Growing design community with the Automattic Design Awards

At the end of 2018, we launched the inaugural edition of the Automattic Design Awards, a program intended to honor the best design work in the WordPress ecosystem. There are beautiful websites built with WordPress, there are plugins and other features that extend the functionality of WordPress in elegant and thoughtful ways. The more we can highlight that work and honor the people who are driving it forward, the more we can continue to grow our design community and insure that the future of WordPress means “good design for all”.

In order to honor the value of the different types of WordPress design work, we solicited entries in three categories:

  1. Best Site, for web sites utilizing WordPress to create experiences that are well thought out, easy to use, and visually compelling.
  2. Best Style, for strong aesthetic form on par with strong technical function.
  3. Best Solution, for code-based enhancements for WordPress, especially tools that enable others to create great sites.

In addition, we established judging criteria that emphasized the kinds of design principles that we think will help WordPress grow and thrive:

  • We want to honor work that has deep user empathy at its core, understanding the needs of those who will be using the product.
  • We want to honor work where developers and designers aren’t siloed, but where the work of engineering and user experience are tightly coupled.
  • We want to honor work that has elegant user experience at its core, including simplicity and clarity, effortless wayfinding, and deep attention to detail.
  • We want to honor work that features high quality content — information expressed creatively and powerfully.

In total, we had about 60 entries across all three categories, we gathered a fantastic jury, and celebrated the winners over cocktails at WordCamp US in Nashville. We had a surprise Dutch sweep, with 3 Dutch entrants winning awards! It was fantastic to see the excitement that the awards generated for those who participated, both in person and on social media.

What’s next?

I’ve been reflecting on the process and thinking ahead about what the future of the Automattic Design Awards might be. Of course, there are all kinds of practical lessons learned from the first time doing anything — how to improve communication, how to make judging easier and smoother — and we will be working to make those improvements for upcoming iterations of the program.

Thinking more broadly though, when I looking at the participants for 2018, the first year naturally attracted people who are active in the WordPress community (which is great!), especially since we relied primarily organic marketing and word of mouth to spread the word about the program.

But when I think about WordPress, there’s also a huge number of people and organizations who do great design on the platform, but who don’t necessarily think of themselves as identified with the WordPress community. They wouldn’t follow along or participate in many of the forums where the design awards were announced. For future iterations of the design awards, I would love to see this program help to expand the definition of the WordPress community — to reach out and engage all the people who use it as a powerful tool every day. I hope that we can work to gather a broader and more diverse set of applicants in 2019 and beyond to show the true breadth of how WordPress supports good design.

By Alexis Lloyd