In the age of the blog, anyone with an Internet connection and a Word Press account is only a keystroke away from reaching millions of readers. Blogging is cultural dynamite. It’s causing media empires to wobble. Blogs are taking political commentary out of the hands of political insiders. They are usurping the function of film, music and literary critics. They are threatening every realm of punditry and opinion-forming.
Of course, if you earn your living in publishing or journalism, this is not necessarily good news. Nor are all blogs worthy of attention. Only a few can compete with the best paid-for commentary; after all, as more than one eminent writer has noted, only fools don’t write for money. But the idea that anyone with a voice can now raise that voice is invigorating – and since blogging is here to stay, traditional media had better learn to live with it.
Few groups have embraced blogging more avidly than designers. A Google search of the term ‘design blogs’ reveals 257 million links (‘engineering blogs’ gets you a miserly 80 million). It is now almost obligatory for designer’s sites to have blogs attached to them, and there aren’t many design students who don’t blog. But what does blogging mean for design? Is it anything more than just another avenue for self-promotion? Or is it an outlet for the presentational and communication skills possessed by most designers?
Design blogs fall roughly into four main categories. First, there are the nakedly self-promotional. These are usually attached to a studio’s portfolio-based website, and while I’d never deny any designer the right to self-promote, I’d question the worth of blogs that focus too heavily on the creative director’s stag weekend in Riga.
The second type is the observational variety. These are sites where designers turn to punditry, usually relating to aspects of professional life (see Michael Johnson’s Thought for the Week, Jeremy Leslie’s Mag Culture and Mike Dempsey’s Graphic Journey). Some of these wield influence, but for every serious blog with good writing and intelligent commentary, there are many that rarely rise above the level of ‘Here’s a bit of naff kerning I saw on my way to work today’.
The third is the instructional. These are blogs by designers with a mission to share knowledge. They provide an important function for working designers looking for answers to technical problems, especially in the fast-changing realm of Web design. Notable examples include Mark Boulton’s site and Khoi Vinh’s Subtraction.
The fourth kind gets by far the biggest audiences – sites specialising in the online curation of images. These attract vast numbers of visitors happy to gaze at an unending stream of graphic porn. Sites such as It’s Nice That, Many Stuff, Grain Edit and countless others, allow us to see virtually everything that gets published. One or two sites – Ace Jet 170, for example – combine image curation with some light commentary, but few provide deep analysis or critical scrutiny of the work they showcase.
Blogging is causing paid-for media to look into the abyss. But the benefits to designers are readily apparent. Design blogs help dispel the notion that designers are passive receptors without views or opinions, and, perhaps more importantly, they help foster the idea of a community and a sense of occupying a shared space at a time when being a designer can sometimes seem like a lonely, unloved activity.