar
  • search
  • breadcrumbs
  • blog specific navigation
    • categories
    • tags
    • date based archive
    • popular/recent posts/comments
    • next/previous/pagination
    • related posts
  • post specific navigation
    • links to other posts in a series
    • internal content links
  • Blogroll – gotta pimp our friends

I’m sure you’ve come across blogs that use all of the above, even though many point to the same places. How many of the above forms of navigation do you ever use?

Do you click through next/previous links to read posts in sequence? Do you find yourself specifically looking for a post that was written on March 30th, 2008?

I suspect seo has a lot do with why blogs find so many different ways to link back to themselves.

A few of the items above don’t seem all that useful to me, though most have their place. The question is how many need to be included on every post.

Instead of showing categories, tags, and date based archive in the sidebar could they be better place on a single archives page included in the global navigation.

Illustration of Facebook pages mocking Twitter

Promotion

If you build it he won’t know. Promotion is necessary for blogs looking to grow. A few items usually included for promotion are:

  • social posting/sharing links/icons
  • follow me at this profile links/icons
  • rss subscription
  • email newsletter
  • rss subscriber count

Not a huge list until you consider all the different social sites you want your content shared on or all the different social profiles you might have.

Do you need to pimp them all? Is an icon enough? Is text also necessary? How important are the counts?

Advertising

Obviously if advertising is part of your business model then you’ll need to include advertising in your design.

  • banner ads
  • text link ads

The major question is how many ads to include. Some sites will unobtrusively place one or two ads, while others seem to have more ads than content.

Street advertising in prague

Where do These Elements Belong?

If we’re pushing the boundaries of minimalism we could decide that only the content itself is necessary, place it anywhere on the page, and be done.

Even if we’re not pushing those boundaries, most of the elements I’ve listed above aren’t really necessary, though they each have their purpose in achieving some goal. Few if any should deserve more prominence on the page than the content and probably the post title, but many do serve a purpose.

There’s no single way to answer the question of where to place all these elements. That’s the design problem and any answer is only one of the many possible solutions.

I’m asking the question more to get you to think about where you can realistically place all these elements and whether or not you honestly need to include most of them.

The items you decide to include begin to define the problem and the constraints placed on the design. if you try to include everything where are you going to place all the elements so that they don’t distract from the content?

Street sign reading: Unnecessary Noise Prohibited

Summary

There’s no definitive answer to what’s essential to include in the design of a blog post other than the content of the post needs to be included.

The point of this post hasn’t been to answer the question for you, but rather to make you think a little about all the different elements currently in your own blog design or those you create for clients.

Ask yourself are they really a necessary part of the solution? Are you trying to do too much with the page? Are some elements there just to fill up the space in the sidebar.

If you can remove the non-essential elements you’ll have more room and flexibility in where to place the essential elements in the design and more ability to emphasize what’s more important.

What do you think are the essential elements of a blog post?

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4 comments

  1. Hi,
    Thanks for these design tips. However, something struck me: what about text justification? You talk about right and left alignment, as opposed to centering, but where is justification left? Personally, I feel content is clearer when the text is aligned on both sides…
    So what do you think?
    Thanks again!

    • Hi Yvan. Sorry your post originally went into the spam bin. Thanks for letting me know so I could find it and unflag it.

      I’m not a fan of justified text online in most cases. I think it can work well offline because you have more control over the spacing between words and letters and also because there’s more control over hyphenating words.

      Online we’re not quite there yet with the tools and too often justified text ends up leaving very large blocks of space between words on a line or two of text.

      If you’re talking about a block of text that is custom created and can easily be altered after the fact so you don’t get those wide spaces then sure I think it can look good. More often though our text is being put out by content management systems and isn’t changed to make it work, though.

  2. I really like the minimalist look of the default template at posterous.com and would love to redo my blog in a similar style – but when I sit down and look at all the elements I’d have to include (the ones that are essential to the site), the new minimalist layout ends up looking pretty much like the old cluttered one.

    • I like Posterous too. It does have a nice clean and minimal look. I hear you too about ending up with a cluttered redesign. I think the key is really examine all the things you’re trying to include and ask if you honestly need to include them all. I know I often want to include more on the page than needs to be there.

      If you still find things are cluttered after removing everything you can ask if you can hide some things while still making it clear how to get to them. Drop down menus are good examples as much of the navigational options are hidden until such a time when someone is looking to navigate the site.

      It’s not easy. Simplicity is much harder to achieve than it seems when looking at a simple design. I struggle with it all the time, but I think it’s a worthy goal.

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