Artwork Quality (was Re: Sound themes)

William Jon McCann william.jon.mccann at
Tue Oct 28 22:25:55 UTC 2008


I'm not sure that message-dissection is a particularly fruitful way to
respond to the general theme and tone of a message.  But I'll respond
here because I find it somewhat better than having discussions via
blog posts.

For reference, the original message was:

On Thu, Oct 23, 2008 at 11:02 PM, Máirín Duffy <duffy at> wrote:
> William Jon McCann wrote:
>> It is not often fun to be told that your work is not good enough or
>> inappropriate.
> It seems you've hijacked a thread about sound themes to indirectly allude
> that the art team's work is not good enough or appropriate. If you do
> believe this, it would be better to give direct feedback rather than beat
> around the bush. Specific critiques about the Fedora 10 artwork, which I
> think exceeds the F9 artwork by far, would be greatly appreciated. Also,
> please consider that we have a number of non-native English speakers here
> who might not necessarily pick up on the nuances of your message.

I was responding to Nicu's mail.  I took the opportunity to try to
start a discussion that I think we need have have.  A discussion about
our audience, product vision, and community expectations.  I was not
talking about any artwork in particular.  As you know I have given
direct feedback on artwork in the past and will continue to do so in
the future.  However, in this case, it was not my intention except for
a comment that the sound theme Nicu pointed out wasn't exactly

>> You would be right to point out here that we don't all agree on what
>> our audience is and what our product should feel like.
>> That is indeed a serious problem.
> How do you propose to fix it?

Well, as a first step, I was hoping to start a discussion about it.

>> Another problem is how you define who the judges are.  Do you try to
>> poll your audience? (requires you to clearly define the audience) Do
>> you trust your peers?  (must define peers)  Do you trust the
>> critics/experts?
> While you have not come out and said directly to what you would like to
> apply these questions to, I'm happy to be quite direct and state that we
> have done all of the above on the art team. Over the past few releases we've
> tried different things and learning from them. "Growing as human beings" you
> could say, I suppose.
>> It is a tough problem.  But it always goes back to
>> audience.  Otherwise you may create something that is beautiful,
>> complete, and wrong.
> Again, I can't help but feel a bit patronized.

Sorry to hear that - I wasn't addressing you or at anyone in
particular.  The above is, however, one of the central points I was
trying to make.  It is the reason why I think having a discussion
about our audience, product vision, and expectations is so important.
How can you evaluate whether what you are doing is right or wrong
without that.  This is why there are so many heated debates about
these things.  People are implicitly building different products for
different people.

>> I think that the desktop wallpapers we've used by default are a good
>> example of this:
> Why not just say the Fedora 9 wallpapers sucked instead of going to all that
> effort? I wouldn't argue with you on it. There were some real stinkers
> before we had a community art process as well. Same with the bits of the
> release in general, we've had some real stinkers with some broken bits
> shipped out of the box. So artwork and code, we've never been perfect every
> release. Even so, there are quite a few fans of the F9 wallpaper despite its
> suckage.

They did suck and the Fedora wallpapers have been of widely varying
quality (never great) over the years.  And yes one of the worst
backgrounds of all time was the "undersea tentacles" one.  Which as
far as I know was not community designed.  *BUT* that is not the point
I was trying to make.  The point is that one of my take-aways from
doing the wallpapers study was that other distributions and operating
systems have a much clearer sense of who they are designing for.  And
I think it shows in the consistency of the work and in the specific
choices that were made.

>> Switching gears slightly.  When resources are limited, fragmentation
>> often results in inconsistency.  Or, when the problem space is too
>> large or unbounded the best we can do is to define standards.  For
>> desktop apps we have the GNOME Human Interface Guidelines.  For icon
>> themes we have the Tango guidelines, and the upcoming Mango
>> guidelines.  Widget themes are slightly different because the problem
>> is basically bounded - there are only so many widgets to theme.
> Artwork is a little different and harder to pin down than GUI design
> guidelines (which are also very difficult to pin down except on the very
> top, surface level which is all the GNOME HIG itself has actual clear
> guidelines for.) We have some basic guidelines that the artwork adhere to a
> theme that can be clearly linked back to the spirit and goals of Fedora. Its
> base color is typically a shade of blue that is the same or complementary to
> the official Fedora logo colors. We have specific guidelines about
> resolution, aspect ratio, elements (where the logo is and isn't allowed),
> and formats for every bit of artwork we put into the  release. These
> requirements, of course, are just as surface-level as the guidelines for
> widget usage in the HIG.

Probably my fault for not being clear.  My point was that consistency matters.

> Just as you can't follow a formula like the GNOME HIG and pop out a
> beautiful, usable interface, you can't follow a formula like the Fedora
> theme guidelines and pop out a beautiful theme. The magic inbetween that
> makes something good is design. I'm quite saddened by the fact that you
> don't seem to believe this team has or is capable of having that magic, but
> I suppose to relate it to coding as you did in your message, perhaps not
> everyone felt Linus had the magic or capability to develop the magic
> necessary to start a real, usable operating system.

Honestly, I can't see anywhere I suggested such a thing in my message.
 Not sure if I'm part of "this team" that you are referring to.

> I suppose you could suggest we hire a professional Artist to sit in a room
> by themselves and design the entire theme all by themselves to get something
> beautiful, perfect, and befitting our high-quality desktop, but then you'd
> be in conflict designing artwork in a closed manner for a community
> operating system. It's not really fair to make comparisons to how software
> development and code works only when it is convenient so let's be fair and
> complete the analogy.

The conflict you suggest simply does not exist.

> The thing is, when one person designs things in a vaccuum, you only ever see
> the end product and you never see the work-in-progress so the end result I
> think always seems so impressive than if you had seen it develop in stages.
> Unfortunately with the open process we have here, it is quite easy to judge
> works before they have fully formed and thus adopt an unfair bias against a
> final work that otherwise may have seemed quite satisfactory.

While that may be possible, I doubt that it is a significant factor.
It may be true in cases where it was simply the superficial details
which were objectionable.  However, it would not hold true in cases
where the disagreement was more fundamental than that.  Again,
appropriateness for a particular audience would be one example of

>> One thing that we need to stop right now is the "us" versus "them"
>> mentality.
> That would be great, I really look forward to this! It's a real shame. all
> the aggression that's happening on fedora-desktop-list concerning the
> artwork. The artwork list was left off of the cc as well, which makes me
> think the thread was started only to cause strife and not to help improve
> things (if it was meant constructively I don't understand leaving out the
> very folks involved in the decision it ranted about.) It's that kind of
> aggressive, adversarial behavior that really makes me question why I bother.
> (maybe from your POV it would be a good thing if I quit the art team, who
> knows) But I certainly don't see that type of behavior coming from the art
> team in the reverse direction, for sure.

I didn't write those things and I can't answer for what other people
write.  Also I think it is obvious that there is some disagreement
about what it is we are building, who it is for, and how it should
look.  It is only natural that the people that do most of the work to
build the desktop should feel pretty passionately about those things.
OK, now that we've gotten all that out and blamed each other for
playing "us" versus "them" - let's move on. :)

>> I've heard that there is a long and sorted history between
>> the Fedora art and desktop groups.  Frankly, I don't know or care
>> about any of that.  It is all in the past.  We need to focus on
>> creating the right product for the right people and making it feel
>> beautiful.  Let's do it.
> How do you propose we "do it" since it seems clear to me that you feel we
> are not doing it?

I think a lot of the responsibility is on the desktop team (and also
the upstream community) to communicate more effectively.  We're going
to work to make some of our ideas and plans more available and
decision making more transparent to those who don't follow upstream
lists, source repository changes, and IRC channels.  Together we
should engage in a conversation about what we are building and for


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