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Moving Along

October 25, 2007

What’s up the the css Zen Garden? So reads the plethora of messages I get when the server goes down for a day. But lately I’m getting email of similar subject matter for a different reason: there haven’t been any updates for a long, long time.

Through 2006, publishing slowed down as my attention went elsewhere. Then I redesigned mezzoblue late last year. The Zen Garden support pages continued to live on this site (for historical reasons, explained here if you really want to know why), but under the old template. Due to the way I built the publishing system, moving those pages to the new template would have required some sleeves-rolled-to-the-elbow tinkering and a free month. That, as they say, didn’t happen.

Submissions continued to roll in to a frustrating backlog, guilt accumulated, and 2007 progressed. It would be a shame to kill the thing, so I didn’t, but I also haven’t been able to deal with the increasingly messy situation. Until now. You may have noticed a long-dormant RSS feed show signs of life this morning. Two new designs have been posted, both submitted some time in March, 2006. And I’ve started cracking away at the backlog, with more on the way.

What changed? I made things easier for myself. When I built the Zen Garden publishing system a few years ago, I created the capability to categorize designs by many different criteria; sounded like a good idea for the sake of the archives, but the time investment to do so wasn’t really something I carefully considered. Sure, evaluating a single design takes all of 2 minutes, but when I get 30 at once from a whole class somewhere in Tennessee, it adds up.

That actually hints at the bigger issue. When I first started this thing almost 5(!) years ago, the ratio of quality designs to those I didn’t think were strong enough to publish was pretty high, maybe 1 to 3. It’s always been about quality over quantity to me; strong and/or clever design work was added as an “Official Design”, everything else went to the “All Designs” list. I maintained that second list so I could publish everyone who contributed, something that’s always been important to me. But it’s also the root of the problem; submission quality has fantailed, and these days that ratio is looking more like 1 to 30. It’s great there’s so much enthusiasm still, after all this time, so many years later, but it just didn’t scale.

So. The big change: it’s now yes or no. You either get published or you don’t. The archive contains only what were formerly known as Official Designs. The rest, sorry, thanks for trying, keep submitting ideas if you like. (The previous All Designs is available as a historical archive, complete with old site design.) Yeah, I know it’s not ideal, and not everyone will be a fan of the new system. I’m not big on it myself. But it’s the only way the site will continue to be maintained, so it is what it is.

By making it a binary decision, I can actually reasonably hope to clear up the backlog and start processing new ones. I’m going to work at it from both ends; new stuff and old stuff alike will be published, regardless of original submission date, so if you have something to send in (or re-submit), please do.

And, one final question to address: why bother? The css Zen Garden had a good run, does it really need to keep going now, in 2007? I addressed this once upon a time (see “Is it still relevant?”), but here’s why I’m doing this: there are hundreds and hundreds of designs in the submission queue. New ones keep coming in almost every day. People ask me all the time when I’m going to update it next. After all this time, there’s still interest.

To many, the site long ago accomplished its original purpose. But others are stumbling across it for the first time, even now. They’re getting excited, and creating submissions of their own. Some of those are great, and I think great design ought to have an audience. So those are the ones I want to keep publishing.

Jamin says:
October 25, 12h

Over a year ago, I decided that I was leaving my profession at the time to pursue something else. Though not completely sure what, I was leaning toward making web pages.

Until I found the CSS Zen Garden. Every day for weeks I’d click through the website, completely in love–“You can make this many amazing designs by only changing one page of code? THAT’S INCREDIBLE!” I had no idea. Now, I’m in school to learn this stuff and it’s completely turned my life around–I couldn’t be happier.

If I were to name a single source for influencing my decision to pursue Graphic/Web Design, it’s the CSS Zen Garden. I also bought the book, having no clue what it all meant at the time, just so when I did know my stuff, I could do what you guys do. I start my web design classes next spring, and I’m heading in there with the full intent to make great use of the design materials I’m studying now–something that the CSS Zen Garden will be an essential tool in my arsenal.

I like your perspective on why you’re doing this–KEEP IT UP… if for nobody else but those like me, seeking a job that they can love and finding it in graphic design.

lqd says:
October 25, 12h

What about making it easy on yourself, and letting the community vote for what deserves to be published (maybe in a different category since you can’t really call that ‘official designs’ - or maybe you can afterall) ?
I guess it might free up some time.

Ken Seals says:
October 25, 12h

cssZenGardenr 2.0

Heh. In all seriousness.. this is great news! I’m looking forward to seeing new designs. I’ll second Jamin and point out that the Zen Garden was my introduction to css. Thanks, for keeping it alive!

Dave S. says:
October 25, 12h

@jamin - cool feedback, thanks!

@lqd - “What about making it easy on yourself, and letting the community vote for what deserves to be published… ?”

Well, cause that’d involve building a voting system. And with the new change, it’d just be outsourcing the easy stuff anyway.

The decision to publish/not publish isn’t at issue here, it’s the stuff that goes along with it the caused the slowdown. I got rid of the stuff.

Sam Brown says:
October 25, 13h

It would have been great to pass this project on to someone with the time and dedication to bring the Zen back to life, but I imagine that would be a truck load of work as well.

I look forward to seeing the designs you rate in my feed reader soon!

Dave S. says:
October 25, 13h

@Sam Brown - “It would have been great to pass this project on to someone with the time and dedication to bring the Zen back to life”

Okay, but why exactly? With the archive of designs, the site continues to make the same point it’s always made. What would be the purpose of me or someone else investing all that time in it, here in 2007?

The “challenge designers to adopt CSS” and “showcase what’s possible with CSS-based designs” part of the site is done. We won. With a thousand designs in the archive, nothing left to prove.

Like I said, the only real reason to continue updates from now on is as a way to provide exposure to great design. So I changed things to facilitate that.

Daryl says:
October 25, 13h

Hi Dave,

I appreciate your insistence of DIY (do-it-yourself) filtering. It’s definitely a good way to ensure quality entries. Despite that, I think the idea of developing a Digg-like voting engine would take a bulk of the strain and involvement off your back. I agree it would involve effort, but perhaps that type of project needn’t by 100% DIY.

Thanks for the updates none-the-less!

Dave S. says:
October 25, 13h

@Daryl - see my previous response:

The time to do community voting would have been 2004. I just don’t think the site *needs* it now.

Making the thumbs-up/thumbs-down call isn’t the hard part, it was all the stuff that went along with it, the stuff I just got rid of.

Luke L says:
October 25, 13h

One of the modules I’m currently studying at University is Web Development and the Garden was shown by our lecturer to highlight just what can be done with CSS and good design sense. I think it really opened the eyes of a lot of other students, regardless of how old the site is.

Ryan says:
October 25, 15h

I recently used the CSS Zen Garden to make a business case for moving a web application from tables to standards.

There are still many people who have not been exposed to the new ways of doing things and the Zen Garden is a powerful demonstration.

Thanks for keeping it alive!

Chris HS says:
October 25, 15h

For me, the Zen Garden is a piece of internet history. The most important thing is that it’s always preserved somewhere. The fact that you’re continuing to update it is a bonus. Cheers.

Jon 陳 says:
October 25, 17h

You’ve done a superb job curating what I will always think of as the gallery of a movement that has become so pervasive, in a few years people will struggle to believe the Web was once any different. It sits there alongside other places that have fermented change, and enthused thousands of people all over the world, as a priceless archive.

It’s still so relevant too, which is why I still refer people there. I, for one, am glad you’re still doing it your way. If that means in your own time, too, then so much the better. No guilt necessary, after all, that’s the way the garden became so beautiful in the first place. Thank you, and here’s to the years to come!

Gilles says:
October 26, 01h

As a (french) teacher, I think CSS Zen Garden is a wonderful tool. When I first meet with new students, not specially accustomed to Web design and the subtleties of CSS, and show them the Zen Garden, I know I have motivated them enough to get involved in my lessons. I have noticed that about half of them still come back from time to time on the site, perhaps in order to get inspiration. Publishing new designs is a way of maintaining this “Wow” effect I need to motivate my students :-)

October 26, 03h

I’m so pleased that CSS Zen Garden is going to live on. Even though it’s maybe not so important now to demonstrate the power of CSS to designers, the Zen Garden is still just as relevant, as there are plenty of managers that need convincing!

When Zen Garden was regularly updated, I always looked forward to seeing new designs pop up, and would spend ages trying to figure out how the designers had achieved particular effects or constructed their graphics to get everything to fit together.

Here’s to the future of CSS Zen Garden! :)

kevinn says:
October 26, 03h

I see CSS Zen Garden is a resource and a source of inspiration. It might not so ‘hot/relevant’ now, but we could see some stuff there that pushes how we may use CSS now and in the future.

James says:
October 26, 03h

Dave - CSS Zen is great, gives me a lot of inspiration and I’m glad you’ve made the decision to keep ploughing on.

However, the binary decision I think in the end will hurt the site more - choosing not to post submissions that don’t meet your personal tastes or criteria may make people go elsewhere - the ‘All submissions’ list got around that by showing everyone’s work, even if they weren’t ‘featured’ by yourself.

Why not create a subdomain, copy your zen code to that, and make the binary decision, but put failed ones on there instead? That way people who don’t quite make the cut will still get the glowy feeling :)

By the way, I never have submitted to CSSZen, and I’ll probably never have enuogh talent to warrant trying, but I really take inspiration from it and seeing the number of submissions drop would be a shame.

Alberto says:
October 26, 07h

CSS Zen Garden is an important website and has a part in the history of web development. The main reason is the high quality of the themes showed.

I think it’s a good idea for its future 1)to keep it updated and 2) to point exclusively on high quality designs.

Anyway I agree with James’ idea to keep the ‘All submissions’ alive elsewhere, for instance with an automatic publication when submitted, just for the “historical” purpose.

October 26, 07h

I was just talking about the CSS Zen Garden to a friend the other day. Please don’t take it down. It doesn’t mater if it doesn’t get updated it is still a great site and a large piece of web design history. I don’t think the wayback machine could do it justice.

Tom says:
October 26, 07h

Good to see updates to the garden! Thanks!

To James et al,
Community voting is not perfect. As a Digger, and someone who votes (albeit infrequently) on CSS gallery sites, I find that the mob mentality is not the best for curating good vs. bad. Design especially — sites like Digg STILL feature top 50 god-awful-Photoshop-effect-tutorials-masquerading-as-design on their front pages. Just stop already with that…

As an aside — The founding fathers of the U.S. Constitution were actually aristocrats who didn’t have that much faith in the common man (hence the vexingly vexatious Electoral College).

In this case (unlike the Electoral College) I have complete faith in Dave to be completely fair and filter out what he deems to be worthy of showcase. I mean, look at this site. Look at the success of the Zen Garden. Dave couldn’t have written a book centering around all those designs if hadn’t been so good at filtering and if we didn’t trust his judgement. Still, there are too many dilettantes out there and I just don’t trust open voting on Garden designs for that reason.

Not that this debate matters much, it’s Mr. Shea’s domain, quite literally, and I have no doubt he’ll do what he feels is best.

October 26, 08h


Thank you for keeping it alive! I’ve been waiting and hoping to see some new designs for a long time now… :-)

seth says:
October 26, 11h

You are a good man, Dave.

October 26, 13h

I have been on web development for over ten years now, but with an increasing interest for computers themselves I’ve been into non-web development for some time.

About two years ago, I knew *some* CSS, but the Zen Garden was really a major influence in embracing web standards to the bone and quit mobile prototype development and return to the web.

That said, I think social web and digg-like sites and the web 2.0 in general are all very beautiful, but I don’t believe they apply to everything.

If someone starts a digg-like Zen Garden, I am in the line to sign up and participate, but if you are willing to keep the ZG yourself, I am all in favor of letting it still be a showcase of GREAT design (gourmet-style), instead of social favorites.

Shelley says:
October 27, 06h

I can’t help thinking people would be better off seeing the ones you reject than the ones accepted, but I can understand your point of view.

Seeing what someone thinks is ‘good web design’ to me isn’t necessarily helpful. There was a “50 best designs” posting a while back (can’t find link) where people annotated what they liked about the designs (your site was one of them). That was helpful. Annotation of what people _don’t_ like about a design is also helpful. A listing of sites, though, without a why or wherefore doesn’t strike me as all that helpful. Other than meeting the original purpose of CSS Zen Garden and demonstrating how stylesheets can change the appearance of the same markup.

However, your space, your time, and you should use it as you wish.

Max says:
October 27, 15h

As a student in multimedia/web design, I’ve always considered you one of the “gods” of CSS. Now granted, the title may slight over-kill, but when I’m trying to convince the program heads about the importance of teaching Cascading Style Sheets, the Zen Garden was one of the many sites I’d use in order to prove my point*.

When I first discovered CSS myself, the Zen Garden was the site that I always felt if I learned enough, one of these days I’d gather enough skill and guts to eventually submit. No, still not there yet. And if the design was enough to get rejected, then personally, I’d rather not see it posted due shame.

So this comment is a big Thank you of sorts. Thank you for inventing a site that now has too many redundant copies. Thank you for creating a site that gives up-and-coming designers something to aim for. And a thank you for taking the effort to continue updating the beast**.

*The instructors still refuse to teach CSS.

**”Beast” is an affectionate nickname, I swear.

Daniel K says:
October 27, 21h

Thanks for the update. FYI, TSTC in Waco ( uses Zen Garden as a final project for their Advanced XHTML/CSS class. Must be where your getting some of the floods from ;)

Kishore says:
October 28, 02h

This is really great news. For someone having totally no design background, and also coming from a so called developing country where I didn’t really have access to good learning materials, Zen Garden was a tremendous source of inspiration and a learning resource for me.

So, I am glad that people who are still finding their feet in CSS and the upcoming generation of designers can still be benefitted by this.

Also, I am not actually for the community based voting idea… I would prefer Zen Garden to be the way it is right now. I don’t think a Digg like model is exactly apt for Zen Garden.

Great work and thanks for Zen Garden!

Felix says:
October 28, 05h

I’m glad it’s up again. I checked it a few days back and was sad to find that it was offline. It was inspirational to me back in the day - just two or so years ago - and is what really got me into web design, something that I now put a lot of time into and get a lot of pleasure out of. To this day, when I don’t know where to take a design, I check the Garden. Just ever so often.

Thanks for making it. Thanks for keeping it.

dolphin says:
October 28, 07h

Well, I’m thrilled that the Garden is being updated again.

As someone who got a fairly lucrative project from someone who found and liked one of my “non-official” designs, I admit I’m sad to see those get taken down, but I understand how much of a project it could be.

If there no way to just have the submissions automatically coded to a single list. That way there’s no time strain on you to deal with non-official designs at all?

Johan says:
October 28, 08h

CSS Zen Garden is different from other CSS galleries because of its historical perspercive and value. And because they look all different but say the same thing. Designs that came forward from the same idea, build around the same content.

Mike says:
October 28, 14h

I, for one, am pleased that you’ve decided to keep the Zen Garden around. It serves the dual purposes of illustrating (as you intended) what can be done with CSS and providing inspiration for those of us more familiar with the nuts and bolts of (X)HTML and CSS than the graphic design side.

I can’t think of another single site where I can come to see so many different varieties of apples compared to apples (so to speak). If you never added another new entry, I’d miss the Zen Garden if it were gone.

October 28, 15h

Dave I would be devastated if you took down the css zen garden. You have no idea how many people I refer to the official designs page to look at some of the best designs on the web. Many of the early designs still look awesome 5 years later which says a lot about progress we’ve made and web design. Even if someday you don’t want to add new designs to it, keep it around for people to browse through previous designs.

Sebastian Redl says:
October 28, 16h

“To many, the site long ago accomplished its original purpose. But others are stumbling across it for the first time, even now. They’re getting excited, and creating submissions of their own. Some of those are great, and I think great design ought to have an audience. So those are the ones I want to keep publishing.”

Not to mention that, as CSS evolves, we will get new, interesting designs, or perhaps old designs done in a new way. Especially now that CSS3 support slowly starts appearing, many old, ugly hacks could be replaced by new, shiny CSS3.

October 28, 23h

Hi David.

Almost exactly two years ago you accepted my design, Mozart.

Following that, I set myself up as a sort of part-time freelance website designer and in the last year alone I have made just over $10,000.

All of which will go towards my son’s education; all of which is a direct consequence of your having accepted my little piece of work.

I would suggest that your contribution to the wonderful world of web design is much greater than you and many others realise.

Best regards.

Hafiz says:
October 29, 02h

I think #21 sums it up best.

Indeed, you are a good man. Thank you very much for everything.

Mike says:
October 29, 09h

Dave, Please keep the garden growing, I am an instructor with and author for LearningTree Intl. I have used the garden site in all my lectures on Web design around the world, it truely shows the power of CSS. With your site - CSSZengarden, and Andy Buds book - Advanced CSS - I could talk for a week.

Kinda ironic, I too live in BC - Maple Ridge and never knew the garden was from by own backyard until now, hope to see you at the Jan show.

Nate says:
October 29, 14h

Dave, from your post, it sounds like the physical publishing is what’s taking the most time, and not the actual thumbs up or down, correct? Just curious about what it is in the physical publishing that’s taking all the time.

Would there be a way to make the publishing more “automatic” once you do the thumbs down/thumbs up that would still allow you to maintain an All Designs list? For example, giving the submission a thumbs down or up automatically publishing the design in the correct section for you?

Sorry if I’m not understanding the issue properly. I know that my suggestion might take a bit of a time investment, but after that initial investment publishing would be much easier on you. It might not be so bad if you didn’t have to do all of the publishing manually.

finch says:
October 30, 10h

Kudos to you for making a decision that both addresses your needs and still keeps a wonderful resource on the web. Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is to say “This is too much, I need to make a change” and I really respect that you did just that.

To all the people making ‘helpful suggestions’ - unless you’re lurking the bushes peering over Dave’s shoulder, seeing exactly what goes on behind the scenes… as Richie Cunningham would say, Sit on it.

MK says:
October 31, 04h

I’ve been a lurker for about 3 years (I think) but only recently to your blog. I’m glad you’re keeping the site…it’s one of my favorites when I hit a rut. I’m looking forward to the new designs you’re selecting. :)

October 31, 07h

Hi Dave,

I’ve not written on here for a loooong time. I think the idea to only have one set of ‘Official’ designs is great. Although some may get annoyed if they get rejected, hopefully it will fuel them to up their own game in terms of quality and ideas.

Personally, I think the site has, and still does, provide a great service to the industry and is an amazing resource of inspiration and ideas. Don’t feel guilty for giving yourself a bit of breathing space : )

October 31, 15h

I first came across css Zen Garden a few years ago, and I can still remember being absolutely *flabbergasted* when I discovered that it was possible to create so many different-looking designs, just by using different style sheets…

I’m glad you decided to keep the site alive, even if it means that some designs won’t make the cut. (Unfortunately, that would include everything that *I* would be able to create!)

November 01, 09h

as of right now, i can’t get zen garden to load, and i was hopping to use it as a showcase to some stakeholders in a committee meeting i’ve got coming up this afternoon.

for me, once you got 20 or so designs, the primary point was made. i love being able to go there and explain to non technical types that if we embrace these technologies (and take the time to do the markup right from the get go) we can do site wide redesigns THIS radical simply by changing one file and the images associated with it. seeing is believing.

it could also be a valuable teaching tool, but schools could just as easily mirror the basic content for that purpose. maybe that’s something you should look into. zip up everything needed to host your own zen garden and let people who want to do so go wild on their own servers.

and if you really got 30 entries from some school in TN, i’d love to know about it. i’m a graduate from both the 2 year program at pellissippi state technical community college in knoxville and the 4 year program at tennessee technological university in cookeville. those are the only higher ed web design programs i’m aware of and neither of them were terribly web standards centric at the time. there’s also some high schools that offer a few classes, largely the CIW certification stuff, which as of a few years ago was also pretty un-standards centered.

ynw says:
November 01, 17h

I think this is the best coda for css Zen Garden. It came and won.

esteve says:
November 02, 02h

Thanks a lot for your incredible work.

As others said, websites like these make people falling in love with web design.

That’s nice.

mgiaff says:
November 02, 05h

CSS Zen Garden opened my eyes to the world of the CSS. It was two years ago. I still visit the Zen Garden every week to find inspirations and to have a break of peace and tranquility.

Keep updating and maintaining it!


November 02, 05h

I just wanted to say that frist off the site is down and has been down for the last couple of days.

Secondly I really love the web site. When I’m at a loss for inspriation I just stroll over to zengarden and bam I have some motivation to get this project completed. Your site has moved me to design using web standards. I run a couple consumer based sites that are all using standards infulenced by ZenGarden. One of the sites use a modified version of the ZenGarden theme for Drupal CMS.

I hope that this site is up an running soon it is a real shame if you take it down forever.

PS…. If you are reading this and do not have the book it still is avaiable and it totally a great read. NUMBER one book on my shelf for design based css reference.

Alan Hasty says:
November 03, 04h

Hmm, hopefully only temporarily,

This is the placeholder for domain If you see this page after uploading site content you probably have not replaced the index.html file.

This page has been automatically generated by Plesk.


I have derived much pleasure from looking at the designs presented in the garden. They all have been a source of inspiration for me. Keep it up!


Will Barrett says:
November 03, 06h

As a student of graphic design and a believer in web standards, I’m excited to hear that the CSS Zen Garden will continue. Art on the web is such a valuable thing, and when mixed with the practical it becomes all the more valuable. I come to the Zen Garden for inspiration, and want to thank you for all your work. As for the backlog, with all the support you are seeing on this forum, if you can think of any way to rope volunteers into the process, I think you would get quite a response. Many of us evidently find value in your work, and would be happy to contribute if we could help to keep it alive.

All the best,

Seb says:
November 03, 22h

Please don’t take down the Zen Garden! I just came across it this year, and I love browsing through it and getting creative ideas. It would be a real shame if it was thrown out.

Also, it’s a great site for showing to friends to get them excited about web design and how many cool things you can do with CSS. There’s a real dearth of beauty on the internet, don’t deprive us of one of the biggest resources currently available. :)

Rachel says:
November 08, 13h

The very fact that you have this issue to deal with is proof enough of the importance of what you created. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the work that you put into this, both past and present. I have referred to the Garden so many times, for many different reasons. And yes, please don’t ever take it down. If it gets to that point, put the word out and I bet someone, somewhere would gladly keep this thing going.

You earned your wings with this one, my boy. Chapeau!

SuRi says:
November 16, 00h

I think this is the besst place to learn all about css, and i went through all the designs i’ll visit weekly once for this site and getting lot of ideas and design knowledges :)

n says:
November 17, 16h

CSS Zen Garden is an inspiration. Truly remarkable, thank you for your effort. Much appreciated.

November 18, 18h

I’ve submitted a design back in February 2006. We had a short back and forth over email (you mentioned that I should keep an eye on the ‘last updated’ timestamp on the submittion page).

What I would like to know is if you lost the design that I have submitted or if you simply didn’t think it was good enough to be one of the official designs.

Here it is again:

Your response is much appreciated.

Brad says:
December 01, 07h

Regarding “is it relevant”, my company hires entry level web developers that often want to use html for presentational markup. We point them to csszengarden to help visually demonstrate what CSS is capable of and the difference between structure and presentation. I think the site drives the concept home nicely and hope that you keep the project online, if not continually growing, for them alone.

I also use it for design inspiration. I’m not much of a designer really, I’m a mediocre decorator at best, so I often extract design ideas from some of the submissions.

Jeff says:
December 15, 10h


There will come a day when you just don’t want to do it anymore. It happens to all of us.

CSS Zen Garden is too important to allow that to happen.

Others might create similar websites but the original is the historical reference for millions of web development folks. Folks like me that are extremely presentation challenged as well as design folks that want to be inspired or get better.

Perhaps one of your personal issues (as well as successors that do not yet exist) is the lack of revenue. The book and future updates of the book is one reason for website maintenance. But, I do think you have a bigger opportunity that is being overlooked.

For years now we’ve seen the dismal attempts by advertisers on the web. As I recall, perhaps 15 years ago my youngest child said, “be quite, be quite, my favorite show is coming on” - it was a commercial. Today, we still have no useful design criteria on the web that shows anyone how best to integrate sponsor messages of various kinds.

That suggestion is two-fold. CSS Zen Garden still would exist as it does today and it would provide a link to a sister website Commercial Web Garden that addressed that related issue. Of course, as folks visit that new website many will visit the sponsor ads because they want to see the transition. The site will generate revenue for you. You can build a company around that website. And, none of it would happen without the continued existence of CSS Zen Garden and the online and offline references folks continue to make about the historical leader.