Jari Rahkonen jari.rahkonen at
Sun Aug 3 10:25:34 UTC 2008

jmak wrote:
> Hi Jari,
> Good that you replied because I felt all along that my message didn't
> go through due to my saying things too politely. So it is time to say
> them a bit more bluntly so that the message is understood
> unequivocally.
> Your take on the issue is off here. It is true that not many serious
> designers around but this is not due to the fact that there is not
> enough interested designers; I myself met with many on the art mailing
> list; but when they figure the way Ubuntu people handle visual matters
> they quickly depart. The fact of the matter is that the sorry state of
> Ubuntu is due to the fact that incompetent, visually illiterate people
> decide on aesthetic matters. Imagine, you are a programmer, and
> someone who thinks that  C++ an exotic sandwich from the Caribbeans
> gives you instructions of coding.

As a professional software designer and coder I find this a bit
offensive. I for one have no trouble recognising my lack of artistic
talent. That's why we have artists like you. :)

> Something has been happening at
> Ubuntu. I spent more less two decades working on various design field
> but if I have ever come up with such a visual hodgepodge like the
> Ubuntu interface, I would have fired at the second day. This is the
> said truth about Ubuntu; these are conditions that actually
> discouraging artist to joining to the bandwagon.

I think this is a problem inherent in all community driven projects. A
large developer base is the only way to get things done if all you can
get is volunteers working in their often meager spare time, and it's
pretty hard to assemble a large developer base of volunteers if they
have no say in matters they are interested in. You can either keep a
tight ship and get less contributions or allow people to scratch their
own itches to keep them motivated and happy. The disadvantages are
obvious but hard to avoid.

Just take all those artists you say were discouraged from joining the
team. Are you sure they'd be more likely to stay if they were given
strict set of guidelines instead of being asked to pick a project
they're interested in and taking initiative? Your make it sound like
they don't want to make (X)Ubuntu prettier because it isn't already,
which to me sounds a bit daft. Do they expect a coder to come up with
those guidelines before they are even interested in contributing?

> But there are more to this. In general, Ubuntu people do not
> understand one thing. Collaboration in art and design DOESN"T WORK; at
> least not in the way it does in coding. A portrait cannot be drawn by
> many artists even if these artists are geniuses. Why? Because each has
> its inherent style that manifests regardless of the intentions.
> Drawing a collaborative portrait would end up in a Frankenstein. The
> same is true of design. Drawing on my experiences, I can say this. So
> far, I haven't heard better collaboration method than the studio
> paradigm. In this context, the customer and the art director hammer
> out all the niceties of the design and when it does go down to
> production all the details are already decided upon; after that
> graphic artists simply follow the guidelines and work out the details.
>  This way the unity and the coherence of the design can be maintained,
> of course its quality depends on the original idea and the its
> execution. A unified and coherent design, even if not as brilliant in
> its details, is better then a patchwork with superior items.

This is all true and I'd say even obvious, but don't you see how you're
agreeing with me without ever realising it? Let's say you do this master
design document or whatever and set definite visual guidelines for the
next version of Xubuntu. What do you need to make it happen? You need a
talented volunteer with lots of time on his/her hands (or alternatively
a bunch of them) to actually help you produce the graphics and code. As
I've said many times, you need resources.

Sadly there are only so many people working on Xubuntu with only so much
free time, and they seem to have their hands full simply doing whatever
is needed to make the releases happen on time.

>> So as I see it, it's all a matter of resources, or more specifically the
>> lack of them. Not that it's a wonder that open source projects attract
>> more coders and users than let's say graphical artists or sound
>> designers. This is evidenced by the fact that to my knowledge you are
>> and have been the only active artist in the Xubuntu team for quite a
>> while. It's certainly not because artists are actively discouraged from
>> joining the team.
> Jari, this is not the matter of lack of resources but the proper
> understanding of the issues involved. But now, lets talk about
> xubuntu. Xubuntu development suffers from the exact same shortcomings
> as Ubuntu does. Decisions are made by those who have no understanding
> about design issues. You are here long enough and probably remember
> that I have been advocating changes in xubuntu since almost day one.
> And what happened? up until now almost all of my recommendations have
> been ignored. I suggested, replacing the icon theme, cleaning up the
> icons, improving the icons on the panel, changing  the gtk theme,
> theming the panel and so on and guess what, all of them ignored. Plain
> and simple without even giving indication why. This is what
> frustrating and not the lack of resources.

Were your recommendations ignored, or was there no-one to do the work.
There's a big difference. I certainly didn't ignore them but there's
simply no way I could currently afford the spare time I'd need to help you.

You say: 'Decisions are made by those who have no understanding about
design issues' but if you think about it you'll realise that most often
these decisions have been made on the basis of whatever was the least
amount of work. Usually this means either keeping the old system or
taking whatever trickles down from upstream.

>> I understand that this can make you frustrated, and that you feel the
>> need to draw attention to the matter, but I can't see how this helps in
>> any way. You have pointed out problems and vague sketches of an optimal
>> situation, but no way to get there from here. Solutions and the
>> resources to implement them are what Xubuntu needs, not stating the obvious.
>> I (and I'm sure I'm not the only one) would love to help you realise
>> your vision to it's full extent, if only I had the time and the talent.
>> Unless you can find someone who does, I have to say that this discussion
>> is a bit pointless. But please do not let your frustration stop you from
>> working on Xubuntu, as I'm sure the recent attention garnered by open
>> source graphical tools like Inkscape and the Gimp will eventually bring
>> more artistic talent to communities like this. There is certainly hope
>> of a brighter future on this front.
> If the items, I listed above could be implemented that would be a big
> step toward solution. When I asked help, a few days ago, about
> usplash, it was not about creating graphics but about helping figuring
> out the code that perhaps could be modified in order to fix the
> progress bar issue.

And you couldn't find anyone to code for you? Isn't this exactly what
I've been saying?

> Again, this is not the lack of resources but the lack of vision and
> understanding that retards visual development.

There's a lot of people with vision, but making this vision happen is
the hard part. You know, the actual work?

> Look at dreamlinux, I
> far as I know, one developer and a graphic artist have been working on
> it; and in terms of visuals, it is one of the more professionally
> designed Linux distro. It worth to download it just to take a look at
> it. Every little details from the progress bar to the panel, the gtk
> theme, icons are  fine-tuned to achieve that kind of unified desktop I
> am talking about in relation to xubuntu. Maybe you don't like it
> because you have a different taste, but here we don't talk about
> personal preferences like children but about the particularities of a
> well designed desktop.

There's always people willing to argue about matters of taste, but I
don't see that being the case here. Dreamlinux has the advantage of a
small team (or a pair, whatever) willing and able to put a lot of work
into making their distro look good. They've got the resources they need
to back up their vision.

> Let's hope that putting things a bit more bluntly, the issue I am
> talking about has become a bit clearer for everybody.
> jmak

I don't think this is or has been a matter of not understanding the
problem, but rather the lack of answers. That's probably why your mails
get few replies. What can you say when you agree but don't have a
solution? Well, obviously you can ramble on as if you had an actual
point like I've done once again, but I'm sure most sensible people would
simply not reply at all.

By the way, if you really want someone to take tight control of the
artistic side of Xubuntu, why shouldn't you be the one? Go ahead and
create that master design document with lots of pretty mockups and maybe
it will help you find whoever you need to help you. If you need coders
to realise some part of it, make sure to check the upstream mailing
lists of whatever software you need changes in. Xfce is heading quickly
towards the first alpha of 4.6, so this would be a great time to make
any and all suggestions for improvements to the visual design and
behaviour of the desktop. Any changes to the code upstream will surely
end up in Xubuntu before long. As you know, the philosophy of Xubuntu
seems to be to make as few changes to the upstream packages as possible
to minimise the maintenance workload, once again due to the lack of

- Jari

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