I’m close to declaring the form of personal web design dead. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am when I come across yet another site that has copied the look and feel and code from Antipixel, Simplebits or Kottke. Or the more exotic sites that go so far as to rip off Jason Santa Maria. Now I understand the need and the use of templates with applications such as Blogger, not everyone is an artist and even more blog owners don’t care too much what their site looks like as long as it works and people visit and often.
So this entry isn’t for the blogsphere in general, it’s for those who took the time to “create” their own website but instead borrowed everything except the domain name for their own “work”. I’m not talking about design piracy per se — that subject is as old as prostitution and beaten into the ground as much as it can be — no I am referring to the lack of effort on the part of web designers at large in the last few years.
In many ways I feel like designers, myself included, have dropped the proverbial sketch book and traded it in for Microsoft Word and CSS. We have stopped considering the form and function of a website in lieu of focusing solely on content and comments. it used to be that a personal site, or non-commercial, was more free form in expression. Sites such as 0sil8 were more of the norm than a text based personal diary. Expression was conveyed without text, without a comments box. However, when blogs first appeared they were somewhat of an extension of this era in web design but sadly their function and form became more and more the norm. I won’t even get into what I think web standards did to design between 2001 and 2003.
Blogs are fantastic and they have helped the web stay interestingly similar, to an extent, in ways that mid-1980’s zines provided a layer of non-commercial, non-gloss coated content. What made these underground periodicals hip was not only the independent nature of the content but the design. In a lot of cases each page was (or tried to be) a piece of artwork. This style was successfully adopted and renewed by David Carson in the early 90’s through publications like Raygun. Later in the decade Wired magazine picked up on this practice and adopted it with their own flare, especially during the founding years when Jane Metcalf was at that helm — no two pages ever looked alike. The design of the magazine became another layer of visual communication that helped add depth to an other wise potentially boring subject.
But unlike the Kinkos copied zines of old — ah Kinkos, father to thousands of self-publishing ambitions — the cousin to the zine, the blog, has in general has become rather stagnant and complacent in it’s form of post and comment, two-column centered with a drop shadow. I don’t consider any blog-based site free from this trap, it’s easy to fall into and hard to climb out of because doing anything else requires more time and uncertainty on the final product. I think that’s why I really admire other type of artisans who craft things by hand and don’t have the luxury of hitting Open—Apple—Y.
It’s my hope that in 2005 we’ll start to see designers, including Greg Storey, move back into more free-form style perhaps bringing with them some of the better parts of blogs, like interaction and mechanisms for archiving. It’s time to push away from the weblog and start breaking the current norm.