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That’s Why It’s Called Smashing Magazine

posted by Matt Ward on Dec 30, 2009.

In this article, we look at the concept of the blog, specifically within the context of the design community. Moreover, we look at notions of content and structure, and why Smashing Magazine’s own name works as an anchor within the still-emerging blogsphere.

The design community is abuzz lately, murmuring of revolt, an uprising against the sea of content that is pouring through our favourite social media outlets and flooding our RSS readers, almost the the point of saturation – or perhaps even beyond. Some are merely whispers of discontent. Other bold calls to repentance and change are almost prophetic in their zeal. Every day, this buzzing gains a little more steam, becomes a little louder.

Ignore it at your peril.

And what, you may ask, is the source of this unsettling clamour? I’m sure that you must have heard it already, somewhere out there. On the surface, it is a resistance to the “list” post. You know the type. These are posts which gather a number of examples of a certain design technique, resource or any other common denominator. They are everywhere. I’ve written and posted a few of them myself, for which I make no apology.

The issue, as it presents itself, is that these list posts are, apparently, nothing more than recycled content. An author grabs a bunch of other people’s stuff, mashes it all together as a collection of screenshots and links, hopefully with at least a little bit of introductory text. They then create some sort of catchy title, post links to a number of different sites and sit back and watch the traffic pour in.

In some ways, it does seem just a bit too easy. In other ways, the content may seem trite or hollow. However, while lists are taking the brunt of the assault, I have also seen some tutorials and freebies attacked on the same general premise. Consider the articles Learn About Design, Not Making Things Pretty, which discusses the general failure of these posts to actually teach anything, or Smashing Magazine Killed The Community (Or Maybe It Was Me), which calls for greater thought and discussion and an end to a stream of copycats.

While both of these articles tend to attack lists posts to some degree, I think what they really illustrate is that, for many people, the issue is not so much the list post itself, but lifeless content, for which the poor and generalized list post is quickly becoming symbolic. The murmurer of which we speak, then, is more than just a general discontent with people publishing lists, it’s the beginnings of a complete revolt against the zombie content that has been slowly eating our creative brains.

I sensationalize.

Still, the fundamental truth remains. Readers in our community are getting tired of wasting their precious time on hollow content. It doesn’t matter if it’s a list post, a tutorial, a freebie or any other kind of post that you could imagine. If it doesn’t benefit them in some way (by teaching, equipping, motivating or challenging, for instance), readers are most likely to leave strongly dissatisfied.

But what does all of this have to do with the title of this article? Well, let’s bring it all back around. In all the buzzing and murmuring that we’ve outlined so far, in all the calls for change, one of the greatest targets of scrutiny always seems to be that most famous of design websites: Smashing Magazine. This particular site is actually known for publishing lists. They are even referenced as being where the site itself really got it’s start (again, see Smashing Magazine Killed The Community (Or Maybe It Was Me)).

Naturally, then, when attacks on list posts start to rise, so too will the related discussion surrounding Smashing Magazine. And that leads me to the second and more important point of this article, which is an issue of language and expectations.

Let me ask a simple question: is Smashing Magazine a blog? The simple answer should be evident just looking at the name. It calls itself a magazine, and in many ways it acts like a magazine. It publishes articles from a wide range of different authors, with a high standard for writing and content. Much of what it publishes is actually list-based articles, which is something that you will also see frequently in printed magazines – 10 Exercises for Rock Hard Abs, 25 Ways to Look Great Fast, The 7 Things that Will Blow His… well you get the idea.

Lists are in no way exclusive to the design community. They are a tried and true technique for developing, organizing and publishing content in bit sized morsels. A site like Smashing Magazine is simply adopting the technique into a digital medium. As such, lists and other magazine-like articles actually make sense.

That’s why it’s called Smashing Magazine (at least, in part).

On the other hand, though, there are some parts of the site do make it look like a blog. It has a very blog-like layout, with a sidebar and categories and archives and banner ads. It displays its content in reverse-chronological order and has an RSS feed (and displays its subscriber count). It has tags and a list of popular posts. In so many ways it just feels like a blog.

So, I ask another question: what is a blog today? Is the word, so recently coined, already plummeting into meaninglessness, on account of suddenly meaning too many things at once? Just consider the dramatic differences between Abduzeedo and Andy Rutledge’s Design View. Both are excellent, but wouldn’t we call both of these blogs? If so, then where does the definition lie?

Is it a matter of content? Recently I wrote an article for SpyreStudios, outlining what I perceived to be the six main types of articles circulating through the design community. That hardly seems like a strong foundation for a definition. Nor would it probably translate well outside of the community.

Perhaps the definition lies in the adopted structure – articles posted in reverse chronological order, complete with categories, archives and comments? Probably not, given that there is really no singular structural element which is completely sacred, or without which a site would necessarily cease to be called a blog. Moreover, there are questions of transparency, dialogue and community that are bantered around when discussing the emerging role of blogs, suggesting that there is at least some form of cultural expectation surrounding blogs.

We want a blog to be something, but what is that something?

I don’t think we’ve figured it out. I’m not sure we ever will. In some ways, I believe that the blog could very well become the epitome of postmodern media. It resists definition in a way that other media simply have not been able to do. And, as it resists definition, so too does it undermine expectation. You cannot know what to expect from a blog on account of it simply being a blog.

There are, of course, other factors upon which expectations may be drawn, such as subject matter, history and readership. There are also established conventions, which we see repeated across many such sites. However, as we enter a new decade, I think we will start to see more and more variations on the concept of the blog. These sites (and perhaps not even sites) will continue to evolve and change through purposeful innovation and wild experimentation.

But where does that leave us? Nowhere concrete, to be sure, but I say again – that’s why it’s called Smashing Magazine. The famous design site may still strike us as being a blog. It does not, however, rely on the concept of the blog to define its form. Rather, it uses its own name to define itself as a magazine, produces content like a magazine (and thus justifies its production of quality list posts), adopting its bloginess only at a secondary level, as a means to publish and deliver its content. I think this is part of the reason that it has been so successful. It found its identity and allowed that identity to control (to some degree) the direction of its content.

How many other design blogs can say the same thing? Maybe some of the most successful, but probably not the majority.

It’s something I am struggling with myself. What is the Echo Enduring Blog? Where is it going? Should it even retain the title of “blog” (a question raised by the ubiquitous nature of the term itself)? These are all important questions that I am going to have to come to terms with, and which I believe many other bloggers will have to come to terms with over the coming months and years.

Smashing Magazine? Not so much, I think.

I feel that I must apologize for the arc of this article. I kind of start in one place and end in another, without really bringing things all the way back around again. It is a bit more a stream of consciousness type post (or, what some people might call a rant). Please forgive me. Now, what about you, dear reader? What are your thoughts, opinions and/or counter-rants. I’d love to hear them.

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Also from Echo Enduring Media:

An Unfolding Tale

About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. He is also the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, a creative direct marketing company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow Matt on Twitter

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Dec 31, 2009

Jeff Finley says:

Well said Matt, it brings up a lot of questions. What is the GoMediaZine? Is it a blog or a magazine? We have Zine in the title, so it should be a magazine right? We have GoMedia in the title so is it a company blog? Actually we’ve been doing both over the past 3 years, never really knowing WHAT it should be. We’re trying to figure that out.

Truth is, it doesn’t really matter what YOUR blog/site is. It’s totally up to YOU, not some standard definition or assumed convention that everyone else practices. I think readers want something honest and real – something they can relate to with the author.

Dec 31, 2009

Matt Ward says:

I completely agree that our blogs are totally up to us to define. That’s kind of what I was trying to get across when I suggested that the “blog” might be the medium which most readily defies definition.

This, of course, poses a problem to readers who expect and crave definition, to be able to label and categorize everything in a very Modern and logical way.

But that’s getting a little philosophical…

As for the GoMediaZine, I actually thought a bit about your site as I was writing this. I really like what goes on there, and the use of the term “Zine” rather than full magazine.

To me a zine is something unique and wildly creative, unconstrained and independent. Or, “indie” as its sometimes called.

I’ve always sort of found that GoMedia also had an “indie” sort of feel to it (maybe through your strong connection to the music scene), despite your having achieved quite a bit of fame and success (at least in my view). As such, the term “Zine” just seems to translate really well for your brand!

Does any of that make sense?

Thanks for the comment!

Dec 31, 2009

Liam McCabe says:

Meh I say who cares.

Smashing Magazine is a website that delivers high quality daily-ish articles.

A blog type site I believe started out as just individuals writing daily about their lives. Just because a website uses software that blogs tend to use, that doesn’t make it a blog.

I agree with the fact the majority of design blogs have homogeneous content and don’t tend to bring anything new to the community but hey, what can we do? We can’t complain to website owners who deliver free content on a weekly basis. You’re not paying for it, so why complain when you can just visit various other design websites. Furthermore, if you look at design articles that become popular on delicious, digg and elsewhere, you will notice that there are always a few list posts. If the reader likes them, then why shouldn’t they be posted?

You raise some excellent points here Matt that deserve discussion. It would be nice to include some images throughout the post. I don’t think I would normally read just a huge block of text but did in this case :)

I think we have to understand that content is free. Some people out there may just be posting lists and posts that require little effort to earn money but there are others out there who just enjoy design. They enjoy it so much they’ve gone through the time of setting up a blog and now regular update it.

(to quote what you said at the end of your post ;) )

Dec 31, 2009

Felipe Martyn says:

I totally agree with your post.

Some websites that want to call themselves a stream of design news are really flooding. Those are really biz sites and blogs.

I think that is a utopia, but we must do it for the love in our hearts. I had to stop blogging for a while due other compromises, but I plan to come back in Feb.

More than machinery, we need humanity. Without this qualities life would be violent and all would be lost.

We need more than recycle content. we need people who understand that their actions can and must inspire the world for greater good.

If as my role of designer, I am not educating society to a better path then I am failing to do my part in the construction of humankind history.

Dec 31, 2009

twe4ked says:

I feel the word blog needs more sub categories, similar to how trees have species, blogs need ‘species’.

Personal blog (1 main author)
Company blog (authored by the company)
Paid author blog (paid posts such as TUTS+ sites)
Magazine blog (smashing mag etc.)

I don’t think the word blog is descriptive enough for many situations but it is still a great word to encompass all blogs and thats not going away fast.

Cheers :) and happy new year

Jan 1, 2010

Vladimir Remenar says:

Term “blog” has been stretched to it’s maximum and in the days to come a “blog” as a term will be used and abused like all web trends.

Someone’s (an individual!) thoughts (daily, weekly, monthly, whatever) put on a medium called The Internet is a Blog. Can my thoughts be lists? Yes and no…

Magazine: published articles by more than one author (!) related to a specific field of interest. Lists? Most definitely!

So what is Echo enduring? By all means it’s a blog!
What is Smashing? A magazine.

Too many thoughts currently running around my head… Will be back with those…

Jan 1, 2010

ixycreativity says:

I sometimes feel flooded by this trend of list design articles. I find them very superficial. There were few times when I found them useful, but the overall feeling is that it is too much. I am glad I didn’t begin growing as a designer in this era of list articles mania, the process of design is so much deeper than taking a look on a 50 “best” list of something and copy or getting “inspired” by them.

Jan 2, 2010

Design Informer says:

Well said, Matt. I actually enjoyed reading your so-called “rant.”

You definitely bring up some great valid points for discussion. I personally, like Jeff said, don’t know what my site is. I have been calling it a blog these days, but a blog nowadays can mean so many different things that it’s hard to classify what we have.

I do have the answer to what Echo Enduring, GoMediaZine, Smashing Magazine, Design Informer, and all the rest of them. THEY ARE ALL…………….WEBSITES! (LOL, J/K.)

But seriously though, I don’t really think it matters what we decide to call ourselves. It all matters about what the content we produce and how people like our content. Different people will have different perceptions of the type of website we have.

It’s like those people on Twitter that call themselves “Social Media Experts.” Just because they say that they are doesn’t mean that they are. Just because Smashing Magazine has the name Magazine in their name doesn’t mean that they are. I think that it’s subjective. Anyways, that was my little rant or some might call it, my two cents. ;)

Jan 2, 2010

Mirko says:

I don’t really understand why there is such a controversy about list posts. I write lists on my own blog, and even sometimes with no or very little added value.

Why am I doing it? Simply because my blog is a place for me to store my project research and save glimpses of my web browsing. I’m going to do the research anyway, so why wouldn’t I share it with others since they seem to enjoy it? If people don’t like lists, I have a good advice for them: don’t read them…

This said, I have to admit that I find well-written articles and thoughts on design way more interesting. I try to write some of these from time to time, but truth is that they take much more time and effort.

If you take a look further, bloggers like SwissMiss or Kottke don’t do much thinking either, they just find great content and share it. I’m still a happy subscriber and enjoy pretty much every of their blog posts…

Jan 2, 2010

Adit Gupta says:

I would be lying if I say that I completely hate list posts. I have learned a lot from them. In fact, some of them have indeed inspired me to come up with something creative.
It’s true that design is something which cannot be learned by just browsing through list posts. But I think it’s also important to know what other designers are up to. One can always learn a lot from great designs.
I would disagree with those who say that list posts are killing the design community. It’s like saying that a meteor shower will destroy the earth. The thing which is to be understood is the impact of a particular post. List posts showcase the beauty of design. They are beautiful to look at- just like a meteor shower, but their impact is short lived.
List posts are much different than an awesome post on design/design theory. Such posts have a long lasting impact – like a mega celestial event.
And one can always ignore a list post if they hate it so much!!
I don’t have any list posts on my blog because some awesome websites are already doing this!! One thing which can be improved here is the frequency of list posts. Anything in excess is bad and it gets redundant. There should be a balance between list posts and other posts.
That was a long comment!!
I hope i made sense!! :D

Jan 2, 2010

Janko says:

Nice read! You raised interesting questions here for which is hard to find the answer, as you mentioned.

The thing is that many of us hate list posts and in the other hand we all read and love Smashing Magazine (well, at least I do). Why? Because SM today is the most influential site in the community which delivers high quality content, be it list posts or not, no doubt about that.

I hate the fact that my RSS reader is flooded with posts that begins with number, and I ignore them. But not all of them. I always enjoy reading list posts published on Smashing Magazine or Web designer depot. So the problem is not in list post themselves. The problem is the source.

Jan 2, 2010

Hawke says:

I think that one of the important aspects of the anti-SM articles (will not lie; initially typed “anti-S&M”) wasn’t based on being a blog or not. The distinction of magazine versus blog versus something-in-between is irrelevant under their argument… the point was that the content has been recycled to within an inch of its life. These days, list articles don’t even comment on the screenshots or links; that would require effort.

Yes, magazines are famous for “# of new ways to [verb]” articles. But how often do you see a cover story about that? Usually the number-noun articles are supplementary to some central theme of the issue. In fact, if we designate print equivalents to the web world, Smashing Magazine has gone from Elle Magazine to People Magazine to Ok!. To designers, Smashing is Perez Hilton with better subject matter.

The final point about the article on the “death” of our community is that it didn’t call them out for being bad articles. Boring, dull, over-done, and over-recycled nuggets of blandness, perhaps… but not bad. Nor did it call on an all-out war or boycott of any writer that dare post a list. Ironically, Drawar just put one up a week ago.

Instead, we need a return to discussion. These days, we’re more inclined to list 50 websites we like than debate just one that we don’t. I disagree with Drawar’s characterization of SM as all-lists all-the-time… but you can’t deny that he has a point, and that the guardians and gate-keepers of design (blogs) should be held to higher standards.

Jan 2, 2010

Edgar Andres Zorrilla says:

The Internet is a portal of Form and content that changes too fast in order for us to define.

It’s is more than aggressive and relentless. It is inevitable that even as professionals we question exactly what it is that we’re doing when we are looking for solutions for ourselves, our clients and solutions in defining our products.

“Everyone” wants to be in all social media networks, from Twitter to facebook and myspace and so on. When before, in this business all you needed was a website to promote yourself. Now were integrating interactivity and blogs into our sites whether they be portfolios or promo-microsites.

But indeed this post was an awesome read. It raises questions and makes us all want to get to work, at least it does for me.

Jan 2, 2010

John Faulds says:

What does it matter whether a site is a blog or a magazine? Why does there need to be a definition? To me, the important consideration about a site is do I like the content and find it useful? I’m not in the least bit concerned by what the site defines itself as or what other people label it as.

Jan 2, 2010

Synthetic Tone says:

I have noticed that the lists were getting out of control myself. What is worse than a list? I blog post of just the headline on another’s site linking to the list. I do recall once following 6 links to find the the original content. Everyone seemed to want a piece of that traffic generated from that content. Because of this, I quit retweeting posts that didn’t link to the original content. Felt like I was contributing to the mess.

How about those websites that post NO original content and only content is based off content of others? I could mention one design tutorial site in particular. In a sense, they are providing a service of collecting and displaying content from different sources but we all know its more about the traffic generated and advertising though. Its hard to totally call it wrong. Maybe a little unethical but, none-the-less it is a service of sorts just like the list posts. They are useful to a point but now we are just recycling the same content in different lists with slightly different headlines. That is where the distaste is derived in my opinion. In the end, the community will soon see some of the websites and blogs for what they are… traffic builders rather than a true content provider and those sites will suffer. I know there are a few I quit watching for this reason. Its kinda like Darwin’s theory is it not? lol

Jan 5, 2010

Shurandy Thode says:

I kinda find myself in a lot of points raised by this article and the comments given on it.

First of all I find myself in the same thought of Liam:

“A blog type site I believe started out as just individuals writing daily about their lives. Just because a website uses software that blogs tend to use, that doesn’t make it a blog.”

And then I kept on reading and came across Mirko’s thought:

“I don’t really understand why there is such a controversy about list posts. I write lists on my own blog, and even sometimes with no or very little added value.

Why am I doing it? Simply because my blog is a place for me to store my project research and save glimpses of my web browsing. I’m going to do the research anyway, so why wouldn’t I share it with others since they seem to enjoy it? If people don’t like lists, I have a good advice for them: don’t read them…”

I mean I can agree with you “the author” that where exactly do I want my blog to go, or do I know where it’s going or not. But on the other hand, I maintain my blog as a place where I do the things I like about design, media and technology and frankly I would love to gather information and opinions from others on my own blog. That’s my “garage” where I pile up my research, things i’ve learned etc etc. And I know i can count on my piled up things that i will always have them as information for my own using or for when others are looking for that certain info.

I also have a lot on my mind and it’s a good topic to keep the discussion going.

Pure texts, lists. round ups, whatever it be, I like to check up on all type of posts and see what I can use in my daily work as designer and in my daily life. That’s why I also write all kind of posts cause I know all of them can contain added value for the readers.

Frankly, I don’t know if we will ever find the answers but one thing is sure, i’m a subscriber here at echo enduring but i am also on smashing magazine, and both deliver added value’s in their own way and i have no complains.

Hope you understand my pov and continue with doing what you do best. (i mean designing and writing =) You could have use some lists or images in this article too! it would have add even more value to it…) *Just kidding ;) Great article

See you around! =)

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