The Icon Question

Máirín Duffy duffy at
Thu May 25 20:01:21 UTC 2006

Hey everybody,

Since we've gotten onto the topic of the default icon theme for Fedora -

Well, above all, everyone here wants Fedora to have a slick, great-looking 
desktop, right? That's the main goal of the Fedora Art project. With Fedora Core 
5 we've started to move in that direction with a new logo (thanks to Matt Muñoz) 
and new theming elements (thanks to Diana) and have received positive feedback. 
However, we are still using Bluecurve as the default icon set, which has been 
around for a few years now. Among the complaints about Bluecurve is that it's a 
cartoony, and 'dated.' So it would be nice to have a fresh, slick look on the 
icon front for Fedora.

Tango has been suggested as an alternative to Bluecurve, but nobody has really 
picked this up to make it happen. (Remember, Fedora is a community project, you 
vote with your time & effort.) As the front page of the Tango Project webpage 
states, it is "A *suggested* default native look [1, emphasis mine]." Diana, 
myself, and other Fedora users and developers that we've talked to feel the 
Tango look is a bit too close to Bluecurve to address the complaints we've heard 
about Bluecurve. It feels more like a next-gen Bluecurve than something new.

We realize that the look of icons for an operating system can have far-reaching 
effects. An example I like to use to illustrate this point is the influence the 
look of Windows XP Icons [2] appear to have had in the somewhat recent UPS logo 
redesign [3]. One of the core goals of Fedora in general is innovation - looking 
towards the future [4]. Can we do that visually - can we make an innovative and 
cultural impact on the world with Fedora while using Tango? It doesn't seem likely.

The main argument that we've been given as a reason for adopting Tango is (to 
roughly paraphrase) - 'it won't work unless everyone uses it.' The main goal of 
the Tango Project is: "to help create a consistent graphical user interface 
experience for free and Open Source software[1]," presumably to make FOSS more 
usable. I'd like to draw a parallel between this notion of 'all icons should be 
the same to be usable' to Jakob's Nielsen's idea of usability - his website, 
which may very well be the height of usability, but is far from pleasurable or 
delightful to look at. [5] There is definitely some conflict between visual 
consistency across desktop distributions and the branding of each said 
distribution, but both are important. Agreeing on a standard set of metaphors / 
objects to illustrate for icons for each item in the Tango naming spec, for 
example, would go a long way towards meeting Tango's quite noble goal without 
requiring Fedora to sacrifice its brand its own desktop.

Looking towards the future of Fedora's visual design, Diana has put together a 
sample mockup (20 icons) of a possible 'next gen' Fedora icon theme. This is an 
experimental work-in-progress to explore future possibilities - a suggestion for 
a default Fedora icon look. We'd like to keep this an open discussion. Remember, 
the goal here is a great-looking desktop. Some of us (Diana and I) think we 
could do better than the Tango look. So here it is:


So, to be clear:

* Are we definitely staying with Bluecurve as the default icon theme in Fedora?

   Yes, until there is a better alternative that helps us meet our goals.

* Are we moving to Tango? Or something else?

   We are not moving to Tango right now. We'd like to move to something new in 
the future.

* What icon set should Fedora Art contributors be working on if they want to 
create new icons?

   You can continue to work on Bluecurve icons, keeping in mind that we are 
looking to eventually retire it as the default theme. You can also help us out 
in coming up with a better alternative - we welcome any feedback / proposed 
revisions to Diana's mockup, or you come up with your own.



Máirín Duffy <duffy at>
Interaction Designer
Red Hat Network :: Red Hat, Inc.
Westford, MA

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