I have been thinking for a while about a new look for my blog. Back a couple of years ago when I started the blog at WordPress.com, I had selected a theme (TwentyEleven) that was basic enough not to overwhelm me with all the optional details. Yes, every so often I would get “stars in my eyes,” seeing all those beautiful blogs out there by my fellow bloggers on WordPress.com, and I’d start looking around at other themes.
But I would run into two obstacles. First, the “preview” option for a theme, which is very convenient, usually did not seem to include the customization of widgets, etc., which I had already done in my current theme. That meant I didn’t quite know what it would really look like in the new theme, and also it would take time to find out what the customization of widgets, colors, etc., would do. Secondly, as I would start to click around on themes, suddenly it would turn into a rather large “time sink,” clicking on more and different blog themes, each one of which did not quite seem to work in the way I was hoping. Some of the features were confusing: Main widget area. First footer widget area. Second footer widget area. Featured Image. After a while I’d realize three hours had gone by and I did not seem closer to my hoped-for look.
Yet in the last few weeks I was determined to find a more streamlined look – one that would feel less cluttered, while still providing menu options for contacting me, linking to my author website, etc., as well as widgets like the “Search” field, a Goodreads “current reading” list, most-popular posts, etc. I was hoping the reader would have a more intimate feel with my writing, and not be confronted by quite so much sidebar widget visuals, etc.
How to get started? The number of themes seems unlimited, even among the no-cost options. How to know which one(s) to choose? Once I did select a theme, how to know “tips” to make it look more attractive, with widgets, etc.?
I was fortunate to have a chance to “pick the brain” of one of my blogging colleagues, Anne J. with her lovely I think, I say, I do blog. Anne’s blog appearance had certain aspects I was hoping to bring into mine – it is very welcoming, there is a lot of space for her writing to be seen, and her choice of widgets seemed like a good blend. Anne was kind enough to take a few minutes by email to describe her process for selecting the theme for her blog and her periodic thoughts about updating the look. That was very helpful!
The next step was to try out one or two of the candidate themes in a separate private blog, not in my primary blog. That way I could take some time to really understand how the theme(s) worked. What happened when I added some of my favorite widgets? What background colors and fonts were provided? How were reader comments denoted or displayed – hidden or at the bottom of the blog post? If I shrink or widen the browser window (like on a phone), what happened to the displayed images?
After a couple of weeks of experimentation I felt like I was ready to give my blog a new theme. I debated between three choices: Libretto, Harmonic, and Saga. I found these themes in a search for “writing” in the “Themes” tab of the WP dashboard. Each theme had its own pluses and drawbacks. For my Lab Notes blog, I decided on Saga. The viewing window was wide for reading blog posts and the lettering a bit larger than before, so that the text felt intimate with the reader. My widgets had to go in a drop-down sidebar, but as I experimented with the feel of the new theme, it seemed like that tradeoff was a good one, to get the feel of being closer to the text of my own writing.
A couple of tweaks further brought the new look up to date. I read up on how to use Featured Images, and I also learned about how different post formats worked (Standard vs. Aside vs. Link). This knowledge (from the WP support sites) helped me zero in on the visual effects I was hoping for.
I want to thank Anne J. for sharing her knowledge and experience. I also want to thank Amy at Photography Journal Blog for inspiring me with a recent blog refresh. And I would also like to extend my appreciation to ALL of my fellow bloggers and followers, for showing me how lovely and how individual each person’s blog can be.
I hope you enjoy the new look as much as I do! If you have thoughts to share that might help other bloggers, about how to select a theme, what widgets to use, etc., please feel free to comment, so that others can learn from your experience.