Rescuing Structure _ aka. Why I (Still) Love Graphic Design

I held off on writing this for quite some time. I know what I want to say, but whether I will be able to bring it together without going off in all sorts of tangents is another matter entirely.

So, I guess the best way to do it is by starting at the beginning:

Over the past two and a half years I have not been the happiest bunny. Downright miserable at times, in fact. Why this was the case will not be a secret to the people who read this blog (and I find to my complete amazement that there are quite a few people from all over the place that want to read this stuff - Uruguay? Thailand? Mozambique? Kazakhstan?). So, I am not going to go into any of my world related anguishes here. They are already known. Well, a bit is inevitable - but only in context, I promise

Bottom line is that I am often in a dark and agitated state of mind. And I have found a panacea for such states in the most unexpected of places: I edit code. Blog template codes, to be specific. 

To my knowledge there are only 2 blogging platforms that freely give you their entire code and let you edit it and then export is as a new template - and again, the operative word here is for free. (WordPress, you may ask? Nope, you have to pay for that, and quite a bit actually - set up a server or a hosting thingy where you have to first install the WordPress thingy if you really want to get your hands on the full code.) Anyway, with the ones that just give it to you freely - one of them is Tumblr, and the other is Blogger, which is where this blog that you are currently reading is, as well. Now, Tumblr themes are usually not the sorts of things where you would want to make major changes and edits. They are straightforward grid systems or column feeds. No extra widgets and sidebars and things that one can play around with. 

Not so when it comes to Blogger. This is a platform for blogs (not just image sharing, in other words) with all the bits and bobs that you need for that: Categories, labels, widgets, pages, sidebars, sections, menus, headers, footer, archive, and and and... It is a neglected platform with relatively few users (600.000 only to WordPress's 60 million). It is owned by Google (ouch!), but they do not seem to be making a particular effort in keeping it up or trying to make it more competitive or anything like that. 

And see - I knew that this would happen, I have gone off on a tangent right out of the gate! Who cares about blogging platforms? But, some context is needed. Where do I get the code from that I edit: Blogger. Not just the default themes that it gives (which are very few) but there are hundreds upon hundreds free to download 3rd party Blogger themes. And those are what I use.

Now, I had done some minor code editing before, when I tried to make some of these themes a bit nicer to apply to my own blog - changed some fonts, adjusted some margins, but all relatively minor stuff that one can do quite easily with this "add custom CSS" button that they have. But then, a while ago I ended up going inside the actual big code because I couldn't do what I wanted to do with just that button. There was something wrong with the template that went beyond a mere local fix - I needed to get to the actual structure. And, once I got to that point, a whole new world opened up to me. Obviously this didn't all happen that first time, but I saw the potential. And once I had seen that, it still took me quite some time to learn how to do what I wanted to do. To the point where today I am actually a pretty mean code editor. Not a Coder, a hasten to say - I still cannot write a code from scratch, there has to be an existent code for me to edit. I suppose I could learn how to write brand new code, there are some very good tutorials that I have seen. However, in a way that would not really be the same in terms of the joy that I get from fixing an already existent template. 

And so with this joy, we have now finally come to the actual meat of the conversation: Because, what also happened (and pretty much from the start - otherwise I would probably not have persisted) is that there was this profound sense of satisfaction and peace as I slowly learned to manipulate the code. I have been making things all my life more or less, and yes, of course there is always a feel good factor involved when something that was living inside your head comes out on a page or as a 3D object or whatever. But, this - what I felt when I got the code to do what I wanted it to do - was an entirely new thing. Initially, I guess it had to do with just achieving something that I had always deemed to be too difficult to understand. And then suddenly it no longer was. I could do it. Indeed, as time passed, getting it right became more or less automatic. Today, there is very little inside a Blogger template code that I wouldn't know right away how to fix, where to look and what to do. 

But, the sense of peace continues. Why?

These templates that I fix - they are like poor little birds with broken wings. Or worse yet, broken backbones. Entire skeletons even. A core element in them is no longer working properly. And that core element is structure. Which is why I have put the typesetting image at the top of this post. Because it is the same thing. An HTML page has that very same structure, inside which all the elements are nested. A table, in other words. If you were to strip an HTML page of everything that it contains, it would look more or less like an empty Excel table. So, shouldn't the traces of that table at least be visible? Shouldn't there be a framework? Alignment? Margins? And most importantly, shouldn't things connect somehow instead of floating around in a disjointed manner?

Legenda Original

Legenda Edited
I have put the "before" and "after" screenshots of one of these templates here so that you can see for yourself what it is that I am talking about when I say that there is a serious structural problem with the original state. Nothing connects. All we have is "free floating anxiety", to borrow a phrase from Mattias Desmet

But, you see - here is the darndest thing that the original designer of this seems to have been totally oblivious to: The structure is there! No way that it cannot be! This is an HTML document, for goodness sakes! All it took was some alignment, some spacing, adding a few strokes - and, there it is! Rescued!

All around me there are poor little birds with broken skeletons. That, obviously, I cannot rescue. I cannot make their structures come back. All the young people in mental fogs, aimlessly embracing fake ideologies in the absence of real ones. All the older people, mumbling platitudes, supporting "the current thing", no matter how absurd. People, young and old alike, "all dressed up with nowhere to go," as it seems? Where are the older people of my youth - my grandmother, my aunts, my uncles, my parents, their friends - sharp as razor blades, acerbic humor at the ready, critical thinkers to their very teeth? One more opinionated than the other. Fighting each other to the death over their opinions. What happened to opinions? Listening to opinions nowadays - well, it is rather like listening to an official news stream, isn't it? The ability to make connections! Gone! What happened? Well, we know what happened. Plenty of rantings even on this blog about dumbing down and all that. 

But all of these birds that can no longer move anywhere outside of the allowed perimeters of politically correct discourse - their backbones and their skeletons are still there! Buried under mountains of all kinds of media nonsense, fear porn of all sorts, social media addictions, cancel culture. But, still there! Except that it is unreachable. I have tried. Very rarely I still try to reach someone, especially someone younger. Doesn't work. Nope. 

So, fixing the backbones of blogger templates is a temporary calming to this perpetual anguish that I have. I cannot fix the world around me, how could I? But I can fix a template that maybe someone will use for their blog and then someone who reads that blog will maybe get a better sense of what it is that they are reading. Which is why it gives me more satisfaction to fix something than looking at something that I made myself. Healing something, even something as insignificant as a stupid blogger theme, feels good. 

But then, in all of this I have also come to something that is a bit more than just a personal "feel good game":

Graphic Designers. Throughout the ages our job has been to create visual structures within which words, ideas, concepts can be communicated and connected. Which is why I have that typesetting image at the top. But, it goes back much further in time. Just look at Egyptian Hieroglyphics or Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts. Chinese Ideograms or Roman Inscriptions. Have your pick. It is always there. The structure. And the connective mesh that binds different parts together into one whole. But what about all the deconstructivist typography of the late 20th century you might ask? Go take another look and see the strength of the visual backbones that they created. If anything, they are the masters of structure!

So, my dear tribe, we have work to do. And you know what? Wandering around on behance and pinterest - I am delighted to see that, by and large, we still are doing the work. And remarkably well, at that. Whether it is a package for baby wipes or an ad campaign for a disgusting Fortune500 company - doesn't matter. Our job is to create the visual structures within which words attain meaning and connection. And maybe, maybe, maybe, this will help isolated individuals here and there to get a dim awareness of their own buried mental structures. Maybe. But nevertheless, it is a worthy cause for a profession. Which is why I (still) love graphic design.

Meanwhile, over the past year and a half I have "rescued" something like 50 templates. Until recently I just kept them on my hard drive, but then I had this idea to put them online with download links so that people can use them if they want to. The only caveat is keeping the footer information of the original creator of the template because at the end of the day, it is their work. So, if you are a blogger on Blogger, by all means, feel free to use them to your heart's content:

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