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I recently became aware that Ethereum and some other sites are getting new designs, comprising of a logo, background colors, and textures. This seems an excellent start to things, especially with design independent graduation starting in 2015 and the resources being scarce for various reasons over time we have quite a few graduated sites that lack themes.

While I appreciate that we're finally getting work done towards individual site theming, are there any plans to tackle the backlog of graduated sites over time? Would the lessons learnt from this initial batch inform what the timelines for this would be, and are there any things that the community can do to help with this process?

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First off, you're correct - we have started reaching out to sites about getting them away from the beta blue theme. We know that custom themes are often seen as an important part of a site's progression over the years and it's been disappointing that we haven't been able to prioritize creating new themes in recent years.

A big part of why this is now possible is that our Stacks design system is in a much better place to allow for relatively easy adjustments to be made to our site theming - as seen recently with our dark and high contrast modes on Stack Overflow, as well as our April Fools’ prank this year. That prank was a proof of concept that allowed us to show off how flexible our design system had become.

After working on the April Fools’ gag, we found that our designers were excited to put more work into theming, and your friendly neighborhood CMs were happy to support them. This quarter, we'll be working through some of the backlog and getting designs out on the sites that have been waiting the longest for them! While we can't make any promises about the future, I think the hope is we can also work on this next quarter as well.

Prioritization

When Philippe approached me about this project, he asked for a list of sites that still needed themes, so I gave him that and I went one further - I made a mini prioritization list that was intended to identify which sites should get design attention first based on a few factors:

  • Time since leaving beta.
    • Sites with a longer wait have higher priority. (This was mainly defined by only considering sites that left beta when we kicked 29 sites out of beta in 2019 or earlier.)
  • Question volume - total questions asked.
  • Answer volume - total answers posted.
  • Users - total site users.
  • Visits/day - daily visits.
  • Questions per day - the average number of questions asked per day.

I then added all these numbers together and sorted by the aggregate - this gave us our priority list. I was excited to see that the sites waiting the longest (the ones that had left beta prior to the first big beta removal) were also the highest priority sites, which makes sense, since they had to have had over 10 questions per day to qualify to leave beta prior to 2019.

This year's design work

As mentioned above, the focus right now is to see how this process goes this quarter, iterate on it, and determine a long-term solution. The hope is that the Stacks design system should make it relatively easy to build the designs, and we hope that the communities enjoy their custom themes. Currently, the plan is to work through the backlog in the way it was created:

  • The longest-standing 36 non-beta sites first.
  • The 59 kicked out of beta in 2021.

When we complete that list, we'll see what's next. I know that some sites were hoping to revisit the site design they have from when we redesigned the entire network layout in 2018 - we also have some ideas around increasing accessibility and customization by bringing dark mode and other more accessible-centric designs beyond Stack Overflow. There are lots of possibilities for next steps and we don't have specific plans at this point. If you have strong opinions on the future of this work, we encourage you to make them known to Philippe.

Other questions

Here's some answers to questions that I haven't touched on yet that you may be wondering:

What is going to be customized?

This is likely to depend on the specific design work so I can't make any promises. That said, the areas of focus for our designers include:

  • Logo and wordmark (the name of the site laid out in a thematic font). These are the primary branding elements for the design and will be visible in the banner, chat rooms, and wherever the site icon is visible now.
  • Thematic banner/footer image, color, gradient or pattern.
  • Thematic background color, gradient, or pattern.
  • Customized colors for titles, links, buttons, etc.
  • Matching greyscale Meta design.
  • Chat design.
  • Badges - possible but not promised.
  • 404 Page - possible but not promised.

Each site will have the opportunity to give feedback so that the designer can make adjustments where appropriate.

What can sites do to help?

For most sites, I'd like to avoid getting too excited about this right now because we don't know for certain how far through the backlog we'll get. One thing we are trying to do is review the design discussions from the past, and some sites don't have any. Particularly for sites in that oldest group of 36, feel free to start discussions like the ones the designers or I have posted on the sites we're currently working on as that will help ensure that the designs are reflective of community ideas.

We'll still check in before we begin a design but if communities want to start thinking about it on their per-site metas, they're welcome to do so - please do emphasize that there's no guarantee that a design will be created any time soon unless we've reached out already.

Leaving Beta also used to drive changes to site reputation levels. Does this continue?

While we haven't made any official changes to our policy, in general we have come to believe that reputation levels should be set in a way that makes sense for the needs of the site, not be based on something like leaving beta or getting a site design. As such, sites that feel the higher "full-site" reputation levels are more appropriate for them may request them at any time, while sites that do not already have the higher levels may keep the "beta" levels.

Hopefully this answers a lot of what y'all may be curious about - if you have any other questions, feel free to ask in the comments below.

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  • "I then added all these numbers together and sorted by the aggregate" was that an arithmetic sum or a linear combination?
    – bad_coder
    May 24 at 17:18
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    I don't even know what a linear combination is - I just added them up. From reading that wiki page, you can consider it a linear combination where the multiplier was always 1. :D (I think?)
    – Catija StaffMod
    May 24 at 17:19
  • you did well, let no one tell you otherwise!!
    – bad_coder
    May 24 at 17:21
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    Given that post, I've updated the privileges FAQ - specifically, changing the name of "graduated" or "designed" requirements to just "full" requirements, and expanding on when each threshold set is used. It would be nice if it were reviewed to ensure I got it right. May 24 at 17:59
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    Just looked it over - looks great, @SonictheSaveUkraine-hog thanks!
    – Catija StaffMod
    May 24 at 18:00
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    404 Page - possible but not promised – What about error and captcha?
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 24 at 18:39
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    @Wrzlprmft they're probably unlikely unless a site specifically mentions an idea for them - we're focusing on the most visible identity elements and the further down the list we get, the less visible the customization is. It's fun - no argument there - but we're trying to find a sweet spot that makes this process quick and still customized. I'm not actually sure what error you're specifically referring to. :)
    – Catija StaffMod
    May 24 at 18:43
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    @Catija: I'm not actually sure what error you're specifically referring to.This one. It’s part of the traditional trinity of special pages, e.g., on ELU: error, captcha, 404.
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 24 at 18:45
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    Is there a process for open-sourcing the design effort? On many of these sites, I imagine there are users who are pretty talented with CSS and image editors who would be eager to help out. One of the nice things about web development is it's easy to build a proof of concept, which your own design team could easily integrate and build on top of because everything is really inherently open-source. The primary issue would be a legal one, I'd think, about getting consent for people to relinquish their IP and design rights for any themes they created.
    – Cody Gray
    May 25 at 3:03
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    [continued] Also would be kinda neat to have a playground or something with the theming engine set up for people to experiment. It shouldn't be too difficult, and there would be no legal or technical issues, since Stacks is all open-source anyway. I imagine that your team may have something like this already, since it's common for the design folks to be a bit separate from the code monkeys. If so, sharing this would provide a great service, as it'd allow outsourcing a lot of the design to the community, giving them not only ownership, but making it possible to get more done in less time.
    – Cody Gray
    May 25 at 3:05
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    @CodyGray This has been something people have suggested for a long time. At this point, we're not considering it. While there are some upsides, the amount of effort required to make this possible and then implement the community suggestions is expected to be significantly more difficult than one might expect, even excluding any legal issues. My understanding is that the designers do not have any sort of tooling for this - they need to actually import the code and change the CSS elements to see a preview of their design.
    – Catija StaffMod
    May 25 at 13:15

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