Announcing The Sandbox Designs Competition


Last Tuesday, May 28, I released an update to the Sandbox theme, version 0.9. Since releasing the Sandbox back in August of 2006 Andy and I have received lots of good feedback. I called it “the theme for themers” and it has had a really positive influence on theme design within the WordPress community.

There have been more than a few themes/designs built on the Sandbox and released—and for good reason. Its highly semantic, dynamic structure make it immensely easy to design for, not to mention all the features built into its markup, like Microformats.

So I thought it was a good time for a new theme competition—or rather a “designs” competition. It has been around two years since the last successful WordPress theme competition (participants of the competitions in 2006 will roll their eyes and would include me). We’ve seen the launch of an official theme viewer, two major WordPress releases (2.1 and 2.2), two plugin competitions, and so on. So I think it’s time.

Now you probably have a thousand questions running through your brains. Let me try and answer at least a few of them.

Question: Why have a theme competition? The last two failed. Don’t you know anything?
Answer: Well, this isn’t really a “theme” competition. It’s a designs competition, similar to Alex King’s WordPress CSS Styles held back in February of 2004, that is only for style sheets (and images, of course). Folks won’t be competing to show off PHP know-how, or scripting abilities, etc., but how well they can design, use CSS, be creative, and so on.

Question: Uh, that’s boring. Every design will be pretty much the same, won’t they?
Answer: Not in the slightest. See, the Sandbox is special. It has these dynamic class-generating functions that sprinkle neat semantic classes throughout the markup, which means each page is the same, but it is also a little different. Using combinations of these classes means that style sheets can easily go beyond just arranging content into layouts by making the design relate to the content. There are so many classes that almost any layout, any design, etc., is achievable. For example, you could style posts by categories, .category-asides{…} vs. .category-important-news{…}, uniquely.

Question: Okay, that’s pretty slick. But why should I spend my time in this competition?
Answer: First, you could win more than a handful of cash. From the day one we have US$500 in cash to distribute to first, second, and third place winners (there will be a runner-up who will receive an honorarium). We’re getting sponsors to help us increase the total cash pot to US$1000. So the first-place winner will hopefully walk away US$500 richer (but at least US$250 richer). Secondly, you could be crowned a top blog designer in our little blogosphere. Not a bad title to parade around. And thirdly, you can solidify your designer creds just by participating and getting your bio tossed up on the website.

Question: Sweet, but didn’t I just read something about a plugin competition? And didn’t I read that right here on this blog?
Answer: Indeed you did. I was actually in the process of smoothing out the details for this competition, getting everything in order, when Mark announced the plugins competition 2.0. I emailed him immediately, somewhat frantically. But I feel like these two competitions differ from one another in all the right ways. Plugin developers are primarily concerned with PHP and scripting. This competition, as mentioned before, is purely about CSS and design. Put them together and you have everything that makes WordPress lovely.

Question: Word. But I blog on Am I going to be left on the margins of the community yet again?
Answer: Not at all. The new version of the Sandbox will be available to blogs there soon (details to come). Furthermore, unless you like punching yourself in the face, you’ll probably want to install WordPress locally to do your designing. When the competition finishes and all the designs are available, you can rejoice in knowing you’ll be able to use the designs immediately (you’ll need the custom CSS upgrade, though).

Question: Good news indeed. Sign me up!
Answer: Sign yourself up, but not quite yet. All the details you could possibly wish for will be posted on tomorrow, June 1, 2007. So go there tomorrow and you’ll find a lovely little post waiting to direct you to the competition blog.

Question: Well, I’m not going to submit a design, so perhaps there is something else I can do?
Answer: Indeed. If you have a design background or another appropriate qualification, you could possibly serve as a judge. Or you can simply purchase a sponsorship to show your support.

Question: Wait right there—purchase something? Uh, we’re talking about WordPress, right? So why would I do that?
Answer: First of all, you can support and encourage participation by helping raise the cash prize pot. If you’re active in the WordPress community or use WordPress, these designs can be of real benefit to you. Support our designers. Anyhow, there will be different levels of sponsorships, different prices, but basically you’ll be getting your link and/or image up on the competition blog for everyone to see. People will love and respect you.

Question: I could use some love and respect.
Answer: We all could, my friend. We all could.

So all the details will be posted tomorrow on Participants will have about two months create their designs and submit them. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Details, terms, etc., will all be available very soon. Until then. ;-D




  1. Ian Stewart (4 comments.) says:

    Cool! I’m looking forward to seeing the entries. Maybe I could learn a thing or two.

  2. Small Potato (19 comments.) says:

    Two months sound too long.

  3. Scott (15 comments.) says:

    Check out Stewart’s blog above. It’s built on the Sandbox, and looks great. Thanks, Stewart.

  4. adam (39 comments.) says:

    too long? you could just make multiple entries. i think scott put up 4 last year :P

  5. Will (4 comments.) says:

    I am looking forward to this and would like to enter. Stewart your site does look great.

  6. Jenny (24 comments.) says:

    two months sounds fine. especially for people as new as me.

  7. Azmeen (14 comments.) says:

    I believe that this is a very unique and interesting competition for the WP community.

    Can’t wait to see how the competition develops :)

  8. Ian Stewart (4 comments.) says:

    Thanks for the punch in the arm, Scott and Will! If anyone is looking for some Sandbox inspiration you might want to check out Alister Cameron’s sandbox styling.

  9. Scott (15 comments.) says:

    @Ian: You needed a punch in the arm, looking forward to seeing the entries poppy-cock. Your aesthetic and mine are similar, I think. You’d do fine, I’m sure. ;-)

    And my-oh-my, just look at Alister’s blog. You know, there are so many Sandbox-based designs out there. I’d love to see a compilation.

  10. leksa (1 comments.) says:

    Well, actually i’m new in WP designing. My blog still in redesigning use Deazza based themes.
    In my experience in Web competition trough the internet, the basic tools we need to control the competition are Forum/Discussion Site, Promotion to get the WP blogger attention and most important the prize.
    I dont said prize in money as well. But i have trough NUcleus Blog Design Competition last year, and they shared prize about 300 dollar. Not much, but they can separate the honour in some categories (its like semantic, designing, imaging, tool, favourite etc..)

    Its just WP newbie idea,.. but i really appreciate for your effort. Weblogtoolscollection is one of my favourite WP resources tutorial since i met WP.

    JustNewbie’s2Cent ;)

  11. Andy Beard (25 comments.) says:

    I am fairly sure Alister’s is more than just a CSS tweak.

    I am glad you finally have a release version, I have been tinkering with versions from svn.

    Will people be allowed to have modifications to the php required or is this CSS only?

  12. Scott (15 comments.) says:

    Yes, Alister is using the Yahoo! GUI for griding, among other things. But it’s unmistakably Sandbox.

    All the details will be available tomorrow, Andy, but I want to emphasize again that this is a strictly design-oriented competition—not for challenging PHP know-how or scripting ability.

    Check out the WordPress CSS Styles competition from ’04. This was based on the Classic theme. Now we have far, far more CSS techniques and tools available. We have this extremely extensible markup to work with.

    I think by focusing this competition is going to produce better, tighter designs. And those dynamic classes in the Sandbox make almost anything possible—just with CSS.

  13. Anthony Cole (1 comments.) says:

    I’m really kind of interested in this. I just got out for summer, so I’m going to enter.

  14. Hans (6 comments.) says:

    Cool thing ahead :) Will you be participating?

    Perhaps there should be a forum or discussion group for the competition, so that those that don’t design, can suggest their ideas for the developers. Inspiring them in some way or another.

  15. Andreas (19 comments.) says:

    Great idea, but the prize money will probably not be much of a motivation for the professionals. I’d be happy to push those extra $500 in, but I would suggest that you put the target a bit higher and pay out prize money to more people than just the top three. If this is an official event (which it has to be if a title like that should be taken seriously), then it would be easy to find a $10k+ sponsor value to share between the best 10 designs. There are companies that pay $2.000 per month for “Sponsored links” in themes by well-known designers, so the interest is already there. Don’t create limitations that may hurt the purpose! Let me know if you need help…

  16. Scott (15 comments.) says:

    @Andreas: Actually, I couldn’t agree with you more. I want to avoid disappointing people after those two previous failed competitions. If we get more sponsorships and go over the US$1000 goal, that’s great. You’re very right is saying there shouldn’t be a limit. There won’t be. But there is a goal that I hope to at least meet. ;-)

    I’m a bit hesitant to make prize categories. If the prize money allows, I think making like five runner-up slots with cash prizes—again, which would be contingent on support. But I’m open to improving the reward schedule as things develop. :-D

  17. Alister Cameron // Blogologist (1 comments.) says:


    Mine is definitely Sandbox, but with some mods and changes. The big change is the complete replacement of sandbox CSS with my own, based on Yahoo’s base CSS classes (including their grid system).

    I continues to mess with Sandbox and have it to the stage where I plan to release my own “version” of Sandbox, under another name. This is NOT to cash in cheaply on the great work done by the Sandbox crew, but to “fork” my own version that is based on YUI, and has a range of other changes.

    I’ll post about that as soon as I can get the polish on it.

    But for now, is this of interest to people? I would be happy to offer it to Sandbox afficionados for use in this competition… it’s still fundamentally the Sandbox “goodness” we know and love :)


  18. Ian Stewart (4 comments.) says:

    It would be of interest to me. I’m currently tearing apart Sandbox on my test site, learning some PHP by trial and error, working my way up to a custom install of a WordPress magazine for someone (yes, I’m crazy). Seeing how someone else has modified Sandbox would be a big help.

    Like it says in the Sandbox code comments, “Remember: a Sandbox is for play.”

  19. Will (4 comments.) says:

    I agree with Ian. I would like to see the the modifications you have made in the core template files. I never realized how complicated the very simple looking Sandbox theme was until getting my hands dirty with it.

  20. Scott (15 comments.) says:

    You can also check out Adam’s themes, which are Sandbox mods.

    Also, you guys should feel free to visit the Sandbox Forums, which opened just after the competition did.

  21. adam (39 comments.) says:

    errr…. those themes don’t modify the sandbox at all, they’re purely CSS.

    dream in infrared is a mod of sandbox circa v0.7

  22. catchkin (1 comments.) says:

    Good !


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