The GNOME 3.8 release kept me pretty busy. In the run up to UI freeze I was focusing on tracking bugs, providing guidance and testing. Then it was marketing time, and I was spending all my time writing the release notes as well as some of the website. (Kudos to the marketing team for a great 3.8 release, btw.)
With 3.8 behind me, I’ve been able to turn back to some good honest design work. I’ve been looking at quite a few aspects of GNOME 3, including Settings and GNOME Shell. However, in this post I am going to focus on some of the application design activities that I have been involved in recently. One of the nice things here is that I have found the opportunity to fill in some gaps and pay some attention to some of the long-lost applications that are in need of design love.
I haven’t blogged about Contacts for a while. 3.8 was a great release for the application though, mostly thanks to some fantastic work by Erick Pérez Castellanos. We got a new editing UI and a new selection mode, as well as a new linked accounts dialog. Along the way many of the most prominent usability bugs were fixed. Thanks to Erick for making this happen.
The Contacts designs have been slowly evolving since they were first conceived, and they have turned into something that I am really happy with. I spent a bit more time on them recently, with some updates to the toolbar and a few other things.
I use the GNOME Character Map on a fairly regular basis, and it has to be said that it could do with some love. I’ve been meaning to do a redesign for quite some time, and I finally found the opportunity a few weeks ago.
The most important thing about the design, in my opinion, is that it provides an easy way to browse different types of characters. This alone will make a huge difference to the experience. Another nice feature is the recently used section, since I think that most people have a small set of characters that they keep going back to.
I think that web applications could be pretty important for GNOME in the future, and we already have a great foundation on which to build here. I recently took a look at how web apps could have toolbars of their own, which resulted in the following mockups.
The web app toolbars are pretty simple – back, forward, reload and close.
Last summer I had the pleasure of mentoring Fabinia Simões, who did a great job redesigning Cheese. In the past few weeks I’ve revisited her designs and done a set of hi-resolution mockups. We’re continuing to discuss some of the details, but I’m increasingly happy with the design.
One interesting thing to note about this design is how the navigation design patterns that we’ve developed for GNOME 3 applications are able to help even with a simple application like Cheese. Having a set of patterns like this really helps to reduce the work involved in designing (or in this case, redesigning) applications, as well as leading to consistency for users.
Transfers is a new application for GNOME 3. It’s like a download manager, but it handles other things like copy/move operations for files and file transfers from Chat contacts. In some ways it isn’t the most exciting application, but it will fill in an important blank in the content story, and will make it easy to find content that you have received from other people and places.
These mockups are still a little rough, but they are a good place to be starting.
So what’s the story with the close buttons?
Those of us who work on GNOME design have been pushing to reduce the presence of window titlebars for some time. The main driver for this is to use screen space more efficiently. The average titlebar includes big swathes of empty space, and they take up valuable vertical pixels. We’ve already seen the result of this direction in our treatment of maximised applications, where the titlebar is hidden.
Now that Wayland and client side decorations are on their way, we are able to realise our ambitions for screen efficiency even further. So far we have only been able to hide the titlebar when windows are maximised. In the new world of Wayland, windows can permanently lose their titlebars, whatever state they are in. Not only that, but they can also present window controls – like the close button – inside the window itself. This means that we can consistently show the close button on the right side of the toolbar, whether the window is maximised or not.
One of the drivers for my recent application design work has been to test out this approach to titlebars in an array of different contexts, and me and the other designers will continue to examine how it will work in different applications as we move forward.
As always, these designs are in a process of evolution, and feedback is welcome.