Kurt Kohlstedt is a good friend of EG. As the founder of three awesome sites in the shape of WebUrbanist, WebEcoist and Dornob, he also knows where it’s at when it comes to making the web a place full of interesting and insightful content. In this interview, Kurt gives the backstory on himself and his endeavours and talks about the common threads and differences between his sites. He also reveals what he’s currently up to, muses over the rich variety of his work, and speculates on how his projects might evolve. Oh, and man is this guy articulate. Check it.
EG: You’re the creator of no less than three great websites focused on various aspects of design and culture, from the urban to the environmental. Tell us a bit about your background in blogging, and how you got WebUrbanist, WebEcoist and Dornob started.
Kurt Kohlstedt: Looking back, the path I took to what I do now seems simultaneously very strange and utterly unsurprising to me: strange because I did not know what a blog was until shortly before I started my first one… but also unsurprising because of my educational background in writing (BA in philosophy), architecture and design (M. Arch with a sustainable and urban design emphasis). In a way, these sites are all variations on a core passion for writing and interest in themes related to creative, innovative and sustainable art, architecture and design.
Image from WebUrbanist Favourite, Green Art, Design and Technology
WebUrbanist began quite simply as a series of themed collections published a few times a week around a given artistic approach or design idea, then rapidly rose in popularity and evolved as it did. While the site always had an environmental thread running through it, it struck me that an ideal sister website would carry that focus further. WebEcoist was thus created in part to explore the relationship of culture, art and design to the natural environment more directly. Dornob arose out of a desire to cover a more focused range of home-related designs (houses, interiors, furniture) though with a shared interest in all things amazing and offbeat. While some loyal readers follow all three sites, some gravitate to one or two over the other(s) because of the length, style or focus of the particular site.
Also, while I may have founded them, I would be remiss not to also mention that many partners, colleagues, friends and fellow publishers deserve a great deal of credit for how far these sites have come in a few short years (though to list them all by name would take pages). These publications would not have the millions of monthly readers, quality of content or integrity of design they do without vital assistance each step of the way. The sites are particularly fortunate to have a dedicated and talented team of highly creative writers, editors and other supporters who continue to help them grow on a daily basis.
EG: Are there are any particular experiences that have helped fashion the way your life and interests have turned out?
Kurt Kohlstedt: Being the child of two professors, I ended up spending a good deal of my young life in various places as my parents travelled to research or teach. Early experiences in locations around Australia, Germany, Japan and other countries engendered an interest in the built environments of places – the physical frameworks that evolve within countries and cultures. Coupled with this I loved to read, write and sketch. For a long time I expected (and planned) to become a designer myself, a shaper of structures and spaces.
As I neared the end of my graduate program in architecture I started to become interested in the world of online publishing and freelance writing. When I submitted my thesis I faced a choice: secure a conventional job in a design field or move forward on the internet and see if I could make a living writing, editing and/or publishing online. I chose the latter and discovered that it was challenging and involved complexities I had never expected but that it was also more rewarding than I could have guessed. Despite long hours spent on many individual, joint and freelance projects, I greatly enjoy the creative and physical freedoms that online work affords me – as well as the feeling of being on a new media frontier.
Image from one of the Top 10 Weburbanist Articles of 2008, 24 Tales of Ghost Towns and Abandoned Cities
EG: What is it that you think makes each of your sites individually special spaces online?
Kurt Kohlstedt: As I see it, the common link between them is their focus on the extraordinary, unusual, innovative and creative people, places and things of the world – many of the topics covered fall far from the beaten paths within their particular niche. However, each of the sites has things that set it apart including approach, style and content covered.
WebUrbanist was intentionally designed to be a place where articles were in-depth, thorough and well-sourced – a reaction, in part, to the ever-growing tide of multiple-article-daily blogs that I felt did not go the distance when covering a particular topic. In short: it was created as a site where readers could expect each article to be fresh, detailed and full of related links and additional information. As new writers have come on board the topics have likewise evolved from the core art, design and travel focus to a broader set of subjects revolving around visual culture, innovative technology and more.
Image from WebEcoist Favourite, 20 Epic Fails of Green Technology
WebEcoist was created with a parallel once-daily-at-most approach but has a balancing emphasis on the environment (not opposed to but certainly not quite parallel to the urban focus of the first Webist Media site). Much like WebUrbanist covers alternative and unconventional urban art and design, WebEcoist features not just standard sustainable news and design but also articles on natural wonders and other oddities of the world – content for the all-around environmental enthusiast.
Dornob was created in part to be as much a highly-organized database of designs as a daily publication. Each new design article is carefully filed under a set of six overarching topics and over fifty carefully considered subcategories. Dornob is both liberated and limited as a result of these differences – the site freely covers and archives individual designs related to architecture, interior, furniture and other categories but does so on a case-by-case basis around core themes. However, anything related to built environments including interactive fashion, installation works, architectural photography and other physical arts are covered as well.
Image from 2009 Dornob article, 80-Foot-Tall Tower House & Office Has Amazing Views
EG: Describe your typical day for us – if there is such a thing. How do you manage what to some might seem the juggling act of running three separate sites?
Kurt Kohlstedt: Perhaps I am a workaholic or a glutton for punishment… because I actually keep pressing myself beyond those three publications into various one-off projects and consult for other online publishers in addition. Currently, I am also occupied with developing a sort of social switchboard to more effectively connect publishers to one another within niches and areas of interest. Maybe, though, balancing between these diverse endeavours is part of how I manage to enjoy work despite long hours and late nights.
As for a typical day: sometimes I wish there were such a thing, other times I am glad for the every-changing variety show that is my online occupation. On a good day, I feel fortunate to be able to sit back and write a bit or look at the big pictures and collaborate with online colleagues. On a more typical day, I probably spend most of my time brainstorming, troubleshooting, optimizing, putting out virtual fires and answering too many emails. I think many people gloss over the complexities of working online. When they idealize online occupations, not everyone realizes that even what appear to be digital dream jobs often come with the same layered everyday complications that impact offline professionals and business owners.
Image from Classic WebEcoist article, A Brief History of the Modern Green Movement in America
EG: What’s in store for WebEcoist, Dornob and WebUrbanist? Where is your journey taking you?
Kurt Kohlstedt: Given the surprising twists and turns of the last few years it is very hard to say for sure. I prefer to have short, medium and long-term goals but to always remain open in our ever-changing new-media environment. For now, I hope to keep pushing everything forward in whatever way seems most functional, natural and engaging for myself and users/readers. As time goes on I expect to remain involved in design and media. Perhaps someday I will end up working in a more conventional office setting or a more formal teaching role.
Hopefully each of the sites I work on will continue to evolve as new technological, networking and content creation possibilities become available – without losing the offbeat, edgy and eccentric vibe that makes them resonate with readers. Webist Media may expand beyond WebUrbanist and WebEcoist but only time will tell. Misnamed Media might become more than Dornob but for now it is the only content-publishing site planned. There are many possibilities for extending the reach, scope and capabilities of each site but these are hard to plan – online development is as much about adaptation as it is about abstract ideas.
Image from WebEcoist Favorite, 13 Incredible and Huge Sinkholes
Outside of these core publications, my own path is likewise uncertain. I have different hopes on different scales for different projects and try to keep a balance between small, medium and large as well as personal, partner and contract projects. I could see taking a more regular (but still design-and-new-media-related) job at some point or seeking venture capital or angel funding for a larger-scale endeavour. For now, however, I am more than content to work on multiple fronts and to largely be my own boss. I hope that if one thing remains consistent it is my ability to work with creative people, explore new ideas, develop novel projects and to implement them in the wonderfully rapid way the web allows us to do.
EG: Thank you Kurt for being part of EG’s Movers and Shakers series!