Five Questions with Soh Tanaka

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Chris Coyier on (Updated on )

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.