Google Blogoscoped has surveyed blog design and makes comments upon their findings.
I'd have to agree with this obvious gem;
Instead of amateurish “bad visuals”, the Amazon.com site (like many big sites) is just too crowded. I always wonder who reads all those links, and I’m a weekly buyer at Amazon.
And there is this rather direct appraisal of industry templates and their associations as a product;
I’ve got no specific URL for this, but there are many good sites which just rely on a default template provided by blogging services such as Blogger.com. ( Bold face words and phrases are mine.-Ed.)Now there’s two major problems with that.The first problem is that blogging services never offer enough different templates. This means visitors will be confused because of similar-looking sites they run into over and over. And when you actually never saw the template before, there’s our second problem... you can’t tell how much work went into the site and how professional it is*.
*I’m not saying all badly designed sites contain low-quality content, and that all great designed sites do contain great content, but there is a significant correlation: if you spent all day tweaking your content, there’s a big chance you will at one point also put some work into your site’s layout. The least that happens then is it will turn into individualistic, original design. You usually don’t create original designs if you just want to try something out for 5 minutes.
Doing random browsing you might have found a well-looking site, started to read for some seconds, to then find there might have been an interesting paragraph somewhere but that it’s otherwise full of “does this work?!” or “I’m boooored” posts. There was a time when sites like these had the fitting Geocities layout (centered text that would scroll down forever, interwoven with animated GIFs)... and as much as we might have disliked a typical Geocities design, it was a good instant indicator we have reason to stay away from this place.
But isn’t the whole purpose of blogging that it gives web publishing power to everyone, and wouldn’t it be elitist to demand everyone create their own design? Well, I could imagine a compromise between the opposing approaches. For example, there could be a much higher variety in the templates offered, and additionally, they could be created using a wizard. Then people would have to tweak details along the way. The outcome would actually tell us something about the site in terms of what the writer is trying to express. At the moment, this expression is lost on many blogs.
Imho, redesign does not have to be very flamoyant or high-production. I don't agree with everything I'm seeing in Google Blogoscoped, but the site prompts some excellent questions. One design I very much admire is Charles Johnson's Little Green Footballs. Its color code linked to an image is very powerful. Whenever I'm in there I always have an imprint of my presence at a unique site. That reminds me, there's been a lot of speculation of where Charles got that reference. It's a secret and it is well guarded, despite the fact that many have tried to crack the code.
I don't pretend to know anything inside this story.