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Sunday, April 13, 2008

What Makes a Desktop Look Nice

Have you ever thought about what makes your desktop look nice, and why many people may criticize, for example, Vista's UI? I decided to come up with a list of what seems to be that makes up a nice-looking desktop.

  1. Color Consistency - Take Ubuntu's default look. Brown. Orange. Pretty similar looks. It fits well. Now, what if you take the default wallpaper but set the blue Clearlooks theme? It looks terrible, obviously - the colors aren't consistent. Remember that Ubuntu brown isn't necessarily the normal neutral brown - it's more of a dark orange. Now it's OS X's turn. The neutral dark grey used in OS X is what makes adding splashes of blue everywhere else acceptable.
  2. Cleanliness / Organization - The cleaner or more organized a desktop is, the more visually appealing it is. If you have various icons scattered over your desktop, it will look unbalanced. OS X's close, minimize, and zoom buttons are familiar-looking because most of us see a traffic light daily.
  3. Completeness - nobody likes pixelation or squarish boxes for icons. For example, the Pidgin icon is an example of what an icon should _not_ be like because part of it is cut off.

EDIT: Now, be careful to not misunderstand me - I wasn't blaming the Linux UI (the Clearlooks/Ubuntu-wallpaper thing was an example of what somebody should NOT do), and Windows XP's UI isn't bad at all. The icon colors are generally consistent with the title bars, and I don't know how Microsoft managed to be able to get the XP-style (not pre-XP) icons to blend in to the interface so kudos to them for that!

Although many people say that a desktop looks should not matter, the look of our desktops may affect our productivity either for better or for worse.


Anonymous said...

Good couple bit of information. Consistency is Best. I've seen a number of opinions on Vista saying why can't Ubuntu look more like that to it UGLY! For me, I like the look thought I think it gets lost in the whole transparency thing.

jeannich said...

About your first point, I don't think Linux UI should be blamed because of user bad color choices;)
Appart that the points you have mentionned are right.

About "2) Cleanliness / Organization" remarks, do you know if there is an option to align desktop icons on a grid like in windows?

In fact, I don't know why but, on linux environments, UI usability seems to be mainly ignored.
Many progress have been done (KDE4 seems to be a great step forward) but, though I'm using ubuntu at home, I don't think Vista or XP's UI are so bad. In fact Windows UIs have always made me feel more productive than Linux ones (I am mainly using Gnome).

I think there are two reasons to that: the compacity and the fonts of the interface. They should be added to your list
4)Compacity: Look at gnome tool bars -> they are wasting too much space! They should be thiner by default.
Moreover why every single button must be rounded by 10 or more pixels? It should definitely be more compact. This is obvious while running windows in virtual machine on linux and comparing in real time both interfaces.

5)Fonts: Linux UI should use nicer fonts instead of applying antialiasing treatment which does not have a so good rendering. Nice font does not need any antialising treatment. The simple fact to use windows fonts on gnome for exemple improves a lot the usability and readability.

The Unix Geek said...


I don't quite agree with your opinion, and I believe you misunderstood me. I wasn't blaming the Linux UI, I was blaming Vista's ;-) the Clearlooks/Ubuntu-wallpaper example was to show what a user should NOT do.

Yes, you can align icons in grids.

Windows XP's UI isn't bad at all. The icon colors are generally consistent with the title bars, and I don't know how Microsoft managed to be able to get the XP-style (not pre-XP) icons to blend in to the interface so kudos to them for that!

By the way, about the GNOME/KDE panels, if you put the 2 default GNOME panels one on top of each other, it's about as thick as KDE's panel. Windows is like 1.5 of that.

And I've met some compact interfaces, and they look pretty ugly. Heck, my own Fosik project didn't have a good interface because it was so compact (I really have to use Glade next time).

And I like the fonts :)

jeannich said...

@The Unix Geek

"Yes, you can align icons in grids."
I found a way to align icons but the grid used is a bit strange. The result is not as clean is in XP (Vista does it but worst than XP)

Anyway about fonts (at least ubuntu ones), well I guess it's just a matter of taste:) On my side I'll continue to use microsoft fonts on ubuntu!

And about the compacity, I still believe compact interfaces are the ones which give the more productivity. The main problem is the difficulty to make a compact interface without giving a smash impression. For example, and referring to your Fosik project interface, buttons are two high and too large. Input bars also are too high: it should be just 1pixel above and below the input caret. Finally respecting a given margin on your windows (components are too close to the border) should be better.
Interfaces using a lot of controls (like, for exemple, eclipse) take a lot of advantages of those rules.

I found a quite good theme for gnome that, though not beeing perfect, tries quite successfully to shrink gnome default aspect without loosing usability:

Give it a try! ;)

PS:I am trying to modify, with paint, one of your interface to give you a concreate idea of what I meant.

jeannich said...

OK I have just finished shrinking one of your Fosik project interfaces!
I don't know how to insert images on your site so here is the link:

I even inserted a preview of what it could render on WindowsXP ;)
What do you think of it?

The Unix Geek said...


Wow, the interface really does look nicer now - I think I understand what you mean by compacity (which I can't find in the dictionary - I'll refer to it by compactness). Anyway, I've abandoned the Fosik project because I felt (a) it had a bad name and (b) there are already better programs out there. The interface looks ten times and I like how you changed it around to make it fit on Windows. Did you use Visual Studio for that?

Chris said...

@The Unix Geek

oops sorry indeed, "compactness" sounds better.
I've made the "XP rendering" dialog with ResEdit (www.resedit.net) which is a free resource editor for Win32 programs.
I use it to make my interfaces with visual studio express.