This is the work blog for the KDE Visual Design Group a group of dedicated designers striving to improve community participation in design for KDE as well as design work in general for KDE applications and Plasma.

onsdag 29 januari 2014

The Visual Design Group - a short intro.

In which we quickly talk about the members of the current Visual Design Group, hopes for more members and what we're looking for.

Creative Commons SA, JD Hancock

The Visual Design Group is prepared. Tomorrow evening we're having our first proper meeting where we'll split up the most urgent tasks between us and assign contacts to everyone. There are six of us now (plus a few contacts) and the hope is that you will see the work and want to join in a few months.

Elena Ramirez is a talented webdesigner and sometimes illustrator who helped KDE finish the look for who works out of Seville.

Fabian Bornschein who is a student from Germany and an active Kubuntu group member on Google + with a passion for theming (I suggest you all check out his Tilain Plasma Theme btw).

Malcer Quaid who is a designer who's creations include the famous Caledonia plasma theme and who's been active with Chakra Linux for a long time.

David Brandl is a professional webdesigner from Germany with an extensive background in KDE and Open Source.

Nuno Pinheiro needs no introduction as he is the "Grand Ole Man" of KDE design and one of the creators behind the Oxygen icon theme.

Me (Jens Reuterberg) I'm a freelance illustrator and Graphics Designer with experience from AD-work from Sweden who promised my soul to KDE for a year this january.


More detailed introductions and a short interview with every member will come shortly.

Right now there are plenty of things underway and so very little time to do it - if you feel that you should be on this list. If you think that you can contribute work to KDE. If you're passionate about Open Source in general but KDE and Design in specific - dont hesitate a second to contact me on jens [at] ohyran [dot] se.
I cannot promise gold, half the kingdom and the princess/prince hand in marriage - but I can promise that this will be something you'll write on your CV in the future in big bold letters. This is something you will brag about in the future.
Do you know a designer who needs a leg up, an artistic talent that deserves to get their hands dirty? Then keep an eye out on this blog. Fabulous ... great ... interesting prices will be announced for those that hand me a designer that will join up and do the work.

Also: coming soon - more technical and specifics of the design work being done!

tisdag 28 januari 2014

Time, saying No and respecting both.

In which we talk about the work done so far, my run in with stress and time, respecting others and caring for your own. The value of knowing when to say "no".

Creative Commons SA - Pixabay

In the last weeks its been a ton of work for me personally. The first trembling touching contacts between the people who make up the Visual Design Group has been done, people are talking, contacts with the UI design group has been set up and I talked to allot of people with experience with design within Open Source projects in general and KDE in specific to get some suggestions, ideas and feedback (as well as old war stories). At the same time the icon work had to move forward as well as some logos that had to be done and lets not forget the looming ever present sword of Damocles that is the Visual Guidelines document. 
The list of things that needs to be done within the Visual Design Group grows bigger every day and we are moving ever closer to D-day. This not mentioning the AFK work I've done (three freelance gigs, applications to be finished and that darn university course I decided to take (I thought well "Communication Theory and Journalism" how hard can that be? :-) ))

This is not me complaining, I rejoice having too little time and too many things to do. 

Actually the issue is that I (like many designers, and I suspect many others as well) tend to like that sensation a little bit too much. We say "Yes" because we want to help and we say "yes" because we enjoy the sensation of working. 


For me this all came to a head about one and a half year ago. I was working four different rather well paying projects while at the same time attending a university course and had allot of relevant personal projects going at the same time. 
One morning, on the tram, my brain stopped. I freaked out. Humans scared me, I felt nauseous and it felt like I was about to die. This was the first time I had ever had something like this happen and it wasn't until about a month later that I got the question during a doctors visit "Have you been stressed recently?".
It turned out to be simple stress that kicked off agoraphobia. I couldn't fly, go on trams or busses and I suddenly couldn't stand large groups of people. Strangers freaked me out to no end. 
Now I tried telling her that I wasn't "BAD stressed" just "GOOD stressed" because I really felt good doing what I did. But to her credit she said "Bullshit, its all stress. You just like how it feels initially because you know that you'll get the euphoric sensation when its done, you're just addicted to it". For me this last year and a half has been a lesson in not doing more than I can handle. Combined with some medication and self-training the agoraphobia is under control and I can do things.
But my most relevant lesson was the capacity of saying "No". Being ok with people being upset that I don't do what they ask me. 

How does this all apply to us in KDE? Well this is the first big thing that I will try to get the younger designers on the Visual Design Group to employ: their ability of saying "No". I've spent the last week writing emails that essentially boil down to "No" to allot of requests to help out with visual design.

"Then why even have a Visual Design Group if they keep saying no to helping out with my problems?" - because its not just you, there are hundreds of issues and details that need help and work. If I could guarantee you that you would get help in time, I'd say "yes". If there was a hundred designers, there would be allot of "yes'es" but there isn't. But more importantly when I (or someone else) says "We can't do it now but I'll write it down" it doesn't mean we'll ignore you. I actually DO write it down and keep it in a list to be ticked off one by one in the future. 

Open Source relies in the kindness of skilled people - from the work on the Linux kernel, via the devs that are working on KDE and marketers to visual and UI designers working away to fix all the tiny problems that crop up and try to create something appealing and usable for us all to work on. The vast majority of us do this on our spare time. Some of us work within our field, others study, others do different things AFK but very tiny minority get paid working with this huge communal project that affects us all that is KDE.
The younger you are the quicker you tend to say "yes" to every bit of work coming your way. It may be ambition, it may be kindness but it will almost always be combined with that feeling of elation and happiness you get when you have allot to do. This affects every step of the process, in every aspect of work that goes into KDE and Open Source.


What does this mean to you? It means "Respect a No". Its not a personal attack and its not a snub. It simply means "I do not have the time right now". If you get a no from the Visual Design Group, it means "Sorry we don't have the time now, I'll sincerely look into it later". Please respect that.


If you are a developer, designer or marketer, what should this mean to you? It means "say no". Its ok. Do the work you have first before starting something new, give yourself time to do nothing in your spare time. Don't say yes to be nice, say yes because you KNOW you can do it in time. Don't take chances with your calendar, try to look at it pragmatically. "Am I certain I have the time for this?" if thats not a resounding "yes" - say no. Respect others time but also remember to respect your own.
If you notice that you've said yes to too many people - pick out the ones you need to do first and then write the others personally explaining why they will either have to find someone else or expect it to be late. This really is the last resort and should only happen a few times since it means "You really gotta say no more" - but sometimes it has to be done. It'll feel horrible, some may get upset, but it has to be done. 

We only have one lifetime, we gotta be careful how we treat it.

Ok so this wasn't that inspiring perhaps - next blog post will be about the individual members of the Visual Design Group and the call for MORE designers. I'll also try to go through all the things we're doing at the moment.

torsdag 23 januari 2014

The Time is Nigh!

In which the archaic title is talked about, a short recap of the work so far, a bold proposal is made and a time table is looming in the distance.

c, Martin Klapotek CC-SA

After a week and half of talking to people a Visual Design Crew is slowly emerging. Right now its about 5 people whom I've talked to who are all raring to go. All from vastly different backgrounds, experience and ages. Later this week we'll talk more, hopefully get a good sense of where we are and then introduce ourselves and the way this will start out.

In the beginning of this I made some assumptions about design in KDE that I later had to revisit and rethink. The interaction design group is solid - they keep churning out work of amazing quality and for some graphics dude to come in and try to edit things wouldn't be productive for anyone. They know what they want, how they want it and how they prefer it.
Thomas Pfeiffer wrote a little about his experience coming into interaction design with KDE and its well worth a read (the comments as well).
Ideas are popping up on how to merge all design work and make it more of a collaborative effort as well as how to invite new designers - a discussion I've been absent from simply because I want to invest the most amount of time on a graphics crew and get that aspect of design rolling.


Hopefully, if all goes well, at the end of the week the end result will this:

A visual design crew that is open and honest internally about limitations and individual availability and the main purpose of which is teaching each other about methods and techniques as well as backing each other up when time tables starts slipping.
It is supposed to be a positive experience for all designers present. The idea is that if or when they leave they will leave having learnt allot more about design, illustration and designing for a DE than they knew going in. I want this to be something you would write on a CV in the future. This is the MAIN goal. All other goals are second to this and I see this the part where I will invest the most amount of time. If a member feel neglected, unsupported or insecure about his or her role and work I've failed on a personal level.

Every member of the design crew having a pet project, one aspect of the KDE desktop which design they have main responsibility for. The lead dev for that project will act as mentor to that designer (so I'll try to contact devs as well and find out who wants to do that, with all that it entails being "mentor" and not "boss").
This is the secondary goal - to get every designer to not only feel invited and as appreciated as they are but give them a "go-to-project" something to do as well as a contact outside of the world of design and within the KDE developer community.

A solid and easily found "bug list". A place where any designer can go in, look through and tell the rest of us "Hey you guys, I'm doing this! It'll hopefully be done by next week". Most probably bugzilla but a secondary list updated regularly where the name and the contact information for the dev responsible as well as the designer responsible shall be present.
This is the third and trickier goal. The point for reposting it publicly is so other people who are not part of it can see the work done - the needs that exists and think "hmmm maybe I can help out".  

Practical perks for the Visual Design Crew. I have no idea how to get this going yet. I looked into scrounging up funds and make stuff an EU project to fund things like airplane-fair and hotel stays for things like Akademy for the design crew. Things like that so that even members who are young, studying or unemployed can physically meet devs and other members of the Design Crew at KDE meets.  
I'm going to keep looking into it but this is waaaay back in fourth place.


After this or during, depending on time tables, we will keep trying to connect up to the interactivity design group and the marketing group. Make it a team to be a member of instead of just something we all do individually. At that time, considering the second goal above, the Visual Design Crew will have a good interaction and relationship with devs so with a little luck and allot of work - KDE will have the best interaction between groups of any Open or Closed source project available.

måndag 20 januari 2014

The Brilliant Bits

In which we talk about all the things that rock with KDE. Our hero (me) apologizes for coming off as the grumpy swede he is, what where awesome is being told and then we tie the whole bag together. We start with a photo of Marco hugging, I think, a man I don't recognize as an illustration for cooperation.

Photo by Matthias Welwarsky (CC BY-SA)

So the last post came off negative - thats my fault assuming wildly that everyone had read my post on Google Plus where I gushed praise on the Plasma Devs and I didn't want to embarrass them twice. I'm honestly sorry for that. So to rectify this is what I thought was genius:


Workflow is king,queen and supreme leader for life in all situations where a group needs to do something complex together. You can't beat the devs of KDE in this department. In the last post I mentioned having survived several meetings at Ad-agencies and in Editor rooms with both legs and honor intact. That wasn't ment as high praise for me but a comment on how the situation often is in highly competitive and ego-driven environments. Everyone is trying to steal the lime light, there are internal conflicts stemming from massive ego's clashing and a constant need to justify your presence. 
Not so in Blue Systems Barcelona office. They moved effortlessly from joking and jovial to focused and exact. They moved as a team with people backing each other up constantly and they did it with grace. An idea was thrown out because the person with it thought it was good and he (it was just guys there this time) did it without fear of being put down or having the idea stolen or ignored. Everyone was as confident as you can be when you feel safe in the situation.

This is something that I often (not always) find lacking in design areas AFK (not-Open Source related) and an attitude and behavior we should strive to foster within all aspect of work within ... well within all aspects of Open Source development and usage.

It is also something that comes from the way the work is organized - its not a magical "lets all be friends" attitude, even though the guys there where all friendly as could be (and charming - as a smoker, I can only say that the best anti-smoke harangue I have ever been given was Alex Fiestas lecture on tobacco damage).

They where actively inclusive to the point of dumbing down their discussions to include me. How often does that happen in the often faux-subjective subject of design where everyone tend to have an opinion? 


This is what I want to copy in design work - that self-assurance that you get to say an idea because you thought it was cool without fearing a put down at the end.
Further I should also say that I didn't mean there is no design team or that they don't do anything. They do. They do allot of work and allot of good work.

My point is just, I think that if they had a system of work made to have their backs a tad more - a situation where newcomers could easily step in and help out - their job would be easier.

Hence the wish for a reorganization - not as a form of criticism towards the great work done by others - not as a random FUDD-granade tossed at KDE, but rather the opposite:

"You guys rock and I have this idea how to make work easier for you!"

My very first Sprint!

... In which this blogs "hello world" post is done, our intrepid hero (me) retells his experiences from the Plasma Sprint and we do a quick glance at the issues with KDE and design which will be covered more extensively in the future.

“Blueprint,” © 2009 Will Scullin, CC-SA

This blog is a place for me to write down and keep my thoughts on design, mostly graphical, and KDE - all things written down are my opinions and do not in any way reflect the opinions of KDE, the company or community, or any other groups or companies affiliated with KDE in any way.
I will try my best to keep it updated, actual, easily understood and SFW. So no swearwords but even more important - no fluffy buzzwords and hypespeak. 

You have been warned.


A few weeks ago I visited the Plasma Sprint in Barcelona held at Blue Systems offices. Thats how all this started. I was invited initially by Aaron Seigo and later by Sebastian Kügler as a "graphics dude". What exactly would be my contribution was unclear, to them and me, but the idea was that it might be good to throw a new guy in the mix and see what happened (I think).
Before going I was nervous. I know what happens at meetings with ad-agencies, with AD's and Creative Directors. I can walk blindfolded through the minefield of an magazines editorial meeting anywhere and come out with both legs and dignity intact - but this? 
How would it work? Would they laugh? Would they assume I was a programmer? Would I have to pretend to write code while trolling twitter in a corner for three days?
I should at this point mention the invaluable help of Boudewijn Rempt who tried to calm me down, telling me that my fears of being lynched because I couldn't laugh with sincerity at jokes about C++ was unfounded. For future reference - always listen to Boudewijn. 

This has been three inspiring days. I've watched programmers and devs work in perfect tandem, throwing questions and ideas back-and-forth without pride or aggression. Any question was given due thought, any answer was met with the most humble of assumptions and for me - everytime they saw me listening in on a topic one or all would simply turn and explain the issue for me as a non-techie without even the slightest sliver of condescending attitudes or behavior. 

I wish I had stayed longer and been quiet more (I talk when I'm nervous and the more nervous I get the louder and faster I tend to talk). 

Seen from a technical stand-point, a thousand and one good things where handled - although I shouldn't be the one to talk about it and I suggest looking at Sebas, Marco and Martins blogs for more information about that. For further reading of me gushing over the other attendants I suggest my Google Plus post.


From a designers POV - it was an eyeopener. KDE needs designers, graphical, interactive, sound and animators. KDE need marketers, communication experts and copywriters. 
The issue is simple. KDE has a set chunk of "the market" and it has its own niche to fill and it does that with gusto. Technically KDE is constantly in the forefront but very few know what many of these innovations are. A good marketing plan for the next iteration of Plasma by KDE would go miles in spreading the word of what you can do and that it exists.
Because the issue is KDE is made by technically adept people, programmers thinking the way great programmers think: "there is a good way to do something and there is a way that doesn't work". Most times and issue with programming is totally objective - you can prove quickly what works and what doesn't. With design this simply doesn't exist. The quality of design (especially interaction design) cannot be easily proven since its not until its being used extensively by a large enough test group for a longer period of time that you can objectively prove its quality.
You simply have to rely on the past knowledge of the designers.

Equally the idea that "the best thing will always be chosen by users" is a complete fallacy. This is only true if all users have a grasp of the options, the technical issues and how they are solved. If they know all things needed to make an enlighted decision - and any good marketer or communication expert can quickly tell you that thats not how people work. We all don't have the time to make an enlightened decision - the availability for us to do so should be there - but we tend not to.

The issue within KDE is simply explained: the work method is made for programmers and devs working within Open Source. They drive innovation and they handle everything. Which is awesome except that that also includes looking and often hunting around for someone who can help do icons, layout or interactivity design for them. For designers this means that there are no easy "ins". The idea of reporting design issues through a bugtracker might make sense to people used to bugtrackers but to those who aren't even looking there for issues to solve simply doesn't make sense. An email list called KDE-Artists found by scanning through a massive list of email-lists is another way in. 
If you would for some reason go looking for a nice email list (in 2014) where you could help out chances are no dev will see you volunteering since they don't use that list. But maybe you just want to see if its for you? You still have to sign up to see the history so you have no idea of knowing.

Since finding a designer is so tricky it means the dev has to cast a wide net and ask as publicly and loudly as possible - this means issues have popped up where designers have independently started working on the same thing and then at a late stage notice it and consider the time wasted or found themselves in a beauty competition with a total stranger judged by people who themselves profess having no eye for design. Further the amount of design love some app or plasmoid gets depend on the waxing and waning of designers who jump aboard or leap off the various mailing lists.

In short, from a design perspective its a mess.


So I decided that besides the icon work and logos I promised working on at the Sprint that I should do something more lasting: shape up the situation so that designers following me could slip into it more easily. That they could know that they wouldn't just do days and days of work for nothing and that they would always be met with smiles and support. Just like I was met at the sprint but from a wider design community within KDE.

But most importantly that they should see a need existed, what needed to be done and could easily pick one up.

So in the future this blog will be about as much design as it is about restructuring the design work with KDE, if its possible, if it works, if it doesn't. It will be an awful gruelling recount of the horror that is internal work methods.