Saving a Design for Posterity

This is more a question than an answer: How do you save a design for posterity?

The problem is that site designs change over time but the main content doesn't. Design-specific comments, both in your own site and linked to from other sites, become outdated and irrelevant each time the site design changes. Do we have an obligation to maintain those designs? Should there be a design archive?

Screenshots of previous designs only do so much. I think an HTML version is necessary. Especially to show off all the interactivity that exists on the page.

Imagine a feature on older archives that would allow you to revert the page to a previous design iteration. This would likely need some server-side code to determine if a previous design exists for the page.

Maybe it'd be cool to have every version time-stamped. Then you could set a parameter that said, "pretend it's January 8, 2005." Suddenly, the entire site is navigable like a crazy time warp. That would be neat. (if you were ever so geeky, it'd have a slider and fade from one version to the next...)

So, any thoughts?

Published May 30, 2006 · Updated May 30, 2006
Categorized as Other
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Elliot Swan said on May 30, 2006

That would definitely be cool, though I don't think we have any particular obligation to do so. By the time one has a new design, most comments (both internal or external) about the old one aren't likely to be read much anymore anyway.

An exception to this would be if you have an article explaining how to do something (say, JavaScript tooltips). If the only example you give is your own site, what about when you have a new design and don't include your own tooltips? People who do want to use them aren't going to know what they look like. So, for things like that, I think it's important to have a seperate, un-changing example page.

franky said on May 30, 2006

The idea of a 'design switcher' sounds nice and has even be considered by me. But problems might arise if you just have a 'design switcher'.

Is your backend still the same as 3 years ago? If not you might have to perpetually update the old design. Will you in 5 years still use the same 'preview technic' or is it design based?

Personally I keep every site ever made on some webspace. I could perfectly imagine the timewarp, but as an 'external archive'. I even don't know if I will still use WP in 3 months.

Joel said on May 30, 2006

A friend of mine, Scott Schiller ( ), has this sort of thing working on his personal page - change the year in the URI.

Tim McCormack said on May 30, 2006

What about the Wayback Machine? Sure, it takes anything 6 months to show up in their browsable archives, but they archive pages on a very regular basis, including the CSS and Javascript. It even updates the links so that they point to archived versions of those pages. Well, see for yourself -- here's your site's history.

( seems to be down for the moment, give it an hour. This sometimes happens.)

Lucas said on May 31, 2006

I've been considering this recently as well. My perspective on it is that you produce a design as a framework for authoring content that works well in it, but also looks stunning.

When I've built up past designs for my own blog, I've purposefully included certain typographic characteristics to leverage while writing posts. The result is a presentation of content that is completed by its typographic arrangement.

But when I tire of a style, or just want to shake things up, I may not necessarily want to impinge on the presentations of old articles. In fact, I feel like it's inappropriate to retrofit the content into a new skin. I finessed that content to display just so--I'm not going to do it again for every old article! But I hate the notion of lessening the quality of my previous productions.

I'm still wrestling with it.

Steve Tucker said on May 31, 2006

I do something like that with my websites. Everytime I release a new version I create a subdomain for the old one. For example:
version3....etc. etc.

Even my most up-to-date version has its own subdomain version number.

jojoman said on May 31, 2006

rthis is interesting

WD Milner said on May 31, 2006

I archive all my old page designs as well, though they are not online, for my personal sites anyway. I have the code if not all the content for some of my projects sites.

This has been easy in the past as they have for the most part been static with limited interactive user contributed content. As sites have gotten more and more dynamic this archiving becomes problematic, especially for very popular web log or forum sites with thousands of posts.

One of the most redeeming features of MovableType (though considered a drawback by many) is the ability for it to render the site as static pages making archiving an entire site and any point in time a simple matter and having said archive easily readable and accessible with just a browser - no database or script engine required. I wish more of the basic to intermediate CMS adn web log engines offered this feature. Though there is always wget :-)

Lim Chee Aun said on May 31, 2006

Sounds like the Wayback Machine ( ), I supposed?

Chris said on June 01, 2006

Sounds like a good idea, my only problem would be that I was glad to see the back of some of my old designs. Allowing them to live forever volountarily (rather than through or the Google cache etc) and actively promoting people to look at them could be like showing embarrassing childhood pictures on a first date!

karmatosed said on June 01, 2006

I have a switcher on my blog which I use to select flavours. I also use this on my portfolio where I allow users to select their mood. For me, it allows the freedom to develop different looks while still keeping a record. I don't use it in every site by any means but for me I like the notion of allowing the user to select what look they prefer.

Jason Beaird said on June 01, 2006

I set up a little style switcher on my website a couple years ago and when I redesigned I coded the css around my old source code so you can still get to my old 1900s theme as well as a styleless and less styled version. Although it worked, I don't know if I'll be able to stand my old souce code much longer. I'm already startin' to get the itch to redesign again and when I finally get around to it, I'd like to start with a clean slate. Keeping an html archive of old designs is a good idea though. I'll have to see if I can find the floppy disk that has the html version of this monstrosity from 1998. :)

P.J. Onori said on June 03, 2006

Personally, I think it's nice for purposes of nostalgia, but not much else. I think the content is worth preserving as it is the main focal point of the site, not the shiny cover.

Jonathan Snook said on June 03, 2006

PJ. The problem is that the shiny cover often has elements that are referenced from the content. My site is a prime example. I have posts referring to the comment form but it's changed in functionality since it originally launched. In those cases, the posts actually make little to no sense. Seems silly to just delete the posts, though. It'd be better to have a frame of reference.

Johan said on June 04, 2006

Offtopic: Man you do look like my friends dad!

AndrewD said on June 05, 2006

I was researching an australian designed CMS (go aussie!!!) called mySource Matrix @ which apparently has a style rollback feature. It's a very heavyweight CMS though and I haven't a job big enough to warrent giving it a go...

Kyle Bradshaw said on June 06, 2006

I would think if you developed from within a subversion repository from the start of the web application you might be able to pull something like this off. If you knew what revision the website was during a particular time frame (or just the CSS) you might be able to do some fancy scripting to show those versioned files.

Barry Melton said on June 07, 2006

I'm not sure if the question was ever answered entirely, but is there somewhere I can view your old design?

Nothing against the new one, which has an equal amount of pimptaculum, but I desperately miss seeing the old, frozen comments box.

Jonathan Snook said on June 07, 2006

Barry: I just reuploaded an archived version of the site. Some of the links might not work but you should be able to get through to the articles to experience that fixed-comments goodness of old.

On a sidenote, if you're using a browser that supports fixed positioning (pretty much anything but IE), click on the arrow in the top-right of the Post a comment box to switch to fixed.

Montoya said on June 09, 2006

That just sounds like too much work to me... Anyway, I kind of deleted some of my version 1 design, and my biggest problem is that my design changes for my site are usually motivated by necessity, as in I change the actual content quite a bit, so the old design is no longer compatible. I don't care though, I figure a new design should be better than the previous one so why bother keeping the old one around? :)

Lucas said on March 16, 2007


not work anymore. why? i want to see your old design.

Jonathan Snook said on March 19, 2007

@Lucas: I had taken it down because at one point I had implemented theming into the blog but I ended up taking that down leaving the old versions inaccessible. There's a screenshot on Flickr that shows what the old design looked like.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to send them to me directly.

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