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The Unknown Blogger and First Impressions

Posted by Jason Spector on June 30th, 2006.

I am an experienced web and interactive designer who loves what he does and tends to quote old Tex Avery and Chuck Jones cartoons just a little too much.

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In “Leaving An Impression“, Steven Teskey addresses some important issues regarding brand identity and your perception in the greater on-line universe. But just as important as your lasting impression is your first impression, which is the foundation of the following post.

When communicating with other bloggers through their web sites, I’m reminded how much first impressions have an impact. In the olden days of the telephone, I would unintentionally create an image of the person at the other end of the line and speak to them based on those sometimes false conclusions.

Now blogs have taken it to a whole new level by removing all vocal cues. What most readers are left with are the site design, branding, content, and writing style. And it’s that initial dependency on the design for those conversational cues - even before the other elements - which I find so intriguing.

  • Is the layout rigid or fluid? Does that make you feel welcomed or defensive?
  • Do the colors make the site seem aggressive (reds), intellectual (blues), energetic (yellows) or ominous (black)? Learn more about color.
  • What reactions do you get from the blog’s name? Is it professional, intelligent, cute, angry, and/or immature? (By naming a blog simply, “Mike’s Blog”, the author gives even less information and allows more dependency on the design elements.)

I’ve personally made unintended assumptions about a blogger based on their design and writing style. Someone who I was convinced was an utter argumentative ass turned out to be a pretty nice guy and vice versa. I also found myself interacting with what I thought was a female blogger until I read through their comment strings. And although my reactions to these differences may by subtle, some people can have great variances in their conversations regarding gender, age, and/or race.

Why don’t I go to the author’s bio when I first enter the blog? Good question. The answer is in standard on-line behavior. Bloggers are no different than the millions on-line who read the news, check e-mail or visit retail sites. We just spend that time reading other blogs. In short blocks of time (usually at the start of the work day, lunch break, or the end of the work day), we quickly scan the headlines and continue on if we’re interested. Most of us probably don’t consider the bio until the need arises or time allows.

So what can you do to give your readers a more accurate reflection of you and a better blog conversation?

  1. Figure out who you want to be
    Do you desire to be an expert in your field or a conduit for design issues and creative solutions? Do you want to stand out or be part of a community of peers? Make a list of your desired or actual characteristics.
  2. Find your audience
    Are your core readers new to your subject matter, your professional/academic peers or the industry creme de la creme? Make a list of your desired readers’ characteristics.
  3. Design your blog
    Create your visual design based on these choices, supporting color palettes/imagery and good blog usability practices. (Jakob Nielsen | David Armano)

I know that this is an oversimplified list, but it makes the necessary points. Before you design a blog or quickly grab an available template, think about whom you are and who you want your audience to be. Remember that people judge websites almost instantly upon initial viewing. In the case of blogs, that decision will influence how your readers speak to you or if they want to speak to you at all.

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Great article, very simple and easy to follow.
Although, I believe that, from a design perspective, we all have to take into account the little / often overlooked things. Take typography for instance, your site can look either cheap or proffessional, just by the type face, size and color. How the design leads the user, if it’s hard to understand, users will generally not take to well to it. The one I have the most trouble with is finding a design that doesn’t do too much, simple is accessible, it may leave you wanting more, but that’s why at that point you concentrate more on guiding the viewer.

Steven Teskey
June 30th, 2006

Yes, there are certainly other design elements, like typography, that need to be considered when creating any site as well as generally-accepted usability best practices. I think we can both agree on that.

What I am addressing in this post, which I think is complimentary to yours, Steven, is that a blog is a conversational tool and adds another level to a carefully-crafted on-line perception that you need to take into account.

As you discussed, we all need to be aware of the impression we leave and our reputation in the greater on-line universe. But what is often overlooked, especially in a blog, is the first impression people have of you. A potential reader, who has never seen your posts, comments, search results, reviews, etc. will still make that first impression of you the instant they enter your blog. They are then building everything else off of that first impression, good or bad.

Thanks, Steven. I enjoyed your article.

Jason Spector
June 30th, 2006

I do think that a lot of blogs (this one included to be honest) assume that all readers are return readers and therefore don’t always encourage newcomers to sit and stay around a while.. Also, the trap that designers can fall into is that they assume all their visitors read everything on the blog. This isn’t the case.

Good read.

Jason, do you think it’s important to know if a writer is male or female/USA or elsewhere etc? Why?

Andrew Faulkner
June 30th, 2006

Great question.

I don’t think it’s important to know the gender when interacting with someone on-line just as I don’t think it’s an issue in the real world. I do think that some people will have stereotypes, biases, and assumptions that might find their way into those interactions. This could occur at a subconscious level, but it does happen.

Internationally, there are subtleties of language and culture that may show up in the words/phrases that we choose. Unless you are specifically targeting an international audience, I doubt most people will know what all those subtleties are.

In both of these cases, as Steven said, it’s best to remain professional. Professional etiquette is global and will be appreciated by all parties involved.

Jason Spector
June 30th, 2006

another question (or problem): everyone has a personality, and communicates accordingly. Very soon you will know how others address you (you may like it or not). It should never offend you since it is a public place - the Net. You can leave any place as soon as a click away - right. Nobody is perfect, of course. Even the sweetest person can go overboard, even the toughest person around can change. We are humans and we interact as humans. It is like you go to that bar (since you like the atmosphere) but not to that tavern (which annoys you like hell) - you can simply choose. When it is fun with people on the same frequency and are decent people - nothing wrong. I have no great feelings for blogs as a community thing … freedom of speech I respect but I am not interested in how you bake your cookies … as I can find thousands of recipes on the net (from the best cooks on the planet) My 2 pennies …

June 30th, 2006

You’re exactly right about personalities. That’s why I wanted to make the point (and I hope I did) to figure who you are and who your audience is before creating your blog/site. You’re not going to please everyone or anticipate their reactions to you, but you can at least mold your impression around yourself and your target audience. If others outside your target choose you and enjoy what you offer, all the better. Otherwise, you’re just doing it for yourself and really don’t care what others think. Then all bets are off. But at least you have a great cookie recipe.

Jason Spector
June 30th, 2006

As a fellow webdesigner , I’m glad to see that someone thought to post this topic.

Many people just don’t grasp the concept of what all is required in this field, and I think also we’re many times not appreciated enough
or taken for granted. Never the less I’m very glad to see that you may feel the same way I do , thanks so much for this post!

SF Webdesign
January 6th, 2010

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