GNOME Design Update, Part One

As always, the GNOME design crew have been hard at work of late. We helped to drive many of the changes you can see in the last GNOME release, including a new color picker, updated application designs, new scrollbars and updated spin button widgets. We haven’t taken our foot off the gas though, and there’s plenty of work to report.

It’s an exciting time in GNOME design land right now. GNOME 3 is a big undertaking: we’re working to improve the entire experience, including everything from interface widgets and controls, through to applications and the core user experience. But we are making good progress, and more and more pieces are slotting into place. Slowly but surely, the design of the overall experience is starting to take shape.

It has been far too long since I’ve posted a GNOME design update. In fact, it’s been so long that I’m dividing this update into two. In this first part, I’m going to detail design work that is focusing on the core GNOME user experience. The second post will cover application design updates, as well as application integration. I’ll post that update in the next few days.

Excitingly, many (though not all) of these new designs are planned as features for the next GNOME release. If you want to help implement any of these designs, just get in touch.

Lock and login screens

This is something that we’ve wanted to do for some time. The lock screen plays much the same role as a screensaver – it is what is displayed when your device is idle. The difference between the lock screen and a screensaver is that the lock screen is really useful, of course, since it will display the time and updates about notifications (the notifications part will also be configurable).

Cue a motion mockup from Jimmac:

This motion mockup shows several things. In the first section, you see the process from boot through to user selection. (Yep, a simple spinner and fade in is all we want.) The second demonstrates what should happen once the machine has gone idle – the screen blanks, is woken up to display the lock screen, then the lock screen is removed and login occurs.

[Edit: a note about this - although the video shows the lock screen being removed with a short mouse drag, it will also be possible to remove it using the keyboard or with the mouse wheel.]

More details about the lock screen design can be found on the lock screen wiki page.

Message tray design updates

One area where we’ve all been keen to see some improvements is around notifications and the message tray. The GNOME design crew recently returned to those designs and came up with some updates which we think will make a big difference.

Under the updated designs, pop-up notifications will avoid the mouse pointer (some of this behaviour already landed in GNOME 3.4, actually) and linger until we are sure they have been noticed. The expanded notifications will also queue up so you can always see when new messages arrive.

Plans are also afoot to replace the moving targets in the tray with larger static icons:


Jon and Jimmac have spent quite a bit of time working through the details of how scrolling should work under different conditions. The idea here is to keep things as consistent as possible across different types of devices, while still leveraging their different strengths.

Jimmac’s motion mockups show the desired behaviour for both pointer and touch devices. We’re hoping to see scrolling improve along these lines in future GNOME releases.


Jon and Lapo have done a bunch of work that aims to improve the state of printing in GNOME, and they have produced some quite detailed mockups for new print dialogs. These look great in my opinion, and are a huge improvement on what we have right now.

One of the best things about these designs is that they let you get a clear preview of what will be printed. They also present a clear set of simple options.

Initial Setup

Initial setup is intended as a specification for what the user should see the first time they boot into GNOME 3. This is new territory for GNOME, but it is an important piece of the picture if we are going to produce a consistent experience for our users. The goal is to ensure that the system looks and feels like GNOME from the moment someone starts using it.

The initial setup assistant will be an optional component that can serve as a reference implementation for distributions. It includes several important elements for new users, such as a setup screen for online accounts and a product tour to help people get started.

And more…

There are other areas that the GNOME designers have been looking at, but which aren’t as fully developed. Other recent design work on the core user experience includes:

My next post will deal with recent application design work, as well as application integration. See you then. :)

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28 Responses to GNOME Design Update, Part One

  1. rolandixor says:

    Bravo. I could now like Gnome (Shell) again.

  2. mirek2 says:

    I know I’ve written about this before, but how about making the Power off button visible by default?
    It’s the only essential feature that’s hidden under a keyboard shortcut. Actually, it’s the only feature hidden under a keyboard shortcut, which is quite surprising, given that it’s necessary for people who care about their computers (it doesn’t do the computer good when it runs 24/7, especially if you travel with it), about power consumption, those who dual-boot, and those for whom Suspend doesn’t work (e.g. my sister, who’s computer won’t wake up from a suspend). It’s not at all in tune with Gnome’s “made of easy” ethos.

    • Allan says:

      mirek2, we’re looking at the user menu for 3.6, including the power off and suspend options. There aren’t any definite designs yet, but I think we’ll be able to come up with something that’ll make people happy. ;)

  3. Fabioamd87 says:

    I like the intention to avoid moving targets in the tray.
    Yes new color picker, updated application designs, new scrollbars and updated spin button widgets are cute, but what about SPEED and PERFORMANCE?

    I mean in paticoular STARTUP SPEED and responsiveness (my laptop show much disk activity and LAG when I search an application, it should be cached in RAM).

    There was a version ( I don’t remember 2.24 or 2.26) that one of the feature was improved startup speed, that was very good, but after some other releases that feature was lost…
    I remember many studies made by gnome developers about speed up start, but that argument seems that isn’t touched anymore.

  4. stiibu says:

    Two thumbs way up on removing moving targets in the message tray!! :)

    • kamilprusko says:

      I’m not sure, to me it looks a bit out of place, especially if there’s just one or two items. Maybe if it gets approved, themes should be able to bring them back.

  5. edansio says:

    What application did you use to edit those videos? They have some very cool effects.

  6. Nikolaus Waxweiler says:

    Damn, those videos and mockups are sexy. Keep on!

  7. Tobias says:

    The problem with the new color picker is that unlike the previous version it doesn’t have an eye dropper. This seems essential and was just left out.

    • Allan says:

      Tobias, I’m not quite sure what the story is with the eye dropper. Out of interest though, what did you use it for in the previous version? (Most image editing tools I know provide their own.)

      • Tobias says:

        It doesn’t actually matter where and when you want to pick a color. Being able to lift it from the screen is potentially useful in all scenarios. Much easier than fiddling with the widgets or entering hex codes by hand.

        Quite often you want to match colors you already have on the screen /somewhere/. And It would even easily fit into the dialog, just put it next to the shaded [ + ] button.

    • ebassi says:

      adding back the eye dropper is certainly possible – it was removed because it requires collaboration with the compositor (given that we cannot ask X11 for pixels that are generated solely by the compositing manager – and that in the future with Wayland only the compositor knows what’s displayed at pixel [x, y]) and that collaboration will require some form of communication protocol that hasn’t been defined yet. plus, it has to work on all the platforms supported by GTK+.

    • ebassi says:

      [ugh, wordpress ate my comment]

      it’s certainly possible to add back the color picker – it was left out because the previous implementation was unsatisfactory (i.e. a hack) and because it’ll have to be made working on the platforms supported by GTK+, as well as future-proofed for Wayland (in Wayland, an application cannot access the buffer containing the contents of the screen or of other applications).

      even on X11 it’s better to go through the compositing manager, like we currently do for taking screenshots. part of what you see on the screen is fully generated by the compositing manager without the X server knowing how to get it; also, reading back data from the GPU has to be done sparingly and at precise synchronisation points – you don’t want the color picker to slow down the refresh of your whole desktop, for instance.

      all these factor contributed to the removal of the eye-drop tool; you can still use Gimp if you want to, but in the future even image editing applications will have to deal with the fact that the graphic system is not going to be the same as it was 20 years ago. :-)

  8. jewelfox says:

    The direction you’re going with this is awesome, especially the welcome screen! I feel like GNOME’s needed that for awhile now, and it’s really encouraging to see that it’s being planned. I hope things go well for you!

  9. Horst Tappert says:

    I really like the animation in the first ~5 seconds of the videos. I would love to see a similar plymouth theme, if you know what i mean :-)

  10. António says:

    Will “Esc” be the only keyboard key that moves from the lock screen to the password screen? I wonder it may not be one of the first keys a clueless new user would try. Why not include one or more alternative keys in order to increase the probability of success on the first trials?

    Proposed candidates:
    - the “up arrow” key, because it would move the lock screen up;
    - the “Super” key, because it is the system key;
    - the “tab” key, because it is used to change focus, in this case to the password screen
    - the “Enter”/”Return” key, because it is often used to aknowledge (the information in the lock screen) and advance (to the password screen).

  11. Yes! Those changes to the message tray and notifications look like they’ll kill the only things I think have been a severe degradation in terms of user experience. The message tray as it is currently is just bad, the moving targets are hideous.

    The only issue remaining would be without the title appearing by default it’s difficult to differenciate multiple chat icons if they have no photo attached to them. I can live with that, though, given the other improvements! Great work, everyone! =)

  12. dfeeny says:

    I’m absolutely loving Gnome3, keep up the great work guys.

    Any plans for HUD-type menus like Unity? Would love to see it.
    The only other improvement I could possibly think of is the ability to drag and drop desktops into another order. Given that you traverse it linearly, if you’re moving multiple windows from desktop to desktop to reorder them, sometimes the dynamic desktop destruction works against you.

    Most amazing WM I’ve used in my life.

  13. Mark B says:

    Gnome-shell exudes beauty with a simple but functional interface. However, I was surprised 3.4 did not include the media player indicator extension as standard? That is the only extension which I consider should be “in the box” (apart from the alternative status menu for the power off option but you hint above that you are finally fixing that).

  14. tranzistors says:


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