Creating Good Design in the Blog World

By Tristan Loper

Graphic designers and artists are fueled by a fundamental drive to express their thoughts, ideas, and vision. Writers, for their part, write for many of the same reasons.  Although writers and artists have flirted with each other’s callings for centuries, it wasn’t until the age of communication, facilitated by the Internet, that vast, prolific, and numerous forums about design really came into their own.

Today, thousands of artists, designers, and writers run their own design blogs. They share tips like “Top Nondestructive Photoshop Techniques,” ideas, document and set trends, sell products, and show us all kinds of eye candy (like the following video entitled Rear Window Timelapse from Jeff Desom via Vimeo).

Holiday Matinee is one such blog. With writers in in San Diego, San Francisco and New York, Holiday Matinee is dedicated to “creative inspiration,” and professes to be “all about spreading positive vibes to the masses and connecting with anyone who’s committed to making this world more awesome.” Sometimes it’s a simple as that.

Blogs like Holiday Matinee work well as “media curators” – people who sift through and share interesting things online – which is especially helpful in a world that can often feel oversaturated. Recently, I interviewed Holiday Matinee contributor Catrina Dulay about this very subject. We covered everything from what makes great design, and how to run a successful blog, to a subject that preoccupies much of the Internet: cats.

Tristan Loper: How did you get into design?

Catrina Dulay: Much of my appreciation for design comes from my early interest in art. Ever since I was a child, I knew that I wanted to do something creative. I didn’t know exactly what it was going to be, but I was certain that it had to be visual because I loved creating things and living out of my imagination.

When I discovered graphic design, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I wanted to do something serious with it, so I worked on it continuously throughout middle school and high school until I eventually studied it in design school. I love it more today than I did when I started doing it, but probably not as much as I love cats.

TL: Fortunately the digital age has been good to graphic design and cats. How did you get into blogging?

CD: I got into blogging when I was in middle school, but it was really embarrassing, juvenile personal blogging. Nowadays, I just blog about things that I enjoy and things that actually matter to me. It is less painful to read (for me and the reader).

TL: What do you look for in great design?

CD: Going with Holiday Matinee’s motto, “Love your work, work your love,” I look for evidence that the designer has put love into it. I like it when I can look at a design and see how much love was put into it based on the attention to detail and how well it performs its job.

TL: Who are your favorite designers/artists?

CD: My favorite designers are Ji Lee and Paula Scher. Ji Lee has done great independent projects and editorial design, and I love Paula Scher’s environmental graphic work. My favorite artists are Gustav Klimt, Bernardo Bellotto, and Dave Gibbons. Klimt’s Byzantine-inspired work is my all-time favorite, Bellotto’s realistic treatment of urban landscapes is amazing, and Gibbons is my all-time favorite comic book artist.

TL: Blogging is often about spreading the word about what you like, from design to art, to music, food, and more. What would you say are the keys to creating a successful design blog?

CD: I think it’s not just about what material you post, but how you present it. On Holiday Matinee, we write about the things that we really enjoy, and we use language that we’d use if we were talking to our friends. It’s so much more natural to communicate our excitement about something without sounding like we’re reciting a math word problem.

TL: Once success has been achieved, how does one stay successful?

CD: In design, having a healthy interest in things beyond design is really important because narrowing your focus is never inspiring. Second, it helps to avoid putting on a protective shell to hide your deficiencies. If you can’t deal with your deficiencies properly, you’re going to have a very difficult time improving upon them. Third, be a sponge! Absorb things! Absorb things you wouldn’t be traditionally into! That’s how you make discoveries that can be used as research and inspiration. From personal experience, even the most unlikely bits of inspiration can be practical.

TL: On the website, Holiday Matinee founder Dave Brown lists “People who care about good design and social responsibility” as the #1 most important thing to him. Obviously, Holiday Matinee is all about good design. How does social responsibility tie in?

CD: Good design promotes social good by putting adding creative flair to small causes that need the attention. I think that’s why it’s important for design to be good in the first place. If good design isn’t there, it’s not design at all. It turns into visual stuff that doesn’t communicate anything. I think it’s important to remember that good design should keep people in mind and when you’re using it to promote a good cause, and it’s extra important to make sure that the message is very clear, exciting, and creative.

TL: What are some of your favorite blogs and what about them appeals to you as a consumer and a designer?

CD: Two of my most favorite blogs are Nicholas Bate’s advice blog and The Strange Attractor. What I like most about Nicholas Bate is that he writes in a seemingly haphazard way (sometimes he even writes on paper, scans it, and posts it as an entry). It’s almost as if he thinks about something on the spot and publishes it immediately, even if it’s just two sentences or a few effective words about idea making, work habits, and accomplishing things. He doesn’t think twice about it! He just writes.

The Strange Attractor is a design blog I’ve been following for a while, and one of the things I’ve noticed about it is that I consistently see content that I’ve never seen re-blogged or re-posted anywhere else. It’s very refreshing, and for that reason, I’m always looking forward to what the blog contributors post every day. Other informative blogs I enjoy are The Simple Dollar (a money advice blog) and Unclutterer (an organization and cleanliness blog). The Simple Dollar is neat to follow because I’m always trying to find ways to save money, which is very important for someone who is always tempted by nice products that are posted on blogs all over the place. I love Unclutterer because it helps me improve the way I get things done every day.

TL: What advice would you give to new bloggers?

CD: Don’t talk about yourself too much, keep it simple, and write about things that matter to you.

UC San Diego Extension offers classes in graphic design, web design, and blogging, so you can start taking Catrina’s advice to heart right away. Spring 2012 classes are open now, and include a range of courses including WordPress I, Adobe Dreamweaver I, Web Design: XHTML & CSS for Designers, Digital Media, Adobe Photoshop I and more. Get a solid, working knowledge of essential design skills while you learn the top software for developing attractive, well-functioning web sites and blogs.

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