Last week, Blogger introduced a great new feature to improve the design of it’s numerous hosted blogs and at the same time simplify the customization of templates for those of us not happy with the default look. I’ve been planning for a long time to work on the blog design, but now I’m glad I haven’t. After playing around with the new template designer for a couple of days, here are some things I have noticed and also suggestions I would like to make to the Blogger team:
- First of all, the template designer needs an ‘undo’ option. I like experimenting with different colors, but it’s difficult to revert to the starting point. You can either ‘Reset to template default’ or discard all the changes you made by clicking ‘« Back to Blogger’, so I usually end up loosing more changes than the ones I don’t like.
- A lot of customization elements should have labels, captions, tool tips or some other form of explanation. The live preview doesn’t show actions like hovering, so I spent a lot of time figuring out what interface element each box controls. This should be much more straightforward and user-friendly.
- Allow users to set blog widths larger than 1000px or to have the blog automatically adjust to the window dimensions, with a minimum width maybe. I would like to set the sidebar to a fixed width for example, because the gadgets there don’t change from one post to another, but have the contents fill the rest of the remaining space.
Another thing that annoys me about the template designer is that the color boxes don’t have a preview of the color currently used in the template. I’m not sure, but it could be the original template color; either way it’s not at all useful while editing.
Of course, switching to an entirely new template will wipe away all the changes made by editing the raw HTML code behind it. I was marginally aware of it, because the TweetMeme button I added under the post title disappeared. But it finally sank in when I logged in to Google Analytics and saw I had no visits for the past two days… Also, verification codes for Google Webmaster tools were gone, as well as other changes made to gadgets. I was able to bring the features back with code from an older template backup, but it’s fortunate I didn’t had many customizations. Other bloggers may not be so lucky and could stay away from the new feature altogether.
Besides the new template, I continued to make changes to the design by editing the template the old-fashioned way and by adding new gadgets. Searching the web, I came across a very nice Blogger gadget to display related articles based on labels. Another thing I discovered recently is that Blogger gadgets can be displayed selectively on certain pages, for example only on full post pages or on the new static pages. This is a very useful trick, because you can make the blog design more dynamic and more clean. And some things don’t really make sense outside of post pages, like buttons to share the current page or the above mentioned related posts. On top of that, excluding gadgets from the home page of your blog can make it load faster, something that seams to be very trendy these days. I think it would be great if Blogger would introduce this type of page-specific gadgets on the standard interface sometimes soon. It would make customizing your blog a bit easier.