The death of the boring blog post?

Let’s face it: the classic blog post is boring.

Barring the text and images, each one generally has the exact same layout. We see little originality from one post to the next. Of course, consistency and branding are extremely important to consider when designing a website or blog, but what about individuality? Does a blog post about kittens deserve the same layout as one about CSS hacks?

Standard Blogs in Death of the blog post

Too Easy?

Jason1 in Death of the blog post

Because installing a WordPress theme is so easy, anyone can have a blog up and running in minutes. While this is great, and we now have a wealth of blogs on countless topics, perhaps it’s too easy? Just thinking about the endless hours of effort that a print designer puts into creating the custom layout of a magazine article makes one respect the finished product so much more.

A few individuals out there, though, are really breaking the mold of the blogosphere.

Dustin1 in Death of the blog post

These guys aren’t using standard WordPress themes or cutting corners to make their lives easier. Rather, they are challenging themselves and producing some fantastic content.

Pushing yourself to create original layouts and designs customized to the content of each post is a fascinating and entertaining way to build a blog.

Greg1 in Death of the blog post

But why has this trend of melding blog post and magazine article, the “blogazine,” not caught on with the masses?

The <cringe>Trend</cringe> with a difference

Hearing the word “trend” makes us designers shudder because we picture overused glossy buttons, drop-shadows and reflections. But the blogazine trend could be unlike other trends for a few special reasons. Designing a creative layout for each new blog post, based on the content itself, requires skill, patience, dedication to the content and, most of all, effort on the part of the designer!

Let’s now look at three people who exhibit all four qualities:

Pioneers Arrow in Death of the blog post

The Pioneers

Jason Santa Maria

is one of the early innovators of this style of blogging and has been creating custom blog post designs since June 2008. With a background in print design, Jason had a vision to create a blog more in the style of a magazine, rather than obey the established rules of blog design.

While, yes, this is a redesign of sorts, I consider it much more a rethinking.

~ Jason Santa Maria

Jason Work in Death of the blog post

Jason’s blog posts are fascinating and cover a wide range of topics, including design, typography, books, photography and film. The differences in the designs are sometimes just subtle changes in background or typography, but each conveys an entirely distinct message that it couldn’t if it was uniform with the rest.

Sometimes the changes are radical, but every one still has an element of “Jason-ness.” The header and footer are usually consistent, but even without them, you can still tell a Jason Santa Maria post from a quick glace.

We’ve made so many advancements in how we publish content that we haven’t looked back to what it is we’re actually creating. Many of us see the clear separation between things like print design and web design, but I’ve really been questioning the reality of why things are this way.

~ Jason Santa Maria

We Web designers don’t want to be regarded as lazy. Do we?

We have some of the

most creative and inspiring designers

in our profession, so why don’t we show our true potential in our blog articles?

Dustin Curtis

got a lot of publicity with his open letter to American Airlines, in which he suggests a dramatic redesign and rethinking of its online customer experience. The articles on Dustin’s blog are incredibly fascinating, and this user experience designer has clearly put serious thought into each one.

Dustin Airline in Death of the blog post

I got the chance to speak with Dustin about his work:

Dustin Brain in Death of the blog post
What prompted you to create a “blogazine” instead of a traditional blog?

I’m never satisfied with my work. Invariably, two weeks after finishing a design, I feel like I can do better. When I originally tried to design my blog, I kept finishing a design, hating it and starting over. This happened ten or twelve times until I finally gave up. Eventually, I realized that each post could stand on its own and be its own design that fit the content. Despite the holdbacks of HTML and CSS, it has worked much better than I had even anticipated.

Does having a blogazine really boost your creativity when it comes to creating a post?

The blogazine style does seem to boost creativity, and by a huge amount. I feel an intense amount of freedom when I’m not constrained by the box of a pre-formed design. I can open Photoshop and use it as a word processor with design functionality. The design really does complement — and become — the content, because they are built simultaneously, without regard for any of the other stuff on the website.

I feel an intense amount of freedom when I’m not constrained by the box of pre-formed design.

Dustin Twitter in Death of the blog post

Where do you get your inspiration for your blog articles?

I get inspiration from everywhere. I’m fascinated by medicine and the human brain. So many of my articles center on interesting things that I’ve learned while studying neuroscience. Sometimes I’ll start with a single word, like “sleep,” and develop it into a whole article as I research the fringes of the field. There’s really no set source of inspiration.


The main advantage is one I didn’t anticipate. Doing a blogazine article requires a lot more work than a traditional blog post, and that has kept me on my toes; because such a large investment is required, I publish only what I feel are my best articles.

The biggest disadvantage is that CSS and HTML are terrible technologies that weren’t designed for page layout. They were designed for structured content presentation, like for a newspaper, where all the elements throughout the website are the same and are re-used. But I’m trying to make a magazine, where the content and presentation are inextricably mixed and unique. The way presentation CSS is supposed to be decoupled from the content HTML is totally counter to the mission I am trying to accomplish, and it makes coding the articles frustrating, messy and time-consuming.

This seems to keep the quality fairly high. I start four or five articles for every one I publish. If I had a normal blog, that wouldn’t be the case — the other four articles would be published too, even though they wouldn’t be as good as the ones I do end up publishing.

My solution to this problem has basically been to ignore convention and use inline styling for most of the presentation code and extract the website-wide presentation layer into a separate CSS document. This takes forever and is not ideal. To put it lightly, I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with CSS.

What if a print magazine

used the same template for every article?

It would be pretty boring, no?

Gregory Wood

is a website designer at Erskine Design and has created his website as an experiment in art direction. Not allowing himself to use the same old templates, Greg has created a fascinating website, with custom designs for each blog post.

Greg Work in Death of the blog post

Here’s what Greg had to say when I spoke with him:

Greg Interview in Death of the blog post
What prompted you to create a blogazine instead of a traditional blog?

Well, I’ve had a blog for ages and have always been bad at keeping it regularly updated, until I custom-designed a few of the posts sometime last year. I generally hate writing about Web-related stuff (I find it all a little boring), and I love designing, so I wrote about what I wanted (music and zombies) and designed each post around the content, although still housed in my old blog layout. The reception to the posts was really nice, and I enjoyed creating them, so for my latest website I set out to cater to that same audience and keep myself happily occupied at the same time.

Does having a blogazine really boost your creativity when it comes to creating a post?

I wouldn’t say it boosts my creativity; the website is more of an outlet for it. Despite spending all week being creative at Erskine Design, it’s still quite liberating to design whatever you want, however you want, with no external influence.

Because it’s all nicely designed, readers are drawn in and end up reading more than one post.

Where do you get your inspiration for your blog articles?

Usually I think of my best ideas when cycling or sitting on a tram or bus. It’s been a big thing on the Web over the years, where you get your inspiration from, and I’ve never really understood it. I think that looking at other people’s work all the time for inspiration is massively constricting. I find staring out a window for a while usually helps.


The obvious advantage is that it looks better. But the content is infinitely more captivating as well. I’m not a great writer, and I probably write a lot of bullshit, but because it’s all nicely designed, readers are drawn in and end up reading more than one post. It’s also very fun to create and helps me grow as a designer.

I guess some would say the time factor is a disadvantage, but if you love doing something, spending a lot of time doing it is justified.

I can’t think of any disadvantages.

The Microblogging Revolution

Twitter, Posterous, Flickr, Facebook, the iPhone and countless other services make it incredibly easy for us to instantly post short musings, photos, video, thoughts and creations, which in turn has created a big gap between the micro post and the macro post.

Time for the macro post to shine

Longer blog posts with valuable content might not get the recognition they deserve, because the 140-character mindset turns people off of reading several pages of text. One way to combat this and make your content more appealing is by creatively altering the layout, using the blogazine technique.

Bridging the gap

We don’t know exactly where the world of blogging is headed in the next few years, but the increase in micro-blogging will definitely be a strong influence. Shorter attention spans call for drastic changes to the length of blog posts. Blogazines could cater to a generation accustomed to the longer articles of newspapers and magazines, becoming a bridge between the traditional article and the TwitPic.

Forces you to think more creatively

Slipping into the habit of typing up your thoughts and clicking “Post,” without thinking about the layout of each article, is easy. By taking a little extra time for the art of blogging, your creativity will increase with your efforts.

Something different and exciting for your readers

If .Net or Computer Arts printed every article with the same layout, every month, would you still subscribe? Your readers would more likely return for new articles if they anticipate something new and rewarding.

Reduces the number of short simple posts

Your blog posts will have much more weight if you take the time to create a full article, rather than knock of a rushed post.

Makes wordy posts more readable

If all you have is text, text, text, then people will be less likely to read it. Put a little effort into styling the content, and your post will become much more readable.

It takes serious effort

Hand-crafting each blog post won’t be easy, but the rewards will be well worth it.

You need CSS and HTML experience

Anyone can download a WordPress theme and merrily post an article. But building a custom layout requires some experience with CSS and HTML.


The layout of your blog will change dramatically from post to post and, if not done right, may strike your readers as being awkwardly inconsistent. Just look at Jason Santa Maria’s work. Every post is radically different for a reason, but a consistent vein runs through the posts.

No print layout experience

Because this style borrows many elements from print design, anyone who has worked only in Web design may find it difficult to change their way of thinking. Rules of typography and white space, for example, may throw you off. But practice makes perfect, and an endless supply of inspiration can be found in creative magazines.

Foryou Question in Death of the blog post

Obviously this style isn’t suitable for every website. It wouldn’t be practical for blogs that pump out three or four articles a day, but certain types of websites could benefit from it especially.


We have a habit of following trends very easily, especially in our portfolios. Instead of following the tired old practice of positioning screenshots of your work in a nice grid one after the other, why not use the blogazine technique and design a fresh page for each project according to the subject, client and color scheme?

Online Shops

Many online shops suffer from a certain blandness, following the pattern of: thumbnail grid, name, short description and then pagination.

This layout may be good for usability, but there is a middle ground between scannability and visual appeal.

The design changes do not have to be dramatic. In fact, drastically changing the layout would not be advisable for online stores.

But perhaps even subtle changes to design elements could give your online shop the distinction that makes it more noticeable?

CSS Galleries

A new CSS gallery seems to pop up every day, making it increasingly difficult to distinguish between all of them. While some of the higher-profile examples like SiteInspire are fantastic for gaining inspiration, the constant influx of CSS galleries makes the inclusion of your own design in one of them somewhat less of an achievement.

It would be interesting to see a really high-class CSS gallery adopt the blogazine technique, with a custom page made for each worthy website, using large high-quality images instead of the typical screenshots.

The websites in a CSS gallery are not all about the same topic and do not have the same style or same content, so why should they receive the same treatment and same type of screenshot?

Merely for consistency?

Think about a painting that is worthy of being displayed in an art gallery. Should it be given the same treatment, cut to the same size, positioned the same way? Why do we treat gallery-worthy websites this way, then?

Quiet Blogs

Bloggers often lack the motivation to keep their blog running. Many of them feel they have to keep it fresh by updating it every day, and failing to meet their own expectations results in both frustration and a neglected blog.
Updating a blog daily isn’t ideal, and more often than not…

seven half-hearted articles a week does not equal one very polished, interesting article.

RSS readers are jam-packed with articles every day, and chances are, the articles that don’t get your full attention will get lost in the crowd. Keep your short musings and thoughts for Posterous and Twitter, and spend some real time hand-crafting well-thought-out articles. You’ll satisfy both yourself and your readers.

Look at Jason, Dustin and Greg. They do not blog that often: sometimes once a week, sometimes once a month. But the quality is always stellar.

Conclusion Title in Death of the blog post

You have endless possibilities to be more creative with your blog. Why stay tied down to one theme and one layout when you can experiment with your skills and push your creativity to its limit with a blogazine? With the Internet suffocating with blogs, people have developed incredibly short attention spans, and they probably won’t stop for your content if you have “just another blog.”

Why not throw away the blogging rule book and make your articles stand out from the crowd?

Paddy Donnelly is an irish UX designer, blogger and interviewer living in Belgium. He’s currently working on his own Blogazine and you can follow him on Twitter

Fin in Death of the blog post

  1. 1

    An interesting read and well put together post. Anything that makes people think a bit more about what they do instead of churning out the same as everyone else can only be a good thing IMHO.

  2. 2

    This is a busy Article, no one will pass it indifferent!

    No comments like: “This article is very useful.”

    I love the discussion and I was choked by the article itself. I thought I was redirected to another site.

  3. 3

    biggest thing I noticed in my initial view of this page is that you used the full page for the article, a welcome change from partial article views on pages, really do get tired of those


  4. 4

    I think it’s a great idea, it brings closer the printed magazine format to a blog, but IMHO, unlike Jason Santa Maria’s ones, I think this blog post fails to do so, it’s kind of inconsistent in it’s design, and I had a really hard time figuring it out.

    Anyway, I think this is an idea worth applying, but one must be very careful, especially if you change from a static width layout to a liquid one or vice-versa, you don’t want to break the post design.

  5. 5

    BEST Smashing Post ever… well designed, useful, unique… excellent work!

  6. 6

    I’ve thought about this alot, actually. Trouble was every time I discussed it with anyone it resulted in me being shouted at or lectured about practicality, standards or trying too hard to be different in some aspect for my own good. Now that I’ve reviewed this excellent article I’m almost upset I didn’t try it out.

    Lesson learned I guess ;-)

  7. 7

    I LOVED this post. (although shockingly it looked perfect in my IE7, but was aligned funny in FireFox2)

    Almost makes me feel like turning back the pages of web design, when we designed pages based on the content rather than branding… or something like that…

  8. 8

    I’m all for the “blogazine” design – and I’ve tried it before – but like the disadvantages said, it’s tough to keep up. You can just sit and write anymore…you have to write AND design, which unless you’re a fulltime (ie, make money) blogger you’re probably not going to put fourth that much effort.

    Plus…garbage in, garbage out — crappy writing/content will show through even if the page looks wonderful.

    I hate to say the blogazine needs a framework because that might just lead to more homogenization, but if there was one then you’d see people jump all over it and soon everyone would be asking for “basic” blogs.

  9. 9

    Oh snap, i just read the instructions about no link dropping, sorry SM. Paddy, I really would like you to look at it though and see if you think Blogazine would work or be beneficial, if you could.

  10. 10

    I skipped over most of that cos it was difficult to read, which goes onto my second point, its what you write what counts, not how it looks.

    Take a spamming blog for instance, no matter how nice the design may seem, if it reads like crap, it generally is.

    Whilst I appreciate that each blog post would be cool if it could have a unique design, this would require a lot of design time and would not be cost effective for most individuals/businesses – with the exception being designers, who are most likely going to be more creative with their design rather than their words.

  11. 11

    Sorry, this post looks like ransom-note typography on steroids.

    The fact is, even if you’re a good designer, it takes more than a few minutes to devise a good design idea. If you’re using a dozen or more design ideas in your “non-boring” blog post, as this writer does, most of the ideas will be mediocre or worse. That’s a lot of substandard design to put in front of your potential clients.

    Then consider all the crappy designers and non-designers out there. If they get into the act…. God help us.

    There is a graphical approach that works with blog post. They’re called infographics. A good one takes a lot of time to produce – hours, not minutes – but they are sometimes the perfect medium.

  12. 12

    Interesting and creative layout make this post more interesting to read on… Love it!

  13. 13

    This post is the best I’ve read in a while.

  14. 14

    Back to read on an actual computer and I realize that you are showing versatility and trying to prove a point but, my god! It’s all over the place. There’s a reason for the “boring” blog style—you can READ it, which is the point. It might be an old adage from print but I believe it still holds true in web design—form follows function. Here, form is the king and everything else is getting lost in it.

  15. 15

    Fantastic article Paddy. Hopefully it will inspire more people to do the same.

    Interesting that you mention online stores as I’ve taken a similar approach to designing a bookable holiday site that is currently in progress. Nothing as drastic as a blogazine but enough to differentiate sections and keep things interesting for the users while still keeping the same overall style.

  16. 16

    I’ve personally found this style of writing articles to be a load of work. It takes me about six hours to go from idea to rough draft to proofing to final draft to design comp to the actual process of marking up and styling a post. Nevertheless I’ve found it to be a fulfilling part of the month where I can explore new ideas and not worry about budgets and stuff. :)

    Oh, and can someone come up with a better name for this than “blogazine”? Please?
    I see this as writing articles, not “blogging” because the sole purpose of why anyone would do this sort of thing isn’t just to put something quick and pretty online – it’s about the content.

  17. 17

    Great article and great typography! Very inspiring.

  18. 18

    this is something different.. but i didn’t know you can use special theme for individual article like this one.. how is it done? any reference? i’m new to wordpress world..kinda ;)

  19. 19

    If you have to rely on design tricks to attract readers, then your content probably sucks and it won’t work anyway.

    If your content doesn’t suck, you’ll get the readers regardless of the layout…unless you make it so complicated for them that decide to go somewhere else.

    Nevertheless, I think this post is well done and you’ve illustrated your points very nicely.

    (And one of mine, too.)

  20. 20

    This page might be innovative, but it’s a horror otherwise. Not just because of it’s brutal srcoll lenght. The design uses way too much fonts and schemes without any concept.
    I welcome the braveness, but this is a FAIL.

    I agree, we see things different way. And different tastes we have.
    But this page is out of control, shows some basic misunderstandings of graphic design, typography and web usability. Maybe ‘cool’ is enough for SM.

    Sad, the post is great behind it.

  21. 21

    This may be the most inspirational post on Smashing Magazine that I have ever read. This changes everything.

  22. 22

    Great article Paddy, very original

  23. 23

    I’m not sure this is as practical as it sounds. You want people to design an entirely new site (like Jason does) for every single blog post?!? Are you nuts? Who has that time? Plus, print magazines only ran, what, weekly? Monthly? They had TIME to create different layouts…blog posting happens almost DAILY. Nobody has that much time to design a new layout. Unless they’re anti-social and have no lives. This was a very interesting post and fosters some great creativity, but I don’t think it appeals to the masses.

    • 24

      I think the issue (and maybe the point) is that yes…”blog posting happens almost DAILY”, but the content in those posts seems lacking luster, repetitive, boring, and a lot of times pointless. Why not take a little time to write a good post weekly or monthly and make both it’s design and content (which should compliment each other anyway) appealing to those reading it?

      On other point…”Nobody has that much time to design a new layout. Unless they’re anti-social and have no lives”. Are you commenting on those that daily create the blogs or those that have time (daily) to read them?

      I’d love to hear Jason Santa Maria’s insight on how long it takes him to complete a new blog design.

  24. 25

    Even though I didn’t read the whole text this collection and its design is brilliant. Exactly this is what the future of the web should look like – against the mainstream towards new forms of communication and visual representation. This is evolution ;

    thx for this post!

  25. 26

    Why wouldn’t anyone like this post?

    This was fantastic, a very original and inspiring topic.

  26. 27

    Post of the year, finally someone said it. Well done Paddy, this is top quality and no doubt took a huuge amount of effort.

    For me, it was worth every second.

  27. 28

    I feel like nothing… thanks…. AMAZING!

  28. 29

    I loved reading this post. It gave me lots of great ideas. I am definitely going to start making subtle layout changes on my blog posts. Thanks for all the work you put into it.

  29. 30

    Absolutely amazing! While I think it could be toned down a little bit, the opportunity this post provided is limitless! I will definitely be thinking of this as I start to put together my own personal blog/site.

    Is all this CSS/HTML even possible within a WordPress? Or would something like Joomla be more ideal?


  30. 31

    Here’s a tutorial on doing this with WordPress and Textpattern:


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