As Wordpress has evolved from a writing platform into a full-blown CMS, theme developers have followed suit by using big header images, multi-level navigation and dozens of widgets that make sites look bigger they actually are and more complex than they need to be. It’s unclear to me how any of these things make blogs a better experience to read or authr. Do you click on tag clouds? Do you read embedded Twitter feeds? Do you browse old content by clicking on individual months listed under past years? For me, the answer to each of these questions is a resounding “no.” Blog design has become superfluous and distracting.

Janet Aronica recently wrote about what I believe is a side effect of this:

A mistake I made in blogging is wasting a lot of time on the look/feel of my blogs and getting frustrated with coding stuff I didn’t understand. I wasted time I could’ve spent writing screwing around with HTML and whatchamacallit and getting no where with it.

This is a common problem, and while authors bear responsibility for how they spend their time, it’s not entirely their fault. Modern blog themes focus the reader on crowded designs and superfluous features. In doing so they deceive us into believing that those things, not content, will make a site important and popular.

I’m guilty of this, too. My last theme had so much visual candy that the emphasis was no longer on my content. Like Janet I spent too much time finessing my “about me” blurb, or deciding how many tweets belong in my twitter feed, or tweaking my category names to make them fit properly in the dynamic navigation menu. I didn’t do this because it’s what I set out to do; I did it because that’s what my theme begged of me, and it didn’t immediately occur to me how unnecessary all of it was to begin with.

With the obviousness of hind sight, and a clean, simple, content-focused theme to get me started, I’ve resolved to spend my blogging time writing rather than designing.