How Do You Design A Great Blog? Inside A Business Week Debate.

For any individual or corporation interested in the how’s and why’s of blogs and blogging, the discussion taking place here about the new Business Week blogs is insightful, instructive and rare—you hardly ever get a peek at this kind of internal discussion.

We have our great designer, David Sleight, arguing that he designed the new blogs so that they would break with the tired conventional forms out in the blogosphere. And he wanted to create a space for longer-form blog posts that some BW bloggers prefer.

That’s all to the good. But…the new blog design for NEXT, the blog of Jessi Hempel and Helen Walters (who runs the I&D channel) is so unconventional, it doesn’t look like a blog. It doesn’t immediately tell the audience what kind of conversation that are entering. It may be that going too far out of the box of conventional blog design generates the kind of cognitive dissonance that confuses and ultimately hurts the effort to build a community.

My biggest difficulty with the blog design is that the designer didn’t do basic ethnographic research before designing it. That is, he didn’t get to know Jessi and Helen and how they might actually blog. Anyone who does know them realizes that they would be posting many times a time, in short form, long form, all kinds of forms.

So we have a classic designer error. Know all your consumers. In this case, they are both your blog writers and those who read the blog. With the new blog design, new posts basically disappear and require too much effort to resurrect. You can’t readily see posts building on one another as a theme, which is the strength of traditional blog design.

David promises to change the blog design to embrace Jessi and Helen’s style. That’s great. But that will now take time. Jessi and Helen can’t post nearly as many times a day as they would like, which is too bad because their site is terrific. It would have been far better to have done design research on them and with them beforehand.

These are important lessons for everyone in social media and beyond to get. Breaking too far out of the conventional form may lose your consumers (remember the Aztek car?). Assuming functionality without actually understanding who will be using it may lose your consumer (remember those early VCRs?). In blogging, the most important thing may be the chemistry between bloggers and their audience and that’s a difficult element to design.