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The New Stack Exchange Beta Theme

I wanted to give you a quick look at the new Stack Exchange Beta theme. Yes, we are retiring the familiar “Sketchy” theme and rolling out a more-polished and finished design for the beta sites.

Raise the curtain, cue the trumpet fanfare…

Alas, poor Sketchy…

Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be rolling out the new Stack Exchange Beta theme to all the sites still in beta.

At first glance, the new beta theme looks like an unembellished version of any graduated site: Finished, but without any particular “beta” theme, per se. But that’s sort of the point.

The crux of this change is that it’s high time we stopped equating beta sites with being somehow unfinished. Sure, in their earliest days — when a community is defining their scope, building a FAQ, and finding its community leaders — a site might be considered unfinished (i.e. “under construction”). But once you are past those earliest wild-west days of figuring out why your site exists, a site should no longer be considered unfinished. Right out of the gate, the Stack Exchange engines gives you a world-class Q&A suite worth recommending on its own merits. If you’ve been holding back, go ahead; share, promote, and enjoy!

There was a time when we thought the average beta period would last, oh… about 90 days. The site would begin and build up enough content and users to reach critical mass. Reaching that tipping point of unstoppable growth defines “graduation.” But getting to that point is hard work, and it usually take longer than 90 days… much longer. So we’re left with this big gap between the time when a site is truly “under construction” to when it finally reaches graduation and gets its own custom design.

In the meantime, holding onto that unfinished-site meme has become actively harmful to community building, and an unproductive source of frustration among the sites; I’ll get back to that later.

The idea of Sketchy started out as a whimsical nod to the early days of web development when just about every website started out with a definitive “under construction” theme.

In the mid-90’s, webmasters often labeled their sites “under construction” as if to warn hapless Internet travelers that, perchance, something might be added to the site. A funny thing happened along the way: Even as those websites grew, the “pardon our dust” monikers remained as a warning of still more stuff to come — there’s always new pages, new articles, and new features to add. Websites are never “done,” and thus the perpetual under-construction themes endured.


So maybe we carried on that “under construction” meme a bit too long. Giving our beta sites a decidedly unfinished look seemed topical for a 90-day beta. But when a beta goes on, sometimes for hundreds of days, folks start to wonder if the site would ever be — quote, unquote — “finished.”

A lot of folks like Sketchy. We like Sketchy, and he will be missed. But most communities don’t want to look like they’re still on the drawing board when they’ve been working tirelessly on their site for months or even years. Every Stack Exchange site will still get their own custom design when they graduate. This new Beta Theme doesn’t change that. But this new design gives your beta site a nice, clean, finished look that you can work with and display proudly for as long as necessary.


Filed under announcement, design


I absolutely love the new theme – it looks far more polished than the “sketchy” theme and is much more usable.

LessPop_MoreFizz Mar 6 2012

Perhaps keep Sketchy for Beta Metas?

That’s the ‘behind the scenes’ section where all the actual *construction* takes place anyway, no?

Simon Sheehan Mar 6 2012

Now all we need are new trilogy site themes..

Scott Mar 6 2012

I really think those red highlighted items should be bolded too. Just making them red, they don’t stand out like they are intended to because it is a weak red. The same issue is on the front page of

tylerrrr07 Mar 6 2012

“The crux of this change is that it’s high time we stopped equating beta sites with being somehow unfinished.”

I like the new theme but looking at the “crux of this change” – Is it just me or does tagging a site with “beta” give an unfinished vibe? I don’t have a better term off the top of my head but I think if the goal is to get rid of the unfinished feeling of the sites the term beta probably has to go.

Overall I like the change! This is just something that stuck out to me when reading through the post.

I wish I could up-vote @LessPop_MoreFizz here. That makes a fair amount of sense.

What? “Under construction” images and none of them is an animated GIF?

I hated the sketchy look and it made me feel like not using a beta site or hanging around too long. This is way better, along with some of the other SE style tweaks. +1

ajax333221 Mar 6 2012

wow it looks awesome.

I hate the sketchy one (no offense)

I like the Scetchy look as an idea for a fresch site, but for Beta sites that have been around for a while, it is truly harming the growth beyond hard-core StachExchange users. People that are not familiar with the Area51 process, will be scared off by the sketchy look, and I welcome this new look (which is really based on the general look – which is really the most logical thing to do). I have previously asked the SE team to apply a graphical theme on the site although it was still in beta, because I felt the sketchy theme was not inviting to new members. I had aready seen that “User Experience” had got their own graphical theme while still in beta, but I guess they were in a special position as the site were all about looking good. I can’t wait till this new beta theme is applied to Music SE.

The new theme looks great, though the favicons really bug me.

The speech bubble just doesn’t suit the concept of “beta” (as defined by this post, at least), which is not necessarily an unfinished site but rather an endlessly growing one.

So the speech bubble is just a little out of place to me. I do like how you’re keeping the one or two prominent letters from the site title though. Those, besides the eventual custom theme, really reflect that community. And people may think that those letters aren’t important, but I think they serve a huge purpose in the growth of a site, which is really what this new beta theme tries to capture. So good thinking on your part.

Again, excellent work! Love the new modernized theme, but still think the favicon could be worked on. :)

@Purmou: The main reason for the theme change is to make the site look LESS unfinished. This is to communicate to new users that this is a site in progress, not an unfinished site. Designing a favicon that “looks beta” is not what we want here. The speech bubble communicates that this is a site for a questions and answers community, which is more like the message we want with the design. The message is NOT “this is a beta”!

@tylerrrr07 even say that he feels it should not include the text “beta” in the heading, but I would no go so far. It is after all a beta.

Should we add “public” to the beta moniker, and make it somehow evident what a public beta is? I mean, this would likely be a Jin question, but something to think about. “Beta” at this point seems a little odd to a non-stacker

Also, would it be worth keeping sketchy for the private betas? Because those _are_ under construction. Or was that said and I missed it?

It looks great. But like Purmou, I think we should work on the favicon.

What’s wrong about the favicon? It blends perfectly with the icon of SE. I really like it.

I also welcome the change overall. German Language & Usage has been in beta for exactly 300 days now and the sketchy look didn’t really reflect that. That being said maybe the sketchy beta look could stay for the first 90 days and be replaced by the stylish beta look after that. For those that miss the sketchy look too much.

I like the new theme but the total absence of graphics and its extreme “plainness” gave me the impression of a parked domain. Maybe add a Stackoverflow logo?

“I like the new theme but the total absence of graphics and its extreme “plainness” gave me the impression of a parked domain.”

This. I miss sketchy already.

Now betas look better than some older golden sites.

it looks great, nice “under construction” icons too :)