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Re: Artwork Quality (was Re: Sound themes)

William Jon McCann wrote:

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 redhat com> wrote:
William Jon McCann wrote:
It is not often fun to be told that your work is not good enough or
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

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
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 process.

- 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 FOSS.in 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

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 audience?

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

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"
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

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

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


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