Bruce Lawson's personal site

CSS Zen Garden submission: "Geocities 1996"

The CSS Zen Garden has been highly useful to me in demonstrating the value of standards when attempting to convince my reluctant colleagues to abandon tables. Thanks Mr. Shea!

However, it’s also been a major pain in the arse, as Nongyaw, friends and family now expect every site I make for them to look as good as the zen garden submissions. As a design-challenged individual, I’ve found myself almost nostalgic for the multi-coloured, multi-typefaced gif-ridden designs I used to see in 1996 when I moved to Thailand and first used the web, back in the days when Netscape 3.0 was the coolest browser out.

So I’ve made a css zen garden skin, hearkening back to that devil-may-care era of joie-de-web.

It’s  called "Geocities 1996".

Check it out! Click here!

For maximum authenticity, I’ve used only public domain gifs from surviving "webmaster resource" sites of that era, as well as their on-line button and banner makers, intrepidly braving pop-ups and feeding my email addresses to spam fiends as I went.

I think it’s beautiful (but I’m biased). What do you think?

(Related post: Does validation matter?)

(7 March 05) I just came across a brilliant essay on the development of the Web’s look and feel, called A Vernacular Web – The Indigenous and The Barbarians.

Thanks to Weiran Zhang for offering to host the design for me after continual bandwidth meltdowns.

What the critics say

22.12.04: Zeldman said “Your CSS Zen Garden design is rockin'”, and Peter wrote to say, “The best thing I’ve seen all day. Thanks.”. Justin Wignell concurs: “Absolutely fantastic! Love it! It made my day”, whilst Dave MacEwan makes the aesthetic point “;It almost made me puke. :-)”.

In keeping with body-fluids mode of criticism, David Thompson called it “A festering pile of shite”. The less-scatalogical jp says, “Absolutely brilliant…though it hurts my head”.

Molly said “Bruce, I love you but this just proves your insanity”, while bilingual Joe Clark says “Oui, très amusant” and points out to those who don’t get the joke that, although the the xhtml source is ostensibly AAA accessible, the strobing gifs I’ve included make it inaccessible (and perhaps dangerous) to some.

Accessibility guru, Ian Lloyd, wrote “Bruce, that is a piece of genius. I’m going blind. So bad it’s brilliant!”. The Linux-loving Gabriel wrote “Will you propose your design to the “official” zengarden? It is among the best I have ever seen.”

The Christian Web Masters didn’t like it, while Stan Furlong wrote to say that it’s the topic of discussion on a Macforum: “OMG, that is the best thing I’ve ever seen. Please submit that. Please.” Steven Souza emailed: “The proxmity of my computer to the restroom proved to be highly valuable after viewing your version of the zen garden. I laughed for at least 5 minutes and fought for breath afterward. Thanks for creating such an enjoyable experience.”

Ronaldb66 wrote, “I was thinking: anyone for a “CSS Zany Garden” contest? Using the original markup and CSS to create a really awful design? Although it would be hard to top the original.”

Dave Shea emailed me on 16 Feb 05 to say “It’s brilliant. I’ve had a good laugh every time I’ve loaded it.”

Bruce Lawson hates Standards?

24.12.04 – someone nominated me to web pages that suck. I’m happy to receive the praise “Wonderful stuff. I’ll give it my highest compliment – I wish I had thought of it first” but I’m not so pleased when Vince Flanders writes,

Too many of us get carried away with Web Standards and too many believe that using them makes your site wonderful … Bruce Lawson has taken Web Standards and the Zen Garden approach, thrown it on the ground, and stomped it to death.

No, no, no! I’m a great believer in Web Standards. What I’ve tried to do is visually demonstrate what I said at the mediaelements conference: "validity and accessibility by no means guarantee a good page, as my submission to the CSS Zen Garden, Geocities 1996, demonstrates".

I reinforce Dave Shea’s reason for planting the Zen Garden: to show that the "structurists" like me were not showing the advantages of CSS to its full effect. By making a deliberately ugly page, I’m proving that structural purity alone does not a good page make – exactly what he was trying to show, and a point which I 100% agree with. Beautiful design plus beautiful structure is the way forward, as the CSS Zen Garden shows.

Phew – it’s always hard to explain a joke.

60 Responses to “ CSS Zen Garden submission: "Geocities 1996" ”

Comment by Ramon


loved your geocities theme, it made me laugh remembering that kind of sites, so vintage. That last multicolored gif also made my eyes hurt 😀

Comment by Andy

Thanks for the memories. I was hoping to see a “text crawl” in there somewhere but I guess they might have been a little after ’96.

I’m assuming your spelling of “arhcives” is just one more salute to historical web design 🙂

Comment by

I actually Believe blog, “Bruce Lawsons personal site :
CSS Zen Garden submission: “Geocities 1996″”
was indeed really good! Ican’t see eye to eye with you more! Finally appears like I reallystumbled upon a blog site very well worth checking out. Thanks, Franklin

Comment by Frank Haywood

Hi Bruce,

I know it’s been a long time since you did this, but it appears to be broken now in all the major browsers. All I see in FF, Chrome, Opera and IE is the flower1.gif as the background image.

I don’t know what’s changed between January and now, but maybe a tweak is in order? 😉

All the best,

-Frank Haywood

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