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The Evolution of a Design Blog

As many of you know, the design community isn’t all that old. In fact, some of the most successful and popular design blogs have only been around for about 2-3 years. During that time the design community has come a long way. Some design blogs have hired full-time staff, developed products to sell, built membership programs, and even sponsored events.

In the coming years, I believe that the design community will continue to change and grow. Some websites will fade away but will be replaced with new ones; new technologies will emerge and innovation will continue to drive us in ways we can’t even imagine.

In the last couple years I’ve learned a lot about the design community. I’ve met some awesome people and have learned a lot about what it takes to manage a successful design site. I spend a lot of time observing other design blogs; seeing what works and what doesn’t. As a result I have managed to develop a strong understanding of how a typical design blog evolves over time. Today, I want to talk a little about the life cycle of a design blog; how a design blog can grow from a casual hobby to a full-time job and source of income.

Stage 1: Orientation Period

Everyone has different reasons for starting a design blog. Some hope to be able to share what they have learned, others are looking to promote themselves or even to make a few bucks. Either way, it usually takes a while for a blog to establish its own identity and direction. This is what I call the orientation period. During this time design blogs tend to experiment with different types of posts to see what works and what does not. This experimentation really helps pave the way for what’s to come.

Stage 2: Introduction Period

Once a site gets its bearings, the next step is usually to get acquainted with the community. This is done in several ways but many sites do this by writing guest articles on other sites, by linking to more established websites, or by interviewing popular bloggers or designers. This is how new blogs typically introduce themselves to the community and is typically a good way to get a foot in the door.

Stage 3: Build a Fan Base

Once a design blog has made their introduction to the community the next step is usually to start carving out some sort of niche. Some sites stick with their original plan, others branch out with more diverse content. Either way, this is the stage in which design blogs really start to establish themselves and build a fan base. This step is important because it really sets the stage for what is next to come.

Stage 4: Expansion

This is a pretty crucial stage in a design blog’s development and usually occurs when a site has reached the peak of its development. There are a lot of design blogs out there so distinguishing yourself from the rest of the pack is not easy to do. In fact, most design blogs don’t make it much further than this stage. Sites of this type receive huge amounts of traffic with a large following of loyal readers. Content on these types of sites is of the highest quality and authors are often compensated. In fact, these types of blogs typically have staff that handle things like IT, development, and day-to-day maintenance.

Stage 5: Build a Network

Once a staff is in place, design blogs start to think bigger. This is usually done by building new sites, or by buying others. A network of design sites will start to emerge and before long the design blog actually has enough income to support several full-time employees.

State 6: Retire

This is the stage that most of us dream of. Only a handful of us will ever reach this stage from blogging alone. At this point the network of sites that you have built has reached a point where it typically runs itself with limited direction. If your blog has reached this point it is likely that you pay some one to run all your sites and that person has designated editors who run individual sites. It is at this point that your time will be open enough for you to start working on other projects.

Conclusion

Every site makes its own path and each of us has a different measure of success in mind when we originally start our blog. The best design sites are passionate about what they do. In fact, most of them would probably still be doing it even if their success had not materialized. Ultimately, your site’s success should be measured by the pride that you feel about your accomplishments and goals. If you feel good about what you’ve accomplished, the rest will all fall into place.

Grant Friedman

Grant Friedman is a graphic design, blogger, and author. In addition to being the founder of this website, Grant is also the editor of Psdtuts, one of the world's most popular tutorial websites.

  • http://designinformer.com Design Informer

    Excellent read Grant. It’s really nice to see the evolution of a Design blog. While I do believe that Step 6 is not always ideal for everyone, as some people would love to always be involved in their blog, in some respect, so a semi-retirement maybe?

    I think my blog, Design Informer is currently in the “growth” stage and in also building a “fan base.” I think you can be in the middle of a couple of these stages.
    .-= Design Informer´s last blog ..Ask the Expert – Design Discussion with James White =-.

  • http://www.trippingwords.com Josh

    A brilliant read! I particularly believe that Stage 3 (Building a fan base) is the most crucial, as it determines the topical niche of your blog as well as your target audience. With the multitudes of design blogs out there, it can be hard to find a truly unique topical perspective. Most blogs usually end up covering similar subject areas.

    Great stuff

  • Marshall

    Well said! I am gearing up to start from the very beginning this year and would love nothing more than to work up the ladder. Slow and steady, slow and steady!

  • http://creativityden.com Liam McCabe

    Some nice observations Grant. I would love to expand and start new websites but for the moment I am happy just writing for CreativityDen :)

  • http://lucascobb.com/blog Lucas Cobb

    Great read for anyone starting a fledgling design blog or plans on doing so in the future. Seeing it laid out makes the evolution of a blog seem so simple, yet we all know that each step has hurdle upon hurdle to overcome before reaching the next stage. Really good article.
    .-= Lucas Cobb´s last blog ..Weekly Inspiration: Ice =-.

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  • http://www.visualswirl.com/ Chris Thurman

    Looking at this from the beginning of my site (which is only a month old) I feel a sense of excitement as well as being a bit overwhelmed. But I have loved every minute along the way and I look forward to growth and transformation. Here’s to us all reaching Stage 6.
    .-= Chris Thurman´s last blog ..Make 2010 a Year for Giving (Giveaway Included) =-.

  • http://sexidesign.com Melody

    I’m definitely still in the build a fan base stage. I continue to look forward to meeting more fellow designers online and seeing where it all can take me..
    .-= Melody´s last blog ..Time Machine: The History of Sex Dolls =-.

  • http://thefreecreatives.com Crystal

    A great collection of observations. I couldn’t agree more with them. Right now we’re still in step #1, but looking forward to growing everyday!
    .-= Crystal´s last blog ..New Web Designers: Getting Started in the Industry (Part 3) =-.

  • http://skillz-community.net/nlog Shurandy Thode

    Great tips Grant! I definitely think I’m not even at step two yet but think I’m getting there. :) Will keep these tips in mind going through my journey establishing my blog.

    Thanks for sharing =)

  • http://richworks.in Richie

    This is an excellent post, Grant. This pretty much sums the lifetime of a good design blog. I think building a fan base is the most crucial period in any blog. Interacting with the design community and being active in the design forum always brings you more fans and expands the reader base.

    Unless one starts carving out his own niche, the blog will definitely start to dwindle. Sad to admit that I’m still in the orientation period though. Sometimes, I find myself shifting back and forth stages 1 and 2.

    Thanks for the article, Grant!
    .-= Richie´s last blog ..Amazing cassette tape artwork from Erika Simmons a.k.a iri5 =-.

  • http://www.petshopboxstudio.com/blog/ Kuswanto

    Great article :-). Networking doesn’t have to acquire or create new blog, you can make friends with other blog in the same niche.

    Probably I will not take step 6, tho.
    .-= Kuswanto´s last blog ..20 Awesome Illustrative Web Design =-.

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  • http://darcva.com Darc Vanilla Design

    Good article. Helps setting direction of where you want to go and accomplish with your blog. My Design Blog is still in 1st stage but I’m learning what works and what doesn’t so I hope for the best :)

  • http://www.thecreatorsclub.com Bryan

    This is a great article. A friend and I have been working on a site ourselves which started as a place to post different sketches and designs for a quick critique. However, over time we have developed a handful of other things we would like to utilize the site for in design and animation. It’s definitely be an interesting road blogging for the last year. We have changed the site several times, each time adding or removing different features. The latest version is something I am extremely excited about and hope to build it as a good resource for other designers in my shoes. I am looking forward to working on developing the site beyond the Orientation period and hopefully grow it into something more for others.

  • http://www.websitedesign.co.uk Chris Web

    A very useful resource espically for newbie designers; thanks for sharing your experience.

  • http://blog.danielthai.com Daniel

    Great article, especially for someone like me who’s still trying to figure out this whole blogging thing. I’m still a little starry-eyed and working on step 1. I’ve heard of the things one has to do to establish a blog, but they’ve always been slightly nebulous. It’s very helpful to see a solid list of what needs to be done.
    .-= Daniel´s last blog ..Design-a-day, round 2 =-.

  • http://free-textures.net/blog/ Teejay

    Superb post. I am looking to grow my blog and this is a nice road map. I guess I am still on step #1.

    Adding your feed to my reader.
    .-= Teejay´s last blog ..Peeling Paint Texture Series =-.

  • http://www.designtopx.com Kalim Fleet

    Wow. Your post hit the nail on the head regarding my aspirations for my own design blog. Much success!
    .-= Kalim Fleet´s last blog ..Easy PHP Image Gallery =-.

  • http://www.modernprint.co.uk Trevor Collins

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. Wouldn’t it be lovely to retire on the back of a blog you set up!