This week’s issue of Distrowatch has an interview by Jesse Smith on design elements (think artwork, wallpaper, icons, etc.). He interviews Jenny Rosenberg and James Nixon from the PC-BSD and FreeNAS projects. It’s great to see this aspect of an open source project getting some attention! The introduction to the article is pasted here; you’ll find the full interview here.
Open source projects are often started and run by coders. The new feature lists that accompany releases usually talk about technical changes and advancements. This may seem natural until we consider that many of our first impressions of a project are not based upon its technical capabilities. Rather, most of our early observations of a product, whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, will revolve around things like colours, layout and font. What does the distribution’s website look like, is it easy to navigate, how big is the project’s ISO, is the boot menu intuitive, is the loading screen text or graphical, how long does it take to boot, is it easy to find options on the login screen, is the wallpaper attractive, how hard is it to find what I want on the application menu? Most of the preceding questions deal with design and aesthetics rather than technical concerns. Technical enthusiasts tend to downplay the role colours and placement have in our lives, preferring to focus on behind-the-scenes capabilities, but it’s hard to deny white text on a fuzzy background, white text on a clear background and tiny black text on a white background will invoke different feelings.
With this in mind, it might seem odd that many of us can name half a dozen or more developers involved in major open source projects, but most of us probably can’t come up with a name to associate with our desktop background, icons or menu layout. We often see raging debates on the best colour theme for a distro, whether window buttons should be on the left, the right or not even exist, and what font is ideal for avoiding eye strain, but we rarely think about the people who put those touches into our operating systems. In an effort to shine a spotlight on the designers who make using computers a more pleasant experience I got in touch with Jenny Rosenberg and James Nixon, who work for iXsystems (a major sponsor of several BSD projects, including PD-BSD and FreeNAS), and asked them to tell us about the work they do.