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How the CSS Zen Garden changed my life

By John ~ Friday, 29 November 2013

I am really happy to see entries from Elliot Jay Stocks and Trent Walton popping up on the CSS Zen Garden, a sure sign that it’s about to be big again. In a world where responsive web design is mainstream, one page marketing sites the norm and heavily art directed articles are getting more common place it feels like Dave Shea picked a perfect moment, again.

Looking back at my own entry is, I have to admit, pretty embarrassing. The whole concept feels vaguely sexist, though that was never my intention, it was meant to be a cheeky play on CSS being something sexy. What was I thinking! The execution of the idea is just awful. I think it was about a week after mine that the still excellent entry 126 popped up and I realised just how far I had to go.

Bad as I know the design is, the fact that it was judged good enough back then and made an official entry was a huge confidence boost at a time when I really was feeling like the industry would chew me up and spit me out. Without it, I am not sure I wouldn’t have just given up on my hair-brained scheme to become a bona fide freelance web designer.

Then there was the constant stream of traffic to my own site. There’s another tale hidden in amongst this of how I accidentally designed a popular website and faced with a suddenly high-traffic blog imploded, didn’t know what to do with it and wasted a massive opportunity, but that’s a story for another time. Despite my blogging stupidity the traffic from the Zen Garden lead to work, real, proper work and it continues to this day.

Not too long after my entry went live, I got an email from a start-up in San Francisco asking me to help on their project. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was, some numptey with a home-built PC, living out in the sticks, working for a Silicon Valley start-up. This was it, I could really make a living doing this. It didn’t stop there either, I got more emails from the Valley seeking my services and I’ve not stopped since.

This week the CTO from that first start-up got in touch, asking me if I was available to talk to a contact about a start-up they need design help with. Whether Rach and I win this next project or not (I hope we do of course) in terms of return on investment I’d say that weekend I spent cobbling together that Zen Garden entry has delivered over and over again.

It was pretty intimidating then as it is now with all those big names starting to pop up, if, like me, you feel like you’re an OK designer but not, you know, a real rockstar but I’d advise anyone starting out, or struggling to get clients, to just give it a shot. The process in itself is extremely satisfying and if it doesn’t get accepted, don’t worry Bruce Lawson didn’t make the list and look at him now. If it does become an official entry, it might just change your life.

Thank you Dave and here’s to 10 more years of the garden!