Review: Blog Design Solutions

Blog Design Solutions is a book by Andy Budd, Simon Collison, Chris J Davis, Michael Heilemann, John Oxton, David Powers, Richard Rutter, and Phil Sherry. Each one contributes a chunk of the book in covering Movable Type, WordPress, Expression Engine, TextPattern and a custom CMS.

The book starts off with a nice introduction to the concept of a blog and then dives into setting up Apache, MySQL, Perl and PHP that is the foundation for the applications used within the book. Setup coverage includes both OSX and Windows, which is nice.

Each chapter thereafter follows a similar structure:

  • installing the application,
  • creating a web standards-based design
  • integrating the design into the application

Movable Type

First off was Movable Type (MT) with Andy Budd. Having decent knowledge of MT going into this chapter, it was stuff I was familiar with. I felt it presented the topic well and there were no surprises. The only key thing that I felt was left out was MT’s recent addition of dynamic publishing, especially since it’s an area that I would like to learn more about. Andy first covers a typical installation and from there, presents an example design, working his way into building the HTML and CSS for it and how to go about integrating it into Movable Type.

Expression Engine

Simon Collison brings his EE knowledge to the table in the next chapter. I had little experience with Expression Engine (the least of all the ones in this book) before reading this and was happy with how the material was presented. Simon was smart in really covering how the template engine works as it is the trickiest thing to wrap your mind around. I still didn’t fully understand it until I tried building a site with it. (Once you discover how it does work, you’ll suddenly have that ah-ha moment and realize how flexible it really is.)


Two authors give their input on this one: Chris J. Davis and Michael Heilemann. This is probably the funniest chapter of the book with the sense of humour that these authors bring. The most disconcerting was the fact that with two authors, I wasn’t sure which one was “talking” at any given time. Otherwise, WordPress is covered in decent detail. They even touch on using plug-ins which is something that the other authors don’t really touch on. Also, in using an existing design (Kubrick) and simply customizing it, more of this chapter was spent on covering the WordPress code.


John Oxton certainly didn’t have it easy, by his own admission in the book, as TextPattern was under heavy development during his writing of this chapter. John’s coverage was straightforward and much like the previous chapters. He does spend a little too much time on proper semantics and web standards, as I felt the topic would have been more appropriate in a book solely discussing HTML and CSS development.

Write your own

At first, I wasn’t sure if this chapter belonged in this book. It seemed like it’d be too technical for what I imagine would be a novice audience but Richard Rutter does well in presenting it. Some of the material seemed dry, with pages of code just being displayed. It reminded me of my Nibble magazine days where I hand-typed assembler code out of the magazine to play some silly game. In the end, it’s a good topic to have been included as it gives even beginners an understanding of both the complexity and simplicity that goes on behind the scenes of a blog.


There are two keys things that would have been interesting to have in the book. The first is a closer comparison of the applications. This can certainly be difficult as it’s hard to do a point by point comparison when some of the tools, like Expression Engine, are available in a variety of versions or where features are always available through plug-ins. A page or two describing some of the pros and cons of each solution would have been nice.

The second thing that I would have liked to have seen is the use of the exact same design for each application. This way, I could see a more accurate comparison of how each application handles a similar situation. In doing so, the book could have focused more on the blogging tools themselves and not on the benefits of using CSS as it seemed each author needed to mention.

Is it worth it?

So, should you go out and buy this book? If you haven’t set up a blog before or have only set up one or two sites using a blogging tool such as these then I’d absolutely recommend it. It’s a great introduction to each approach.

Published May 13, 2006 · Updated September 14, 2006
Categorized as Book Reviews
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15 Comments · RSS feed
billg said on May 13, 2006

I found the discussion of setting up MySQL, etc., for localhosting to be the most valuable part of the book.

Geof Harries said on May 13, 2006

I ordered this from a few months ago and it kept getting pushed to backorder, so a few days ago I ordered a copy from for less money and it's already been shipped. Guess the Canuck company still has a few good tricks up its sleeve.

I am most looking forward to the chapter on EE and designing/building my own blog from scratch. Both have alluded me and I am stoked about being put on the right track.

sem kim said on May 13, 2006

i guess i could review myself reading the book. i'm gonna check it out definitely

EJ said on May 14, 2006

Thx for the heads up on the Textpattern section. My site (yeah im an amateur :P) is currently run on TP and i'd like to learn more about the code background, but I don't really need more information on accessibility and standardization. Definitely sounds like it's worth buying.

John Oxton said on May 14, 2006

Thanks for the even handed review Jonathan. :)

A couple of notes/thoughts regarding the TxP chapter:

* I was asked to go into more detail about the DIV tag which kinda lead me off in that direction and there was a need for me to tweak a bit of the local Apache config. Perhaps in retrospect this stuff would have been dealt with in a seperate chapter.

* I purposley didn't cover TxP plug-ins because it's so hit and miss, there is no offical spot where you can get plug-ins that are sure to work and not 'clash' with each other causing bugs.

Johan said on May 14, 2006

plug-ins can be useful if you can tweak them - this requires eg a good knowledge of php programming and queries.

A blog CMS provides a site structure for posting articles but a customized CMS for all purposes is what most like to know how doing just that

Jonathan Snook said on May 14, 2006

Oxton: I had a feeling some of the extra DIV coverage was due to editorial control. It just seemed odd, especially by that point in the book where the reader will have seen a whole lot of HTML/CSS tags since the third chapter. :)

Plug-ins are an area where most application developers really need to exert more control. At the very least, set up a central repository to find quality ones. This isn't just a TxP issue. Even applications like Mint should have a trusted source for plug-ins.

Shaun Inman said on May 15, 2006

The official Peppermill is coming but for now Peppermint Tea is quite capable, sometimes posting about new or updated Pepper before I've even heard about them!

Phil Sherry said on May 16, 2006

Nice review, thanks. :)

re: Improvements
I was due to add a comparison chapter, and more, but various real life issues meant I just couldn't commit any more time to writing.

WD Milner said on May 17, 2006

Firstly I'll admit I haven't read the book - yet. I have a large pile of backlog reading to get to.

On the TextPattern plug-in topic, there is always whch boasts over 300 plug-ins plus mods, templates etc.

Johan said on May 18, 2006

@ WD Millner: is that avatar pic: Thomas Moore?

WD Milner said on May 18, 2006

Johan: Indeed it is Sir Thomas Moore. When I first found it was actually in my image cache and didn't need to be resized so I used it to test the service. I just haven't bothered as yet to change it to something more original.

WD Milner said on May 20, 2006

To correct a typo that II perpetuated due to being somewhat groggy at the time I replied it should be More, not Moore.

håvard said on May 28, 2006

you are a GENIOUS!!! love u man..

Mathew said on August 19, 2007

I found this review most helpful, thank you. The book seems to be more at a foundation level, however, so I'll probably give it a miss.

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