Mark Bult Design: San Francisco, CA, Established 1988

Web design and development for small and large business, e-commerce, b2b, b2c, SAAS, and community websites. User experience design and usability testing.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The history of

History and Name

I registered, my first domain, in 1997. It was not long after the dawn of the web, and domains were expensive. Back then it cost $100 to register a single domain for a two-year period, whereas it’s about $10 per year these days.

I tried to get the .com and .net versions, but they were already taken. was a company selling magazines online, and was later bought by Barnes & Noble (today redirects to

The name had several benefits. It was short, which was important back then. Browsers had no autocomplete function, so making people type long URLs was a no-no.

The name also had the advantage of being slightly ambiguous. Not always a good trait, but in my case ideal, as I wasn’t entirely sure what the site would evolve into, and I liked that it could mean either “electronic news” or “environmental news,” both of which were things I had an abiding interest in.

Lastly, the domain was actually available, which was practically as difficult back then as it is now. At the time, the web was really taking off, and savvy pioneers were buying up as many domains as they could afford. At $100 a pop back then, I certainly couldn’t afford many, but I did purchase a couple others back then that I still have (today I own 30 or 40 domains; I’ll write more about those some other time).

At the start I used as an online magazine of sorts, and a launchpad to other sites I liked. I had collected and written some articles and was putting them in a section on the site I called Freehold, sort of a melange of topics from music to censorship to art. I also hosted my friend Tony’s list of rock bands he’d photographed (I still host it, actually, and it hasn’t changed much since 1998). I was putting together a Dandy Warhols fan site but I later partnered with the band’s webmasters instead, and just sent them some of my photos. Sadly, I never had enough time to finish many of the articles I was working on &emdash; coding had to be done entirely by hand back then and it was a time-consuming chore. I also pointed visitors to some off-site links I had something to do with, like Bay Area Action, the Headwaters Forest site, the EcoCalendar (all of which I designed and maintained), and one or two others.

Later I began using to host a calendar for my design clients, so they could see my schedule and where their projects fit in, and could avoid hearing me say “I’m too busy on other people’s deadlines right now to do your [insert design project here].” I’d also upload JPG drafts of early designs, then I’d email clients a link where they could view the works-in-progress.

Early technology

In the early days I coded entirely by hand using the excellent program BBEdit. But it was a hard thing to do back then: there was no color-coding of tags and error-checking had to be done by hand, so if you left out a < or something, you had to search through line-by-line until you figured out why your page was completely broken.

Later Claris came out with a tool called HomePage, and Adobe developed PageMill. I tried both when they were still in beta, and they were an enormous step forward but still had lots of problems. After they shipped, I found HomePage to be the more consistent and functional tool, and I used that for several years, still finding BBEdit indispensable for a lot of stuff as well. At the time, I estimated that switching to HomePage had increased my web page creation productivity by 10x. FTP was done with Fetch and graphics were of course done in Photoshop.

A few years later came NetObjects Fusion and Macromedia Dreamweaver. I found Fusion to be promising but a little half-baked at first, plus it was just too expensive for me at the time. Dreamweaver seemed too error-prone and crash-prone so I decided to keep an eye on its development but to hold off. I eventually switched to DW and have been using it as my primary development tool until this writing (Feb 2009).

I’ve tried numerous FTP apps over the years and I like Transmit, but usually I just rely on Dreamweaver’s integrated FTP. Graphics and all the web design I do is created in Photoshop first, and images are sliced and optimized using PS as well. I use Illustrator for some graphics but if they’re going to the web, then they always get imported into Photoshop for placement, sizing, and optimized export.

I’ll write more about the tools and technologies I use today in a later post.

10+ years

In 2007 I realized it was my website’s 10th birthday and thought about putting up a special commemoration of some sort, but I just didn’t have the spare time in my life at that time. I guess I’ll have to wait until 15 or 20 : ) For now, the screenshots below will have to suffice.

Previous versions of this website
Click on screenshots for larger versions.

Version 1

This is the earliest design I could find. There might have been an earlier one, but if so it’s apparently been lost. This is a terrible design by today’s standards, but it was the cutting edge of sophisticated web design for 1997. Freehold and Rally Cry were both hosted on The other two sites I link to here were separate things I created for Bay Area Action and the Bay Area Earth Day Coalition.

Version 2

This is when I started using the site more for my design business. That’s my hand holding my business card. Digital cameras were still very new then and I didn’t own one (they were pretty expensive), but I had a decent HI-8 video camera and a very cool video input card on my Mac, so I could take video and digital still captures with that. I turned off the lights in my office at night and shined a desk lamp at just my hand; a few quick Photoshop edits later I had a pretty cool picture for the home page.

Version 3

In 2000 I shut down Western Front Graphics and joined with two partners in a design firm we called Flux51. Of course we had our own site at For that reason, and because all my free time went into volunteering with nonprofit Bay Area Action and Acterra, I had nothing at all on for two long years, just this placeholder. I know, pretty lame huh? : |

Versions 4.0, 4.1, and 4.2

I got motivated to redesign the site in 2001 or 2002 and I finally launched an all-new site with lots of cool new content, especially photo galleries. This version had good shelf-life, and I expanded it and tweaked it numerous times over the years. I later built out my portfolio on this design framework, and it also hosted some sites for friends, like Olya Milenkaya’s art portfolio, Diane Choplin’s photos, and Velma Gentzsch’s blog.

Version 5


In 2005 I finally had time for another overhaul, and I redesigned the home page, added an all-new portfolio page, and added a photoblog. My blog was still using a Blogger template and I meant to get around to matching it to the rest of the site, but sadly I got busy with work and never had enough time. Overall this design has served me well over the past three years. It’s gotten me a few new clients and has been featured on several web design and CSS galleries.

Version 6

This is the design I’ve been working on for several years, by far the most in-depth redesign of ever. I invested time and effort in deep research and numerous iterations before I found a design I could commit to (more about the process here later). I even considered switching all my stuff over to, since I own that domain too (and I still might do it). As you’ve probably noticed, the branding is nearly invisible on the new design. This was on purpose, but there were many pros and cons either way, and I’m still kind of waffling on those, so I kind of split the difference and kept the domain (since so many people know me by it), and rebranded the design. Much of this is actually launched and my new portfolio is about 75% done, but I haven’t had time to convert the blog to WordPress, back up and install the Pixelpost photoblog, and so, so many other things I need to do. I got really busy with freelance work this past year and had nearly zero time to work on the site, so it remains largely unseen for now.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Bike to Work 1997

I found this email I sent out 11 years ago about a Bike To Work fundraiser I did for Bay Area Action, and I thought I’d archive it here in the journal. I did survive the 42-mile ride. I don’t, unfortunately, remember how much I raised.

A little personal spam from your friend Mark don’t-hate-me-it’s-a-good-cause Bult...


Dear friends,

In celebration of Bike To Work Week 1997 and as a fundraiser for Bay Area Action, I am asking my friends to participate in what I’m calling Mark’s Annual (Maybe If I’m Crazy) Bike To Work To Raise Money For My Favorite Environmental Nonprofit Organization Day, otherwise known as MAMIICBTWTRMFMFENOD.

There is no obligation to participate, and I promise I’ll still speak to any of you who decline, but I can’t promise that you’ll stay on my holiday card list (hey, wait, I didn't send out my holiday cards from LAST year yet).

I’m going to set off on a 42-mile round trip bike to work and back this week or next (depending on how many of you respond right away with huge pledges), and I’m asking friends to pledge a certain amount of money for each mile I cycle.

The cause is a good one. Some of you are undoubtedly familiar with Bay Area Action, the environmental nonprofit of which I am a member. In case you aren’t familiar with some of the great things we do, you can find out more on our website (go to [edit: that archived site is non-active], then check out the projects pages), or I’ve included a brief description of our projects below.

But first the pledge!

Anything you’d like to donate would be greatly appreciated, but obviously the more you’re willing and able to pledge, the more Bay Area Action can do to better our community and our environment. All donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by our gracious IRS, and I pocket nothing (100% goes to BAA).

Pledge levels (or make it up yourself):
(Round trip Los Gatos to Palo Alto = 42 miles)
42 miles @ 50 cents/mile = $21.00
42 miles @ 75 cents/mile = $31.50
42 miles @ $1.00/mile = $42.00
42 miles @ $1.50/mile = $63.00
42 miles @ $2.00/mile = $84.00
42 miles @ $2.50/mile = $105.00
...or surprise me!

If you’re interested in pledging a donation, please email me back with your pledge amount, or call me at my office [old phone number removed].

The route:

The trip will take me on a slightly hilly journey through the western side of Silicon Valley and up the Peninsula. I’ll be leaving from my home in Los Gatos and heading up Highway 9 into Saratoga, where I’ll continue up De Anza Boulevard into Cupertino. I’ll skirt around De Anza College and pass some of the more interesting high tech companies most of you would be familiar with — Apple Computer, Symantec, Power Computing, etc. Then it’s up Stevens Creek and a rather steep but short hill, where at this point I should be thoroughly drenched and in possible need of bypass surgery. If I’m still alive I’ll pick up Foothill Road, heading toward Los Altos Hills, where it becomes Foothill Expressway, then from there it’s all up and down little hills until I get to Arastradero Road in Palo Alto. Then I head toward the Bay, cross Alma and the CalTrain tracks, head north parallel to Middlefield, and then into destination Midtown Palo Alto, where my office is located. Once there I might collapse and need resuscitation, but Stanford Hospital is not far. The return trip, should I live, is much the same route (but in reverse — and I don’t mean I’ll be biking backward!).

The cause:

Bay Area Action (BAA) is a 7-years-old environmental action and education nonprofit organization. Among our programs is the Arastradero Preserve Project, a unique public-private partnership with the City of Palo Alto that sees BAA serving as steward and habitat restorer of a prime 600-acre open space preserve owned by the City (and therefore the citizens) of Palo Alto. Our joint High Schools Group and Youth Environmental Action projects focus on teaching Bay Area youths about ecology and preservation issues through in-class presentations, fun and active meetings, an hands-on activities like creek cleanups. The Urban Agriculture Project operates two community gardens in Palo Alto and East Palo Alto, where plots are made available to families and community members to learn about organic gardening and raise their own plants and vegetables. As well, we have an Electric Vehicle Project with two battery-powered pollution-free cars, and a Habitat Restoration Project which coordinates hands-on habitat work in creeks, watersheds, baylands, and mountains. We have a number of other worthwhile projects like the annual Earth Day events and the Forest Action Team, but I won’t waste any more space when you can find out more by just asking me or hitting the website.

By the way, if you’re not already a member, any pledge over $25 gets you a full year of our nifty newsletter (designed by yours truly), plus that warm-all-over feeling of having done something material to help protect our environment.

Sincerely, thanks for your time,

Mark Bult
Western Front Graphics | Bay Area Action

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Logos designed by Mark Bult, 1986–2008

I think this logo for the Palo Alto Golf Course might have been the first logo I ever designed. At least, it’s the first one that I actually still like enough that I keep it in my portfolio. I still consider it one of my best.

I made it around 1986 or so. I was a teenager still, and had a job working at the City of Palo Alto’s Parks & Recreation Department, making fliers and signs and newsletters.

I’ve created a lot more logos since then. Here’s a sampling of my favorites from the past 20 years or so. Click on “Next” to scroll through them all.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Arbokem's Downtown Paper

Two weekends ago I was at Compostmodern, a one-day conference put on by the AIGA about sustainability and the design industry. I chatted for a while with the reps for the great paper company New Leaf Paper, and I asked them if they'd ever heard of Arbokem paper, which I'd used back in 1997 and '98 for some clients and for Bay Area Action's letterhead.

Arbokem's little-known Downtown Paper line was one of the best alternatives on the market back in the late '90s, and that's saying a lot. That time was pretty much the beginning of recycled papers' popularity, but almost no companies processed chlorine free and very few paper lines were 100% post-consumer.

But Arbokem's Downtown line was even better. It was 45% wheat straw (agricultural waste that would ordinarily be burned and cause air pollution), 42% post-consumer recycled paper, and 12% calcium phosphate, which whitened the paper without the normal chlorine bleaching process that causes cancer-causing chemicals to be poured into our streams.

Tonight I was thinking about the paper again and I Googled Arbokem to see if it's still around. Sure enough, the company is, and apparently they do all sorts of other obscure R&D, but it looks like the paper is not produced anymore. Shame, it was a great alternative.

Incidentally, while Googling Arbokem I came across this 1997 article from the Palo Alto Weekly that I'd never seen, which mentions my use of Arbokem (look for "Western Front Graphics," my old company name, about two-thirds down).

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