11 Ways to Improve a Blog Theme Without a Complete Re-Design

Bloggers are often looking to improve the look of their blog for one reason or another, and designers are rarely content to leave things the way they are for too long. Blog themes typically get changed and re-designed pretty quickly (especially in comparison to other types of websites), but you don’t always have to go through a full re-design to freshen things up.

Here is a look at 11 things you can do to improve a blog theme without going the re-design route.

1. Improve the Look of the Sidebar

Although the sidebar will never be the focal point of a blog theme, a well-designed sidebar can have a huge impact on the overall look of a theme. Sometimes when designing a blog theme the sidebar doesn’t get much consideration, especially when it comes to visual appeal. Sidebars are generally there for purposes of navigation and helping the visitor find something useful and relevant. While this is an important aspect of a sidebar, it can still accomplish these things with some visual appeal.

Several months ago I wrote a post, Effective Use of Blog Sidebars, that focused on the needed functionality and also showcased some well-designed and effective sidebars. If your sidebar is functional but lacking in aesthetics, this is an area for potential improvement.

For further research, here are some useful tutorials:

Blog Sidebars

2. Improve the Usefulness of Your Sidebar

As I mentioned in the previous point, sidebars should be well-designed and helpful to visitors. If the design and appearance of your sidebar is fine, take a look at ways to improve the usefulness. Often, blog theme designers get into the habit of adding certain things to a sidebar and wind up doing so without even considering if it will be useful to visitors.

One of the primary purposes of a sidebar is to improve the navigation and usability of the blog, so try to find ways to improve in this area. If you have manually created links and lists in your sidebar, make an effort to update them from time-to-time so quality posts aren’t falling through the cracks.

3. Work on Comment Design

Like the sidebar, the comment area of a blog theme is often very basic and standard. Some blog theme designers have done an excellent job of setting their themes apart from the crowd by designing beautiful comment areas. For WordPress users, there are plenty of opportunities to tweak and style comments to your desire (see Top 10 Tutorials for Working with WordPress Comments).

A growing number of blogs are enhancing the comment area by adding avatars to give a more personal feel to the comments and to encourage discussion (see Avatars in Blog Comment Design). Comment design is a great option if you want to spend some time improving the look of your blog without re-designing the entire theme.

Blog comments

4. Re-Design the Logo

The logo or branding area of a blog has a huge impact on the overall look. By re-designing the logo you may be able to achieve big improvements without dedicated the same amount of time that would be needed for a complete theme overhaul.

logos, of course, have major implications on branding, so be careful before re-designing the logo that it will take your blog in a positive direction rather than actually harming the blog through a loss of brand recognition. For smaller blogs this is less of an issue.

For logo design inspiration, see Top 10 Sources of Logo Design Inspiration.

Logo design inspiration

5. Re-Design the Footer

Footers rarely get much attention from blog theme designers, but well-designed footers can really stand out (see 25 More Inspirational Footers). I know the footers of all of my blogs are in need of some improvement, and I think there are probably other bloggers and designers who could benefit from some time spent in this area as well.

Blog footers

6. Re-Design the Feed Subscription Area

One of the most important factors for a blog’s long-term success is the ability to convert visitors into subscribers. Almost all blogs have an area (generally at the top of a sidebar) to encourage subscriptions. Feed icons are very common here, for recognition purposes, and often there will be a one-field form that can be completed to subscribe by email.

Since this area of the theme design is critical to attracting interest and encouraging visitors to subscribe, it’s possible to make subtle, but powerful, improvements to the theme just by changing this area. Some blog designers get creative with icons and graphics in this area, and other’s keep it simple.

7. Improve the Readability of Posts

The theme designer has an impact on the blogger and the reader in terms of the styling of post content. While the theme design can’t control certain readability issues like paragraph length, use of bold text and use of lists, the designer can drastically improve readability with effective use of h3 and h4 tags, proper whitespace around the content, line spacing, and styling of blockquotes.

Just by making some changes to the stylesheet you can make serious improvements in this area. This is a great area for experimentation as styles to sub headers and other items can easily be changed and tweaked any time.

For more information, see 30 Ways to Improve Blog Readability by Pro Blog Design.

8. Add Something New

Many blogs are adding non-traditional blog elements to provide something new and interesting for visitors. For example, DesignM.ag, and many other web design blogs, uses a community news section to share recent headlines with readers from the sidebar. Other blogs have their own Flickr groups that display recent additions in the sidebar. Even posting you Twitter updates on your blog can spice things up a little bit.

9. Make Changes to the Color Scheme

If a complete re-design isn’t wanted or needed, but you want to make noticeable and significant changes, consider changing up the color scheme. Changes in this area could be relatively minor, or it could be a completely new color scheme. Colors can make or break a theme design, so if you’re looking for some improvements this could be an area for experimentation.

There are plenty of great online resources for working with color, so rather than trying to list them I’ll direct you to David Airey’s Colour Tools, Palettes, Schemes and Theories and Carrie’s Pair Colors like a Pro in your next project.

10. Improve the Main Navigation

Earlier we talked about improving the usefulness of a sidebar by creating better navigation, but this can also apply to the primary navigation of the site. It’s possible to new pages or sections have been added to the blog that could be added to the navigation menu, or some of those items in the main navigation may not be necessary and could be improved.

Most blogs already have navigation menus that include links to all the major pages on the site, but visual appeal and design is another area of possible improvement regarding navigation menus. Navigation is often one of the most noticeable and significant aspects of the design. A more attractive menu could make big improvements to a theme overall.

11. Add Image Styles

Most blogs frequently use images inside of posts. There are any numer of ways that images can be styled to improve the look of the post. Many blogs use some padding and borders, but there are plenty of options here. You can do some experimentation to see what you like, and even create multiple styles and classes if you want to have options for future posts.

What’s Your Opinion?

Do you ever tweak blog themes without doing a complete re-design? If so, what areas of the design are your focus?

Stephen Snell is the owner and editor of Vandelay Design, a popular design blog.
  1. December 4, 2008

    Thanks for the link Steven, and for using my site as one of the examples!

    If you’re really stuck for something to redo on your blog, asking the readers can’t hurt either. If there’s something that annoys them, a few of them will probably point it out to you, so you’ll know exactly what to work on. 🙂

  2. December 4, 2008

    Nice write-up. I wouldn’t know what to add, you were pretty thorough! Good job.

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  4. December 5, 2008

    Brilliant. I was thinking about a redesign but these tips will be a good change.

  5. December 5, 2008

    Really good…
    i’ll work on it!

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  11. anon
    December 8, 2008

    All this post really says is that instead of redesigning everything, you can redesign selectively. Not sure how that qualifies as useful advice.

  12. Steven Snell
    December 8, 2008

    Maybe it’s not useful for you. The idea was just to point out some possibilities.

  13. toptermenieni
    December 19, 2008

    good resourse Anyway by sight very much it is pleasant to me

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  15. January 25, 2009

    Excellent post steve. As suggested by Chris, asking the readers is probably a very effective way to improve te overall blog design.

  16. March 24, 2009

    Great post, after some months I get tired of the same design for my blogs, and those tips are really helpfull, it’s important to keep user intereted but they can get lost if we change the whole template.

  17. December 19, 2009

    Nice post at all and i think there’s always something u can improve :=)

  18. January 11, 2010

    Very nice tips! Thanks a lot!

  19. January 14, 2010

    >>a well-designed sidebar can have a huge impact on the overall look of a theme
    It is very important not only for the design blog,but the whole web-design in general

  20. May 31, 2010

    Thx for the 11 tips, very useful for someone who isn’t a professional design

  21. August 10, 2010

    the whole web-design in general

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