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Five Questions with Soh Tanaka

Published by Chris Coyier

In looking back through some emails, I found an email from Soh in October 2008. It was a very nice message introducing himself, saying he has enjoyed CSS-Tricks, and that he was just getting into blogging and if I had any advice. This is what I said:

My best advice? Write, write, write. Write good original content and keep at it! Be honest, be real, and keep working on your site to make it the best it can be. And honestly... don't do roundups.

I'm not sure if I actually had any impact on Soh's blogging choices, but he sure has been writing some fantastic original content and the roundups are few and far between! (Seriously, I can't stand it when new bloggers just start doing this soul-less roundup posts instead of writing with any voice.)

Soh is a great designer with a nice clean style and good attention to detail. He also has a knack for teaching, which you can explore for yourself at his web design blog. Also, check out his lovely illustrated design gallery Design Bombs.

I think Soh is a rising star in the design world and so I've roped him in for this interview early so I can reap in all the Google results of people looking for information on him when he's famous!

CHRIS: You offer SEO services to clients. I recently said SEO is largely just common sense (although that doesn't mean it doesn't take work to implement that common sense). Do you agree, disagree, or have other theories?

SOH: You could say that SEO is common sense, given that good usability, design, and relevant content often leads to good SEO. In other words, a well-developed, intuitive, and beautiful site will increase the chances of people linking to you, which is an important factor in SEO. The problem is that good usability, design, and content is not always that common, and most designers tend to overlook all of the elements that contribute to a well-optimized site.

Choosing the right keyword or even little things like optimizing your alt tags/page titles/file names/etc. can make or break you when it comes to a competitive keyword. For highly competitive keywords, you need to go beyond just “common sense” and it really becomes a strategy to work your way up to the top.

I feel it’s advisable that designers and especially front-end developers get more familiar with SEO. It really influences how you think/code/design, which leads to a much healthier, lightweight, and clean site structure.


CHRIS: There is a lot of talk about how college educations don't do a very good job in preparing design students for actual design careers, particularly web design. You went to DeVry, how was that?

SOH: I attended DeVry to get my Bachelors of Science for CIS (Computer Information Systems), mainly to learn programming. Unfortunately, I never really developed a taste for programming and as a result, didn’t learn much. However, it did expose me to HTML, which ignited this obsession with design and front-end development that I now face. I was constantly seeking information on the net outside of school, reading blogs, and basically teaching myself what I needed to know. Without the drive to learn out of school and educating myself, I don’t think I’d be where I am today.

I feel the problem with most technology-based college education is that it’s outdated and does not teach current technologies, trends, and most importantly standards. This industry moves so quickly, it seems most schools and professors are out of touch with what is being practiced today. I would also say that textbook education can only take you so far, and schools don’t give enough of the “real life” and practical training that students need when they are released into the industry. Professors should not only have their students study from the books, but should also encourage them to visit established blogs as “go to” sources to get a taste of real life scenarios.

Whether you decide to go to college or not, I really think that it’s up to you to create the path and direction for your career. It takes self-discipline and dedication to achieve success in this industry, so take advantage of all the resources and help that you can get.


CHRIS: You have built Design Bombs, a new website design gallery. The design is unique, fun, and detailed which definitely helps it stand out in the sea of hundreds of design galleries. What was the motivation behind it's creation? Any future plans?

SOH: kind of unraveled randomly and I actually never had any plans to build it. It was actually an inside joke with the play on words “Drop Bombs” (referencing the street slang), and it was one of those A.D.D. moments that inspired me to create it. I had a lot of fun creating it, and I’m glad I didn’t get lynched by the angry anti css-gallery protesters.

In the near future, I would like to expand on creating a blog for it featuring “best examples” and “how to” kind of posts. But again, with my busy schedule, it’s tough maintaining multiple sites.


CHRIS: You don't run advertising on your blog. Do you feel like ads would be a turn-off for prospective clients? Do you have opinions on where advertising does and doesn't belong online?

SOH: Well one of the main reasons I don’t have advertisements on my site is that it was intended for the clients first. The main purpose of the site was to show off my portfolio and act as a business face for my freelancing. Later on I decided to try out the whole blogging deal. Even though my site is now known more for my tutorials/articles, I would still like to keep it clean and ad free. Perhaps in the future I will switch gears, but at this time its ad free.

I think advertising is very appropriate for community based sites, so popular blogs should definitely rake in the profit for their hard work. Also, since most blog style banners are cleaner and less obnoxious nowadays, I think it’s not as distracting as it was before.


CHRIS: Looks like jQuery is your go-to JavaScript library, as it is for many designers including me. Why do you think jQuery is so popular and how did you come about using it?

SOH: I actually started playing with jQuery when I interviewed you and a few others on my article “So You’ve Mastered CSS. What’s Next?” It was very motivating knowing that you and the others who I look up to all kind of pointed towards the same direction. I was on the verge of getting into flash, but I gave jQuery a try and ended up loving it.

One of the main reasons why I chose jQuery was the fact that there was an abundance of tutorials and resources for it. Each time I am stumped, it's a breeze searching for an answer or a hint to get me through the day. I would assume there are many others who got into jQuery for the same reasons I did.


  1. I was very much impressed by Soh Tanaka’s website, when i was searching for inspiration for my website…

    great interview..

  2. mokin
    Permalink to comment#

    I link Soh Tanaka
    blog is imperative.

  3. Permalink to comment#

    Cool interview, Soh – looking forward to seeing more great work from ya!

  4. Great interview!

  5. Good deal Chris, I like these interviews. You should do one a month or something

    • I definitely plan to, if not even more often. Got loads of ideas. For one thing, to include some women in the industry. All five days here and no ladies! Boooo me.

    • Thanks Chris, This gives us newbies some great prospective on web design for future.

  6. Soh’s site is so nice, great detail and use of color. I remember when I first saw it months ago, I spent a good while looking at all the code and method.

    Nice interview, keep going strong Soh!

  7. Permalink to comment#

    Another great interview!
    That is a great looking website, Soh. I remember running across Design Bombs when I was looking for galleries, and I was impressed then, glad to know who is behind it.

  8. Permalink to comment#

    Another fantastic interview. There’s so much to be learned from these interviews and the answers that emerge, I’m really gaining a lot of insight reading them.

    I especially like the quote right at the beginning of the advice you gave him:

    My best advice? Write, write, write.
    Write good original content and keep
    at it! Be honest, be real, and keep
    working on your site to make it the
    best it can be. And honestly… don’t do

    Spot on!!

    Thanks :)


  9. Adar
    Permalink to comment#

    Jquery Rocks

  10. I am loving these interviews. Keep them coming

  11. Nice interview Chris. I too have been a fan of Soh’s design and writing since I first came across it. You’re not the only one that thinks he is a rising star, I roped him into writing a few articles for me.

  12. The problem is that good usability,
    design, and content is not always that
    common, and most designers tend to
    overlook all of the elements that
    contribute to a well-optimized site.

    Well said. I think a major problem is often the attitude of one designer can do it all. We all need help. We all need extra eyes and a community that we can fall back upon where we’re supported and people understand us.

    I know in my personal work experience, when one of those three elements becomes the current focus of what I’m doing, the other two suffer.

  13. Just as on his own blog, Soh was very articulate. It’s rare to meet a designer who pays so much attention to adhering to current design standards, as well as SEO and good usability (though as Soh pointed out, the latter two are very much one in the same).

  14. Thank you Chris for this opportunity~ Your advice def made an impact on my decisions in the start and it gave me a solid foundation. Much respect! Looking forward to more of these interviews :-)

  15. You guys should see Soh DANCE… and I’m not even kidding… just to put him on blast!!

    This guy is a MACHINE on the dance floor and his crazy attention to detail in dance IMO is what led to his crazy attention to detail in design

  16. He is good, but not that good. His projects kinda all look alike.

    He has some really interesting and good ideas, footers, color schemes, but nothing mega unique and special… though i really like his simple design, probably because of excellent header image.

  17. Steven

    Great work/blog and great interview. Thank you both

  18. Great interview, I really enjoy finding about about people who run blogs/sites that I look at, its pretty crazy to think that the people who inspire me got inspired in pretty similar ways.

    We are all on the level and some have just been in the game a little longer then the rest. Its all about the time one invests and where it goes it up to you.

    Thanks again.

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