Why design matters

Patrik Bubák bubapa at privacyrequired.com
Sat Jul 25 12:57:26 CEST 2015


I joined the mailing list to propose ways to improve the visual
experience of Xfce by default and to help create standardized guidelines
for themers to abide to. 

There is always a need for a good looking desktop (just look at Mac OSX
and you'll get the point of why it sells despite its weaknesses), which
is why many (visually) prefer some other options like Pantheon, Gnome,
MATE, Cinnamon, even Unity for that matter, or KDE. Now I'm not going to
give you charts, but it's a fact that visually Xfce is one of the least
popular desktops, although I am aware it was created for speed and

All except KDE have one thing in common - Gnome, due to its
extensibility, making it a perfect base for forks. The Gnome team puts a
great deal of effort into designing their own applications and it works.
Not just for functionality, but great focus lies in design, which Gnome
is perfectly aware of, and just like sex sells in commercials with
women, design is the next thing that sells most. You see it everywhere.
Everything around you is design in some form.

While we know, that Gnome is not the most practical of desktops and from
my own experience I dare to say it has been oversimplified in many ways
when it goes against its philosophy of "getting things out of the way",
for me it often gets in the way of doing things.

There are some elements that it has that the simple mind seeks -
aesthetics - hidden in simple details, which Xfce does not, and for a
designer that's like a needle in the eye.

The most common reason why many shun Xfce I met with in my 5 years of
Linux is because it:

        - lacks standardized Human Interface Guidelines (HIG)
        - is generally visually unappealing (base themes are a nay)

Now, you may think what I talked about here is very subjective. Believe
me it's not, and those perceptive enough would know the difference,
hearing it from everyone, everywhere. There's always something about
Xfce that drives people away in favour of clunkier desktops like Gnome.

For a start I would propose to focus on the following few things:

        - the notification area/tray/whatever you call it, make the
        space between icons breathable, even, make icons uniform in size
        (currently it's pretty much chaos, one icon looks bigger, other
        one smaller, one takes more space, the other one less and so on.
        Just look at the Gnome panel or Pantheon desktop and you'll know
        what I'm talking about.) While some (in particular those who
        don't even need a GUI and terminal suffices) would argue that
        these are meaningless changes, the general audience, even though
        not designers, pays attention to details and somewhere deep down
        feel something's not right. Call it gut instinct, a bad feeling,
        or an awakening aesthetic "touch", regardless, it's there.
        - allow for fixed positions in centres of panels and windows.
        (Ever felt like you want to centre some things on your desktop
        but can't get them quite in the position you want? Again, a
        minor detail that counts.)
        - the window buttons plug-in of the panel displays icons a lot
        smaller than that of the start menu e.g. I would propose making
        all icons of a fixed size, regardless are those shortcuts, or

As you can see I'm not suggesting to add Compiz or anything like that,
that would take away the speed or functionality of the desktop. I am
merely proposing cosmetic adjustments.

While I recognize the effort of some communities like Xubuntu and
Shimmer Project to whom I am thankful for the effort they have put in in
beautifying the Xfce desktop and making it more appealing for general
audiences, I don't know the standing at its base. I've used some vanilla
Xfce flavours offered by many distributions and the base (default Xfce4)
artwork was... well...

So my question is whether there is interest in making the DE more
visually appealing, or you just want to continue with your current

I am already a part of the Ubuntu GNOME project where I already made
some contributions, but the working pace is slow, as usual, we all are
busy with real lives. 

While I cannot code Gtk+ themes (need to find the time to learn that), I
could still be of help by coordinating the visualization of the desktop.

Bear in mind, that the devil's in the details.


Patrik Bubák
Ubuntu GNOME Artwork team  |  Behance.net

Sent using Evolution

Nothing ruins creativity like too many voices weighing in. We call it
the Ice Cream Principle. Tell 10 people to go get ice cream with one
condition: they all have to agree on one flavour. That flavour is going
to be chocolate or vanilla every time. Groups of people don't agree on
what's cool or interesting, they agree on what's easy to agree on.

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