Boxes and Arrows Redesign

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UPDATED This just in: Hillman Curtis joins the panel of judges. The entry deadline has been extended until August 15th, 2004. We compiling put together a crack judging team and have currently confirmed: Andrei Herasimchuk, John Rhodes, Lou Rosenfeld, Nathan Shedroff, and Jared Spool.

When Boxes and Arrows first launched in 2001, we were blessed with the design from the talented Gabe Zentall. B&A has been growing and changing and evolving since then, and it’s time to freshen up a bit. But because we love the vibrant community that has made us—from the articles to the amazing discussion in the comments, we’d like to go one step further. We’d like to ask you to redesign us.

Erin Malone, Chief Editor and sometime IA has sketched out a site map and a few wireframes [56k PDF] to get you started. But from here the sky is the limit. Do you think the IA needs stretching? Or has she got it nailed? Should our design get sassier? Or is cool and restrained right where we need to be?

We’ll take submissions until August 1st. Then our panel of celebrity judges (list coming soon!) will ponder over each design’s usability, stylishness, and clarity to pick the future design of B&A. As well as being the designer of B&A, your first prize will be a set of professional books from the fine publishers at PeachPit Press (the parents to New Riders)!

Please take a second to read through the rules and background materials. Then get our your pencils and start sketching!

Submission consist of three flat files (preferably png, but gif and jpg will be accepted) of a front page, a search results page and an article page. Please zip these three files and email to: prettyface [at] No code required. Supporting materials such as adjusted sitemaps, or other supporting pages are acceptable.

The logo is not up for redesign.

All submissions must be completed by August 1st, 2004.

All work must be your original design. Group submissions accepted.

Final design will be implemented on B&A. However, changes as required by technological or usability needs may be made. All entrants will be published for the general edification and pleasure of the community.

Supporting material
Some stats

Top 10 domains pie chart
Listing the top 10 domains by the number of requests, sorted by the amount of traffic.

Browser breakdown pie chart
Listing the top 5 browsers by the number of requests, sorted by the number of requests for pages.

Operating systems pie chart
Listing operating systems, sorted by the number of requests for pages.

Some requirements:
Our users tend to be designers or usability professionals. They print heavily, and complain bitterly about bad print set-ups, low contrast fonts or tiny fonts.

The site must:

  • Be easy to maintain
  • Load quickly
  • Be easy to read online as well as printed
  • Must appeal to everyone from Clement Mok to Jared Spool (both regular readers!)
  • Support advertising, yet not get in the way of reader’s pleasure
  • Have a distinct magazine feel—this is NOT a blog.
  • Must clearly message design but not alienate via arrogance.

The support staff is all volunteer, and Boxes and Arrows currently doesn’t make a dime. Therefore all design solutions must consider a low free maintenance strategy.

The future site will feature advertising. It is not yet determined if this will be text-only, a la Google Adsense, or include image ads as well. The designer may consider this in his/her realm of recommendations.

Feel free to use the comments section for further requirements gathering! We, the staff, will answer publicly for all to learn!


  • Site map and a few wireframes [56k PDF]
  • EPS logo [190k]
  • PDF logo [68k]



  1. Sounds like a fun idea. Just a quick observation, I suggest removing the apostrophe from “New Rider’s”. It doesn’t belong there, and they are your sponsor.

  2. “Why isn’t this a hyperlink?”

    Spam spam spam spam
    spam spam spam spam
    spam spam spam
    wonderful spam

    (can I have a piece with less rat in it?)

  3. ok, logo is not for redesign, but also the blue theme has to stay the same?

  4. when we mentioned no code we really meant no code. JPEG, PNG, PSD are all we are asking for. This is primarily so we can engineer the design to our CMS and final development language.

  5. Also – on the logo – the font and mark need to stay the same, but we will entertain alternative color choices.

  6. I’ve got some questions I usually ask clients thatweren’t addressed above, so…

    I’m assuming short term goals of the redesign are to:
    1. freshen the brand a bit, and
    2. include advertising.

    Are there any long term goals for the publication?

    Beyond messaging design in a non-arrogant manner, is there a specific way B&A wishes to be perceived? How is B&A perceived now? How do you not want to be perceived?

    Are there any specific problems with the existing design you’d like to see fixed?

    Who do you view as competition? What sites do the editors enjoy?

  7. Some answers to some of your questions – I leave it to Christina to answer some of them as well.

    1. We do want to freshen the brand. I think it’s time for a bit of a bolder look and a bolder presence in the field.

    2. We are considering advertising and sponsorships. People want to give us money and right now the layout does not accomodate any way to present this.

    3. Long term, I’d like to see us pursue more of the article types we started out with – case studies, design focused discussions, tutorials, interviews, historical roots pieces. We have also thought about what our offline presence could be. At the beginning we thought a year end annual or something like that might be nice.

    4. Currently, some of the problems I see in the existing design is that we have one template that is supposed to fit all. There is no visual distinction between a long article and a short article. No distinction between a thought piece (editorial or big idea) and a case study or tutorial. There is no strong way to present a piece with a lot of images – or visual examples. I always wanted different templates for different article types. (see our categories for the types)

    5. I speak for me on this one (the other editors will have to chime in):
    AIGA Journal – their redesign/new design is fabulous.
    Digital Web – similar articles and authors –
    Adaptive Path – not a journal but they write a lot of good essays and their partners have written for us as well.
    Communication Arts Design Interact – good stuff here – but they have the history of the printed magazine to build on and the editorial staff we don’t have (plus they are paid and we aren’t)

    Sites I Enjoy:the above mentioned – plus:
    among many that I visit regularly – but the writing and design of all of these is excellent.

  8. Why is the panel of judges slated towards interaction design/usability professionals? How about throwing a designer or two on there? This isn’t just a usability competition is it?

  9. Hi Joshua –

    we wanted to get a full range of judges from across the disciplines. I would consider Andrei and Nathan to cross the bounds between experience design, information design and interaction design.

    On the other hand, I am still waiting for confirmation from 2 different designers we asked to judge. Until I hear yes, we are not at liberty to announce their names yet. We will do an updated announcement when we get this confirmation.


  10. Not Blog-ish? Isn’t MT your CMS?

    – How frequently do you (now + future) add / update content? 6 entries/day? 3 entries/week?

  11. We publish between 3 and 5 articles a month. That’s it. No blogging daily, hourly or even weekly, no commentary on stuff around the web, no llinking and espousing words of wisdom and criticism. Use of MT for CMS does not a blog make.

  12. The publisher’s welcome could potentially be a place for Christina Wodtke – the publisher of B&A – to muse on something that might be different than a normal welcome or big idea piece. It could appear monthly or quarterly or some other cycle but be a distinct message from her to the reader community. This might also be different than an editorial or message from the editor in which we – the editorial staff – might open an issue with a message about a theme of the aticles or special announcements. Or these could be combined. The IA shared, reflects the current site as well ideas we have had for the future.

  13. The contest sounds interesting and I know that the deadline has already been extended to 15th of August. Though the redesign doesn’t sound like a weekend job, its summertime and there are a few other deadlines to meet yet.

    Is there any chance to extend the deadline to mid or end of September 2004?



  14. Unfortunately, I don’t think we can extend due to the commitments we have secured from our judges. I expect we will make that call early next week if we did decide, but don’t count on it. Besides, that would hardly be fair to the folks who have already submitted designs.

    We first posted this June 22, so the total time, including the extension is 7 weeks to design what amounts to 3 pages. 7 weeks, even with a job seems like enough time to me. It is way more time than I might give one of my staff members to come up with a page design.

  15. I can’t follow your arguments.

    “7 weeks, even with a job seems like enough time to me”
    Frankly, I find 7 weeks for a contest a fairly short time, or do you expect that anybody who would be interested did know about it since June 22?

    “even with a job seems like enough time to me”
    That’s relative, depends on your current job and many other factors, isn’t it?

    “Besides, that would hardly be fair to the folks who have already submitted designs.”
    You already extended the deadline once, was that fair? However, I really don’t understand why it shouldn’t be fair, anyone of the folks which already submitted or still work on it can as well benefit from an extension. Is that unfair?

    I will survive if you don’t extend the deadline. Though I would like to say that your 7 weeks for a contest is far too short. You can’t expect that people have nothing else to do than to watch out for contests and assume that they have time to do the job as you would have. I am not in the contest business but my logic says that four months or more sounds a “reasonable” and “fair” time frame that someone at some time tries to do a good job for free.

    A last question, you state “to design what amounts to 3 pages”. Though, when I look at the site map it’s not a website with just 3 pages, you design the 3 but have to consider all others. How much time would you actually give for this job? 3, 4, 8, 16, 24, less or more hours? I’m just curios.

  16. Ok – you make some great points. Everyone has different issues, deadlines and other things in their lives. Believe me I understand.

    We designed the redesign knowing that we would still have work to do to extend a new design out across the IA. We don’t expect that you – will have time to do all that. It would be presumptuous of us to expect that in a contest. On the other hand, the IA – rough as it is – was provided in case you want to think about the holistic site, the potential use of the design and to even offer opportunities for you to make improvements. It was offered to take it or leave it as is.

    I appreciate your feedback and understand your concerns over the time constraints. I think the answer to your last question depends on how fast a designer you might be with this problem to solve, how busy you are with everything else, and how interested you are to work on this problem compared to other things in your life.

  17. Hey, only the logo is sacrosanct. Relaly, color, line, type and so on is up to you.

    As Erin points out, we need a number of things– a brand refresh, a stronger more graphicly potent look, and it wouldn’t hurt if a few usability issues were killed as well (gray type has never been my favorite).

    As for judges, I hope our final selection of industry experts– both long established and young punk upstarts– will be enough to select the lovliest new look for our beloved baby.

  18. I’d like to see consideration of searchability and findability included in the evaluation (of course I say this 😉

    We should talk about a better search engine too.

    And, my middle-aged eyes insist, a “larger type” version that is gets up to readable size in the Mac Safari browser.

  19. I was wondering if by “Deadline August 15th” you mean by midnight this Sunday? It’s a strange deadline to select, given that it’s on a weekend. Can’t you give us late-late-nights-and-weekends folks until Monday morning at least? Pretty please? 🙂

    (Also, for what it’s worth, I’m pretty well informed and I only found out about this contest today, August 12th.)

    It’s super cool, though, that you’re approaching the redesign this way. Good luck!


  20. I am on the West coast – so August 15th midnight PST time is the date stamp I will be filtering entries by. For folks on the East Coast – that is 3 am on Monday – so there’s three extra hours. 😉

    Of course – folks who know me, know I stop responding to email around 11pm and that I then check my email again around 8 am on Monday morning. Anything pulled into my mail Monday morning will be considered.

  21. I got my version posted. And there is still days to go until the deadline. This isn’t something that happens every time for me.

    Feels good 🙂

    What is the estimate when the designs will be published or given any comment?

  22. One thing I’m curious about is if there is some devotion to the discussions column at the far left. It just seems to myself that if you want to go for some advertising then it will either need to go or be diminished. With the exception of this particular article, I’ve never clicked on one of those “read” or “discuss” links. Thoughts about this? Thanks…v

  23. The discussion aspect on articles is extremely important. We have conversations on many articles that last for months. I would not want to see that go or be diminished. Just because you have only clicked on this one doesn’t mean it isn’t useful to others. The comments also go directly to the author and is a way for them to see how their work resonates with their audience. Some of our most contentious articles have had wonderful rounds of discussion and others none – so it depends on the piece, the mood of the readers and how the two combine.

    I hope that there is a way to keep the teaser discussion lead ins and have a place for advertising.

    Ah – so there is a design challenge.

  24. Thanks Erin for the reply. I had wondered, since I’ve never really used them (but they are so grey and scary over there), but for my little one day re-design attempt I’ll keep them in there. 😉

  25. Let me go off the topic a bit here… to the discussions.

    Even though the discussion are presented in quite many places around this site, I’ve also never used them before. Yes, they are a great tool and I’d like to read them more, but for some reason I never end up in the discussions.

    In some other information channels -mostly those that are in someway related to coding or application-development- the discussion part (or “comments”) are located at the end of the article or at least the topics of that discussion. This way when user gets the reading done, he or she can stay within that topic by reading discussions, which continue the same direction of movement for the user.

    So is there really a reason or a need to move the discussion away from the article it self to some isolated page? I would see that the discussions could be placed simply below the article.

    (a late but free design tip for you 🙂 )

  26. We will be reviewing the submissions during the last part of the month and our judges will be reviewing and judging the first 2 weeks of September. (We are working around folks’ travel schedules)

    I hope to be able to announce mid-September.

Comments are closed.