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.

måndag 24 februari 2014

Monday Report #4

In which we talk about being sick, organization, the value of it, the point of workflow. A quick recap of the release plans and how it will work. We touch on the subject of icons and the coming icons for Plasma and about shapes then round up about what's coming.

Sadly the fever wasn't just saturday but at least I stayed alive.

I recently had a touch of the flu. Actually I had a massive punch in the face of the flu resulting in fever, chills, cramps of various assortments and headaches. Four four or five days I wasn't able to raise a finger in the direction of work which kinda scared me.
It shouldn't have - I saw a thread go on without me, design work being done without me and designers trooping on without me. Now part of me is of course upset because we all like to feel as if the world would crumble without us - but a massive bit of me is happy as nothing else.


The idea with the VDG, with the Community Design of KDE, is not to implement MY ideas on Plasma Next, it's not even only about great design for Plasma Next - it is to create a workflow fitting community design in KDE now and in the future that isn't hinging on any one individuals permanent presence. Something lasting and relevant.

What's needed is to hammer this out - to make it even sleeker. Create a situation where one of us can just disappear for weeks without an issue. So obviously we are getting there bit by bit. Plenty of work to be done - but the ship has started to move in the right direction.


Talking of "Bit by Bit" I can only assume that you've read Sebas blog post on the subject of the coming release of Plasma and the pace we're doing this in? Slowly and bit-by-bit. Now KDE projects have done this before and it was decided early on that this was the method preferred which both suits us in the VDG as much as it raises and issue.
Bit-by-bit is great for the user, the developers and the designers. Everyone have time to try the new thing, nothing comes as a massive shock and with a little back-and-forth changes can be made, issues tried out and we can actually both play around a little and have to time get it right and solid.

It's not so good for marketing though. Everyone loves a big splash. So trying to keep the changes visible for everyone through the press will be a challenge. But, its worth it in the long run.


Finally - Icons. Now we've talked about colors and theme's earlier and so far the idea of it is to create something futuristic, yet human. Science-fiction but hopeful. We've seen moodboards and color charts trying to tie into that theme and mood - exploring it and giving it form, drip by drip. Now we're going to bypass the third stage completely and go for icons delving deeper into shapes and forms in the next Monday report but as a short description - we want flat sharp angles mixed and weighed with rounded corners, "chunky"shapes and solid comforting fields of color.

Icon theme's are a huge undertaking - thousands and thousands of tiny images that has to be made well weighed up, they have to be visible in several sizes and they need to all stick to a visual goal. They will NOT be done in time for the first freeze in March, that can be said with absolute certainty and they will too be released bit-by-bit with large sections of the current icon theme replaced one by one.
Acidrum is right now sitting working on them a job that will probably continue well into the end of this year - but the hope is that we can this summer start replacing the first larger chunks of icon theme with the new one.

Below are some initial sketches for the work being done. Light colors using the color scheme and a square shape are the obvious first things you might notice. The square shape was a large debate in the group but it won out in the end due to the ease with which it could be aligned properly in comparison with individual silhouettes.

At the same time Fabian is working on system tray icons to fit the theme. Here the idea was again, roundness but more light weight to balance up the solid blocks of the main icon theme - at the same time we wanted them LESS natural using symbols instead of pure images of the objects they represented.

One thing that should be mentioned - the icon theme is monochromatic but will adjust its color to that of the color theme making it shift and blend better with whatever color scheme you prefer.
Ideas are in the making of using the base color - Plasma Blue in the MAIN icon theme as a shifting color creating an icon theme that followed your color choices closely and changed itself to fit.

Next week we will talk about shapes and themes and also touch on the subject of marketing.

29 kommentarer:

  1. Cool! I like those icons! Good job guys!

  2. I'm not totally convinced. They look somewhat childish. But I do like the general direction! Simpler design. Less flashy, more clean. KDE lacks this Gnome'ish/Xfce slickness and clarity and what's more important CONSISTENCY.

    PS Tray icons are too simple for my taste and to Mac-like. I think the 4.12 are great, they just need a little bit of simpler approach to match other new UI.

    I think KDE don't need completely new look. You obviously are trying to do something new and awesome but you can end up loosing good ideas just because you want to introduce new ones. KDE needs you desperately. KDE visual design group is my long wish that came true! All I'm trying to say is: don't try to hard make things "new and awesome". People are unhappy about KDE4 look not because it's bad design but because it's not polished, it's not consistent, it's not pixel perfect, it's to flashy and to glitchy, to bloated, it's not as clean. The REFRESH is what you are looking for. Not REVOLUTION. It should be light, slick, sharp mean machine. Get rid of radial gradient, it can be PITA for non-KDE applications....

    Just my 2 cents. Can users contribute with mockups and ideas? We should have voting forum for that (kde brainstorm?)

    1. I obviously disagree... ;) But that wont stop me from wanting to see what you're ideas are

      There is a forum for the VDG and community and you are MORE than welcome to post mockups and ideas. There's no voting but you kinda gotta trust me - I read every single post. Everyone. Any idea is good, even the worst ones since they can grow into something awesome.
      Plus my personal hopes is that it will connect designers to each other so people can find others to collaborate with and perhaps get new themes and things going :)

      AND devs post "help wanted" there (more are coming, its a very young forum) so there is plenty of design work to do. All come with my personal guarantee that if you're idea gets picked up I will make certain to the best of my ability that the dev that uses it credits you properly.

      So actually - I DEMAND that you go and post there and help out ;)

  3. Well, I just hope Oxygen icons will continue to be available as an option. To me, the Oxygen icon theme is the perfect icon theme. I am yet to see anything better than that. This look feels like a downgrade, square shapes do not appeal to me at all, nor does the oversimplification (which to me reeks of Metro).

    But as everyone knows, this is all very subjective, and as long as it's possible to swap it out, I'm fine with that. Though a voting forum, as Yoda suggested, would be a nice idea – looks are subjective, but you want to use looks that appeal to the broadest audience by default (that's what defaults are for).

    1. Well voting for these things tend to just create the perfect desktop for no one as it will just create a fractured experience. Its also tricky since its not indicative of anything except "what the people who may have found the voting, have an account to vote and hopefully didn't cheat think".

      But let me assure you - there is no plans to remove Oxygen icons as an option. As a designer looking through them means realizing what a MASSIVE work it was. It would be kinda as if I went "You know what, I prefer the baroque era so lets tear down these stupid pyramids, shall we?" :)

      Taste is subjective but there are bits and bobs in there that aren't just taste.

      So in conclusion, let me assure you of two things as a fellow KDE user
      1) You will like parts of it.
      2) You will hate parts of it.
      Thats the honest truth of it - nothing will ever appeal to all - and I say that with the utmost respect. The idea here is not to force anyone to use anything, but give the ole vanilla desktop a spit-polish and some rearrangement. From there it is, as it should be, always the design of the individual user that matters.

    2. Hmm, I see your point. I guess a better metric of what people actually enjoy would be something like popcon. Although that implies that the themes would have to be finished and offered, and it's still susceptible to things that are popular getting even more popular just because they're popular... Case in point, looking at the current icon stats, the most downloaded one is KDE3 Crystal icons :) The second one is an extra shiny one (stark contrast to the minimalistic ones planned here, interestingly enough). The third one reminds me of the icons used in Ubuntu (a bit more minimalistic than Oxygen).

      That said, looking at the (NM) icons thread, the last suggested icon set does look pretty good. It's simple, but it does the job of conveying information very well. One thing I don't like about the icon set that openSUSE is now defaulting to is that I have no clue what most of them mean; the icons by Leroux don't have that problem at all. Fabian's icons (the ones shown in this article) are a bit overzealous with the curves – another issue Leroux's icons don't have, they combine straight lines with curves very well. And it seems that most people in the thread agree. So maybe just brainstorming different concepts with community ideas blended in does work out pretty well in the end?

      Oh, and I didn't mention that I do like the idea of icons changing colour depending on the theme very much. One thing that I current find rather annoying is that I might find a nice theme, but it's the opposite of the plasma colour and thus is unusable. This new idea seems to solve that issue.

      Speaking of matching colours, have you thought about being able to easily change the hue of plasma/widget/window decoration themes? For instance, a theme looks really nice, but I'd prefer it to have a different colour; it would be awesome to be able to change that without needing to change every theme element. For widget colour themes, this should probably be rather easy to do purely with mathematical means (take a colour code, shift its hue component by what the user input, repeat for every other colour component in the theme except for text). An example of such customisation could be Windows 7 aero theme options (there is a slider that changes the hue for all elements, but preserves shading and such).

    3. (its late here so short reply)
      Well color changes in a theme will probably fall under the heading of a "theme creator" which is an idea that's been tossed around a bit but nothing real yet.
      As for Leroux's icons which are for old Plasma, the issue with them is that they are too sharp and will become problematic with the Plasma theme (a lot more on that in the next monday report btw).

      My personal hope for Leroux's icons is that he and perhaps some theme designer manage to find each other and create a theme using them. It would be awesome to see something like that happen and have the forum as a kickoff for it.

      The thing I like about Plasma - is its flexibility. I like to know, that YOU know, that whatever dumb things we in the VDG cook up ;) you and anyone can always change and disable easily. That is one of the best things about design for Plasma and KDE, the knowledge that you never cram something down someones throat.

      (I have a theory about it that I might as well write down now: essentially - every edit I or anyone else does to a large DE will always be intrusive. This can't be helped but it can't be ignored. A computer is such a personal thing it's like imagining that someone came into your house and rearranged the furniture. Now they might do a great job of it, might even improve things immensly but the first thought will always be "You Bastards! My stuff!" - on the one hand since it can't be helped it can never be related to completely when working since otherwise nothing would change and we would all sit in terminals or at best Windows 95. But at the same time I really want to make certain everyone knows that I know that that may be how it will feel and I will do anything to make certain that everyone get a good warning a head of time, that you will all know who did it, and that I will try my utmost to make certain that you can at least put the furniture back afterwards)

    4. Yes, I agree, the fact that everything is customisable is extremely nice (which also means that I have to spend a lot of time recustomising things on each reinstall, but the plus side of that is that every install ends up being uniquely nice). And, well, the customisability is kind of the core feature of KDE to begin with :)

  4. Hello, I would like to speak out in favour of your work. I love the icons. You are right about the square icons. Long time I was against them but since I saw more various icons next to each other I now incline to the one silhouette design. They look much better when next to each other. Keep up the good work. Wonderful. I hope the design team will be here even past the Plasma Next release.

  5. COOL! Using .nitrux OS Icons right now in KDE, I can really see similar visual cues in this icon theme, while the KDE version lacks the rounded corners made for GTK. Honestly I really do like this theme better, so this is amazing to see :) Could I make a wish for the creation of following: folder-backups, folder-games and/or folder-steam there's not a lot of default themes out there that have these. Looking forward to more. :D

  6. so go ahead! You are doing a good job for what you can see, nothing can please everyone, this is normal, but the most important thing is that everyone has a coherence, and that everything is more polished now!
    unfortunately I am not a dev or a designer, but I follow with interest and I will advertise your good work! hope that you will become more numerous and that developers will follow your ideas, because a bit of planning and good design is the only thing missing in kde.
    Good work guys

  7. I these sketch icons generally work nicely. My problem with the current Oxygen icon set is that they are too detailed. Too much shadow. Too much light/colour gradient. Too much contrast. Too many angles. When they are all filling up one page all these 3D information cues repeat and conflict, which annoys me.

    Uniform silhouette is a good idea in my book. The only hitch would be preview icon implementation, but that is something the user has to set up anyway. Would the content be cropped to a square? Proportional to the original, with a background to make it a square silhouette? Or simply shown in normal proportion? Personally, I like option 2 the best, but I do not know about technical implementation.

    For the status bar, I only care about seeing the information I need at a glance. I don't want to have to worry about interpreting (on the forum there were some icons that filled gradually from left to right, to the extent that "low wifi" was just two tiny blobs, which would drive me crazy).

    Thank you for your work in setting this up. I love the direction is is going in as a community project!

  8. Is it sound or wi-fi tray icon? Does'nt look like speaker or wireless signal. Standard ones are more obvious.

  9. Looks very nice (clean and fresh, without aggression).
    Get well soon.

  10. i really dislike the current plastic toy looking icons... so this is good. I'd personally love toolbars to have monochromatic buttons that use some algorithm to create a good contrast (grayscale) from the window theme.

    "Ideas are in the making of using the base color - Plasma Blue in the MAIN icon theme as a shifting color creating an icon theme that followed your color choices closely and changed itself to fit"

    I hope this means that if you have a favorite color, that the plasma blue color will change to your highlight color. I get so bored with blue everywhere on everything. (probably because it's my least favorite color)

    When it comes to personalization, I love the fact that you can control everything in the color theme, but i think the first thing a user sees (before hitting "fine tune") Should just be a set of like 5 colors that when selected makes a complete theme. For instance, the highlight color would change hover,focus, etc based on different shades of your selected highlight color. Window color would also change color of buttons and text. Advanced users could click "fine tune".

    I realize I'm rambling and some of this doesn't fall in your area of work... but i like talking about this stuff!

    1. Well HOPEFULLY that will be the end result :)

      The idea is to make it more "up to the user" what color the icon theme will be - I just want to make it clear that as it is right now, and considering the 11th hour, I don't want to promise things I am not 100% certain we can deliver. Just that that is our goal.

      Now the idea of the color choice being a bigger definer is an interesting thing (I've written it down in the little black book) and it goes well together with what will (again) hopefully be a theme GUI as well as hopefully (plenty of hope going around ;) ) a simplified system settings in the end.

  11. Not sure if this is welcome, but I'll post it anyway since it's a minor thing but still something that's bothered me for a while. If you're in the process of looking at the visual design of the tray icons, I think it might be worth giving some thought to how the "updates available" icon is shown. When the system tray icons were de-emphasised quite a few releases ago, the updates icon received the same treatment, but I think this isn't right - unlike the rest of the icons, it shouldn't fade into the background. The user is supposed to be reminded that there are updates so that they apply them. (Obviously this can be distribution-specific, but at least Fedora and Kubuntu are using the same icon for this function.)

    1. I will try to keep it in my mind, thanks! (I have like a TON of small notes lying all over my desk with things like this so I won't promise anything, ok? I will try to remember it though)

  12. Tray icons: I like the look of this one, but I like better the shape of the actual one.

    About the others icons… there are freaking awesome, but please, don’t make them all squarish, it’s just a nightmare. Shape is an important part of visual recognition, and it’s really difficult to quickly find the file or app I search with that kind of icons. Using an icon theme like Faenza and the like is like having a big mush of colors impossible to distinct at first glance from each others. I tried to use that, but I just can’t get used to them. Another point is accessibility: shape must help to find an icon when we have difficulty with colors.

    Keep up the good work, there are great talented people here! :)

    1. Thanks for the reply - but they will all probably be squarish. Sry :/

      Recognition wise it's tricky with sqaure icons because on the one hand there is the assumption that they will mess up recognition but no research on the subject that agrees with the statement. Some claim they find it trickier others disagree.
      Sadly it was simply a question of both time and efficiency in this case - the alignment of icons is ALLOT easier when the icons have an outline shape since an object that is free from a shape will have weight (usally up/down since they tend to be more or less mirrored) which makes the icon look misaligned when it's in a line with others.
      It's not impossible to fix - BUT it takes a massive amount of time to do good (about a year is a good estimate) that we simply don't have.

      And the choice "not working icons", "no icons" and "sqaure icons" and the choice was natural.

      But that said, its not like Oxygen will disappear or anything. :)

      Can I ask what icon theme you are using now btw?

    2. > Recognition wise it's tricky with sqaure icons because on the one hand there is the assumption that they will mess up recognition but no research on the subject that agrees with the statement. Some claim they find it trickier others disagree.

      Maybe you should make a survey? For me it’s like monochrome icons, seems nice but don’t work well with many icons in a toolbar.

      > Sadly it was simply a question of both time and efficiency in this case - the alignment of icons is ALLOT easier when the icons have an outline shape since an object that is free from a shape will have weight (usally up/down since they tend to be more or less mirrored) which makes the icon look misaligned when it's in a line with others.

      Isn’t it possible to have different shapes (like rectangle for messaging programs for example) that are easy to align?

      > But that said, its not like Oxygen will disappear or anything. :)
      > Can I ask what icon theme you are using now btw?

      Oxygen, but I use it only because it’s the only one that fits perfectly into KDE. But I like better Elementary icons or GNOME-colors one because of its simplicity but I like much more flat icons appearance like yours. I don’t use Oxygen theme in LibreOffice but the one called «Galaxy».

      My favorite icon in Oxygen icon set is the folder icon, because it’s clean, with a nice, universal and easily recognizable shape. Unlike other OS like Windows, his shape is easy to align I guess.

      If Plasma and Qt would have a good flat theme, I would already use another icon theme I guess.

    3. Well a survey would simply give us the result of the people who would take the survey, meaning only those who found it, who have a vested interest in it (which tend to mean those of a differing opinion than the current one) and have access to it.
      That's the tricky bit with surveys unless done properly (ie not at all over the internet and following statistic methods of construction) they are simply a very bad method of determining the state of mind or opinion of a large group of people.

      As for flat icons - the issue there is that it's a trend on the vaning side (which, granted shaped icons are too but it still has a few years to go so it's not as appearent and definite). Flat icons also tend to make people completely furious so we tried to mix both flat and "3D" to get to a nice hegelian middle ground ;)

      About alignment ... ehm think of it as you would for example the difference between the letter "I" and the letter "R" one has more weight, right? The R has a lot of bits sticking out, a lot of details that go everywhere in comparison with the rather minimalist "I". Now what if there where different fonts involved as well? What if the "I" was in Times New and the "R" was in Comic Sans? The "R" would suddenly be right-weighted and drawing a nice weight line in it would be a lot more complex than it would be to do it in the "I".
      Ok so now turn the letters 45 degrees, pretend the letters are icons and try to align them VISUALLY (not practically but so the visual appearence is that they are level) on a vertical line. The R would be bottom heavy and you would have to slide it up a bit - the I being perfectly level would now look lopsided and weird. So you edit the R to make it look more compact which will then impact the W, the K, the H and so on so you have to test them against each other so the alignment works.

      Now pretend you have an alphabet of a few thousand different letters (like the elusive "Quirkle", the "Flargn" and the "Bugglig" combined with the classic A,B,C and D's) which is the numbers of icons we need to finish in time - and you see the monumental task ahead of us.
      With that in mind I took the decision to go with square icons.

      The benefits of them where simply way outweighing the drawbacks.

      The Elementary icons are lovelly and if we had the time we would try to port them... Which brings up a great question. Would you like to port them? This is not ment as a snub but a sincere question. We need more icon themes because some won't like the one we're doing and the alternatives that exists already so the more themes get ported, the better.

    4. Oh btw I found these! I don't know if you've tested them yourself (I'm downloading them now to try them out)

  13. Having all the icons be square is an accessibility issue; I like the look, but it presents issues since it becomes increasingly difficult to identify an icon when compounded with some other issues I'm noticing.

    - Probably the biggest issue is the lack of contrast; the darks need to be much more pronounced. Since icons won't identify with shape, they need to identify with much more distinctive contract and colour.
    - You don't have to make everything square. For example, you can make files circular, programs square, and folders folder-shaped with the circular files sticking from the top. On this level, you can readily identify a file, program or folder. In addition, usability-wise, users will begin instinctively knowing that the 3 shapes will have distinct behaviours.
    - The folded-corner treatment isn't enough. I've been staring at these icons for several minutes and I *just* realized the 'video' icon isn't a program icon, but a file. This goes back to the circular file icon idea.

    Anyway, I'll see if I get the chance to do any mockups in the next day or two to illustrate my logic

    1. "Having all the icons be square is an accessibility issue;"

      I hadn't thought of this, but this is a concern. I thought maybe colour tweaks would be enough, but for the colourblind this won't be the case.

      "- The folded-corner treatment isn't enough. I've been staring at these icons for several minutes and I *just* realized the 'video' icon isn't a program icon, but a file. This goes back to the circular file icon idea."

      I had noticed the corners, and was going to ask what their purpose was. I honestly had no idea what they meant!

    2. Yeah the folding corner thing is actually being reworked right now (I think). The tricky bit is that Acid and Uri are just trying to get going with the weird project of working together on something like this. I'll bring it up with them...

      The issue is extremely complex since icons are always the first and easiest way to break alignment (which is one of the goals of Plasma, ie "better alignment") but as you say accesability is also an issue.
      Now, and this is just a thought, maybe if we change the files shape? I mean you never see a file-icon on a panel anyway right? So maybe create a second form for files that just have to play well with folder icons?

  14. I like several of the ideas mentioned in the post, but not much the current result. As a comparison I actually kinda like how Faenza looks in KDE (excepting for a few icons), so it's not like I'm against a square style. That said, no offense, but I think this set doesn't go well with kde's sleek and clean style. I understand it's a preliminary version, but it looks too "toyish". It's not that I think they will not be improved, but it worries me a bit that they could indeed end up looking too similar to the sample. (The "picture" or "image" icon is a good example of this.)
    Also, maybe the thickness effect is unnecessary? It's not clear to me that it adds something; a Faenza-like style could be cleaner.

    I also agree with Ken Vermette, they need more contrast. I have found myself moving my head around the few times I have checked again the sample these days (I wanted to check if I disliked them just by the mood of the day), since the contrast of things on my screen changes quite a bit when looking from different angles.

    Regarding the taskbar icons, what does the third lower icon represent? And the wolf in the amarok icon looks like it needs to climb a rock that's a bit taller before howling. ;)
    Finally, how about using folder tabs on top instead of on the side?