The New Ubuntu Lucid Look: An Appraisal

46 Responses · March 3, 2010

Update: Read my take on the pre­view of Maverick’s new Light themes here.

Let’s start with the good.

The new logo, while not per­fect, is accept­ably good. Cer­tainly palat­able, with a stronger con­no­ta­tion that this is an oper­a­tion sys­tem to be taken seriously.

The new home­page is what con­veys Ubuntu’s new “brand” most effec­tively. It’s clear here that they are iden­ti­fy­ing them­selves with orange and pur­ple (although which orange and pur­ple isn’t con­sis­tent — more later). Yes, there’s some­thing generic about it, but in a way that’s famil­iar and fresh. For all the talk of “light­ness” with this new brand­ing, the home­page is what embod­ies it the most. Com­pare to their cur­rent home­page, which is bleak and dis­mal. The new one looks a bit like the Apple home­page, admit­tedly, but only because they both adhere to some cur­rent web design motifs. To say that it’s imi­tat­ing Apple’s home­page would be unfair.

Now, the bad. And there’s a lot of it.


What is your orange? Is it #ef5a29 (as it is on the home­page), #f37936 (as it is in the orange logo), or #e54b00 (as it is in the “spread ubuntu” logo)? And why is “spread” still in the old Ubuntu font? Of course, these color issues may have to do with hav­ing saved images with weird color pro­files. I can’t be sure. But get it together.

Ok. It gets worse.

Take a look at this abom­i­na­tion. I want you to really look at it. There’s a lot to con­sider. Let’s get started.

The but­tons. They’re on the left. This makes sense, actu­ally, since the sys­tem noti­fi­ca­tions being in the upper-right of the screen was a huge obsta­cle — why, I’m not exactly sure, since you can per­form clicks on any­thing under­neath a noti­fi­ca­tion bub­ble, but it was a seri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion among Canonical’s Notify-OSD devel­op­ers. This solves that prob­lem — at the expense of forc­ing users to learn new behav­iors, maybe, but I don’t see it as such a seri­ous out­rage. In any case I’m not here to talk usabil­ity. (But where’s the menu button?)

Why the incon­sis­tency in the depth of the but­tons? The close but­ton is more spher­i­cal and glossier than the other two, even a bit translu­cent (since its high­light extends to its bot­tom side). And the but­tons are not evenly spaced — the min­i­mize but­ton is closer to the close but­ton than it is to the max­i­mize but­ton. This is espe­cially notice­able (and, in fact, lit­er­ally more pro­nounced, pixel-for-pixel) in the inac­tive win­dow. Are these just mock­ups?, or work­ing GTK themes?:

Not only that, but the ‘×’s appear to be dif­fer­ent, with the lines of the inac­tive × being oblique, and those of the active × being per­pen­dic­u­lar. And here’s another color for you: #e24912. Where’d that come from? Let’s take a closer look at it:

Why not make it orange? It’s a sickly red, and with the reflection/refraction of light takes on the appear­ance of a pimple.

The but­tons are also rest­ing in a lit­tle reser­voir. Because of its size, it cramps the but­tons against its edges. Two pix­els of padding would have done won­ders. The reser­voir also adds unnec­es­sary visual noise, some­thing you see a lot of in the more gar­ish themes from GNOME-Look. You almost feel as though they were absent the reser­voir at first, then decided that the but­tons had become uncom­fort­ably sim­i­lar to those of Mac OS X, and threw the reser­voir in there to solve that prob­lem. This is a trend among the new theme, actu­ally: the ad hoc method of solv­ing prob­lems the design­ers have created.

Let’s take a look at the title bar and menu bar.

There is more space between the title­bar text and the menubar text than there is between either line of text and its upper or lower edge. The rea­son for this is that most pre­vi­ous themes had a title­bar that was a dif­fer­ent color than the menu bar; so what you’re see­ing would actu­ally be an appro­pri­ate amount of space, if there were a vis­i­ble dis­tinc­tion between the two bars. Since the text from both bars now occu­pies the same visual area, this cre­ates a huge prob­lem. The title­bar text, espe­cially, feels crammed up against the top of the win­dow. Even sim­ply reduc­ing the padding at the top of the menubar would help alle­vi­ate this prob­lem; but again, that’s the wrong approach. Encoun­ter­ing a prob­lem like this means that it needs to be solved at a more fun­da­men­tal level. Espe­cially when it comes to the default theme of your OS.

And while we’re look­ing here it’s a good time to talk about the harsh gra­di­ent that’s put at the top of these win­dows. This indi­cates a strong curve away from the user. Why? For what? For some depth, surely, but there are more sub­tle ways to achieve depth with­out mak­ing your win­dows appear to be half a cen­time­ter thick. They want this to feel “light,” and yet are cre­at­ing the illu­sion of bulky molded plas­tic. It’s a lam­en­ta­ble acqui­es­cence that only adds to the visual noise already begun by the but­ton reservoir.

Let’s move down to the bread­crumb but­tons in Nautilus:

Where is the source of light here? The “back” but­ton is lit from the left, but the folder but­ton is lit from above? And the dis­tinc­tion between pressed and not pressed is barely pronounced.

Alright. Let’s back up again.

Okay, what? The wall­pa­per? Here it is in full as taken from the home­page Web Upd8 (thanks):

Ubuntu Lucid wallpaper

What are we look­ing at? Okay, it’s some abstract blobs with some lens flare. Some have com­pared it to vomit, and the rea­son is obvi­ous: that unnec­es­sary after­thought of a salmon high­light in the upper-right. Again, they were work­ing with a wall­pa­per, and decided, “Shit, y’know what? We should put some orange in there.” Gra­di­ent, boom, done. And, again — looks like a throb­bing pim­ple. No con­cern for color har­mony what­so­ever. And, yes: abstract pur­ple gra­di­ents are going to get you OS X com­par­isons. It’s deserved.

The icon­set stays at Human­ity, which is sud­denly com­pletely out of step with the rest of the entire desk­top. At least the tooltips are pretty nicely done.

Obvi­ously, yes, I’m mostly com­plain­ing about no more than sev­eral pix­els and degrees of hue here. But this is what design is. What I really hope this new theme demon­strates is this: brown was not the prob­lem. It was its exe­cu­tion that pissed every­body off. Brown/yellow/orange/crimson is a beau­ti­ful color scheme from which to work, and Canonical’s design team could have turned it into some­thing that blew every­one away. I hope that this new direc­tion wasn’t a reac­tion to those per­sis­tent, unin­formed com­plaints over the years, but I imag­ine it may have been. There’s prob­a­bly more to be said, but I’ll stop here.

Read more reac­tions to this change:

Wow.

Bloody bril­liant analysis.

Troy James Sobotka · 3 Mar 2010

Thanks man, I tried to be thorough.

I didn’t even notice at first — the small, bright, salmon-colored blob closer to the mid­dle of the screen has a flare that is dark­en­ing the flare of the blob “behind” it. Good god. This post could have been twice as long.

Jay · 3 Mar 2010

LOL.

The more I look at your points the more I am say­ing the same thing. I tried des­per­ately to tem­per my com­men­tary with the fun­da­men­tal question:

“Is this change for change’s sake or is this a legit­i­mate push in a cer­tain direction?”

So for all the faults and half-assed ness of pre­sen­ta­tion (iden­tity PDF?) I still firmly believe that where the new iden­tity work takes them is in a more pos­i­tive direc­tion from whence they came.

Really value your blog and your insight. Do more of it dammit.

Troy James Sobotka · 3 Mar 2010

I don’t like chang­ing but­tons place to the left… You know, I’ve still some habits so deeply rooted in my brain that… some­times I still close apps when I want to min­i­mize them.

Why? Because this was win­dows 3.x norm…

So I really dis­like this bad idea

yan · 4 Mar 2010

I com­pletely agree with the but­tons part. Since when is it a step towards usabil­ity if but­tons I use every day are made *smaller* ? Also, there will be a lot of clos­ing win­dows instead of click­ing on the Edit menu.

Moshanator · 4 Mar 2010

Not all the char­ac­ters in the font have been finalised yet — rest assured that the “spread” will be ren­dered cor­rectly by the time the new look goes live.

tonywhitmore.co.uk/blog/ · 4 Mar 2010

I agree that brown was never the prob­lem. We’ll all have to see how things turn out in the end, but what’s been pre­sented at this point is hardly much of an improve­ment. Dif­fer­ent, yes! Bet­ter — meh.

Great write up! Thanks!

Bob in Pendle­ton, OR

Bob V · 4 Mar 2010

I really liked this blog and thought you pointed out a lot of things that I didn’t even notice. I was going to ask why don’t you develop a mockup, and then I thought I’d just go ahead and try out a mockup of your sug­ges­tions and maybe later go on to develop a theme that’s close to it (if I have the time.) The main thing I tried to do was reduce the num­ber of oranges and opted for ‘lighter’ ele­ments such as min­i­miz­ing the bevels and depth. Check it out and let me know what you think: http://members.shaw.ca/alamir_novin/mockup2.jpg

Alamir · 5 Mar 2010

Great analy­sis!

I think that the salmon pimple/overall vomit is a good thing to point out. I’m a big fan of sim­ple design and they com­pletely dropped the ball here. Color schemes work for a rea­son and they only work if the col­ors are consistent.

freeztar · 5 Mar 2010

Hey!

The but­tons to close, max­i­mize, and min­i­mize aren’t at the left. This was just a set­ting of this guy who made the screenshots!

Jaycob · 5 Mar 2010

I like the new light style.
But I’m still wait­ing for a GUI space reduc­ing. To make long story short – here is my Nau­tilus mockup: http://nureineidee.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/nautilus-lucid-lynx-2-mockup.png

Space usage of my idea: http://nureineidee.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/nautilus-lucid-lynx-3-mockup.png
Space usage of the cur­rent Lucid Nau­tilus: http://nureineidee.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/nautilus-lucid-lynx-1.png

Key idea: Reduce GUI ele­ment space and obtain func­tion­al­ity. When mouseover an folder after 0,5 sec folder infor­ma­tion should be shown – like it is in Lucid for the sys­tem menu right now.

Thats all – Keep on going, your aim­ing in the right direc­tion.
Paradiesstaub

Paradiesstaub · 5 Mar 2010

i really think the hard crit­i­cism on 10.04 is actu­ally a sign of the ubuntu design get­ting bet­ter. Nobody would get the idea of crit­i­cis­ing debian or fedora that hard, because it’d be ridiculous.

pern · 6 Mar 2010

@Pern: actu­ally I think it’s more to do with the fact that there was so much hype built up around this, due in part to Canonical’s (or Shuttleworth’s, any­way) mis­sion to trump Apple in the looks depart­ment. And also a desire to have ter­rific new theme to use. I think Karmic’s default theme is supe­rior to this one.

Jay · 6 Mar 2010

You should con­sider fil­ing some or all of these points as bug reports. Some, like the ugli­ness of the wall­pa­per, may be too sub­jec­tive to work that way, but many of your points are very spe­cific. The but­ton spac­ing and tool­bar padding in par­tic­u­lar spring to mind, and some of the color incon­sis­tan­cies could be explained as bugs as well.

Koyomi Mitsuhara · 7 Mar 2010

I didn’t even notice all these “abom­i­na­tions” … but you’re right. At first I just dis­liked the new theme, and now I really know why.

Weegee · 7 Mar 2010

Oh, god, what have they done to my beau­ti­ful Ubuntu…

Anon · 10 Mar 2010

Good review.

You can add my reac­tion to the change to your list where I cover the win­dow but­ton place­ment and the new brand­ing incon­sis­ten­cies in some detail:

http://humphreybc.wordpress.com/2010/03/04/my-thoughts-on-the-ubuntu-branding-refresh/

Benjamin Humphrey · 10 Mar 2010

Oh and I almost for­got my blog post that lists 16 things that are wrong in Lucid… “It’s the lit­tle things that count.”

http://humphreybc.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/its-the-little-things-that-count/

Benjamin Humphrey · 10 Mar 2010

I totally agree with your points, and I really wish they would make the famil­iar brown theme bet­ter instead of killing it off.

Dylan Taylor · 11 Mar 2010

I’m pretty sure that just about every per­son read­ing this has com­pletely remade their desk­top to look noth­ing like the orig­i­nal. gnome-look and kde-look will get your desk­top look­ing nice in no time. But on the other hand, I know the crit­i­cal review is meant to bet­ter the default desk­top look.

Jay · 9 Apr 2010

It is triv­ial for the user to change every­thing to the way each user wants it, so who cares what the design team puts up as the default? Some­times I think they make it ugly on pur­pose just to encour­age every­one to change it — which is the first thing we all do, huh?

colorado springs · 17 Apr 2010

Okay, I’m lazy and I only half-read the comments…but for the aver­age user…they don’t care. Just say­ing. I’m only a lit­tle bit above the aver­age user, but I don’t look at the design like you do. I just cus­tomize it to my lik­ing. :) And yes, I know it’s been a while since you’re typed this blog, but I wanted to get my opin­ion out there.

Joshua · 3 May 2010

To the last cou­ple commenters:

“but for the ave­rage user…they don’t care.” I dis­agree. In fact I think the aver­age user cares a great deal how their desk­top looks, or, at the very least, their opin­ion of an oper­at­ing sys­tem is informed to a large extent by how the desk­top looks. They of course don’t con­sciously exam­ine pixel met­rics and font hint­ing and gra­di­ents, etc., but they most likely notice them sub­con­sciously, con­tribut­ing to an vague un-ease with their com­put­ing envi­ron­ment. All these lit­tle things add up to make a bad impression.

“It is triv­ial for the user to change every­thing to the way each user wants it.” I also dis­agree with this. While it’s triv­ial to change among the pre-installed themes, know­ing where to go for new themes and what to do with them once you’ve got them is not “triv­ial” — it’s not dif­fi­cult by any means, but it’s some­thing you have to look up the solu­tion for. And it’s some­thing you’d only attempt to do after hav­ing decided to live in Ubuntu for a while — a deci­sion you’re less likely to make if you’re promptly turned off by the aes­thet­ics of it.

There is no sub­sti­tute for the expe­ri­ence of the first five min­utes of using any piece of soft­ware, and if Ubuntu is going to con­vince peo­ple to give it a chance, it needs to be more attrac­tive by default than it is.

Jay · 3 May 2010

While yes the but­tons are default to be on the left, it is very easy to move them back to the right, and there are plenty of appli­ca­tions in the soft­ware cen­ter that would let you change and fix any and all of the things you are rant­ing about.

IAB · 21 May 2010

IAB: In my post I make clear that I don’t have a prob­lem with but­tons being on the left, and that of all the things to take issue with in this redesign, the but­ton place­ment is not the most important.

I know that I can change my desk­top to look how­ever I want, but I want more than my desk­top to look good — I want the default desk­top to look good right out of the box, for the pur­pose of attract­ing new users.

And, because I dis­like the ama­teur stuff being ped­dled at GNOME-Look and sim­i­lar sites, I did self­ishly have my hopes up that Canon­i­cal would be able to pro­duce the first theme I actu­ally enjoyed using.

Jay · 21 May 2010

AAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH. What Bleep­ing Idiot defaulted the but­tons to the WRONG side of the screen? Change for Changes Sake just ain’t good… take the US Gov­ern­ment for exam­ple… we voted for change… and that’s all that’s left from our bucks… TO FIX IT.… use Alt+F2 to bring up the Run Appli­ca­tion dia­log, and type in gconf-editor to launch the Gnome Con­fig­u­ra­tion Edi­tor… and find the key apps \ metac­ity \ gen­eral… and for the buttons_layout sec­tion, change it to read :minimize,maximize,close and now your reflexes will work as 30 years of pro­gram­ming dic­tate… and replace all the crooks come elec­tion time.

AgravatedDOShead · 2 Jun 2010

Over­all this was a good arti­cle. But I have one com­plaint. That being your neg­a­tive com­ment rel­a­tive to pim­ples. You have the option to like or dis­like pim­ples, that is your free­dom of choice. But don’t attempt to force your bias on others.

James1st · 9 Jul 2010

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