I’m no designer by any means, so this may be completely inaccurate, but I’m beginning to think there’s a distinction between ‘design’ and ‘usability’.
For instance, the buttons placement seems to be a usability move. They haven’t fully justified why they’ve done it, but the assumption is that once you get used to it, it’s convenient to have them there.
I do believe there is something to be said about it just looking bad. Without considering the whole space and surrounding elements, the change just looks bad.
Some people are very happy to sacrifice usability for something that just looks sexy. This is where Apple has found a great balance and can be confident in their decisions.
The same goes with the weirdly placed notifications, how they sometimes appear 1-inch below the notification area. It’s supposed to be more ‘functional’ or ‘usable’, but it just looks broken.
I do hope the Canonical design team get there though, and you’re right, bold-ness and pushing boundaries is important.