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September 13, 2003

Freedom wins.

Point: there are people who will steal Zen Garden designs no matter what we do.

Point: slapping a restrictive license on the CSS files is completely against what the Zen Garden is trying to accomplish.

Point: cheap knock-offs are not a professional threat to the original designers.

Point: those who need to use other people’s CSS are still learning, or they’re lazy. If it’s the former, their use is an intermediate step; when they feel comfortable enough to move beyond someone else’s design, there’s no question they will. If it’s the latter, the site they’re applying the design to won’t be around for long anyway.

So there you go. Creative Commons is back (although it never technically went away, since I hadn’t got around to modifying the .css files yet), and all new submissions will continue to be open.

I realized the value of the Zen Garden is much more than I originally intended: not only do we have a strong demonstration of what CSS design is all about, but we also have a central repository of tested CSS designs that have solved browser compatibility issues and layout problems. Little Boxes, Blue Robot, and Glish are all still useful and relevant, but we’re moving beyond duplicating table-based layouts.

Creative Commons remains a double-edged sword. Individual use has never really bothered me (there have been plenty of people basing sites/weblogs on the .css files), but the recent example moved into a whole new territory I wasn’t prepared to deal with, namely re-distribution.

I worry all this will inhibit some submitters. Design is not software: there is no such thing as an ‘open source’ mentality. Some share more freely than others, but most are very firmly negative about their work being used elsewhere. The quality of work being submitted keeps going up despite it all; maybe I needn’t worry.

Plunder! Dissect! Pilfer! Learn! (Just don’t steal the images.)

Reader Comments

John says:
September 13, 11h

A noble and, almost, expected outcome, shame about the stress n worry to get there. :)



Jim says:
September 13, 11h

Good move - that is the only logical conclusion available unless you want to become a crazy person. I applaud your speed and diligence.

All the Best!

Niket says:
September 14, 01h

Thats a really good news, Dave. Thanks a lot for keeping the CC, and thanks a lot for Zen Garden. Its been a huge source of inspiration for a whole lot of people. For every jacka$$ who steals the CSS, there will be a thousand others who will get inspired and learn the CSS.

For me, the impact of Zen Garden has been beyond just the web. I have started using layouts similar to some of the designs for my technical presentations. For my powerpoint talks, I use slide layout similar to “Not so minimal” and for posters, I use layout similar to “Zunflower”.

Thanks a lot Dave.

Bill says:
September 14, 04h

Hi All,
I’ve gone through most of the entries in this thread and the earlier, originating thread and am naively confused. I’m a programmer and not a designer and clearly the cultural trappings of the two activities have some serious differences.

This provocateur behaved as a software programmer / engineer would: reuse what’s already been done if at all possible. This attitude arises from deadline and scheduling pressures and produce the notion of code sharing when there are no legal restrictions. Were one engineer to tell another that the code used belonged to him, the other engineer would find the attempt ludicrous. The engineering environment requires sharing, teaches through sharing and develops through sharing. The notion of one person creating something and not allowing anyone else to use the code is in fact the GPL’s reason for being: to prevent this scenario.

So I now find myself in a very confusing situation where you, designers as a group, have adopted a licensing scheme that to me looks like the GPL, yet your intent is not to promote sharing but to treat it in some way alien to me yet wholly consistant and appropriate for you.

Why do you see use of your CSS templates as stealing? I am very sincere in this question since I don’t understand your concept of ownership and sharing. I do understand the images concern so I guess I have a difficult time seeing CSS coding in the same category as images such as jpeg, gif, etc.

Bill here on a visa

September 14, 04h

as long as there’s still a clause against stealing images, then it should be fine…

how about dating submissions ? at least then people will know hopefully what came first…the garden submission, or the cheap knock-off site..

September 14, 05h

I agree strongly with the idea of dating the submissions, although since the HTML file doesn’t change, the date would need to be embedded in the CSS and/or one of the images.

I would like to add that the CSS Zen Garden has been a wonderful inspiration to me. I’ve been fooling around with web design for a couple of years, using XHTML and CSS right from the outset. As a result, I should not be shackled to the grid-based layouts that using tables often creates, should I? Unfortunately, my inexperience with design has meant that everything I have done thus far has been rather ordinary-looking and very much ‘inside the box’.

After browsing the work of The Garden, I have come to understand the power of the tools I already possessed. By learning a little bit of Photoshop and looking at the nature around me, I have cut some of my bonds.

Oddly enough, it is not so much the clever CSS as the gorgeous imagery that draws me in. The image replacement techniques can be learned by anyone, but the understanding of good design principles is what sets one design apart from another.

I’m very much happier with the way my work is going now, and so much of it is because of The Garden. Interestingly though, the VERY first time I was struck by the power of CSS from a design perspective had nothing to do with the CSS Zen Garden. It was seeing Eric Meyer’s complex spiral demo. Just one beautiful image, cleverly deployed with CSS, utterly transformed an otherwise ordinary page.

Now if we can get proper IE support for position:fixed and PNGs, we can all be web design gods.

lashlar says:
September 14, 06h

I find the CSS Zen Garden site to be a remarkable inspiration. It’s awesome to see the work of professionals here, and to see how they solved thorny problems of layout and styling to make beautiful, magical works of art. It’s been a great help (and incentive) for me to keep improving my own skills, which are decidedly amateurish.

Abid Omar says:
September 14, 08h

Couldn’t agree more with your points. I, as an amauter web designer, often begin with other people’s designs. I take them, learn from them, improve upon them, and then I evolve them into my own.

One drawback to getting into accessible and standards-complaint markup is starting with a blank slate - something which often pushes the amauter designer into using table-based layouts generated by WYSIWYG editors. The time and effort that often goes into the first draft discourages the move to complaince. Basing a first draft on popular designs lets you begin with a complaint design, and you also learn the coding practices from the best on the web (Zeldman, Shea, Bowman, et al).

September 14, 08h

YAAAYYY!!! Let me say, as a designer/developer who is currently re-designing (Canada’s ESPN) to use a standards compliant, CSS and XHTML 1.1 codebase, I couldn’t get where I am right now without the lessons I’ve learned from ZenGarden.

I’ve pilfered a goodly many lines of CSS from that site, torn them apart, examined them, and put them back together to get an idea of how the more advanced stuff works, and I’m forever greatful!

September 14, 08h

I’ve always been concerned about the use of the creative commons license. But not in the Zen Garden, this is one of those show stoppers where my concerns don’t apply. Good to see that you have stuck to your guns.

I for one had already started work on a submission for the ‘Garden’ regardless of your decision. I understand that any entry I submit will be open to abuse. By hacks and ‘professionals’ alike, sad but true. And Dave, it’s indeed not something to keep you, and anybody else for that matter, awake at night.
Great ideas like the Zen Garden are bigger than the few weak minded souls out there.

And Dave, thanks for letting us share, learn and inspire.

September 14, 08h

The discussion leading up to this decision was valuable for everyone, and I’m glad it came to a happy conclusion. Thanks, Dave!

Eugene says:
September 14, 09h

Somewhat off-topic, but still about the CSS Zen Garden. Is there any place where people can discuss the designs? I guess a forum of some sort would be nice instead of commenting on the artist’s/designer’s blog post if ever he or she blogged about it

Dave S. says:
September 14, 10h

Patrick – dating the submissions is a great idea. I don’t know why I haven’t been doing that all along. Thanks!

Brian – TSN is taking the plunge? Very cool! Although I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that after ESPN’s success all the other sports news networks are buying into XTHML/CSS.

Matt – ‘The discussion leading up to this decision was valuable for everyone’ – totally agreed. I bought heavily into CC when it first hit the scene, but things have become a little clearer lately. I’m still debating what to do with the licensing on THIS site. Maybe when their next generation licenses come out I’ll have better options.

Eugene – it’s been requested in the past, but I won’t be pursuing that. If you want to talk about the design, you’d be better off just e-mailing the designer.

Brian G says:
September 14, 10h

When I saw the savings from ESPN’s re-design, I decided that we needed to get rid of all of the useless tables. It’s been bugging me since we launched last summer that our front page is over 80k of HTML alone.

I started using some CSS stuff for layout on sub-sites like the X-Games over the last year, and wanted to really branch out to the entire site.

The big stickler was convincing the right folks that now’s the time to kill off the Netscape 4.7 users, and ESPN’s decision to do the same was enough of a push.

The “We get it moment” was when I took a CSS design, put in TSN branding and colours, then re-did the CSS with CTV, and then re-did the CSS again with Sympatico, and showed the powers that be that the entire site could be changed by simply changing which style sheet was presented. That sold them. “No back end work, but complete flexibility? Sold!”

I’m in the process of convincing the Globe and Mail that they need to do the same thing for their impending re-design, but I’m not getting a lot of buy in due to the fact that they claim 15% of their audience is Netscape 4.7 users.

Jon Hicks says:
September 14, 11h

Dave, you’re a Gent.

I guess that design stealing is just going to be an inevitable fact of life, and it’ll happen anywhere that there are ideas worth stealing.

When I started using XHTML (and CSS properly) earlier this year, it was by looking at the source code of sites like stopdesign that I learnt. Its important that folks can still look and learn.

Finally, the Zen Garden has become the most useful tool to convince my clients (and programmers that I work with) of the power, flexibility and benefits of CSS. I always get the same reaction - awe and suprise. Its quite simply the best showcase there is, and the standard of entries just keeps rising. I’m glad its not going to be spoilt.

caiuschen says:
September 14, 12h

I am also relieved to hear about your decision to stick with an open license. While usually people give me an image of the layout they want for their site, I look at the CSS of sites like Zen Garden to figure out how to implement the design without tables. Thanks for all the time and consideration you put into the garden.

Gary F says:
September 14, 12h

Simon: Complex spiral was most definitely an eye opener for me too. The all CSS pop-up was also fantastic (having just been forced to do something similar in javascript).

Claire says:
September 14, 12h

I like your point about the intermediary step.. having lived through the “my niece/nephew could do that better” era.. the truth was so much more than that and CSS is no different.

I learned HTML by viewing the source and I thought I was clever ;) but now the nieces and nephews will need to apply even more impetus no more copying the source and changing the colors/graphics. A bit more is required here, yes they may be able to copy any one particular design, but are they really learning??

The fact that “zen” has produced 100+ different designs from the same source means I’m glad I actually learned this stuff as opposed to copying the source. Until there is is a satisfactory WYSIWYG (and if IE is anything to go by that won’t be for a long time) to cope with the different browser quirks there will be no substitute for knowledge.


September 15, 03h

Bill itís funny, I’ve always wondered why programmers have often been so willing to share unique code with each other. After all, programmers are usually very creative and thus like designers in a way. Maybe it’s because that in learning how to solve certain problems or to get a result examples can be useful as a teaching tool. The ability to write code and come up with creative solutions to apply the code is part of a programmerís asset. Part of a programmerís value. For designers the uniqueness of our work is actually very important not the ability to apply it. Besides the fact that the design has to work, the form should also be functional and effective. Identity and style are also a part of the equation. The end result is unique. Always.

The problem is really highlighted by the fact that you canít really tell anybody how to do this. You can guide them and give them the knowledge how to achieve good results. But how to design is a skill and ability one has to develop on their own. Even examples do not help in this regard. They can function as a guide but on the whole that is all they can do.

The collection of stylesheets for a site is tied into the design and is in itself unique. The styles designers or web developers code and how itís coded should be shared and this is what the Zen Garden is all about. Using the CSS code as a guide or copying parts of it is one thing copying the design is another. So itís not surprising that designers frown when somebody takes their unique creation and claim it as their own.

Dave S. says:
September 15, 03h

Good points Egor, and the only thing I would add is that it’s about recognition.

Design is visible. When I do some particularly clever work, you can see how smart I am just by looking at it.

Code is invisible. When you put together a particularly clever system, the problem-solving that went into it is invisible, it’s only the end result which someone can see. Sometimes that’s enough, but the source is really what you want people to see.

It’s no wonder coders want to share, and show people just how clever they are. Designers don’t have to do that, because people can tell by just looking at their work.

forgetfoo says:
September 16, 10h

a bit off topic, but i was wondering of anybody could give me a hand getting this “single-image css rollover”:

…to work within a UL/LI styled list?

i’ve tried, but for some reason i cant seem to get the rollover to work properly when i nest it inside a UL/LI combo. was also trying to get rid of the “flicker” that happens under IE6.

any suggestions would be appreciated!

September 16, 10h

On Bill’s question, I think there are a couple of other factors at work….

With programming, there seem to usually be a finite number of workable ways to solve a particular problem. (I say that from limited experience.) There’s less of that feeling of boundedness with design.

Additionally, design is intimately connected to the identity of the designer or the designer’s organization, client, etc…making it more like stealing your face than stealing your stuff.

Conan says:
September 16, 12h

forgetfoo > There is another example of no-preload CSS roll-overs here:

I do not experience any problems in IE with this one, although I have not tested to see if it uses a different technique than the one you posted.

forgetfoo says:
September 16, 12h

thanks conan ;)

although, it does have that ‘flicker’ under IE/Win - at least for me it does (ie6/win2k)

btw, i’m happy to hear that the Garden will continue… and boldly go where no dino-browser has gone before.