Artwork Quality (was Re: Sound themes)

Mairin Duffy duffy at
Wed Oct 29 00:33:31 UTC 2008

William Jon McCann wrote:
> Hi,
> 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.

Well, I am sorry that you feel I was having a discussion with you via my 
blog (I was not.) It took you quite some time to reply to this thread 
and to be honest I was surprised that you did since you failed to reply 
to me the last time I tried to reach out to you about similar issues.
> 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. 

This is the problem - not talking about anything in particular, making 
very general and vague statements without any specifics.

I understand that there are a small number of very vocal desktop team 
members who do not like the artwork very much. We have known this for 2 
years now. I have never seen any specific feedback about how the artwork 
is inappropriate nor any discussion about what audience they would like 
it to be designed for from these individuals. They seem to be in the 
minority, as evidenced by various news articles, feedback we've 
received, events Fedora ambassadors have attended, and even Red Hat 
customers I have visited. So, pointing out the obvious conflict here is 
not really helpful since we know well that it exists.

If you'd like to point out specific ways in which you think the F10 
artwork does not cater to your imagined audience, then *that* would very 
likely be a useful, fruitful discussion. But just generally dismissing 
all of the efforts of this team (by "this team" I mean the Fedora Art 
team as we are on fedora-art-list) by saying they don't align with your 
vision for the desktop, without saying what that vision is, and by 
saying they don't align with your audience, without stating who you 
think the audience is, is really not useful as I see it.

> As you know I have given
> direct feedback on artwork in the past and will continue to do so in
> the future. 

Really? Where? I saw your PDF but IIRC it just juxtaposes different 
wallpapers, it does not call out specific critique points in the Fedora 
wallpaper. Also, I have not seen any feedback from you on the F10 
wallpaper. Can you tell me where it is while I still have a chance to 
incorporate it? (Although it's quite late in the game now)

> However, in this case, it was not my intention except for
> a comment that the sound theme Nicu pointed out wasn't exactly
> appropriate.

I'm confused because your message spanned a lot more than the sound theme.
> ...
>>> 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.

Okay. Let's discuss these questions then rather than harping on the fact 
that 'we may disagree on things and should discuss them':

- who do you think the audience for Fedora is / should be?

- what are the problems you see in the Fedora 10 wallpaper with that 
audience in mind?

- what is your vision for the Fedora desktop? how can the art team help 
realize that vision?
>>> 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 definitely have to agree that in designing something you need to have 
an idea of who your audience is. For example, audience is something we 
discussed extensively when designing the spins.fpo site but that site is 
much more narrow in focus and scope than that of a desktop. So, when we 
design the artwork for Fedora, we can look towards the more general 
potential audience that the Fedora marketing team had determined quite 
some time ago:

As you can see, this is quite a large net, but in general desktop users 
are quite a large net. As the primary target is "Free and open source 
software enthusiasts, developers, and remixers", I think we are doing a 
number of things correctly right now:

- all of the artwork we create is 100% free, when sourcing images we use 
appropriately licensed images, and all the artwork we produce is 
licensed openly;

- we use FOSS tools to produce the artwork that we create;

- we produce the artwork in an open, collaborative manner, and the 
process from start to finish is well-documented and publicized such that 
we can receive feedback on it starting from the very beginning of the 

- even if you are not an artist you can participate and have an affect 
on the artwork in the first round of proposals with a theme idea.

These are things that I think 'free and open source enthusiasts, 
developers, and remixers' appreciate. I might even dare to suggest that 
even if a wallpaper is not absolutely perfect but it is produced 
according to the guidelines above, these type of folks may prefer it to 
something astoundingly beautiful but produced in a closed manner using 
closed tools and a restrictive license.

So the art team has been focusing a lot on this open, collaborative 
process and trying to tweak and improve it to go along, because again, 
these points above are really important for our audience and the process 
is what makes them possible. I even did a post-mortem style presentation 
of how the Fedora 8 artwork process went at 2007, and in the 
past two releases we've tried some of the ideas/suggestions that we came 
up with to improve things as a result of that post-mortem:

I think as our process solidifies more and more, we can really start to 
push the boundaries on the quality of the artwork. With each release 
we've been getting better at the schedule, and with each release we've 
gotten better at understanding the requirements for the artwork and what 
kinds of things work and what kinds of things don't. With each release 
we've also seen more and more contributors. For Fedora 10 Charlie and 
Samuele joined us, for example, and they have done a lot of simply 
amazing work. We're hoping to attract more talent like them in upcoming 
releases by having a well-defined and open process as well.

But regarding our audience, as far as the audience has been defined for 
Fedora I think we are on the right track, looking at the rationale above 
and looking at the overwhelmingly positive feedback we've received from 
the Fedora community. So I would be very curious to hear whom you think 
is the target audience of Fedora and how you would change the artwork 
priorities/focus and process to meet your perceived audience's needs.

>>> 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. 

That was actually designed by a Red Hat employee and a community member 
working together. It is also one of the most popular Fedora wallpapers 
of all time. Actually there are a few Red Hatters in the Westford office 
with it set as their wallpaper right now. :) It's not my favorite, but 
the fact is I've witnessed a lot of people using it still today and we 
hear folks propose 'the next wallpaper should be like that one from 
FC6!' at the beginning of each new artwork release process.

> *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.

See, I didn't actually see any analysis in the study that you did, just 
lots of screenshots and data about file paths and formats. I would be 
very interested in seeing some analysis if you have a writeup somewhere, 
though. I do see looking over it again that many of the distros had a 
color or thematic theme to the default wallpapers they shipped (nature 
or red + blue, etc). Right now, we ship the gnome-default wallpapers and 
our own image. We could, I suppose, remove the gnome default wallpapers 
and ship some wallpapers that match our palette/theme and then the 
default wallpaper design. Is that a change you would propose?

You keep alluding to things, "in the specific choices that were made." 
What choices do you think were made? "other distributions and operating
  systems have a much clearer sense of who they are designing for" who 
do you think x distro was designing for based on their wallpapers? What 
things about the artwork signal to you that that was their intended 

It may be blazingly clear to you, but not everyone will intrepet what 
the raw data you put together in the same way. Calling out specific 
details and providing some analysis of them I think would go a long way 
in making your point rather than alluding that specific things exist 
without actually stating what those specific things are.

Our focus right now is on the default wallpapers and other branded bits 
(firstboot/anaconda/syslinux/various splashes/media and 
sleeves/banners/etc) and we've never really done anything with the other 
wallpapers that ship by default. We usually are so busy with the default 
design that the non-default wallpapers become an afterthought since they 
are explicitly scheduled or planned, we just take what upstream gives 
us. For F11, I don't know if you think it's a good idea, we could try to 
have a focus on the others too and cleaning up some of the cruft that is 
in our wallpaper packages (there are some really horrible looking 
wallpaper tiles in one of the packages that the rpm post then deletes, 
for example.)

Do you see how I am bringing up specific points here? Do you see how 
that might be a bit more conducive to a productive conversation?
>>> 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.

Okay, and guidelines are a means to achieve some consistency and we have 
them for the artwork. Would love to hear some more thoughts on you how 
you think we can bring some consistency to the artwork.
>> 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.

I didn't say you did, I said you seemed to and that was based on the 
overall tone of your message.

>  Not sure if I'm part of "this team" that you are referring to.

If you'd like to be a member of the art team we have an outline of the 
steps to join here:

Although of course you don't need to be a member of the team to have 
discussions on this list.
>> 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.

No it does not anymore, thankfully.
>> 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
> this.

Could you please explain what audience you feel we should be focusing on 
and how specifically we are failing to meet their needs?
> ...
>>> 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.  

I understand that completely, but you also cannot say that the conflict 
"is all in the past" when it is happening right now. You cannot suggest 
to us, the art team, that we should lay down our arms and sing 
kum-ba-yah around a campfire when we are being attacked and we are not 
the attackers.

I would like nothing more than to sing kum-ba-yah around a campfire and 
churn out some awesome artwork that everyone loves and have a clear 
vision for the desktop and our audience that the artwork meets and not 
be deathly afraid any time I attempt to subscribe to fedora-desktop-list 
again and stay on it for more than three days at a time and not be 
constantly demotivated by and frightened of the rage I see directed 
towards this team and its efforts! Some days it feels like I am more 
likely to get a pink pony with wings, though. I also personally feel 
helpless towards making things better since I try to be open and to 
reach out and are either ignored or see this team derided indirectly. 
If there is anything I or this team can do to fix this let's talk about it.

> 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.

Well, we've been here, openly developing our artwork and publicizing our 
process. We would have loved to hear from you all along since you can 
bring such passion to the table, and it's been quite some time but I 
suppose better late than never, right?

> OK, now that we've gotten all that out and blamed each other for
> playing "us" versus "them" - let's move on. :)

As long as the scary emails stop (apologies would also be nice but I 
won't push it), I'd be *so* glad to agree to that. But please, oh please 
make them stop. Understand that for us on the art team, it's hard to 
have one arm extended out to you reaching out an olive branch and the 
other arm of the same creature brandishing a chainsaw and waving it in 
your face at the same time.
>>> 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. 

What do you mean by upstream? You mean the Fedora Artwork team is the 
upstream for the Fedora-branded artwork, right?

I think the GNOME art team upstream, at least, accepts and understands 
that individual distros will impose their own branding on their 
desktops, and I don't think there is any issue with that. (Andreas, I 
won't put any words in your mouth but I remember we'd discussed this at 
the GNOME usability summit not long ago.)

> 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. 

By "we" I assume you mean the Red Hat desktop team. That would be great. 
Although I am still quite confused as to what you're talking about when, 
you seem to shift from talking about Fedora-specific artwork, to general 
artwork, to the entire desktop experience for Fedora, to the entire 
desktop experience for (I am assuming since you keep saying upstream) 
GNOME... I mean, these four things are all very different things. So 
let's make sure we're taking about the same thing here and let's pick 
one and stick with it as a focus rather than weave in and out.

> Together we
> should engage in a conversation about what we are building and for
> whom.

Okay, can we do that already rather than talking about having a 


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