It's a good practice to understand the challenges that you will likely be facing so that you can plan your method for overcoming them and creating a successful blog. Let's take a look at some of the most common challenges.
Breaking the Norm
More so than other types of websites, blogs tend to be very standard in look and functionality. To those of us who visit a number of blogs everyday we're pretty familiar with the typical blog layout, and we even have come to expect it. For me it may not be boring to look at a typical blog layout with content and sidebars in the usual locations and styles, but for some people this can be very cookie-cutter and boring.
Standing out from the crowd is a serious challenge for blog theme designers. At some point creativity can interfere with usability and predictability of navigation. Many creative designers are using attractive, graphically-rich backgrounds to spice up the typical layout. This can be very effective since it gives a unique an attractive look without hurting the usability.
Whatever approach you take, standing out should be considered. Of course, it's possible to stand out with a nice design without being bold and relying on the use of a lot of images. Simplicity can also work well. Before designing your next theme, give some thought to how you can make the blog a bit different than the millions that are already out there.
Headers that Get Attention without Taking Up too Much Space
There are some excellent, creative blog headers out there that really grab your attention. However, some blogs also use a huge amount of the screen for a header image, and the content winds up starting at the bottom of the screen or even below the fold in some cases. This is really a matter of personal preference, but I think it's beneficial in most cases to start the content high on the page if possible.
If you have the whole screen to work with, creating an attractive header image isn't so difficult, but then it becomes more than just a header. Creative a nice-looking header that complements the content and takes up a small amount of screen space is certainly a challenge.
Blogs are all about the content, and what good is the content if it can't be found? Ideally you'll want your visitors to see several pages before they leave your blog. In order for that to happen effective navigation is critical. Navigation is a challenge for any website, but it can be more so for blogs. Blog readers are often given choices of navigating through category archives, date archives, author archives, recent posts, popular posts, recent comments, and so on. Obviously you can't include all of these in your main navigation or it will be overwhelming and cluttered, but how do you know what to use and where to put it?
Part of developing navigation is understanding your readers and what they are looking for, and then giving it to them quickly and easily. This may take some research and experimentation to see what works best. Too often bloggers forget about the posts that have accumulated in the archives, and only new posts are given any attention. Making your blog theme more user-friendly and improving navigation can drastically improve the impact and effectiveness of your older posts.
Another part of the challenge with navigation and blog themes is that the content is always changing and developing, which brings us to the next point.
Because blogs add so much new content on a frequent basis, the blog will be much different a few months from now than it is currently. An effective blog theme will scale with the blog. What good is a new theme if you'll outgrow it in 3 months?
When developing a theme, take some time to think about how the blog's content will change and expand over time, and what effect that will have on the usability and effectiveness of the design. Will the theme allow you to adapt with the changing of the blog? Can you feature different content a month from now?
After a nice theme is designed it's pretty common for most bloggers to type up a post, quickly look it over and hit the publish button. We spend a lot of time and effort getting the theme just how we want it, but the formatting and appearance of individual posts often gets overlooked.
Sure, the content is more important than how it is displayed, but the presentation can make a big difference. Take a look around at some of the blogs you visit regularly. Which ones do a good job of formatting posts and which ones don't?
An effective blog theme will include styles that make it easy to give your posts an attractive look even while emphasizing the content.
Implementation of Ads
Most blog readers are now comfortable with the fact that blogs are likely to include ads. Without advertising revenue many of the blogs you read every day would probably only exist in a fraction of their current form. With that in mind, a designer's job is to account for advertisements if they will be used in a blog theme.
When placed properly, ads can be effective without annoying visitors or deteriorating the look of the website. However, if they're not accounted for in the design process they will either annoy visitors or be placed in a spot that gets them no exposure.
Attractive Look + Readability
Some of the more creative blog designs will catch your attention based upon the quality of the design, but they'll lose you quickly because they've compromised on readability. Managing and blending both can be difficult at times.
Because blogs are so dependent on content, readability should never suffer at the hands of creating a more attractive appearance. With any changes that you make to your theme, be sure that readability has not been damaged.
Widgets, buttons, and that sort of thing are obviously common on blogs today. When used in moderation they can be effective, however, some designers go overboard and wind up with a clutter, distracting look due to overuse of widgets. Most high quality designs only use widgets very modestly, or not at all.
Full Posts or Excerpts?
For bloggers this is an age-old question. When designing a theme you'll need to consider the needs of the specific blog that you're working with. Personally, I prefer excerpts because they make it easier for visitors to scan and find what they want. Excerpts can also give designers an opportunity to create a more attractive front page. Magazine-style themes use excerpts almost exclusively, which allows them to highlight more content in a small space.