ZZaadz and the Evanescent Design Crew

~ 12 April 2005 ~

Combine talent across the country with a solid project scope and short timeline and you get the following achievement.

A couple months back, Zaadz, Inc. was in the process of constructing a unique site builder system for small biz owners, and they were seeking top-notch design contractors. Even better, they wanted CSS/standards-based templates to complement their top-notch technology, a far cry from the antiquated templates you’ll find in most of the other site builders.

With Zaadz’s full trust in hand, I had the unique pleasure of hand-picking the crew that would build the initial templates for the system. And what a pleasure it truly was. I was able to work alongside both friends and new acquaintances, and the experience was highly rewarding, to say the least.

Though the final system won’t be released for a few weeks (along with a new corp site and identity), they’ve given us the green light to display our work in anticipation of the coming launch.

The team for this project consisted of Bryan Bell, Brian Biddle, Jared Christensen, Jason Santa Maria, Ryan Sims, and myself. Below is a description of each.

Bryan's templateBryan Bell

Most of us recognize Bryan as the genius behind application icons such as NetNewsWire and iPodderX. But apparently he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve when it comes to website design, too. Bryan and I joined the project simultaneously, and it was merely a matter of a quick conversation by phone and we were golden. Bryan pays attention to detail with any of the projects he works on, not the least of these his websites. That’s often the first criterion I seek out when teaming up, and Bryan has it in spades. View Bryan’s templates »

Brian's templateBrian Biddle

Brian’s skills have been developing rapidly over the past several months. If he keeps it up, he’ll school the best of us in 2006. Brian wisely allows himself to find influence in the works of others, and then to adapt what he finds and turn it into something he can call his own. Brian’s Lousco Labradors site was, by itself, enough to convince me we needed him on board for Zaadz. View Brian’s templates »

Jared's templateJared Christensen

Jared rocked the CSS gallery sites when he came out with Jaredigital 2004, big indie-rock masthead and all. By inviting him to participate, I was hoping he’d bring some of that big masthead goodness, and not surprisingly he delivered without an explicit request to do so. Jared’s design versatility enables him to go from indie to all-out pink in the flash of an eye. Or, in the case of Zaadz, from indie to Mount Vernon. View Jared’s templates »

Jason's templateJason Santa Maria

Jason was an easy pick. He brings style to the table. He’s got the talk. The double surname. A package deal, indeed. I specifically invited Jason to join in hopes he would add some character to the mix. And he delivered. View Jason’s templates »

Ryan's templateRyan Sims

Ryan, Ryan, Ryan. This decision to include him was a given from the start. Ryan was our top pick as a replacement when Didier couldn’t make SXSW, and the Design Eye crew and I are pleased to report we chose wisely. A choice of similar wisdom was warranted on the Zaadz project, and Ryan was another easy pick. No further explanation needed. Off you go to check out his work. View Ryan’s templates »

Cameron's templateMe

As the ringleader, I had to set the tone for the project. Apart from a rough completed a few weeks earlier, a very short timeframe existed in which to complete the template shown here. Though minimal, both code and style would become the template of all other templates for this particular project. It isn’t perfect code-wise, but Zaadz has done / will do a few mods to get it there before launch. View Cameron’s templates »

Additional write-ups about the Zaadz project:

And special thanks to Michael Christopherson for help with some of the initial code work.



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1   Rob Weychert ~ 12 April 2005 at 09:39 AM

Nice work, everyone!

2   Yannick L. ~ 12 April 2005 at 10:45 AM

All of them are beautiful. Keep up the good work everyone!

3   Mike Purvis ~ 12 April 2005 at 10:53 AM

Those are quite attractive, very nice.

The key, of course, in this situation, is to provide as absolute much tweakability as possible, so that twenty clients’ web presences isn’t an identical design. (as has happened with Blogger…)

Are the clients of this system able to hand-edit the CSS and images that make these up, or is it just drop-in logo, etc?

4   Matt ~ 12 April 2005 at 11:08 AM

All look awesome!

5   Gabriel Mihalache ~ 12 April 2005 at 11:12 AM

Your excellent work is second only to the amount of compliments you pay to each other. :-)

6   Justin Perkins ~ 12 April 2005 at 11:12 AM

Very nice, I love the detailed work you guys all put into these projects, but it makes me work much harder on my projects ;)

Of particular interest to me was Bryan Bell’s Preston themes.

The very subtle dual meeting point between the masthead and the two column separator is great. Reminiscent of MC Escher ala the Penrose Stairway

7   NazT N8 ~ 12 April 2005 at 11:13 AM

Great job! They all look really neat and squeeky clean.

8   Jeremy Boles ~ 12 April 2005 at 11:33 AM

Its neat seeing everyone’s styles and personalities come through in each of the designs. Kudos to all!

9   Cameron Moll ~ 12 April 2005 at 11:40 AM

Mike Purvis - Not sure. I believe that’s currently being determined.

10   Dan ~ 12 April 2005 at 11:41 AM

All of it looks fantastic. Nice work!

11   Nat Davis ~ 12 April 2005 at 12:18 PM

I don’t mean to rain on the parade of congratulations here, but aside from the fact that the templates are css-based, what is the big deal here?

while some of the templates are nicely done, in general, they like generic mid-90’s ecommerce sites, done in css rather than with tables. i realize that the point of templates is to be somewhat generic, but when blogger did it, it was a major site offering a huge number of css templates - something that hadn’t been done before. this is a site nobody’s ever heard of with a handful of templates. what’s new here?

i’m probably ranting more than is warranted here, and i don’t mean to belittle anyone’s work here, but it seems like much ado about nothing.

12   Carl ~ 12 April 2005 at 12:46 PM

I’d have to agree with Nat. I don’t see what the big deal is. They look like just about every other CSS template out there… bland and very blog-like.

I’m over the whole blog look and feel. Can’t we, as designers come up with something new? It’s getting really old.

13   Cameron Moll ~ 12 April 2005 at 12:51 PM

Carl, Nat - Your comments are appreciated. I don’t think the point here is that we’ve outdone this or outdone that or, created the world’s most stellar template design, or overcome bloggy this or bloggy that.

Instead, what we’re attempting to demonstrate here is the power of tapping into the design community a) to produce solid design b) in a short timeframe c) that’s likely more robust than your average MT or WordPress or Blogger template. Each template is required to have 1) 5 color permutations, 2) one, two, and three column variations, and 3) an accompanying email template. All CSS, including the email. And then, of course, users can go to town customizing their site, and the design has to hold up throughout.

I don’t know of too many site builders that currently do the same. You?

14   Carl ~ 12 April 2005 at 01:11 PM

I understand your point completely Cameron, and agree. Sorry if my comments came across as knocking the designs.

Have just been getting burnt out on the same old bland bloggish look and feel that imo is dragging down the CSS design community.

It is, however, very cool the approach that Zaadz is taking. Tapping into the design community, as well as using standards compliant CSS templates.

15   Jason Santa Maria ~ 12 April 2005 at 01:14 PM

Nat & Carl: I’m not quite sure what you are saying. Are you upset that we didn’t push more boundaries, despite the mentioned guidelines the project called for, or are you upset because you don’t think we should be writing about new work we have completed (that you may feel is less than original)?

Regardless of whether or not anyone is over the whole blog thing, the fact remains that this was a client gig and we had parameters to follow. These are templates for a publishing platform, therefore they are personal-content driven designs. I don’t even know where the mid 90’s e-com remark comes into play. Do you remember what the web looked like back then? I will go out on a limb here and say these look quite a bit better than the web did 10 years ago. What are you guys really upset with here? It’s not the designs, it sounds like it’s more the state of the web and the microcosm of the blogging community.

16   Cameron Moll ~ 12 April 2005 at 01:15 PM

No apologies needed, Carl. I understand where you’re headed. I express similar sentiments. It’s just that this particular project is not the place to get wild and push the limits, given how the completed work will be used.

17   Cameron Moll ~ 12 April 2005 at 01:17 PM

Ha, JSM and I posted simultaneously…

18   Carl Peterson ~ 12 April 2005 at 01:26 PM

I think these templates are top notch. Most templates I’ve seen have things like drop-down menus and needless JavaScript and other unnecessary things. It’s almost as if they are just showing off what they can do, rather than provide a usable product. These templates have nothing you don’t need, and are very customizable.

19   Nat ~ 12 April 2005 at 02:44 PM

Jason: I’m not disappointed by the lack of groundbreaking design here. I completely understand the concept of working under client guidelines, that wasn’t my point at all. I also have no problem with anyone posting about their new work, original or not.

Actually, I think you’re right; I suppose my point is more a criticism of CSS-focused design blogs in general, in that it doesn’t seem to take much anymore to impress the css community. I feel like as a community, we’ve moved beyond the point where simply using CSS is noteworthy. I’m suppose that if anything I am disappointed because this just seems like more of the same when I expect more from this community. That’s not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with this particular project, or to dismiss the talent involved- it just doesn’t seem worthy to me of being singled out as extraordinary work.

20   Ivan ~ 12 April 2005 at 04:37 PM

Well, I actually agree with both sides of the issue, to a degree. To Nat’s point, though, if you’re just talking about the CSS community, then you’re absolutely right. However, as a recent “convert” I can assure you that there is still the larger Web Design community to consider, many of whom havent yet been brought “into the fold” so to speak. There are still plenty of people for whom using CSS the way it was intended will be a big step, even if it’s old hat for most of the designers you know.

21   Foofy ~ 12 April 2005 at 05:14 PM

Such a burning! envy inside me! :)

It amazes me how you guys can consistently produce such solid work. I can barely get crappy WordPress templates out on time!

22   Nat ~ 12 April 2005 at 05:43 PM

By the way, Cameron, I saw your comments about using CSS for email on Jason’s blog, and that’s something I’d definitely be interested in reading more about. I’ve done some hybrid layouts, but I haven’t had the time to get into total css layouts.

23   Justin Perkins ~ 12 April 2005 at 06:10 PM

I don’t know how much I’d trust CSS layouts in email form, look at how many people use web-based apps to view their email…how can you have a self-contained standards compliant document inside another HTML page? How can you include a stylesheet if your document is within another document? Go inline styles?

Web-based email apps aside, how much money are you putting on Outlook to render the CSS in the email appropriately? Not too much, I hope.

24   Justin Perkins ~ 12 April 2005 at 06:25 PM

Saw your post over at JSM, Cameron. I’m reading up on CSS in email as we speak ;)

25   Cameron Moll ~ 12 April 2005 at 09:01 PM

Seriously everyone, trust me — CSS emails are not that hard at all. Outlook, Hotmail, Thunderbird… I’ve done ‘em all many a time for over 2 years now. Sure, there are a few things to watch out for, but a breeze once you get the hang of it. Here’s another sample tested and sent over a year ago: reseller email

26   Justin Perkins ~ 12 April 2005 at 11:25 PM

My experince with HTML/CSS emails has been mixed at best, but I’ll take your word for it Cameron.

Clients like GMail and SquirrelMail (the two I use most frequently) are quite bad with HTML/CSS/Images.

27   Rob ~ 13 April 2005 at 12:14 PM

Nice work Cameron! Really well done.

Rob Costlow
Chief Community Officer

28   Aaron ~ 13 April 2005 at 12:17 PM

Hey Cameron,

Just wanted to say thanks for your work in organizing this project and pullin all of these designers together on a very short time frame. It really was a stellar job.

In response to some of the comments here, the goal of this project was not to come up with something completely new and revolutionary, but to take the approach of introducing “good design” to the masses through the web building tool we are putting together at zaadz.

I’ve done a lot of research into the current options for do-it-yourself websites out there and, trust me, most of the stock templates are horrible.

We wanted to give our users some designs to start with that they could really be proud of and that followed the latest emerging design standards.

Remember that there are a lot of people out there still trying to hack a template out in FrontPage. I don’t think they are the ones that are checking out this site but they are the ones that we want to be able to empower.

Again, great job to everyone involved.

29   Linda ~ 13 April 2005 at 02:46 PM

Ah! These templates give me a feeling of peace. Nice! :-)

30   Sadish ~ 13 April 2005 at 03:18 PM

very nice templates.

I am just wondering how long it took for this pro’s team to come up with such nice templates.

Congrats to everyone.

31   Matt Johnson ~ 13 April 2005 at 11:03 PM

Referring to some of the comments made about how the majority of the web design community is still premature to css, xhtml, and standards. I would have to agree that, there is a large majority of people that have no clue about any of that. I remember the first time I ran across this site, which was my outlet to this entire community, Cameron made a list of all the great designers that lead this industry with standards, and I book marked every single one. And from there I started learning it. How I even found Authentic Bordem is beyond me, but the fact that I did was something of a rare. Theres where people like zaads.com come into play here, as well as every single designer who preach of css, xhtml, and standards. They reach new audiences, or different audiences from different backgrounds, and educate them of css/xhtml standards, and then that audience becomes acustom to that sort of design, or that way of thinking, and pass it on.

But at anyrate, im sure most of this is just late-night ranting, considering my current state and might just be common sense, but I thought I should post my opinion.

32   Iva Koberg ~ 14 April 2005 at 07:42 AM

Great work on all the templates! It’s definitely not easy to come up with visually appealing layouts that are flexible enough to be customized for various site needs, without even knowing what the purpose of a site will be, who the intended audience is, etc.

And, congratulations to Zaads - it is important for tool makers to educate clients on the benefits of standards. Sure, many clients don’t know or care about web standards, but the design/web developer community surely does at this point, so we should promote the ideas subtly, as this example does.

We are planning to do a similar collection of templates for our CMS, liveSTORYBOARD - it doesn’t matter that few clients ask for standards compliance specifically, we consider it simply another method of providing value and quality.

33   Julian ~ 16 April 2005 at 06:21 PM

Nice looking templates. It’s just too bad you’re producing these for an outfit like Zaadz (Powered by Zaadz) who charges $600 a year. Who is going to pay $600 for a full year of what amounts to as basic blog service?

I think you’ll get more satisfaction designing for sites like MT (which you are using here), TextPattern or Expression Engine. You might even make a little money.

34   Cameron Moll ~ 16 April 2005 at 10:51 PM

Julian, you’re comparing apples and oranges. Blogging software vs. an entire suite of site management tools and services.

Further, if you could make “a little money” designing MT templates OR good money designing Zaadz templates, which would you choose?

35   Julian ~ 17 April 2005 at 10:11 AM

If by “entire suite of site management tools and services,” you mean “a little collection of famous quotes… inspirational poems, speeches, and essays as well as our knowledge section where you can sharpen up on business, psychology, health, and philosophy,” (that’s on the main Zaadz page) then no, thanks.

From checking out their site, I cannot tell what it is they are targeting. I’ve never heard of an outfit that offers site management tools that also offers spiritual inspiration. There is a disconnect there somewhere. They need to have a Mission Statement that clearly tells me why I should patronize their business. The way it is right now, I don’t even want to bother signing up for the Free 30-Day Trial.

By the way, Zaadz is not really that different from Blogging software. In fact, the “Web Services” section, they refer to themselves as “Content Management.”

As for your question, let me answer it this way: I like many of the designs that you and your friends created. I could see myself buying a few of those templates rather and applying them to my own site rather than signing up with a dubious-looking website that’s a One-Stop location for all your Poetry, Hymns and Site Management needs.

You should create a price list for your templates. I bet you’ll get more people like myself interested in purchasing them.

36   Bruce ~ 17 April 2005 at 02:49 PM

Very impressive Cameron. Love the templates, and it seems you have assembled an awesome crew of people to work with an amazing company. I checked out Zaadz to see what the fuss was over, but I found an amazing positive company who I think holds a lot of promise. Check this out:

Be sure to check out the manifesto on the side. Brought a tear to my eye!

Empowering and inspiring small business owners to do what they do better. Good stuff. I will keep an eye on Zaadz as I look forward to seeing what it grows in to. =)

All of that stuff aside, I am sure you are working with specific guidelines, but your creativity is amazing. Looking forward to seeing what pops up on this site, and on Zaadz!

37   Christina Balas ~ 17 April 2005 at 05:41 PM

Rank amateur speaking: I started designing site (singular) 6 months ago for the e-business I’m starting up; armed with zero knowledge about design, html, coding, or business. (It was time for a challenge) Some weird googling got me into CSS; and now I’m hooked, and somewhat less ignorant, thanks to the amazing generosity of the CSS community in sharing their skills and experience. First time I post anywhere, so I’ll take this opportunity to extend deep bows of gratitude in all directions!
The templates look good; with respect to the content, though, I think it would have been much more useful to show a “products section” page. I have things to sell, I want to show pictures of my goods - thumbnails, enlargements, description of products, prices, links to related information, links to related products - those are really the pages that matter, not a page with just text, as zaadz apparently asked you to do. So - the templates look very cool, but not really relevant, IMHO.

38   Jared Christensen ~ 18 April 2005 at 09:47 AM

Julian -

You’re not even looking at the correct site. As Cameron mentioned, the service hasn’t launched yet. No doubt a new section or URL will be added on to Zaadz in the coming weeks.

You also missed the part where it is explained that Zaadz will be launching a new site and identity. I am betting it will look much less “dubious.”

39   Susanna ~ 19 April 2005 at 01:38 PM

This is why I come here: to get new ideas and keep my designs from getting stale (I’m not really a designer, but I play one on the web). Interesting use of gradients, drop-shadows, and textures in the templates has given me some ideas.

40   AkaXakA ~ 21 April 2005 at 08:51 AM

Looks good & solid.

I. Like.

41   Thomas ~ 23 April 2005 at 06:21 PM

Templates looked wonderful, not sure which one I would pick at this point as they all have a unique look and feel that shows in each designer.

42   Meredith ~ 23 April 2005 at 08:32 PM

I certainly wouldn’t be able to decide between any of them, they’re all too lovely! Nicely done!


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