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Mike Rundle, design superstar, was kind enough to answer a few questions about blogging and design. Mike is the “lead design guy” at 9rules and runs Business Logs with the guys from 9rules.

I’ve always been a fan of Mike’s work so I think it’s kind of cool to learn a little bit about his creative process and what he thinks about when he’s designing.

1. Why do you enjoy blogging? Do you view blogging as part of your job as a freelancer or is it just a hobby?

Blogging started out as my way of connecting with the rest of the industry, back in Spring 2003 when I was a lowly college student trying to gain some recognition. Back then there were only a handful of design blogs, and if you wanted to get on the radar of people “in the know” you’d leave comments on those blogs with a link back to your own blog, hoping for some auxiliary traffic. Over the years (bah I sound old!) my motivation for blogging has shifted, and now I don’t blog “to get clients” but just like to voice my opinions about the industry I work in and love. My writing is now almost a filter for new clients, because if I say something on my blog they disagree with they probably won’t contact me for work, which might work out better for both of us in the long run. On the other side, I get a lot of new clients through my blog because they agreed with some points I made, so it definitely works both ways.

2. How important do you think a blog’s design is? Can a design make up for mediocre content?

That’s a tough question, and I guess I can answer it by saying that amazing content can always make up for a mediocre design, but I don’t think it works the other way around. Design looks good to the eye the first time you see it, but usability studies show that after awhile the design blends into the background of your mind and you don’t notice it anymore as you concentrate on the content. Just like users can exhibit ad or banner blindness, they can also “become blind” to the major aspects of the design. Content is what keeps you coming back to a site, so if we had to rank the two in scale of importance content would always be on top of design.

3. When you’re planning a new design do you sketch it out on paper, do a wireframe or just jump into Photoshop?

I used to sketch a lot in my paper notebook, but over time I’ve trained myself to work out my creative thoughts in Photoshop just because it saves me time and allows me to play with more concepts than paper allows. One of the oddities that I do in my design process is work only tiny parts of the design, get them perfect, then move down the page. I’ll never just put blocks together in Photoshop then come back “and design them”, I’ll work on the header until it’s where I want it, then move to a navigation, then to a sidebar, then main column, footer, etc. For me, the design of the logo/header/nav of a website dictates 90% of the rest of the design’s direction, so nailing those first makes it easier for me to visualize the rest of the layout once I’m done.

4. What is the most important decision you make when you’re working on a new design?

I think the most important design decision is the overall intangible feel of the site, what words or phrases would best describe the effect you’re working towards, and then translating those words into an aesthetic that matches them. Layouts described as “modern inorganic sleek” or “newspaper-ish contemporary open” translate into very different design looks, so getting the communication about the site perfected before you start is very important.

5. Who is more demanding/critical of your work: you or your clients?

I think it depends on what type of project it is, and who it’s for. I work a lot with previous clients on their new projects, and since we’re more used to working together the creative process is smoother and we both know what to expect. With new clients, you have to work your way through the communication issues as you’re designing, so being extremely critical of the work is important at this step.

6. You’ve redesigned at least 3 times - do you think you’ll ever get that perfect design or is it always a work in progress?

Haha I think that’s one of the downfalls of having a designer as a co-founder of a company. With each redesign we’ve added new features or functionality, so instead of just adding in modules we’ve decided to fully integrate them into a new design. Coming in about a week we’re adding more sections and functionality than we ever have before, and because of that we’re not only launching an entirely new design, but an improved information architecture, both of which were really necessary with the features we’re adding. I’m hoping this is the last structural design change for a long time, but who knows

7. What do you like most about blog design in comparison to other types of websites?

I love designing blogs because there’s always the unchanging element of content; blog content will always be on a blog. Because of that, you can root yourself down and then work within that constraint to come up with a new representation of blog content. Because blogs are essentially working with all the same elements (entries, categories, comments, etc.) you’re challenged to innovate in how you show those elements to readers.

8. What is the biggest blog design mistake you’re seeing in the “blogosphere”?

I think forsaking clarity for innovation is wrong, and if you’re sacrificing your readers’ ability to actually read your blog then you should rethink the purpose of your site. People come to blogs to read the content, so if that’s hard (small type, unclear link styles) then you’re doing your readers a disservice.

9. If you could start new site from scratch, what would you change?

Lol well first I would have put the site on our 9r servers! My Dreamhost registration had to be renewed about a week ago, and instead of renewing it I just let the account die so I could transfer the stuff to our dedicated servers that run 9rules, so at the moment is down awaiting a server transfer.

From a design perspective I like the new design, but it was done more as an exercise in design than something meant to be ultra usable. I’m sure I’ll change the design up in a month or two

The End

Thanks a lot to Mike for agreeing to answer the questions and look forward to some interviews from these guys soon.

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