Monday, April 29, 2013

Challenges of Psychiatry Blogging: Design

This is part 3 of my series on the challenges of psychiatry blogging. Previous posts covered content and audience.

As a long-time fan of Apple products, I've believed in the simple, not the complex when it comes to design. I also believe that design is how something works, not just how it looks. My favorite technology blogs are ones that are clean, uncluttered, and draw your attention to the content. They do not tend to have anything extraneous, like stock photos. For me, there's an inherent pleasure in using a site that is well-designed, while even little annoyances can add up and detract from the overall experience.

Not surprisingly, I frequent many psychiatry blogs, and unfortunately I often find myself wishing for better design on some of those blogs. First though, I would like to point out Roger Lewin's blog, which still strikes me as one of the best designed psychiatrist blogs. Of course, his site was made by a professional, and I recognize that most people, myself included, just want a free blog. Fortunately, even mainstream blogging sites like WordPress and Blogger have good default templates to choose from these days. Another nice example is Reidbord's Reflections, which is very readable and well-organized.

I recognize that most psychiatrists do not have the time or inclination to endlessly tweak their blog's design, but I would like to present some simple tips that can really help improve the usability of a blog. Wherever possible, I've tried to use examples from non-psychiatry blogs to illustrate my point.

Layout & Navigation

The most basic design question is what happens when a person arrives at your blog for the first time. What will she see? Will it be obvious what content is on the blog and how to get to it? Is he going to have to scroll down right away or click on something in order to start reading the blog? For example, let's take a look at this site:

If I am there for the first time, I am treated to a view of the blog's big fancy name. However, the useful content only takes up a small fraction of the screen, so every time I visit, I would have to immediately scroll down in order to read anything beyond the first bit of the top article. Another example is if a blog uses a "dynamic view" with many pictures, which looks nice at first glance:

However, I have no idea looking at this what any of the posts are about, and in order to actually read anything, I'd have to mouse over each picture to see the title of the post, and then click to read the post itself. I do not think this is a very user-friendly design.


This is probably really obvious, but having a font size that is too small makes the blog harder to read. Conversely, a font size that is too large can also diminish usability by decreasing how much one can read on a page before having to scroll down. Too many different typefaces can also be distracting. One major pet peeve of mine is text justification: It looks nice in books because most published books (in paper form, not e-books) are laid out by hand, and long words can be hyphenated. This doesn't ubiquitously happen on the web yet, so unfortunately you can end up with a paragraph like this:

Please, just don't do it! (My apologies to Thought Broadcast, as I couldn't easily find a similar example elsewhere.)


The use of color, I believe, should be sparing and help draw your eye towards certain important elements, but not get in the way of the actual content of blog posts. One might argue that lack of color is boring; I would respond that it's better to focus on the writing and the topic at hand than to try to use lots of colors (or colorful clip art, for that matter) as a way of drawing people in.

I hope that the above tips were helpful and showed that better design does not have to take a ton of effort. I welcome any constructive feedback, so please let me know in the comments how I can improve the design of this blog.