Sub:lime revisited | November 23, 2003

Since submitting my sub:lime design to the CSS Zen Garden I've been getting quite a few emails about it.

Most have been from people asking if they could use the design on their site. I try to explain to them that the CSS Zen Garden is aimed at helping people learn about CSS and not just a repository for cool CSS templates. I'm happy for people to use the CSS and layout as the basis for their site, but am less happy people just blatantly copying the design, images and all.

To these people I point them in the direction of these links:

Explain that I'd rather they not use the design wholesale but use it as a learning experience, and hope that they understand.

However this morning I got a wholly different and much more encouraging email from a chap called Dan.

I am about to partake in a redesign of my personal website to make use of CSS layouts. In preparing to do so, I have been practicing with the zengarden layout. I selected your design and did my best to duplicate it using only styles (no images) as an excercise. I would like to share with you the result of my tests:


Obviously by doing away with images you do loose some features, such as the side gradients. However, I think you might find that I discovered some optimizations in your design. I was able to avoid using the extraDiv1 and I found that many of the images simply aren't needed.

Now this kind of thing strikes me as the very reason behind the CSS Zen Garden and why the CSS is released under a creative commons licence. It's not to allow people to "steal" the designs and use them on their site, it's to allow people like Dan to break the CSS down, see how it works and come up with new and innovative solutions, while at the same time leaning about tableless design.

The solutions Dan has come up with are great. I'm the first to admit that the CSS makes far too much reliance on image replacement techniques such as FIR, and includes a couple of nasty little hacks, both of which Dan has managed to minimize/fix.

Now some people would see this kind of recodes as rude and insulting, however personally I think they're great. Apart from giving Dan the opportunity to try out his CSS skills on a design he obviously must like, I've learnt a thing or two as well. I spent about an hour going through his stylesheet this morning, looking at the changes he'd made and noting down ways I could improve my own CSS in the future.

So nice one Dan. I hope to see a few less people simply helping themselves to my Zen Garden Design and a few more people using it as the resource and inspiration it was intended to be.

Posted at November 23, 2003 1:29 PM


Sharif said on November 23, 2003 1:56 PM

Wow…the revisited design is really nice. Can I use it on my site? ;-)

dez said on November 23, 2003 2:19 PM

Hey that Sharif is a funny guy…

As some one currently on a CSS learning curve I don’t see the point in outright copies. Sure in following the lead of designers such as yourself, in trying to replicate your work, we are going to come up with pages that look similar but if that’s all we aspired to do the web would be a boring place. And in terms of branding and differentiation only a fool would use an outright copy, graphics and all. Nobody wins in such a situation. Anyway Sublime is cool and is on my list of Zen Garden designs to get into when I get time.

Dave S. said on November 24, 2003 6:52 AM

I love reading about things like this. It’s nice to see people taking the lead and running with it instead of stealing; that’s what I’d always hoped for. Good job, Dan!

Dan Allen said on November 24, 2003 7:22 AM

Thank you all for the kind words, they are what make me feel so good about the sharing of knowlege, whether it be code or design. I have learned a tremendous amount about CSS layouts in the last few days thanks to the excellent resources on the web. While I previously had a strong grasp on CSS styles, the layout is really where the fun begins. Even my wife concurs that the transformation that the Zen Garden pages go through with each style sheet is stunning.

I am attempting to build on what Zen Garden offered, cutting out the fat that some people criticize and integrating it into a Movable Type template, which I hope to offer when I am finished. Of course, I couldn’t have done it without standing on the shoulders of others, so thanks again for the inspiration. This project has instilled great confidence that despite my engineering background, I do have an inkling of creativity and I am almost amazed at what comes out of this little head of mine sometimes.

Tim said on November 24, 2003 9:06 AM

While in no way wanting to defend the blatant copying of designs, I found to be rather funny actually. His header and footer texts read (freely translated):

“Better well-stolen than poorly self-made”


“Inspired by sub:lime at CSS Zen Garden by Andy Budd”

Sadly it’s such a poor rip.

Brad Knapp said on November 25, 2003 10:08 PM

Ya know, I have to personally thank you. It was your design of sub:lime that got me interested in CSS as more than just a type management tool. Zen Garden has helped me immensely in learning CSS. I’m one of those people who downloaded multiple sites from it, opened them up, and tried to see what makes them tick. Here in the states, it is often said that the difference between copy and inspiration is 10%. Meaning, if your version is at least 10% different than the original than it’s not illegal. I’m not sure if this urban myth is true, but it sure is unethical.

One thing that I really respected is how in your original statement “About My CSS Zen Garden Submission” you showed us, the viewers your inspirations. As designers, we rarely show each other our inspirations for one reason or another. But the fact that you did this gave me great respect for you.

So I decided to jump in and start using my web skills for a bit of self-expression and get
a site of my own. I’ve only had it up and running for a few days now, and I’m still tweaking things. The interface may change a few times over the next few days. But so far, it’s not bad.

Sure, I took inspiration from your site, and the sub:lime site as well. I even took a little bit from some Movable Type templates that I liked and some other stuff I’ve seen. But I’ll bet that if you look at any two of these side-by-side that you’ll similarities, they may look related, but they won’t be twins.

I would be so embarrassed if I copied someone’s work, and got caught. What is it with these people that have no shame? I just don’t get it

Gotta go


Brendyn said on November 27, 2003 6:18 AM

I completely agree with you, Andy. I just took my site down not even knowing this entry had been posted, then checked my technorati cosmos, came here, and found out what you’d said.

In all honesty, I didn’t even feel right having a design up that I simply changed the images and colors and layout a bit on. I plan on using CSSZG as just what you described: a stepping stone.

Thanks again for letting me use that design initially, and for the CSS behind it. I’ll make sure to tare it apart so I can learn some more tips and tricks.

porn said on January 15, 2004 1:47 PM


gry java said on January 16, 2004 6:14 PM

Wow…the revisited design is really nice