This is the celebrated journal of Mr. Simon Collison A.K.A Colly

Part 1: CSS showcases - the sites

23rd August 2005

CSS gallery sites. They seem to stimulate both inspiration and distress in equal amounts. As a reviewer for one of the better showcase sites, I get to see a lot of the madness first-hand. Thus, the time has come to delve into this dark and dirty world of opposing emotions, and do my bit to calm everyone down a bit.

So, for part one of this mini-series I’ll be casting my critical eye over the good, the bad and the pointless of CSS showcase sites, looking at what works and what doesn’t, and why I think some of them are not worth your time. In part two, I get mean. I’m continually frustrated by the ill-spirited, jealous and downright nasty comments that go hand-in-hand with site reviews, and I get quite a lot off my chest there. I’m expecting plenty of abuse in return. Part three looks at many of the common errors that automatically render websites “unworthy”. I take a handful of key mistakes, and offer a few workable solutions to make showcase reviewers accept you into our ivory towers of “elitism” and “prejudice”.

In the beginning…

Back in the early 18th century when the outspoken and self-confessed design guru Scrivs (I love him really) founded CSS Vault, the idea of a site dedicated to showcasing inventive web design whilst also promoting the uptake of standards-based methodology seemed fresh and very, very useful. We all wanted to be featured on it, and if we were we would be jubilant, do a jig, and tell everyone.

Later came Stylegala. A broader publication that acted as a one-stop-shop for not just excellent reviews and nifty ratings systems, but also news, quality links, discussion forums - and (extending the Vault’s Resources) in-depth articles and user-submitted links to new techniques and methods.

The Web Standards Awards capped off this hat-trick of excellent showcase sites, upping the submission criteria, opting to post less often and only when a design really shone and gained plaudits from the whole judging team. You could argue that using the term “awards” might have been a bit grandiose (it’s not official like an MBE, is it?), but again it’s a showcase that we all respect, and want to be on. Shame it’s not updated with more regularity though.

In my mind, these three sites remain worthy, intelligently authored, and industry leaders. Sure, Scrivs sold the Vault, and there is always talk of it being “not as good as it was”, but it still works, and it still garners the traffic and attention it deserves.

“Mum, I want a CSS showcase site?”

And then - almost overnight - came the others. CSS Drive, CSS Thesis (thesis?! Is it a college project?), Screenspire, CSS Import, Unmatched Style - the list goes on. These sites are ten-a-penny nowadays, and we could argue all day about the relative worth of each. Where some are based around excellent designs, the actual content can be dire. Likewise, some manage to catch great new sites just as they launch, yet don’t have any traffic, or make a pig’s ear of the reviews. Hey, some even feature world-familiar templates as cutting-edge unique designs. Remember poor Chris Gwynne - who’d made use of the popular Kubrick template - being featured on CSS Drive? Need I say more about that one?

I’ll make an exception for CSS Beauty - which I recall arriving around the same time as arrived just before Stylegala, for it remains consistent, gleans good, constructive comments, and also throws out links to excellent resources. It doesn’t do anything new, but it deserves it’s place in all our feed readers.

Do we need so many showcase sites

I think not. Whilst more sites means more designers getting more plaudits for their work, I feel that the quality control is going downhill. I think Stylegala, WSA and CSS Beauty still have the tightest policies here, and the Vault is just about holding it together. All the others seem very confused about the role they are playing. I liked Screenspire’s simplistic approach (they don’t really tell us their aims, and they don’t invite thickies to come along and comment the designs to death), but for the most part, everyone seems to be trying to emulate (kindest word I could think of) the Stylegala/Vault format.

Unmatched Style has thankfully re-designed recently, but for a while it was kinda like one of those funny fanboys who copy the image of somebody famous until the parody becomes too uncomfortable and they get committed to a mental asylum by their friends. It might have worked, were it not for the fact that nobody could be arsed to comment and you could see tumbleweeds rolling across the screen (seems much improved now).

Will we stop caring?

Yes, probably. I think this whole thing is becoming saturated. What good are awards and reviews when there are so many being given out? If all showcase sites at least attempted to plot similar courses in terms of quality control, and stopped letting weak designs through the net, we might have some semblance of clarity. Perhaps only a couple will survive, whilst the poor ones fade into further insignificance - the founders admitting defeat when nobody comments on their reviews any more, or their Google and Amazon affiliate payments are barely enough to buy them the latest printing of “CSS For Dummies”.

You can judge the appreciation for showcase sites by reading user-submitted comments. I like the fact that most of the sites allow discussion and make room for constructive criticism. Reviewers often miss important details, and it’s always good to enjoy on-topic discussion. Think though, how many comments lately cast views about the showcase site itself? We are seeing criticism for reviews that don’t toe the submission rules line. Many comments criticise a review just because that site has been featured on another showcase a few days prior. Also, there are times when the readership is quick to flame a reviewer who has made a valid point (I’m not talking from a personal perspective here - I’m thick-skinned), selected something that apparently resembles another design, or generally want to have a go at the site’s principles. I’ll talk more about comment trolls, false accusations and jealousy in the next part of this series. Can’t wait for that.

Why does it matter?

CSS showcase sites have a significant role to play. Actively promoting web standards and accessibility is a very important benefit to our industry, and we all agree that young designers, or those previously stuck in table-based design and bloated markup hell, need all the encouragement they can get. I need to see new methods and be inspired as much as they do, and I look to certain showcases for that.

What bothers me are the showcase sites that lazily feature poorly-built CSS sites and don’t take the trouble to show young or inexperienced designers the right ways of doing things. To all of those wanting to start a CSS showcase site, I say this: You have a very important job to do, and you need to do it well. It is not something to play at, and it should be more than a revenue-maker. Think twice before you enter this crowded arena, for you will have an awful lot to do to make an impression.

And there’s more…

Watch out for part two, and part three coming your way over the next two days. In the meantime, let me know of any other showcase sites I’ve missed, and what you think of them. Perhaps this mini-series has already got your back up, or you feel you have been a victim. If you run a showcase site that I have slagged off, tell me why you are different, and why I am wrong.

Related articles

Part two: CSS showcases - the trolls.
Part three: CSS showcases - be selected.

Responses

# Aaron responded on 23rd August 2005 with...

You are off about the arrival order or Stylegala verses Web Standards Awards.

Just look at the archives of each site. Stylegala’s first gallery entry was in August of 2004 whereas Web Standards Awards’ was in February of 2004.

“In my mind, these three sites remain worthy, intelligently authored, and industry leaders.”

Agreed.

# Chris Gwynne responded on 23rd August 2005 with...

I’d like to come forward, I have been a victim of this… crime? ;-)

Personally, I thought it was funny as hell when I was featured on CSS Drive, funny, but messed up. I would have thought that for someone to run a CSS Showcase website then they’d have known the Kubrick design seeing as it’s used all over the place these days.. ah well.

I tend to keep bookmarks of any new CSS Showcase websites—who knows maybe one can list a site that no one else has for a change, however unlikely.

StyleBoost is one, however it’s been around for a while and not just lists CSS websites.
Also Weekly Standards is another, albeit it’s been around for a while though.
Finally, one that’s about to crop up in the circles is CSSRules

# Patrik Johansson responded on 23rd August 2005 with...

I am one of the “young designers” mentioned in your post and i most frequently visit Stylegala, since i believe it has much better rewiews than many other showcases, and the sites reviewed are really good ones, i also like their forum alot wich is non-common for other showcases. I fully see your point about some sites showcasing not-top-of-the-notch sites, and i also think this is a problem at many smaller showcases, in fact I only think Stylegala and CSSBeauty stands out from the rest.

Nice post BTW, cant wait for the rest of it and the reactions from it.

Cheers.

# Skipp responded on 23rd August 2005 with...

Great article I feel the same way about these other showcase sites… just to correct you, cssbeauty came before stylegala.

for me the top 3 are in no particular order.

www.webstandardsawards.com
www.cssbeauty.com
www.stylegala.com

I used to be a fan of the vault but have since lost respect for it.

Unmatched style… you hit it on the nail… fanboy wannabe. no offence but he aquired that reputation.

the rest just don’t have anything else to offer or are just in it for the $$ and nothing else.

Out of the 3 that I like, cssbeauty is the most consistant, nothing new, but continues to add great resources, and updated frequently.

Stylegala came like a tornado, it became a huge resource, has great members…. it is no longer a gallery for me. The public news I think is becoming a joke. Spam every week.

Webstandardsawards, was dead for while but has since picked up… great reviews great picks.


my 3 cents.

# Simon Collison responded on 23rd August 2005 with...

Aaron: Fair dues - I didn’t check that. My memory isn’t what it was.

I have updated the article to shift focus away from the arrival dates of the main sites. Hope nobody minds, seeing as it doesn’t alter the aims of the article.

Chris: I see you have a new design - good stuff. That review of your template still makes me laugh.

Oh, and I had completely forgotten about The Weekly Standards. I remember that being more business-oriented in it’s early days. Was always a good read though.

# Emma responded on 23rd August 2005 with...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post and look forward to the continuation.

I am what many would call a CSS “noob” of sorts. I’ve been designing sites for 6 years but only recently adopted CSS as an essential tool. I have shared my concerns with most of the showcase sites to friends and colleagues and how they are of no value to true CSS adoption in the business side of web design and development.

To add, I agree with your statements and can only say it’s about time someone stood up and said something. Kudos.

# Ryan Latham responded on 23rd August 2005 with...

I’m not going to get into a fight, but Unmatched Style was around a month before Stylegala…meaning Stylegala is due to turn 1 soon as well, if it hasn’t already.  Now I am going to bite my tongue and go into seclusion for fear that my ability to state a fact is going to irritate someone.

Thank you for what you did say about Unmatched Style we here at the insane asylum, or my cubicle, appreciate it.

# Kristopher Gosser responded on 23rd August 2005 with...

You forgot one important site, I believe. Devil’s Details. I’m not the biggest fan of it mostly because of the name and color scheme, hehe. But it does do something different.

I’m really looking forward to your post on how to break through. I know a lot of my (and my company’s) creations always fall short, so I’m eager to learn how to be better at that.

# Simon Collison responded on 23rd August 2005 with...

Ryan: Thank you for your very gentlemanly response. Big respect for that - and for your redesign (as hinted at in the article). Also, it seems I have a very skewered memory of when all the sites appeared! Thanks for putting the record straight. Perhaps if I’d checked how far everyone’s archives went back things might have been better.

Kristopher: I purposely didn’t mention Devil’s Details because I see it as more than a CSS showcase. It’s definitely stretching things in a different direction, and thus not worthy of any criticism here.

And regarding part three, it’ll only be my views - every reviewer has their own agenda.

# lou responded on 23rd August 2005 with...

Great article,looking forward to the next parts.
It’s funny really, I was just thinking to myself today ...
‘why do they all have to list the same darn sites!!’

Regardless of who came first, I think CSS Beauty really puts in a good effort to feature sites that have not been showcased everywhere else, and as much as I respect and religiously visit Stylegala, it just seems that I might as well visit unmatched style or the vault, cause they seem to have the same features at the same time…

There are a plethra of great css designs out there, just waiting to be discovered if one only adds in a bit of effort.

# James responded on 23rd August 2005 with...

The proliferation of all these CSS gallery sites makes me wonder where there isn’t a) CSSHorror.com - showcasing the worst in CSS design; and b) Tablegala.com - showcasing the best redesigns in tables. I for one, would love to see both.

# Pierce responded on 23rd August 2005 with...

I was really enjoying CSSImport for a while. Just a selection of great screenshots, and links to beautiful sites. Pure inspiration. I was very disappointed to see that they’ve now introduced scoring and commenting on entries. The yammering masses are beginning to trickle in…

Yes, I know I could just ignore the comments, but it’s like tonguing a sore tooth.

# thomas marban responded on 23rd August 2005 with...

thanks for the note on screenspire.com.
as you said i follow the simplistic approach with the only aim to give as much inspiration and keeping the focus on one full artwork per page.

regards,
thomas

# Ryan Latham responded on 23rd August 2005 with...

lou—I agree, but that is not to be blamed solely on those who run these sites. I’ve said a million times, if it is worthy it is worthy, regardless where it has already been listed. But even if I were to enforce a policy where I list no one that has been featured elsewhere, Unmatched Style would be counterproductive.

I might end up writing a review at night, go to sleep and wake up to find it elsewhere. Alternatively, there would be a lot less content for me period; as the bad certainly do outweigh the good.

James—It would be ten times easier to run a site based on that idea then a site showcasing the better ones. :P

Pierce—I know where you’re coming from and where your thoughts rest; however, comments are supposed to enhance these sites. Allowing other designers to point things out, critique designs and make suggestions, thus bettering the designer of that site and ones reading the comments in the future.

Like I said, that is what it is supposed to do. Yet, for every valid, constructive and well thought out comment you find 3 with absolutely generic ones that in the end state nothing. “good design,” “bad code,” “nice colors,”  and so on. I agree that sometimes comments can be in the way; that’s why I tuck them under everything…if you’re going to use them you know where to find them otherwise I won’t bother you.

I guess lou was right; it really doesn’t matter who came first. In my opinion all of the gallery sites are doing the absolute best that they were given to work with. But it does often time seem that us are not only missing the goal, we are running down field kicking the ball the wrong direction.

And finally skipp—I missed your comment the first time I read it, but that’s not true. I have a genuine interest in what I am doing; if you saw how much money I make from AdSense you would see that without that interest there is no other incentive for me; because I think it comes down to be a 6 pack and a frozen pizza a week.

# Pierce responded on 23rd August 2005 with...

Ryan - I came across as a little negative, I know. I’m really all for decent discussion. I guess it’s just fairly obvious that it’s not working in the Vault for example. Criticisms are either petty or over-general. I realise I’m straying into Colly’s next article here so I’ll leave it there.

This was what made CSS Import different though. The lack of interaction was what made it unique. It was a gallery in the truest sense of the word. Hang the stuff on the wall and people can think what they like. The Tate gallery doesn’t have a pencil and paper under each piece to allow every idiot who comes along to scribble some ignorant remark about it.

Down with free speech!

I am somewhat aware of the irony in posting these ideas in a reply at the end of someone elses article.

# Simon Collison responded on 24th August 2005 with...

Thomas: You’re welcome. keep it simple, and I think you’ll have a long life.

James: “Tablegala.com”. Ha! I like that.

Pierce: Re: CSS Import. Nobody is using their comment system anyway. It really de-values the whole thing I reckon.

Part two is now online. The trolls are here.

# thomas marban responded on 24th August 2005 with...

it seems as if every (me-too) site of the above is now afraid of exhibiting the new ALA site after your posting.
(including mine 8-) )

# Simon Collison responded on 24th August 2005 with...

Thomas: Yeah, it’s on Stylegala, so how could they?! Oh, and it would be so “old boys club” to feature it!

The new ALA site is great. Every site should feature it - including yours! Who cares what the trolls say?

# thomas marban responded on 24th August 2005 with...

oook i’ll include it in the next update, but hey it was your idea ;)

# Scrivs responded on 24th August 2005 with...

I was waiting for someone to write this post ever since I sold the Vault. There is still so much room for innovation yet nobody seems to want to push the limits. This arena is ripe for the taking, but everyone seems to be missing the point.

Maybe I will have to put my words into action.

And I know you love me Colly. And the day I consider myself a design guru will be the day I consider myself capable of outdrinking the whole British crew.

# Mike responded on 24th August 2005 with...

Great article - glad someone had the cojones to write this type of stuff.  Do I care about the design galleries?  Yes and no.  I care enough so that when they feature my work I get excited and thank those who submitted, but do I check them on a daily basis to see what’s new and hot?  Not really.

# Simon Collison responded on 25th August 2005 with...

Scrivs, Mike: It was liberating to write these three articles. I felt like I was stepping into your shoes, Scrivs! I love having a go back, and always enjoy a rumble. One day I’ll play you at football (soccer) and whip yo’ ass. Mike, I think you hit the nail on the head - until a designer’s work is featured, there is always resentment or apathy towards the showcase sites.

# 'ju:femaiz responded on 1st September 2005 with...

fresh man… fresh…

I understand exactly what you are getting at.

One other thing I would add (not sure if it’s covered in parts II or III)  there’s a movement by designers to learn CSS so as to fit into the new design sphere without understanding (or even attempting to gain an understanding) of the underlying document structure (read semantics) of a well built web page (and thus site). Much of the criticism is heading into this sphere from people who know and understand the importance of such areas - but are simply copping crap from the graphic design community…

# Mira responded on 2nd September 2005 with...

Very nice

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