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Sandbox for Movable Type

By Beau Smith
Posted September 10, 2008, in Design.

Ever thought about radically changing the look of your blog without much design work? Are you a designer who likes to work in semantic HTML and do amazing things with CSS? Maybe you’re moving from WordPress to Movable Type and want to keep your current design. Sandbox for Movable Type may just be what you’re looking for.

What began as a hackathon project of between Bryan Tighe and myself a little while ago has yielded some great results: today we’re releasing Sandbox for Movable Type as a plugin that allows the many Sandbox themes to be used on Movable Type blogs as well. (BTW, Hackathons—the ability to spend every Wednesday scratching our own itches—are one of the reasons why I love working at Six Apart. The Vanilla Template Set was another of my recent Hackathon projects.)

Sandbox is similar to the CSS Zen Garden in that it showcases the power of CSS—the ability to radically transform the look of a site without changing any of the underlying HTML. Movable Type has always supported this concept. Tools like the Movable Type Design Assistant have made it much simpler to customize the look of your Movable Type blog through CSS alone. And this concept and philosophy is also why we supported The Style Contest, which not only succeeded in producing over 150 new designs to style Movable Type’s default templates, but also in rewarding the awesome designers behind each of the winning designs.

Scott Wallick and Andy Skelton created Sandbox as a theme for WordPress and it has since been used as the base for many blogs over the last few years. At its core, Sandbox is a rich and semantic—yet simple—HTML structure with many unique CSS classes throughout in order to make it simple for non-designers to easily make small design adjustments to an existing Sandbox theme. More experienced designers can even radically change the look and structure of a blog using CSS alone. Using the dynamically generated classes, themes can even style the site differently each hour of the day!

This well-thought-out structure has attracted many web designers and developers to create themes for Sandbox which other can then use as a starting point for their own customizations to suit their individual needs. (Though Scott points out that his site uses purely unmodified Sandbox html!)

Here are three of our favorite themes showing off the flexibility of Sandbox… and remember that all of these designs use the exact same HTML templates!

  • Essay by Ian Stewart

    Essay (Sandbox Theme Screenshot)

  • Takimata by Robert Ellis

    sandbox-takimata.gif

  • Blackbox by Hillary Louise Johnson

    sandbox-blackbox.gif

  • Diurnal by Carolyn Smith

    Diurnal is a great example of a theme using Sandbox’s ability to change appearance based upon the time of day. Diurnal has different styles for sunrise, morning, afternoon, sunset, and night which you can see across the top of this screenshot:

    sandbox-diurmal.jpg

And we owe a huge thanks to the designers of all of the variations of Sandbox that we’re making available. Here are their names and the designs they’ve created — be sure to check out their sites and show your appreciation for their work!

Installing Sandbox on Movable Type 4.2 is pretty easy. Sandbox requires that you have PHP setup on your web server in order to create dynamic classes; this should be easy as nearly every host comes standard with PHP out of the box these days.

The Sandbox plugin also ships with a newer version of StyleCatcher (the Style selector within Movable Type), making it simple to switch between different Sandbox styles. Installation instructions for Sandbox and StyleCatcher are included in the plugin, though if you’ve installed a plugin before it should be a snap.

sandbox-stylecatcher.jpg

We’ve shipped all the winning themes from the Sandbox Design Contest and a handful of other Sandbox themes. You can also install other themes from the Sandbox Design Contest with Sandbox for Movable Type or create your own Sandbox theme

Download Sandbox for Movable Type from the plugin directory and please let us know what you think and how we can make it better.

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56 Comments

Mike T

Mike T on September 10, 2008, 12:01 p.m. Reply

Great work! It’s good to see more variety here with the template sets. The default set is a good one, but Sandbox looks like it will be useful for copying some of the WordPress styles that have toolbars and such.

For those who want to stay with the default template set, I have a number of themes converted over from WordPress here.

andyskelton.com

andyskelton.com on September 10, 2008, 1:40 p.m. Reply

Great job! I look forward to seeing new Sandbox designs flow from the MT community into WP.

scottwallick.com

scottwallick.com on September 10, 2008, 4:18 p.m. Reply

Great stuff, Beau. The framework that Andy and I put together should be a great boon to the MT design community, which has a really good reputation. I’m looking forward to seeing what crosses this new bridge.

Anil Dash

Anil Dash on September 10, 2008, 5:16 p.m. Reply

Andy, Scott, thanks for all your work on Sandbox and for making it open so everyone can benefit! I hope we can get things flowing the other way, too — the MT standard markup (which people can also use on TypePad and LiveJournal) would make a great option for WordPress blogs.

It’s already worked great for the Drupal community and the Habari community has been interested as well.

Hopefully we can catch up at WordCamp NYC and figure out how to make that happen.

Beau Smith

Beau Smith on September 10, 2008, 6:57 p.m. Reply

Thanks for all the great feedback!

Skye

Skye on September 11, 2008, 9:04 p.m. Reply

This is wonderful. This is what I’ve been waiting for to step up my evangelism for Movable Type!

As a side note, I definitely believe that Six Apart should point to the Style Contest as an achievement. But I also definitely think that someone should put an official note on the Style Archive site that the styles are not compatible with MT4. I feel bad for the people who find it and then can’t figure out why they’re not working.

CaptainV

CaptainV on September 15, 2008, 9:19 p.m. Reply

Great work! very beautiful!

Mike T

Mike T on September 17, 2008, 3:48 a.m. Reply

Beau,

Could you take a look at this and tell me what you think is going on? There seems to be a major problem with StyleCatcher not properly downloading image files that are in the 50kb-200kb range.

Pouya

Pouya on September 27, 2008, 6:21 a.m. Reply

thank you

sfritz11

sfritz11 on September 29, 2008, 8:31 a.m. Reply

interesting

Abby Van Buren

Abby Van Buren on December 15, 2008, 4:03 p.m. Reply

They have put together some really great looking designs!

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sneakers on December 23, 2008, 10:00 a.m. Reply

Nice designs,look forward to see more.Thanks.

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air jordans on June 14, 2009, 6:31 a.m. Reply

It is a wonderful article,i like it,thank you very much!

freedom

freedom on October 13, 2009, 8:52 a.m. Reply

Thanks. I will try install. Very heavy to find good themes for movable type

Argent

Argent on February 6, 2011, 2:48 a.m. Reply

Some pieces are quite nice, others I hang less, but overall the idea is good. Only the term sandbox might not be very advantageous.

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Inceva on June 9, 2012, 9:42 p.m. Reply

hi scott and andy..thanks for all your work on Sandbox and for making it open so everyone can benefit! I hope we can get things flowing the other way, too the standard markup ( would make a great option for WordPress blogs.we are in the process of moving a WP cms to MT . http://thaimedicalvacation.com It hasnt been very easy and we are running into a lot of issues due to the site being multi-lingual. reading sandbox docs has helped quite a bit.

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Porter on June 12, 2012, 1:02 a.m. Reply

Hey there! This is kind of off topic but I need some guidance from an established blog. Is it difficult to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick. I’m thinking about making my own but I’m not sure where to begin. Do you have any points or suggestions? Many thanks.

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Sandbox looks fantastic i have installed the folders into their correct respective locations, but after selecting Refresh Blog Templates the box does not appear in the dropdown menu. I’ve deleted and re-installed the folders and triple checked that the locations are correct, but to no avail.resume editing service

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More experienced designers can even radically change the look and structure of a blog using CSS alone. Using the dynamically generated classes, themes can even style the site differently each hour of the day!

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Jobs in the UK on July 11, 2012, 3:18 a.m. Reply

In Movable Type, Sandbox can be retrieved from StyleCatcher — the Style selector within Movable Type. By this, switching betwen styles should be very easy.

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Jacksonville news on July 11, 2012, 10:24 p.m. Reply

I’ve been a die-hard fan of Movable Type since its early stage. MT powered by blog from 2002 to 2005. However, WordPress was much better that in 2006 I moved totally to WordPress never to look back. The only thing I missed in WordPress was its inability to have multiple blogs with a single installation and WPMU is a bad choice.

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Web Development on July 16, 2012, 9:10 p.m. Reply

In Movable Type, Sandbox can be retrieved from StyleCatcher — the Style selector within Movable Type. By this, switching betwen styles should be very easy.

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Yay. Time to do another test install of MT, I think.

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Since this release I have used a few of the Sandbox Themes on my Movable Type blogs and they work great.

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