About derby themes and rules...

This is something I’ve mentioned before to a handful of other artists, but I wanted to talk to the larger shirt.woot community about derby themes. The short version: I want derby themes to be a part of the rules and not just vague suggestions.

The long version: It’s confusing to have such specific derby themes sometimes and then have only a couple of rules be enforced about them. With the most recent derby as a specific example, it seems weird to have a derby called “Literary Greats” which is specifically described thusly (I’ve always wanted to use thusly in a sentence): “…this week’s derby is all about illustrating literary greats! Draw your favorite literary works…” Only to have a bunch of submissions that are not in any way about that theme. It’s strange that “no poe” and “no cream tees” are more heavily enforced than the actual theme itself.

And just to be clear, I didn’t tattle on any off-theme subs, and even voted for a couple because I’m not out to try to punish people simply because I interpreted the rules differently. I do, however, feel like when I follow a theme I often have one hand tied behind my back because others don’t follow the theme, and so for the sake of fair competition I’d like to see more specific guidelines and theme-related rules.


Edit: Also, I do enjoy more open/broad themes, I just think these more specific themes could benefit from their specificity.

Second Edit: Before I go to bed, I wanted to clarify to anyone that reads this that im not trying to “call anyone out” about this derby. This is a discussion about derbies going forward, using this derby as an example. There are several great derby entries this week that I had to vote for even though they didn’t fit my personal view of the theme.


I interpreted the theme the way you did, as being more strict. But when I reread the theme summary Woot posted now, I feel like I can see why some artists interpreted it more broadly. Specifically, this line:

Show off your smarts and reading skills and encourage others to soak in writings of excellent form, imaginative artistry, or expression of ideas!

…I think could be read as being more about promoting reading in general than a specific piece of literature.

I don’t mind the odd strict derby theme, though- I’m just not sure this was intended to be one. My request to Woot would be that if they do intend to have one in the future, that they be very clear about it in the summary (ie, literally saying “Just specific literary pieces this time! We’ll do a general reading derby another time”) so that no work is wasted.

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Out of context, I would agree you could interpret it that way, but in context the top lines clearly explain the derby theme and direction, and this is simply a call to action implying that entering art to this theme would be a way to encourage people to read.

That, however, does reinforce my point. I would have loved to have had those initial lines describing the derby be a part of the actual rules, so there wouldn’t be any room for confusion.

tagging a few folks as I think this is a good discussion.
@benwyeth @Lady5tark

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I appreciate this request. Woot has been fraught from the beginning with frustration over this vary thing.
I think there are THREE big issues here.

  1. Enforcing of the rules and the derby theme. This is very intermittent.
  2. Being very specific about the theme, and not changing it between the first announcement and the launch day.
  3. Keeping an on-going list and linking to it with every launch as to the OVER-ALL do’s and don’t when designing for the derby. This list should include things like the “no-photos” rule; but also include lesser known rules like "stay away from certain art styles because those people SUE (i.e. Calvin and Snobbs).
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I agree that consistency across all those points is important.

I agree - I also interpreted the theme as you did. And then was surprised when the entries turned out more general than what I thought the description was asking for. The theme being called “literary greats” and then the first 2 lines seemed very specific. If what was wanted was an emphasis on Literary Greats but reading was ok too, then that probably should have been in the title. “Literary Greats, Books and all things Reading” or something.

This happens a lot … I try to follow what I think are the rules, and then the other entries (and often the winning ones) follow the theme much more broadly than how it appeared to me. I don’t know if that’s how it was originally intended (in which case I definitely think this needs to be more clear) or woot just goes with it (back in the day the themes were much more strictly enforced), but either way it’s been a frustration for me as well.

If overall the theme is simply a loose way to get people thinking/creating and really it doesn’t matter at all, that should be clear too. A lot of derbies have entries that seem very loosely connected to the theme and then I feel kind of silly for trying to stick closely to what I think is being asked for.

Also- It’s snowing!

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It’s refreshing to hear I’m not alone. I was worried people were just going think I was up my own butt about it, and should chill out.

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Haha well it’s possible some do and now they’ll think the same of me;)
I’m guessing this frustration applies more to people who either naturally try to follow rules (this probably could be worded differently)?, or were around in the derbies long enough that they experienced the much more strict rules and rejections that followed so the instinct still remains.

@ste7enl @jasneko @benjaminleebates @geekfactor12

We hear you, and know we are looking and listening even if we don’t reply right away. I’m going to try and address all points in one post to keep the thread a bit cleaner, but if I don’t answer something, please let me know. I want to keep this discussion going, I and my teammates agree this is a great conversation to have.

A couple things we (and by We I mean the Shirt team over here @ Woot) have to consider here.

Firstly, the preview of the derby is the best way to hash out ambiguity and narrow down the specific rules for us, because we can’t predict how things are going to be interpreted. So asking us questions to clarify details is a great way for us to be able to answer those questions to those active in the forums. But we also need to make sure those points are clarified for those not active in the forums or folks new to the derby, so it may be necessary to update the phrasing of the derby write-up to be more clear when it goes live. Now, the derby write-up is not evergreen and we won’t change the theme halfway through the preview week - it’s more about clarifying a point we may have made if it is clearly being misinterpreted.

Secondly, keeping the themes a little bit more open to interpretation is what gives the derby its beautiful variety of submissions. Yes there are some that have more guidelines, and others that are much more loose. But in general, we are hesitant to get too specific so we don’t end up with very similar entries. The aim is to not be too prescriptive in order to allow creativity to happen, and to encourage participation.

Lastly, I think we are pretty good about rejecting designs that are clearly off-topic, IP infringements or in violation of a specific guideline laid out. And the tattle button is there to call us out when we’re not being so great at it. This week we didn’t get any tattles for off-topic designs and I think that is because as we have all agreed in this thread, this week in particular was down to different interpretations of the theme. I will acknowledge that maybe the title and the write-up combination were a little confusing and we can strive to get better about that.

With that being said, we can’t change the rules half way through a live contest. If entries start to come in that are different interpretations of the theme than how others interpreted it, that’s not enough to be considered off-topic.

There is a post coming with general derby guidelines that I will link to in the live derby…that is on me, I just haven’t gotten that finalized yet :-/… don’t tell my boss…

In sort of summation, Woot has evolved over the years, and so has the way we do things. We now have a catalog of over 10k designs so we want to encourage the creation of new and original art, so that is the intention with the derby. It is also our intention to facilitate and encourage healthy discussions and foster a community so with that I will end and hand the mic back to you…

@ste7enl @jasneko

For the record I don’t think anyone’s up their own butt, but hopefully the above explains the intention and where we are coming from so we can discuss!

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I appreciate you taking the time to respond, and I mostly agree with your points. Like I mentioned, I do like open themes as well, but like with this past week, the theme seemed very specific. There was nothing in the wording or title that suggested anything broad to me. I certainly wouldn’t want you to change a theme midway through, and I don’t think all themes need to be specific, but when they seem that narrow or focused, I just feel like that specificity should be a rule/guideline. Ultimately, going forward, I personally think simply having a line in each derby that specifies how broad or specific a theme is would be a helpful start. For example, after the write up I’d like something like this:

  1. This derby can be about specific literature or simply about reading and books. It’s up to you. 2. No Poe related submissions. 3. No cream tees.

In the current derby, I think you all did a good job of making it clear how open the derby was. It wasn’t just about gratitude as a concept, but also could be about anything people were grateful for, but was specifically not about thanksgiving themes. This told me everything the derby theme was and wasn’t in very succinct terms, with no ambiguity. In last week’s theme, it just seemed to be a very specific thing, that ultimately was treated by many as something as equally broad as this week, and it felt limiting to me to follow that theme when others did not, so it felt worth mentioning.

And as always, I appreciate everything you’re all doing, and have loved the openness of communication, so thanks for that, and thanks again for taking the time to reply.


I really like this- I think some of the current ambiguity in themes is that there are two camps, people who take the first sentence of the theme as being the most important and see the rest as supporting that, and people who see each sentence as equally weighted in describing things that are allowed. Having the theme simplified like that might help get everyone on the same page.

I think that kind of clarity could also help participating artists who might not read English fluently, as online translators can sometimes garble the more complicated stuff.

I’d maybe even simplify it a bit more…

Yes: Specific books in the public domain
Yes: Literature or reading in general
No: Copyrighted book titles or characters
No : Edgar Allen Poe
No: Cream shirts

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I took the theme to mean anything about literature, so I went with wordplay. If it was specific literature, what would be considered ok for the theme? I’m a middle school English teacher. Ask me to list literature and your’e going to get a lot of YA novels and dystopia. I suspect others would lean toward classic adult works. We’re both right. The beauty of the derby is to see how people interpret it. Super specific derbies tend to be boring, IMHO.

Well in this example the theme directive was “…this week’s derby is all about illustrating literary greats! Draw your favorite literary works…” So It’s clear you could draw your favorite literary works which covers pretty much any fiction or non-fiction outside of the dramatic arts, but also clear that it should be about something that was previously written and not something generic or that you made up.

Obviously, that was not their intention, but as written I don’t see it being that wide open for interpretation beyond what you personally think is a great literary work, which still leaves a lot of room for choice and variety.

That’s not how I interpreted it. My approach to the derby is pretty general, looking for a springboard of inspiration to make a wearable t-shirt. I think loose interpretations are ok. We get more variety and creativity that way.

I think that goes to the heart of my point. There is nothing to indicate in the derby themes that they are just loose creative guides. If I was new to woot and wanted to submit, there is no way I would read “…this week’s derby is all about illustrating literary greats! Draw your favorite literary works…" and think that meant do whatever you want that is tangentially related to writing in general. There is no reason to infer that.

I’m simply saying that if that is their intention it should be more explicit in the derby rules, and when they want people to adhere more closely to the themes, they can say that too.

FWIW, the unwritten ban on Calvin and Hobbes inspired designs isn’t because of litigation but rather out of respect to Bill Watterson.

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I’m just saying that’s how I interpreted it. It sounds like you’re saying my interpretation is wrong because it doesn’t match yours. I think their intention was more open with that theme. If it wasn’t, they would have rejected entries.

I think you’re missing my point and also conflating intention with direction. My point is that as it was written it was not open to interpretation. It wasn’t symbolic, a riddle, or an ambiguous statement. It was direct and concise. They said the theme, and what to do with the theme. There is nothing as written to indicate that derby themes are optional. I completely accept that their intention may be, as explained, a broad guideline, but there is no direction written to explain that.

So once again, back to my point, I think they should make that clear. If derby themes are supposed to be broad and interpreted in any way that an artist wants it should be an explicit rule so that any new or returning artist is aware of that. If they want the theme to be specific, they can also then indicate that.