Details, often overlooked, are very important, the many details on the corners and edges of the old buildings we all see are just as important as the structure of the building.
I often feel that many new constructions lack these finishing touches, the detail that someone spent a lot of time to ensure looked just perfect. In some ways this illustrates the difference between an architect and a master craftsman of old.
If the intention of the structure is convey a particular essence of grandeur then it is important to build that into the fabric, communicating the impression through design.
If we take a look back it’s the same with the desktop in many ways. If we allow it to become too cold and surgical we will never be loved but may be used. If we make it too active and animated then we may reach a market but may also convey an image of childish interactivity. Somewhere in the middle is a balance, where we use animation, colour and shape in a way which brings together the user interface for the whole desktop into a polished, finished and corner detailed experience which expresses the essence of the GNOME desktop.
I wouldn’t like to classify the essence as a political belief, political beliefs especially those behind free software aren’t important to the end user. Instead I would focus on what GNOME intends to be really good at, the following bullet points were brainstormed during the HIG session at the Usability Hackfest I believe that this is a good starting point for describing the ‘essence of the GNOME desktop’, and that this is something that should be embraced by developers and designers;
- Simple – No useless options presented to the user, no confusing options
- Elegant – clean visual layout, no unecessary clutter, alignment of elements
- Universally accessible – Everyone can use it, 3 – 93 years, no-matter what disability, background, language
- Obvious, discoverable, learnable – common operations should be visible, should be easy to learn advanced operations
- Helpful – requiring as little work from the user as possible, staying out of the user’s way, anticipating the user’s needs, presenting them with what they are most likely to need
Indeed there are some things to be concerned about, for instance as I read recently.
“I’m becoming more and more worried about the rounded-rectangle, grey gradient, tango-esque, big-ass padding and even bigger-ass button style that is predominating our little end of UI design lately.” – rfquerin
This, it must be said, has some truth in it. Although I do love the idea of tango icons, a standardised pixel sharp icon set with a standard colour palette is very sensible. However, the issue that we’re not really innovating in other ways is a concern of mine, we need to rethink themes, rethink window management, rethink desktop furniture and rethink the rules for colouring and styling our widgets.
Things are most certainly becoming more grey, rounded rectangled, hugely padded UIs but some of this is well placed, some of it not-so. I believe that there is a case for pairing the HIG with a set of Style Guidelines which will help build stylish user interfaces. A lot of the required text for a set of style guidelines exists in parts of the HIG, separating this out and making it appropriately usable shouldn’t be too hard.
Some proposed topics for a set of style guidelines could include; colour matching & palettes, shapes, gradients, lighting, borders & spacing. There should also be some standard documentation somewhere for accessing specific colours from the theme allowing developers to use cairo widgets in tune with the themes colour scheme with ease.
Alberto Ruiz posted recently that we should be more open to design ideas and embrace them rather than resist them. We need to make GNOME exciting for developers and end-users, encouraging designers to become a part of the project and dissect and critique without fear of the reaction.
Making GNOME3 isn’t just about libraries, modules and infrastructure it’s also about improving the experience for everyone and learning from mistakes we’ve made in the past.