Nautilus Next

Nowadays, digital content is all about the cloud. Indeed, in GNOME we’ve been pushing to integrate with cloud-based content through our new content apps, like Documents, Photos, Music and Videos. This is important work and needs to continue.

However, local files are still central to the way that many people work, and are an essential part of lots of workflows. This means that, while cloudy things are important, it is also important that we pay attention to the experience of working with local files in GNOME. It is for this reason that a group of us has been working on a plan to improve the state of Nautilus, our venerable file browser.

The new designs are fairly extensive and cover a lot of ground. In the rest of this post I’ll try to describe as much as I can. As always, they are not set in stone and will evolve. Questions, comments and feedback are most welcome, and will help us to develop them further.

Lists & Grids


The most important thing in the Files app is, well, your files. If Nautilus is going to provide the kind of experience that we want it to, it needs to do a better job at making your files easy to recognise, look good, and take centre stage. This requires lists and grids that have even spacing, helpful zoom levels, and big, clear thumbnails.


The designs feature new lists and grids, which should hopefully be possible with GTK’s new grid and list widgets. The grids we have in mind will be responsive, so that the content will scale to fit the size and shape of the window (without large spaces between cells or gutters on one side). Lists will feature thumbnails and have separators between rows to aid readability.


The designs also include mockups for an updated view “menu”. This contains all the existing options, except with nicer controls.



Being able to inspect the content of a file is often essential to identifying it, such as when you have lots of similar photos, or PDFs with unhelpful file names. Nautilus already has a previewing feature, but it functions as an optional extra and can easily be missed. The new designs make previewing much more central to the browsing experience. They also include actions alongside previews, so that you can quickly act on the file that’s in front of you.

One thing that you can’t see in this mockup – we also want to make it possible to browse between files from the preview – so you can flip back and forth between images or documents in order to compare them.

Generating previews like this may well require new infrastructure. Specifically, it is likely that we will need a new library for generating previews.


Many of the ideas for the new sidebar design came from the awesome António Fernandes.

The main objective for the places sidebar is to make it more focused on the things you care about. Right now, the sidebar automatically includes every available volume and drive. This can lead to a cluttered sidebar which contains lots of items that you never use. These often get in the way and distract from the items that you use all the time.


We want to rebalance the sidebar: more things you care about, less things you don’t. To achieve this, we want to make adding drives to the sidebar a manual action. In this way you will be able to customise the sidebar to your needs.

Clarification: manual addition won’t be necessary for removable drives – they will be automatically added to the sidebar as they are now. Also, once an internal volume or remote drive is added, it will persistent even when it’s not mounted.

A new add drive dialog is a key part of the new sidebar design. This will allow you to quickly add both local and remote locations to the sidebar all from the same dialog. It is also an attempt to clean up the various network browsing features that are currently available in Nautilus, and consolidate these features into one place.

The reimagined sidebar also contains a new feature which will be really handy: starred files. Being able to mark items that you want to keep track of is such as obvious feature, and I’m sure it will be useful to many people. In UI terms it’s a fairly simple thing to do.



Selection mode is a design pattern that we’re using extensively in the other GNOME 3 applications. It’s nice because it makes contextual actions much more discoverable. It also allows us to use single click (rather than the undiscoverable and inconsistent double-click) throughout.

The best way to think of the use of selection mode here is as a discoverable context menu. Existing methods of selecting multiple items, like holding ctrl and shift in combination with the mouse button, will continue to work.

Added Discoverability


It’s amazing how many undiscoverable conventions that we acclimatise ourselves to, and an old app like Nautilus has a lot of them. At some point in the past, we all learned to double-click to open, to press return to finish naming a new folder, or that Ctrl+V pastes content into the current location. All of this is totally unobvious to new users, of course, and there can be embarrassing moments when you watch someone use an app like Nautilus for the first time.

The new Nautilus designs bring a lot of hidden functionality to the surface, and they make an effort not to assume prior knowledge. Much of the functionality that is currently hidden in the background has been brought to the surface: there are visible buttons for common tasks like pasting items or creating folders, for example. Simple things – like using a dialog for creating new folders – are designed to eliminate basic usability bugs.

Content Selection

Finally, this brings us back to content selection. A next generation replacement for the existing file selection dialog is something that has been mooted for a long while. To make it happen, a number of other long-term initiatives need to come together: the new set of content selection applications needs to come together, and we need the previewing library that I mentioned about above.

This latest round of Nautilus design work was in part motivated to keep these content selection plans moving forward, and the Nautilus designs were developed at the same time as a new set of content selection mockups. This is to ensure that the file browser keeps in step with our longer term plans.


The new content chooser is designed to allow you to select content items from a range of sources. These can be local files or content items that are stored in the cloud. This is where the various new content applications come in – each one is designed to act as a cloud-based content provider. With this approach, you should be able to use the Photos app to select images from Flickr, for example.


The initial view provides a grid of recently used items. After that, you can choose a particular content provider. Content apps can then present their own content. Notice that, after opting to view files, the familiar places sidebar from Files slides in.


What You Can Do

If you want to help us make these designs a reality, there are many things that we need help with, both large and small. I will be busy turning the designs into bug reports over the coming weeks, and will be keeping the design page up to date as the plans take shape. You can subscribe to the page if you want to follow what’s happening. Otherwise, just get in touch. We would love to hear from you, even if you are just interested.

Comments on this post are now closed. Thanks for all the fantastic feedback.

Posted in design, gnome-ux, gnome3 | 118 Comments

Fun & Games

Games often don’t seem like the most important thing for GNOME. Yet, many people expect to have some common games available, and for some individuals being able to play Solitaire or Sudoku is a major reason for having a computer in the first place.

Historically, the GNOME project has developed a fairly extensive collection of games. These used to share some of the same code, but have recently been split up into independent modules and repositories. This was a great move, and I definitely think that each of the games should be allowed to develop into independent projects in their own right. I’m sure there are plenty of opportunities here for new contributors.

I recently spent a bit of time looking at some of our games to try to help raise the quality level. Since there are quite a few games in GNOME, and this was a fairly quick design pass, I decided to focus on the most commonly recognised games that users might expect to be able to use on GNOME. As a result, I’ve so far restricted my work to Sudoku, Tetris (or Quadrapassel in GNOME language), Reversi (aka Iagno) and Minesweeper (aka Mines). I also took a look at Tetravex, since it seems like it could be an accessible puzzle game.

It should be said that I am no graphic designer. These mockups are just the first step, and if you have a flair for graphics and would like to help, your assistance would be most welcome.

The GNOME games developers have been a pleasure to work with, and some parts of the designs have already been implemented. Many of the proposed changes have also been filed as bug reports, so it’s easy to get started if you want to help to make the games into a really fun and pretty.

Posted in design, gnome, gnome-ux, gnome3

Initial Setup Reprise

GNOME’s initial setup assistant was originally introduced in 3.8. It helps people set up GNOME 3 when they first log into a new session, and guides them through the essential steps to make their account usable. It enables you to set a language and the date and time, and it helps you to connect to a network and to online accounts.

Without something like initial setup, there’s a risk that a new user might be faced with a system that isn’t using their language or has the wrong time. Hunting through settings on a misconfigured system is not what we want people’s’ first experience of GNOME 3 to be.


From a design and development standpoint, one of the tricky things about initial setup is that it doesn’t get a huge amount of attention. Those of us who work on GNOME don’t see it on regular basis and our users only encounter it once (or very infrequently). People usually aren’t in a position to file bugs when they’re using it. This makes it difficult to know how initial setup is performing.

I have recently been working with Intel’s OTC London office to investigate this situation further. The OTC recently commissioned a series of user tests in this area, which have provided some excellent data on the kind of experience that initial setup is providing. I’ve been given access to the data generated by these tests, which I have been able to use to improve the design. I’d like to say a big thank you to Intel for funding this work and for being so supportive.

The Study

The user tests were run in a fairly conventional manner: participants were given a laptop and were instructed to treat it as if it were their own. They were then invited to run through initial setup. Along the way, a researcher asked them questions about what they were doing, as well as about their understanding of what was happening.

A total of 12 participants ran through the test. One really nice thing about the study was the variety of the participants involved. Of the 12, four had Mac OS X as their primary experience, four had Windows 8, and four used another version of Windows (either XP, Vista or 7). The participants also displayed a range of approaches to the computer – there were careful users who read everything and were very considered, and there were more impatient people who clicked through without much thought. Some were confident, others less so.

The tests were recorded, using a combination of screen recording and a web cam. Unfortunately, technical issues mean that it isn’t possible for the videos to be made available. However, I’ve been given access to the data and have made fairly detailed notes.


As is usually the case with this type of test, the results were mixed. All but one of the participants were able to complete initial setup without assistance from the researcher. Some parts of initial setup worked well, like language and network selection. Reactions to the experience were generally positive.

At the same time, some parts of the initial setup assistant could definitely have performed better. Some of the participants had problems at certain steps, and the purpose of some aspects of the initial setup assistant were frequently unclear.

The main issues encountered by the test participants included:

  • Input sources was often an unfamiliar term. The test conditions mean that it is difficult to make definite claims about the interface for adding input sources, but the signs are that it wasn’t clear enough.
  • The purpose of the location step wasn’t clear. Initial setup asks the user to set their location, so that the time zone can be configured; the majority of the participants didn’t realise that this step was specifically about time and date.
  • There were numerous issues with creating a password. Some of the participants obviously disliked the negative feedback given for password strength (this is something we were already in the process of fixing). The one participant who needed help to complete the test was unable to proceed because there wasn’t clear feedback that the password and confirm password fields did not match.
  • The online accounts panel suffered from not being clear. Some participants were unsure what it was for.

In addition to these more specific results, there were some other interesting lessons that can be drawn from the study. I think the most significant lesson for me is that the participants really, really disliked passwords.

“[Passwords are] the bit that I always hate, because they always make it complex and I never remember.”

The participants reported having trouble remembering their passwords, and they resented having to create strong ones because it makes them harder to recall. This aspect of the test was by far the most problematic and the one that provoked the most negative responses.

New Designs!

On the basis of the user tests I have been working on an updated set of initial setup designs. These are an evolution of the existing designs.


Two of the panels that the participants didn’t fully understand have been rebranded to clarify their role: “Location” has become “Time Zone”, and “Input Sources” has become “Typing”. The Online Accounts step has also been elaborated to make it much clearer.


Much of the work that was done in the 3.10 cycle to improve adding user accounts in the control center has been carried over; this should hopefully improve what turned out to be the most difficult part of the whole initial experience.


These designs address the worst issues that arose during the user tests, and I’m hoping that we can get initial setup into much better shape for GNOME 3.12. The Intel user tests are an invaluable contribution here, and have provided many other insights that we can follow through on.

Posted in design, gnome, gnome-ux, gnome3 | 22 Comments

3.10 Reflections

GNOME 3.10 was released last week. A lot of hard work went into it (I know I felt pretty exhausted by the end), but I think that it was worth it. We ended up with an excellent release.


I’ve been using bits and pieces of 3.10 for some time, and completely adopted it (through Fedora 20) about a week ago. It feels like some important aspects of the GNOME 3 experience have started to fall into place with the latest release. Most obviously, we have quite a few new applications, which fill gaps in the core application set. We are also seeing the application design patterns starting to mature. The addition of header bars makes a fantastic difference.


Header Bars

This release also includes some new things which have been planned for a long time, and which round out features that we released in previous versions. Lock screen customisation is one of these, as is the updated application launching view, both of which feel great.


Another exciting thing that happened for 3.10 is that our efforts to modernise the toolkit have started to bear fruit. GTK+ 3.10 has a whole collection of new widgets which will enable developers to make better applications, and should also reduce the amount of work that they have to do. I really hope that this trend continues with even more new widgets and improvements to the developer experience.

GNOME 3 is already in good shape, but as each release comes by, so the vision as a whole takes another step towards realisation. When that finally happens, I think we’ll achieve a qualitative shift in the kind of experience that we’re able to offer. 3.10 is a strong indication that GNOME is making good progress towards that goal, and is a taste of what is to come. Exciting times.

Posted in developer experience, gnome, gnome-ux, gnome3 | 16 Comments

Feature Focus: GNOME 3’s New System Status Area

GNOME 3.10 isn’t far off, and there’s a lot of cool new stuff coming. One of the most visible changes in this release is the new System Status Area. For 3.10 we have reworked this part of the shell, and in this post I’m going to give a bit of background on the process involved in designing and implementing it.

The System Status Area is our term for the section on the right hand side of the GNOME 3 top bar. This is the place where icons indicate how much battery you have left and the strength of your wi-fi network, and so on. It is here that you can also perform basic system-level actions, like powering off. One of the long-standing design goals for this part of the top bar is to consistently use it for system-level status and actions. This makes the area predictable and ensures a clean separation between applications and system.

During the 3.x GNOME series, the System Status Area received quite a lot of work as we sought to refine and mature the original design that was introduced in 3.0. These iterative changes definitely improved this part of GNOME 3. At the same time, the basic design didn’t change a huge amount and was quite similar to what we had in the GNOME 2 days: a series of small icons, each with a menu attached to them. Each icon represented a different aspect of system status (battery, wi-fi-, bluetooth, etc), and the corresponding menu provided actions that you could take in that area.
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Things I’ve been doing

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front recently. That’s basically because this cycle has been incredibly busy. There’s been a huge demand for design work from our developers, and keeping up has taken a lot of my time. This is all great of course, and I’m really happy to be busy making sure that everyone has all the design guidance that they need.

Since things are kind of crazy right now, and since there is so much new design work, I’m not going to cover the new designs in a huge amount of detail. Instead, I offer you a list of the things I have been working on recently, along with links to additional resources.

Things I’ve been doing:

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Posted in design, gnome, gnome-ux, gnome3 | 19 Comments

Every Detail Matters is Open for Business


Everyone’s favourite UX polish extravaganza is back for another round. For the next months we will be targeting a host of bugs that will add polish and finesse to the GNOME 3 user experience.

This is the third time that I’ve run Every Detail Matters. Over the last two rounds, the initiative has gone from strength to strength. A total of 82 bugs have been fixed so far, and the GNOME 3 user experience has been massively improved as a result of everyone’s contributions.

With all of this progress, it might seem that there’s nothing left to work on. However, there are still plenty of bugs out there, and there are many possible enhancements that can be made. I’ve lined up a substantial bug list for this round, with some pretty cool stuff in it. If you are interested, check it out.

If you have never contributed to GNOME before and fancy having a go, Every Detail Matters is a great place to start. Likewise, if you’re an experienced developer or GNOME contributor and fancy adding a bit of user experience polish to GNOME, this is a great way for you to take on an extra well-defined task or two.

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