There have been a few questions here on MSE along with some on various child metas about how fixed/permanent the new site redesigns are. I'm posting a new question rather than answering so that we can have more real estate for dialogue (in answers) and because I was missing all of your pings from being on leave. So...

Are the current site designs permanent?

The answer to that is no. While the layout (where the elements are, the existence of the left navigation, etc) is fixed, we're happy to work with sites to get their specific designs/artwork more in line with what they want - within the layout restrictions - and understanding that it will take us a bit to get to the changes.

With the final transition of the entire network to Responsive Design on December 7th, we can start rolling out new features for the entire network - Custom Questions Lists and Saved Searches - and doing research into others, like updating user profiles to play nice with the new responsive layout, for example... but that doesn't mean we're done with the site designs - we have a bunch of graduated sites without designs and a backlog of very old beta sites that deserve some love and we're going to make time to improve designs on sites that already have them but are unhappy with how they turned out.

Awesome! So, what can we customize?

What we're able to customize on a site isn't set in stone for the next 6-8 years but what we can implement now has been somewhat limited so that we could complete the network-wide rollout before Winter Bash (yet another feature that's simplified by this update!). Who knows, if you come up with a great idea now, we may come back to it in a year (or four) and say "yes". Even some of the things that are possible now weren't possible when we started this process, so this list of customizations is changing as we go.

Our main goal is to limit the amount of customization one site has so that the sites all have generally the same LESS/CSS base, making it less likely that changes to the network will harm a small subset of sites (or a single site), causing us to spend more time fixing bugs than working on new projects - which we have a huge backlog of we'd love to introduce to you. But, what this means is that if one site has an element, other sites can pretty easily add it.

For example, the Photography site's Photo of the Week box could be added to Graphic Design to show off the users' designs if that site wanted to host such a weekly contest.

The top of the Photography site, showing the Photo of the Week element.

Oooh, cool! I know what the site design needs - how do I ask for it?

I've been happy to participate in and respond to discussions about site theming across the network with the users who are interested in helping their sites get designs that better reflect their communities and allow them to be different from the rest of the network - which is one of the biggest complaints we've gotten. I understand it and I share your concerns and we want to help fix that.

If your site's users feel like there are ways we can help re-establish some degree of now-missing identity to your site, create a meta post and start talking about it on your site. Consider focusing your meta post on a specific part of the design - the background, the header content, the logo, etc. - as this will help limit the discussion so that it's not "everything is awful".

A few sites are currently discussing improvements to the design within these limitations and we're happy to see the collaboration and to work with the sites when we have the time to do so. Here are some examples:

  • Database Administrators felt their new header design wasn't quite right, so they asked for ideas from the community on what would be a better representation.
  • Science Fiction & Fantasy lost their dark theme and are brainstorming other options for their sidebar area that work with black text.
  • Worldbuilding (they had their discussion before we redesigned the site and it really helped us know what was important to them).

My site seems to be missing something, but I'm not sure what - can I get an idea of what might be possible?

Look around at the sites that are currently in testing or live for examples of what we can implement. To save you some clicking, here are a few examples of specific elements that can be customized and to what degree:

  • Arqade (among other sites) - Artwork in footer.
  • Photography - Photo of the Week box.
  • Worldbuilding - their robot, Slartibotfast, was a major part of their site identity, so we were sure to incorporate it into the design by letting it float at the bottom of the page.
  • Sidebars/backgrounds can have a light-colored solid, pattern/texture, or fade or even a combination. The left navigation text is black everywhere on the network and the navigation column does not have a separate color background, so the background must be light enough and without overly-distracting artwork so that it is of sufficient contrast and legible.
  • Header banners are required (you can't drop them entirely a'la Stack Overflow) and the dimensions are fixed but the content of them can be pretty varied. Do keep in mind that on some smaller screen widths (think mobile) elements like images are either dropped to not clash with the site logo or will be obscured by it. This is why some of the busier images seem to stop half-way across the screen when viewing on a desktop.
  • Fonts are set network-wide with either a serif or sans-serif stack. Which fonts are in the stack may change as we're realizing the current stack isn't optimal for all of our sites, both technically and for design reasons.
  • Colors can be customized to a degree (and many have been adjusted through this process). This includes buttons, OP indicator boxes, link colors (visited/unvisited), voting arrow colors, tag colors (background & text), question titles (in the questions list, not on question pages).

I'm sure I've left out some of the elements here. Feel welcome to use this post to point out anything I may have missed or to ask questions about what might be possible. I'll talk to the design team and get you answers.

Thanks so much! I know what I need now!

You're welcome! One other thing, when you start these discussions on your child meta sites, be sure to use the tag so that we can find and track them easily.

Thanks so much for your time and effort - and your patience. We know this process has been hard and tiring and a lot of y'all have been disappointed (understatement of 2018?) with it.

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    The Mathematica site badly needs its syntax highlighting colours reverted to how they were in the old theme. This issue was brought up immediately when the new theme became available, yet received no comment for 11 days now. – Szabolcs Dec 2 at 15:21
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    @Szabolcs It's on our list. We're hoping to get most of the critical issues fixed before Friday. – Catija Dec 2 at 15:48
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    The left navigation column is such an obscene waste of screen space that it is best placed as a menu icon at the top of the web page. – William Elliot Dec 3 at 2:52
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    @WilliamElliot You can. You can collapse it by visiting your profile settings tab. It's under preferences. – Catija Dec 3 at 2:57
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    Does this mean you can finally address this issue? – Roland Dec 3 at 9:15
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    re: the navigation column. you can disable it, but that still leaves a column of blank space on the left. In the previous layout, I would see a list of questions occupying lots of horizontal space (or so I recall), along with previews of questions. Now when I come to the site I see a thin column of question titles, without previews, flanked by stuff I don't use. It would just be nice to see more space given to the questions, since that's the reason I've come to the site. – Tim kinsella Dec 3 at 11:20
  • @Timkinsella If you collapse the left navigation, the page is otherwise the same max width. It is responsive, though, so narrow widths don't require side scrolling. The question previews are on the "questions" page (this also hasn't changed), not the home page. The content in the right sidebar hasn't changed. What you're describing (a thin column) sounds like there's maybe a bug. Can you post a screenshot ? – Catija Dec 3 at 12:46
  • @Catija thanks. it sounds more like i'm just misremembering how the site used to look. – Tim kinsella Dec 3 at 13:00
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    @Catija - I thought that the cutoff was last July, thanks for revisiting this. – Rob Dec 3 at 21:36
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    +1 This is a really great post and absolutely the right way forward. I think if there had been something like this much earlier (even just telling people that there would be the opportunity to add site-specific customisations and uniqueness, as soon as SE staff had the capacity), there would have been much less negativity. (I mean, still some, but, you know :-)) – user568458 Dec 12 at 15:22
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    On "how can [we] get changes implemented?" - Something tangential that would be a big step in the right direction, is taking (having?) the time to respond to individual child-site metas about [bugs] or [features] that have been raised. Even if that response is simply adding a [status-planned|review|declined] tag. It's hard for the community at large to know whether something has been seen or not or whether escalation is necessary. For example this bug to do with badge spacing on Arqade, raised 2 months ago with no SE team input so far – Robotnik Dec 13 at 5:00
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    @Robotnik I'm trying. :D I've responded to a lot of the bug reports on the various metas. I had a baby in October so I'm a bit slow on catching up but it's on my list of stuff to do. Sometimes I don't have answers to the specific points - I have one for that now and I'll be updating it soon. We've updated ~60-70 sites, so there's a lot of metas to keep track of so I appreciate the patience. – Catija Dec 13 at 5:44
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    @Catija - Oh congratulations! :-) and that's OK! I wasn't trying to call you out in particular, my point was more towards the SE team in general - I didnt mean for one person to sift through 170 odd sites! That's why I added "having" the time - I know that comms have been a sore point in the past is all and I didn't see it addressed above only "create a meta post and start talking about it on your site." – Robotnik Dec 13 at 7:04
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    Thanks! Ah! I see @Robotnik I sort of gloss over it but it's why I say "be sure to use the design tag". We have a magical way of seeing all questions with specific tags, so I can search all of the metas for questions with that tag and respond to the questions without having to visit each meta site individually. :D And I do know what you mean. There's an ever-increasing number of sites and the CM Team is pretty small. We're trying and finding ways to do better. Hopefully it will start looking more like we're paying attention. – Catija Dec 13 at 7:09
  • What can be customized for tags? Just color and backround color? Can also borders be customized to some extent? Can maybe also font-weight be customized? – Martin 2 days ago

Is it possible for sites to include a couple of featured questions instead of a picture? Or should that be pushed as a completely different feature-request on Meta SE.

It will be a bit tricky to manage which questions end up there (since they select 1 picture for photography, but on post sites, there's enough space to fit a couple of questions). I know that there're already 'week' and 'month' tabs, but that's usually similar to a record of the last few HNQs (since it's decided by an algorithm), so it's likely that the communities don't really think of them as particularly high-quality posts.

It would be nice to have a place for members of the site to locally promote the best content of the previous month/week.

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    Some sites actually have a question of the week contest and don't really have a way to feature or reward that question (since bounties only go to answers). This seems like it could be a nice way to give those sites that want to curate this somewhere to feature a question or two. – Catija Dec 2 at 12:29
  • @Catija I'm not necessarily talking about questions: they could be ordinary questions which attract great answers. I'm just thinking of the site members giving a bit of a local publicity boost to the greatest content. And unlike the HNQ list, this is a deliberate choice, and the questions would ideally be deeper ones intended for active users of that particular site (and not general enthusiasts). But can we ask for this on our local meta sites, or does it merit a feature-request of its own on Meta SE? – Chair Dec 3 at 11:37
  • You'll probably be interested in our plans for the HNQ in the future... which may allow something more like a curated list of recent good questions: meta.stackexchange.com/a/319357/284336 As far as a specific box like this goes, I suggest talking about it on a site that might already want something like this (M&TV comes to mind) and work out what you want with it specifically that we could turn into a spec to develop. If a couple of sites have similar requests, we can see what they're all looking for and possibly find something that works for everyone. – Catija Dec 3 at 14:05
  • Interesting, that reminds me of something I wrote recently under that post: meta.stackexchange.com/a/316998/149055. The fact that you came up with a very similar idea makes me more confident that this is something worth looking into. – rumtscho Dec 3 at 14:15
  • @rumtscho there's a critical difference though: for HNQs, I'm not sure people would just push the most technically deep posts they have, because it's very unlikely that many people from other sites will be interested in that (this is certainly true for science, math, and programming sites). But since this is being advertised just for site users, we'd like the technical stuff. The problem is junk food and click-bait content which doesn't represent our sites going HNQ: I'm quite sure sites will make sure that HNQ content isn't too localized, and can be of some general interest. – Chair Dec 3 at 15:23
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    @Chair Very good point! I wonder if this isn't the better way to do it - make a weekly contest that is mostly for the site itself, and see the availability of advertisable "question of the week" posts as a side effect. Going in this direction could have the advantage of attracting those who are interested in the site's "deep content" - one of the criticisms of HNQ is that it attracts too many people who are way too inexperienced in the subject matter, which then leads to bad content and skewed voting.Your suggestion's winners will attract less peole but they will be the right people. – rumtscho Dec 3 at 19:53

While I'm actually surprised at how well you guys have been able to maintain the immersive feel of sites like World Building and RPG.SE (to be honest, the responsive theming turned out much better than I expected), I'm still disappointed we lost our themed voting/accept/favourite/etc. buttons. As a web developer I can think of several ways you could implement this with extreme ease so I'm struggling to understand what the reasoning was for removing them.

I'm not sure why I like them so much. I think it's the simple fact that without them, the page feels sort of... bland. Especially once you start scrolling, the only theming you can still see is the repeating background image, so it would be great to have the voting buttons keep that sense of theme flowing.

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    An example of a site that seems to do themed voting arrows pretty well would be reddit, where the appearance of the voting arrow seems to be defined at the subreddit level. – Tim Campion Dec 13 at 2:08
  • @TimCampion Great point! – Clonkex Dec 13 at 4:09

What about customization of the interesting questions color? It's yellow now, which is what SO uses, but excluding the bulletin box, some sites don't have yellow in the theme making it look rather ugly. Even worse, the interesting questions color is almost invisible on sites with yellow-based themes.

Is this an area that can be customized?

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    For accessibility, using this pale yellow to highlight followed tags is a bit of a fail. We're planning to revisit how these questions are indicated entirely. I'm not sure what that's going to look like, but we may be able to utilize the site's color scheme (maybe the button color) instead of a default color for every site. – Catija Dec 2 at 12:26
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    @Catija and I hope for accessibility you'll not be using only color to differentiate.... – nitsua60 Dec 3 at 2:40
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    @nitsua60 That's the plan, yes. :) We know that accessibility is something we need to work on, and that's one of our goals moving forward next year. – Catija Dec 3 at 2:45
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    @nitsua60 Colour is acceptable to use to differentiate elements as long as the contrast difference is also acceptably different. – damanptyltd Dec 10 at 2:50

Let us turn off the hyperlink underlining, please =)

It just looks awful, and it plays off horribly when there's MathJax inside the link. (Which, yes, does happen fairly often, and it's not superfluous either.) It's a single-line change to the CSS and it should have minimal interaction with the rest of the page.

I understand, of course, that the decision to use underlining was driven by accessibility concerns, as stated in this previous answer, but that was basically a non-answer. I would propose, instead, that the dev team provides a clear set of criteria for the concerns that lead to a site's hyperlink CSS to fail the existing accessibility tests, so then sites have the option to propose a re-colouring (which no longer needs underlining) or keep the underlining.

Or, if that doesn't cut it, then please provide (either here or in the linked thread) a better explanation of what the concerns are: please work with us in solving that problem, and we can find a solution that isn't ugly and which doesn't conflict with the site's functionality.

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    This is part of an intentional change and not to do with the theme/responsiveness changes. And until a better alternative can be proposed underlining will not be removed per my understanding. – TheLethalCoder Dec 3 at 10:19
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    @TheLethalCoder I'm aware that it was intentional - and I'm not alone in thinking it's a step in the wrong direction. But it's impossible to propose a 'better alternative' given that there is no information available about what problems the design team perceived with the previous design. – E.P. Dec 3 at 10:31
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    "We've intentionally added underlines to links in posts and comments for contrast and accessibility reasons. Many of our themes' primary colors don't deviate much from the text color itself, so we went with the classic way of showing a link's a link." Appears to be the themes are poor so they did it for accessibility reasons which is a good thing. It isn't a great solution I admit but until they sort themes out it's better than nothing. – TheLethalCoder Dec 3 at 10:33
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    @TheLethalCoder I disagree that that quote is descriptive enough of the problems for us to be able to propose alternative solutions ─ "for accessibility reasons" is a whole category of possible problems. But for the sites where the primary and link colors are distinct enough, the stated reasons drop out and the underline can be killed ─ as requested here. – E.P. Dec 3 at 10:38
  • But in any case, you don't need to agree. You're welcome to downvote and move on if you disagree. – E.P. Dec 3 at 10:39
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    Oh I agree the underline isn't a great solution but I don't agree it's something that can be worked out here. To me it would be best to ask as a new question but meh... if this gets them to change it I'm all for it. – TheLethalCoder Dec 3 at 10:41
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    The underline has made it so that people actually notice the link when I post comments like "Please [edit] your post to clarify...". I have seen better response since the underlines came back. I don't want them to go away again. – Cris Luengo Dec 3 at 15:43
  • @CrisLuengo If you need to emphasize the links in your comments, bold font would work equally well. Particularly in comments with a particularly temporary nature like those. – E.P. Dec 3 at 15:48
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    I actually resorted to typing ">[edit]<" for a while, but that's hard to do on a phone. Actually, I would be OK with removing underlines in questions and answers, as long as they stay in comments. Comment text is smaller, and therefore it is harder to distinguish the black from the blue. – Cris Luengo Dec 3 at 15:52
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    @CrisLuengo I like the underlines (though they could be dashed or dotted) but that "distinguish black from blue" is actually the bigger problem. The links should have a better contrast in colors if we are talking accessibility. Flask has a really good high contrast setup for its docs (light-grey with black links and an orange?..yellow?...maybe, brown?.....other good contrast high-light when moused over) as an example. – JGreenwell Dec 4 at 2:58
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    FWIW I fix this with a custom userscript (via ViolentMonkey) with #content a {text-decoration: none !important;} applied to the SO and SE domains. A separate one of .message a:hover {text-decoration: underline;} is needed for the chat.SO and chat.SE domains. – TylerH Dec 4 at 22:16
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    @TheLethalCoder Even if the colors were fine there are still accessibility reasons to underline a link. “Conveying information” in that text includes conveying that text is a link. This document is one of the go-to standards for web accessibility, and "level A" here means this is a minimum-effort criterion basically any site can and should try to achieve. – doppelgreener Dec 5 at 11:06
  • @doppelgreener Fair point, whilst I have said I’d rather we not have underlines my main problem with them is the harshness of the underline. A dotted line might be better looking at other sites. – TheLethalCoder Dec 5 at 11:28

Allow for customization of buttons.

Like the Ask Question and the buttons in Review. (also Ask Question, Post Your Answer etc.)

Old:

enter image description here

New:

enter image description here

Note that there was a slight shadow (which I thought looked really nice).

Color is important as well, on Graphic Design (images above) we used to have a lot more of that pinkish color, now that seems to have been almost entirely replaced by the blue.

Our site really seems to have been stripped of it's identity (font, colors, layout etc.) and seems a lot more generic-like - similar to Stack Overflow or Meta or Super User.

  • The colors are customizable... see the last bullet point. – Catija Dec 8 at 22:48

On the front page, next to each question appears the number of answers to this question in a little box. The appearance of the box varies depending on whether there are no answers to the question, answers but no accepted answer, or an accepted answer. In the new theme, the color of the box in these three states is not customizable.

On mathoverflow, we used to have a different color scheme for these boxes. Here's a screenshot by Carlo Beenakker (see there for more discussion of this feature as well):

enter image description here

This color scheme had a lot going for it:

  1. It made unanswered questions jump out more. In the current scheme, it's the answered and accepted questions which jump off the page -- the "dead" ones so to speak, which is kind of backwards.

  2. The vote counts / answer counts / view counts are one of the most commonly-recurring screen elements on the front page, so customizing them added a good bit to the unique feel of Mathoverflow.

  3. This seems like a very generic customization that many sites could potentially be interested in using, especially in light of (2).

This customization is not currently supported, but it used to go quite some way in defining the distinctive look of Mathoverflow, and I think it could go some way toward adding character to other sites if it were re-implemented and sites were interested in using it.

Naively, it ought to be pretty straightforward to implement -- simply make a the color of a certain screen element defined at the site level rather than hardcoded. After all, the color already changes based on whether or not there are answers and whether or not there are accepted answers, so there don't need to be any substantive changes to the programming logic.

EDIT: As pointed out by Martin below, this color scheme is also relevant to the question / answer lists on user pages, in addition to the front page.


Here are a couple of screenshots to illustrate how this customization used to add some color to the environment a la (2) above. Here's what the front page of Mathoverflow looks like now when you scroll down:

Mathoverflow front page -- new

And here's what it used to look like (courtesy of the Wayback machine):

Mathoverflow front page -- old

To me, the new version is rather colorless compared to the old one. I find it striking that even though Mathoverflow had a plain white background in the old theme, this one customization saved the site from looking colorless.

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  • I will point out that there already is an answer with this suggestion in in this thread. But this is definitely better because it provides screenshot and arguments for this feature. (And, if I may say so, this answer comes across as much less confrontational.) – Martin Dec 13 at 1:59
  • A natural question is whether this would be better posted as a separate feature request than an answer in this thread. But let us wait and see what more experienced Meta Stack Exchange users have to say about this. – Martin Dec 13 at 2:01
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    @Martin მამუკა ჯიბლაძე 's answer is actually referring to something different -- I'm talking about something on the front page while he's talking about a color background to the actual answer on the question page. I had the impression that most of the answers to this question were suggestions for new customization options, but you're probably right that it would actually be better to ask as its own question in order to truly gauge interest. – Tim Campion Dec 13 at 2:03
  • I apologize, I did not notice the difference at first. (I should have read that answer more carefully.) This feature request is a bit similar to your suggestion: Why not mark answered questions in “answers” view? The difference is that it is about the answers tab rather than the frontpage. Other than that, I was not able to find quickly some similar suggestion on this meta. – Martin Dec 13 at 2:14
  • No worries, it's a subtle difference since, especially because there's no longer a way to take screenshots of how it used to look to illustrate what we're talking about. Thanks for your research! – Tim Campion Dec 13 at 2:18
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    1. is a good point. Different sites might have different preferences in this regard, depending on whether their visitors mostly are looking for answers, or for questions they may be able to answer. – GNiklasch Dec 13 at 10:09
  • @TimCampion: Using the Wayback Machine, it is possible to take screenshots of the previous format. For example, see web.archive.org/web/20181204182044/https://mathoverflow.net or web.archive.org/web/20181207014950/https://mathoverflow.net/…. – Joseph Quinsey 2 days ago

On Mathoverflow, accepted answers get distinct background color. I find this really good, and miss this feature on other sites. Is there something wrong with keeping it?

As suggested by Martin, let me place a sample snapshot

enter image description here

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    Personally I find it ugly and unnecessary. Plus it reminds me of Unity Answers, and we don't want to be associated with that pile of rubbish. – Clonkex Dec 5 at 7:33
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    @Clonkex If these are the only arguments against it, I can just repeat my question with more confidence in its necessity. – მამუკა ჯიბლაძე Dec 9 at 22:11
  • So because other people disagree with you, you're more confident that you're right? What kind of logic is that? – Clonkex Dec 9 at 22:42
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    @Clonkex As I explained, - not because you disagree but because of the nature of the arguments you provide. They all are based on your personal tastes and associations. If the reason for this was that you could not find some more objective reasons that would apply to the majority of other users too, this shows that only a small specific group of people similar to you in terms of tastes and associations are against the feature I like to keep. – მამუკა ჯიბლაძე Dec 10 at 8:11
  • But... you seem to be ignoring the obvious fact that the only arguments you provided for keeping the feature is that you like it. You said you like it, I said I didn't. You are literally doing exactly the same thing. Besides that, subjective like or dislike of colours is a valid argument for or against a feature. Additionally I didn't actually try to find objective reasons we shouldn't keep the feature so you definitely shouldn't draw any conclusions from that. Finally, I would argue that the small number of votes suggests that either a) people don't care, or b) people haven't been here. – Clonkex Dec 11 at 3:11
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    @Clonkex It is very far from being literally the same. I am defending a feature that exists for years without any visible protests on a site that I visit every day. And I asked about keeping it there, not extending my personal taste to the whole SE network. – მამუკა ჯიბლაძე Dec 11 at 17:20
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    It seems that the green background color was indeed specific to MathOverflow: Do accepted answers turn green only on MathOverflow? However, there is also this rather old feature request which is a bit similar: Please bring back shading to accepted answers? – Martin Dec 13 at 2:13
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    I have added a screenshot to illustrate your answer (see also the discussion in MathOverflow chatroom). Feel free to revert my edit if you consider it unnecessary. – Martin Dec 13 at 2:51
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    @Martin Thank you very much for your time and effort to investigate. The screenshot is fine except it would be more informative to include a whole page with the question and a couple of other answers. – მამუკა ჯიბლაძე Dec 13 at 6:45
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    @მამუკაჯიბლაძე I am afraid that if we include other answers then the screenshot would be either too big or after scaling almost unreadable. Of course, you can take a screenshot in the way you like from the lined snapshot. (Or you can try to find some other question which is more suitable for illustrating this.) – Martin Dec 13 at 6:55
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    @Martin Thank you for the suggestion. I believe readability is not that important in this case. Let me try, if you will find it unacceptable please revert it back. – მამუკა ჯიბლაძე Dec 13 at 8:06

I've been on a hiatus from SE, so please forgive me if this was covered in a different thread and I somehow missed it, but is it at all possible to have a permanent link to the homepage of the current site in the header? I'm not on a computer with graphics editing software right now, but something along the lines of a small logo-shaped button between the "StackExchange" logo and the search bar would be nice.

As it stands, I don't really understand the purpose of the StackExchange logo button: it doesn't take me to the StackExchange homepage and it doesn't take me to the current site's homepage, which are the two expected behaviors I could think of. Instead, it merely creates a pop-up that requires a second click to close/navigate away from, the sole content of which is irrelevant after reading once.

Currently, when you scroll down the page and want to return to the homepage of the site, we have to click a low-contrast "Home" link in the upper-middle of the page --- this is visually difficult to hit because it's low-contrast and doesn't have a hard border (e.g. the browser boundary).

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