A hallmark of good design is that it provides context and meaning for the work it’s applied to. It enhances and emphasizes, and if necessary it distracts and obfuscates. Design is about visual communication and it’s about enhancing written communication equally; not all text is designed, not all design is text.
The web is predominantly about written communication though; usable web standards don’t extend to multimedia as well as they could. The basic constructs of HTML/XML and CSS are text, and the content they manipulate is most often text. Even the surge of weblog popularity hinges on the importance of the written word.
Consider the shape of text. Long passages share a common characteristic; they are narrow and long, never wide and short. You scroll down a page, and everyone resents scrolling vertically. The basic building block of the sites we all build is shaped like a big narrow rectangle, and there’s no way around that.
Do a lot of the sites in the CSS Vault look like weblogs? Yes. Do many of the designs in the Zen Garden use two columns and scroll vertically? Yes. Because they were designed to best suit their content, which is simply good design.