When I first starting using WordPress blogs for both my COETAIL course and my classroom I experienced stress in trying to figure out what would be the best theme to use. I wanted to show some personality by finding something beyond the default theme but would also become intimidated by some of themes and unfamiliar terms and options. And if I did like a theme occasionally it would require some HTML coding to make changes and I just didn’t have the experience or time to figure that out. I would just end up going back to the default theme.
ASSESSING VISUAL HIERARCHY
When I reviewed the assignment to redesign a blog or website I first started thinking about how to update my own COETAIL blog. I remember spending quite a bit of time last spring trying to figure out the best theme for my blog…well, at least one that appealed to me. I now realize I seemed to be concerned with how “Comments” displayed and what colors showcased my header (which is my own photograph). I now realize that may have not been the best focus. Brandon Jones’ simple statement about visual hierarchy reminded me that my blogs should be designed for my intended audience.
Good visual hierarchy isn’t about wild and crazy graphics or the newest Photoshop filters; it’s about organizing information in a way that’s usable, accessible, and logical to the everyday site visitor.
Keeping that in mind and reassessing my COETAIL blog, I think my widgets and side bar are in a logical and accessible order. However, I could make a few changes so the hyperlinks are not such a glaring orange and consider if the white text on black background is the best for those who visit my blog.
CHUNKING IT OUT FOR MY READERS
Brandon Jones also reminded me that how I organize the text in my blog impacts how long my readers will stick with reading it. Basically, Jones states that if viewers are given “a massive block of information, chances are that 99 out of 100 people won’t bother to read it…Because most people are inherently visual thinkers, not data processors.” Usability expert Jakob Nielsen supports this outlook with the idea of information foraging. Michael Agger sums up Nielsen’s idea of information foraging in this article “Lazy Eye: How we read online”:
Humans are informavores. On the Internet, we hunt for facts. In earlier days, when switching between sites was time-consuming, we tended to stay in one place and dig. Now we assess a site quickly, looking for an ‘information scent.’ We move on if there doesn’t seem to be any food around.
I’ve experienced this myself in looking at various blog posts and articles for both academic and personal interests. Although I know the author has spent time and effort to produce this piece of writing, I am aware I have many other choices and find myself moving on quickly if I can’t get a sense of what I’m going to read in a short amount of time. I have to remember that this is happening to me as well. Most of my reflections can be quite extensive pieces of texts. One way to help my audience is to make better use of subtitles (as I am doing with this reflection). Just as I teach students to skim titles and subtitles before reading a text, I should expect that visitors to my blog are doing the same and quickly making a decision whether or not to delve deeper into my writing.
SUMMING IT UP
At the end of his article, Brandon Jones gives a simple assessment to test visual hierarchy of a website or project. It basically comes down to one question.
Does the design emphasize what is important to the viewers?
Brandon Jones concludes with regards to the “tsunami of visual information” we regularly encounter…
…as a result, people nowadays are hyper-sensitive to visual hierarchy. This is especially the case on the web where students have proven that regular web surfers have learned to ‘scan’ content innately; automatically seeking information that is relevant to their interests and discarding/disregarding information that doesn’t. Because of this, becoming a master of visual hierarchy isn’t optional, it’s mandatory.
So when I consider what theme to use and which widgets to put where and how to organize my information and writing I have to keep in mind my audience. Considering the purpose of my COETAIL blog and my potential audience, my goal is to keep my blog visually basic (and calm) and well-organized. And not matter what types of blogs or websites I set up in the future, whether it is promoting a new band or setting up a handmade jewelry business, I will make sure I focus on my potential audience and how the visual design will invite them in and encourage them to connect.
After perusing the available themes on WordPress I decided to try out the EvoLve theme. I thought the layout was easy to navigate and I liked how the side bar used color to separate the different widgets. Would love any feedback on the changes….