The current state and especially the future of the design community have recently become a subject for hot debates and conversations. As someone once said, to know your future you must know your past. Who was the first to write on web design related topics in a traditional bloggy manner? What web design blogs were popular at the dawn of the Internet? What blogs are remarkable for longevity? Maybe answering these questions will help us trace the evolution of the web design community, find out what makes a blog a valuable information source at all times and henceforth, get an idea of what can be done to keep web design blog a useful and in-demand medium for the web design community. This article covers brief history of web design blogs starting from the mid 90s to our days. It is also an attempt to mark out some important events and trend-setters in this niche.
No doubt, writing a historical overview of web design blogging is quite a tricky task, because the definitions of blog are slippery. For instance, Jeffrey Zeldman started posting on web design when the words “web log” and “blog” didn’t even exist and A List Apart has always called itself a web magazine, still both websites have been always sharing some essential features with a blog. One of the most distinctive blog features, which actually served us as a basis to define blog, are regular entries sorted by date in the reverse chronological order.
Although the article may seem rather subjective to you, we hope that it will give you at least some basic understanding of how it all started and evolved into its current state.
The personal site is the heart of the Web. I hope it always will be. That’s one thing that makes the medium great, and separates it from mass media.
The first website published in 1991 triggered the continuous process of making the Web a better place to learn, work and communicate. The main audience of the early Web were actually people that were building it. Hence, the pioneers of web design were forming the shape of the community by creating resources for those interested in making websites. The online publications of web design “Fathers”, such as Jeffrey Zeldman’s personal site, Glenn Davis’ Project Cool, Michael Green Schmidt’s Kaliber10000, just to name a few, became crucial to the budding community. Some of these publications have got the characteristics commonly associated with blogs.
Jeffrey Zeldman Presents The Daily Report (since 1997)
No need to introduce Jeffrey Zeldman. His personal web site Jeffrey Zeldman Presents first appeared online in May 1995, since mid 1997 it includes a frequently updated section The Daily Report which is one of the oldest continuously published blogs and registered periodicals. At first it consisted mainly of short entries that were answering the question “What did Zeldman work on today?” Eventually the posts became longer and included links to other sites and external discussions, as well as, the author’s commentary on them. The up-to-date blog retained its initial form being the report of Zeldman’s daily findings and thoughts on web design.
Alertbox: Jakob Nielsen’s Column on Web Usability (since 1995)
Bi-weekly column of another industry guru Jacob Nilesen is probably the earliest proto-blog geared directly at Web professionals. Notable, that 15 years later it’s still a proto-blog: the entries are posted in the reverse chronological order, but there is no possibility to comment, the content (extended and formal studies) and design (which hasn’t changed since 1995, by the way) are not typical of blogs either. Anyway, the valuable articles on Web usability, along with the periodical way of publishing, allow us to reckon the Alertbox column among the pioneering web design blogs. A Look Back | Modern Look
CamWorld (since 1997)
CamWorld started in June 1997 as a personal journal of Cameron Barrett, UI designer and one of the pioneering bloggers. Cameron initially used the site to put links and assignments up for the students in his HTML class. The site has attracted a large audience, so Barrett kept updating it after his class ended. The blog is no longer maintained, but its archive version is still available for viewing. CamWorld is an example of classical weblog – a regularly updated, neatly designed personal journal, which has a particular theme (Random Thoughts + Web Design + New Media), contains many links related to the topic and offers a way for the users to interact with each other (CamList). The key to this definition is “personal journal”. The key to this definition is “personal journal”. This type of web design blogs dominated this niche for a few years (more on this later). A look back | Modern look
A List Apart and Web magazines
The best resource for anyone building the web is other people doing the same thing.
A List Apart became a significant event in the history of web design blogosphere. Despite leading web design publications of that time, such as High Five, Webmokey, Design is Kinky, that covered some separate aspects of web design and design in general– ALA, per se, was the first universal web design blog, putting those bits together and cultivating the values of web standards in the community. Over the years, sophisticated and edgy articles published in this online magazine gained the love and respect of the website makers’ crowd. A List Apart is an iconic web design magazine – a helpful and thought-provoking read for the users, a recognition indicator for the authors and a paradigm of expertise for all the next generations of online publications in this niche.
Initially A List Apart was launched in 1997 by Jeffrey Zeldman and web developer Brian M. Platz as edited mailing list and within a few months 16,000 web specialists joined the list. Then in 1998 Zeldman created a website under the same name which is a leading web design citadel up till now.
A List Apart marked the beginning of a whole generation of web design periodicals which combined the features of blog (regular entries, interactive format of the discussion) and classical magazines (in-depth analytical articles published less frequently than on a typical blog, multi-author format, editorial control). Among the brightest representatives of the “webzine era” are:
Digital Web Magazine (1999-2009)
Launched in 1996 as a personal site of web designer Nick Finck and transformed into a webmagazine in 1999, Digital Web Magazine has been a popular and respected web design resource for ages in the Internet calendar. The publication is officially ceased since spring 2009, but the archives are still available online. A look back | Modern look
Boxes and Arrows (since 2001)
Since 2001 Boxes and Arrows is a peer-written journal dedicated to the practice, innovation, and discussion of design, including graphic design, interaction design, information architecture and the design of business. The site is alive and prosperous.
Web Graphics (since2001)
Web Graphics started in 2001 as a collaborative non-profit weblog maintained by a group of volunteer bloggers led by Nate Steiner to “foster free trade of hypertext interface design information”. Sadly, the generous idea of a collective ad-free blog broke against the rocks of commercializing evolving blogosphere: Web Graphics is still online and it still contains no ads, but no volunteer collaboration any more. The blog which is now run by Nate Steiner alone shows less activity, but it’s still up joining the ranks of long-lived web design blogs. A look back | Modern look
Speak Up (2002-2009)
Born in September 2002 author-based blog Speak Up quickly became an iconic design dialog. It was a big loss for the graphic design community, when in April 2009 Speak Up’s founder Armin Vit announced the closing of the blog. Speak Up is now maintained live as an archive with closed comments, for future generations.
For a deeper historical insight, check these links to web design blog veterans:
- WebWord.com (since 1998) A look back | Modern look
- Dr. Web (since 1999) A look back | Modern look
- Evolt.org (since 1999) A look back | Modern look
- Surfstation (since 2000) A look back | Modern look
A Blog Diary of a Web Designer
Is this a weblog? I don’t think it is. It’s more of a diary/jotpad for my thoughts. Sometimes I include links, sometimes not. If I don’t link, how can this be a weblog?
It’s official, weblog hype is too much now. Everything is a blog now. I guess this page is a blog now. I’m going to try and move this page away from that format though, and maybe do a journal area with expanded daily content, with pointers to new entries here.
When the blogosphere was a prerogative of a devoted few occupied in the Web building, practically all personal journals could be defined as related to web design and development. Many designers started their own blogs as reflection of their daily professional experience, personal life and vision. Like Zeldman’s Daily Report and Barrett’s CamWorld these blogs were written in a personal, informal manner. The years 1998 and 1999 brought Open Diary, LiveJournal and Blogger which innovated some core features a blog is now associated with, including reader comments and friends-only privacy. This made the entire blogosphere leap forward and grow. Still this didn’t affect the “easy-going”, personal atmosphere of the web design blogs – up to 2003 they stayed in the niche, leaving the laurels of community love to mailing lists and forums. Below you can find some notable web designers’ diaries which appeared on the Web between 1998 and 2003.
Peterme (since 1998)
Peterme is a personal website of UX designer Peter Merholz, by the way, the person who coined the term “blog”. Sometime in 1999 he wrote about this in the sidebar of his blog (see the screenshot below). Besides, the “What I’m browsing” section of Peterme dated December 1998 with every reason falls under the concept of microblog.
Kottke.org (since 1998)
According to a reverse chronology of Jason Kottke’s life, he fell in love for the first time in 1998. Interesting that the same year Jason started his website . Perhaps, the connection of these two events explains the prosperous longevity of kottke.org, personal journal of the former web designer and now a full-time blogger Jason Kottke. A look back | Modern look
A Whole Lotta Nothing (since 2000)
Matthew Haughy is more known for pioneering community blog Metafilter . However, Haughy’s personal journal A Whole Lotta Nothing could be found in many blogrolls and recommendation lists as well. The blog is now active and hasn’t changed its style after 10 years of existing. A look back | Modern look
- Victor Lombardi’s Noise between stations (since 1999) A look back | Modern look
- Johnatan Snook’s Snook.ca (since 2001) A look back | Modern look
- Stuart Robertson’s Designmeme (since 2001) A look back | Modern look
- Todd Dominey’s What do I know (since 2001) A look back | Modern look
- David Sheah’s Mezzoblue (since 2002) A look back | Modern look
- Douglas Bowman’s Stopdesign (since 2002) A look back | Modern look
- Eric Meyer’s Meyer Web (since 2000) A look back | Modern look
- Dan Benjamin’s Hivelogic (since 2001) A look back | Modern look
Web Design Microblogs
Weblogs are a form of selection-based content creation: you have the entire Web to choose from and you get to post a few links every day. The best current example is Tomalak’s Realm: he usually doesn’t write anything, so the editorial selection of links and quotes is the only service provided by the site and that is enough to make it the second-most useful site on the Web today (after Google).
Jacob Nielsen. October 2000
Although the term “tumblog” was coined in 2005 as a description of Christian Neukirchen’s Anarchaia, the roots of microblogging go much deeper than that. In fact, the pioneering blogs Scripting News and Robot Wisdom were nothing but microblogs. Apparently, this simple form of blog with minimum commentary and dominating citation existed parallel to traditional blogging. The earliest tumblogs, though, were not as versatile in media and post types as modern ones. They were basically daily compilations of links that in the opinion of bloggers were interesting and worth sharing. Here is the list of blogs that could be described as pioneering web design microblogs.
Tomalak’s Realm (since 1998)
Tomalak’s Realm was started in November 1998 by Lawrence Lee, as “a daily source of links to strategic Web design stories”. The weblog was reviewed by several respected publications and Web specialists, including Steve Krug and Jacob Nielsen. The latter, by the way, called it second most useful site on the Web after Google (link) which is by far the best compliment any blogger could ever expect to get. Tomalak’s Realm is still available online, but it’s not been updated since November 2005.
The design of Tomalak’s Realm didn’t change since 1998
This weblog started as a daily updated collection of links mostly on such topics as Web usability, design, promotion, copywriting, browser issues and web tools. Since 2003 Perfect.co.uk changed its form: posts included commentary on links and the subject area was considerably extended as well. The weblog is defunct since the end of 2007. 1997 look | 2007 look
xBlog (since 1999)
xBlog was started by the information design consultancy xPlane as a place to find design and visual thinking links. It has been published continually since 1999 and has become a definitive resource for designers, visual creatives and web professionals.
xBlog: modern look
Antenna (since 2000)
A Diary Blog of a Web Designer
Is this a weblog? Sure, you can call it that. You can also view it as a Captain’s Log, a newspaper, a sketch pad, but for God’s sake don’t call it a diary. This site is all about providing an alternative, personal perspective to the droning noise of mass media.
2003 marks a new turn in the history of blogging. Blogger toolkit is supplemented with such giants as WordPress and Typepad. Besides, newborn Google AdSense opens the commercial potential of blogging to the fullest. The entire blogdom is growing and evolving by leaps and bounds and certainly, the web design section of the blogosphere can’t avoid big changes. When setting up a blog becomes a no-brainer, nearly every designer created their own blog in order to provide their personal vision of the trade. At the same time, the journals of web professionals become less diary-like, transforming into more formal web design resources, and (often) sources of income for their authors. A blog also acquires features of a promotion tool, a way for Web maker to promote their name in the Internet. The conversation started in one blog now distributes through the entire blogosphere and the community discussion slowly moves from forums and mailing lists to blogs where it finally settles down since 2005. Among the most well-known web design blogs that took start between 2003 and 2006 are the following:
456 Berea Street (since 2003)
456 Berea Street is where Roger Johansson has been writing about web standards, accessibility, usability and other topics related to web design and development since March 2003. Basing on analytics of the major blog ranking services it was in the top three of web design blogs in 2007. A look back | Modern look
Whitespace (since 2003 – now it’s Wisdump)
Whitespace was started in 2003 by professional blogger web designer Paul Scrivens, as a part of the popular 9rules community, also co-founded by Scrivens. Since then the blog has gone through several sharp turns and today it’s known as Wisdump and owned by Splashpress. A look back | Modern look
Smiley Cat (since 2003)
“A mix of web design thoughts and commentary” was started in 2003 by a small Seattle-based design agency Smiley Cat Web Design. Since 2005 the site has been an online home for Christian Watson, web designer, SEO specialist and the guy behind Smiley Cat Web Design. Over the years, Smiley Cat blog has become a widely respected and popular web design resource.
More great designers’ blogs of the period:
- Mark Boulton’s Blog (since 2004) A look back | Modern look
- Cameron Mall’s blog (since 2004) A look back | Modern look
- Derek Featherstone’s Box of chocolates (since 2004) A look back | Modern look
- David Airey’s blog (since 2006) A look back | Modern look
- Chris Pearson’s Pearsonified (since 2005) A look back | Modern look
Smashing Magazine and Modern Web Design Blogs
Smashing Magazine, founded by Sven Lennartz and Vitaly Friedman in September 2006, has become a landmark in history of web design blogs. In-depth educational articles written by the industry pros on a variety of web design related topics and published on a daily basis are the trademark of this online magazine. Among other features Smashing Magazine is noted for are monthly compilation of exclusive artists’ calendar wallpapers, a printed web design book and the launch of web design blog network. Besides, Smashing Magazine pioneered a new post format – a list article (write-ups of HTML and flash websites, inspirational showcases, web tool and tutorial round-ups, etc) and unintentionally made it a hot trend in the niche.
Although lists could be seen on some blogs before (i.e. Particle Tree), Smashing Magazine was the first publication that widely used this format. Extensive research presented in a simple and usable form of roundup proved to be very appealing to users. It’s sort of paradoxical, but the roundups are at the same time the main thing the blog is often criticized for. As high quality content has always been a priority for SM and as lists are (or better to say, used to be) its dominating but not the exhaustive publication format, it would be fair to admit that the “guilt” of SM is in showing others the efficiency of such posts, rather than in creating them. Anyway, the number of list posts on Smashing Magazine was considerably reduced over the last year. Agreeing with it or not, SM editorial board seem to listen to the community’s opinion and that’s definitely worth respect.
Since 2007 the blogosphere has been experiencing an unprecedented influx of blogs related to web design and development. Inspired by Smashing Magazine’s success many new blogs adopted some of its features but not all kept quality prior to quantity. Those who did, managed to stand out from the crowd and became trusted information sources for thousands of readers. Here are some of them:
Web Designer Wall (since August 2007)
Web Design Wall is a public blog of Nick La, where he shares his design ideas, tutorials, and talks about modern web design trends. The blog is also notable for its striking design which caused much noise in the community when it appeared online in 2007.
Abduzeedo (since December 2006)
Abduzeedo is a community driven blog about design, a collection of visual inspiration and useful tutorials. It was founded in December 2006 by the Brazilian designer Fabio Sasso and now is one of the design world’s most sought after blog.
Bittbox (since January 2007)
Bittbox was started by Jay Hilgert in the beginning of 2007 as his personal corner on the Web. A helpful collection of high quality design freebies and tutorials that Jay has been continuously sharing on his blog made Bittbox an influential web design resource.
More great blogs of modernity:
- Gomediazine (since 2006)
- Noupe (since 2007)
- Speckyboy Design Magazine (since 2007)
- Vandelay Design (since 2007)
- Blog.SpoonGraphics (since 2007)
- Six Revisions (since 2008)
- Web Designer Depot (since 2008)
- DesignM.ag (since 2008)
- Just Creative Design (since 2007)
- Web Design Ledger (since 2008)
- PelFusion (since 2009)
Happily Ever After?
No doubt, just like the entire blogosphere and the Web in general, web design blogs have undergone a fast, yet profound, evolution. They continue to change and the direction the process takes is set by the community itself. How do you see the future of web design blogs? Join in the discussion and share your opinion in the comments.