[Tango-artists] grayscale notification area icons.

Matthew Paul Thomas mpt at myrealbox.com
Thu Aug 3 09:50:19 PDT 2006

On Aug 4, 2006, at 1:31 AM, Jakub Steiner wrote:
> On Thu, 2006-08-03 at 23:17 +1200, Matthew Paul Thomas wrote:
> ...
>> Agreed -- I think it should be a general principle that the less you
>> need to pay attention to an icon while it's open, the duller it should
>> be. So for example, panel icons should be almost all grayscale, 
>> because they're visible almost all the time. Similarly, video player 
>> icons should be black or dark grey, because most of the time when 
>> they're visible you're wanting to look at something near them (the 
>> video) rather than be distracted by the icons themselves.
> ...
> Can you elaborate on this a bit? Do you propose defining a special
> context for applets that would not follow the current guidelines?

Not applets specifically, but omnipresent or near-omnipresent icons in 
general. And this is not as important as the principle that icons for 
resources -- programs, files, URLs, folders, devices -- should do 
whatever they can to distinguish themselves. (Epiphany's icon should be 
obviously different from Firefox's, a black iPod should have a 
different icon from a white one, an old folder should have a yellower 
icon than a new one, the icon for a thesis should have more pages than 
the icon for a resumé, and so on.) So if I stick a program's icon in a 
panel, it should keep its usual appearance. But I think icons intended 
to be visible all or most of the time should be correspondingly 

(I recognize this would mean having two of some icons. For example, the 
icon for a Sound preferences tool can afford to be three-dimensional, 
colored, and detailed. But for the volume control in the panel, such a 
detailed icon is overdoing it. This is demonstrated in Windows XP, 
where the volume icon looks like a turned-off flashlight.)

> What about notification area icons?

I think the idea of a "notification area" is broken. First, it's too 
small to display notifications, as demonstrated in Windows (and recent 
Gnome) by informative balloons pointing hilariously at uninformative 
icons. And second, as Rodney mentioned, most of the things that are 
currently usefully shown in the "notification area" aren't 
notifications at all.

But as long as it exists, for an icon that's designed to be a temporary 
warning or alert (such as the one advertising that software updates are 
available), I think it's quite appropriate for it to be brightly 
colored. (Just like the icons in fully-fledged alert windows are.)

> What about the startup menu (menubar/SLAB sort of thing)?

The items in those (mostly) represent resources, and are usually 
visible only for short periods. Two reasons to be as distinctive as 
possible. :-)

> What about the window list applet?

Same applies.

> It's not that I don't like the idea, it is visually pleasing. Yet it
> somehow feels like an artificially constructed exception. On the mac
> it's greyscale most likely because there is no panel, it's a hacked
> menubar.

It's quite possible for them to be colored, they just usually aren't. 
The battery indicator for a laptop starts going red when you're running 
low on power; this is useful, because it's a temporary warning. On the 
other hand, the icon for a keyboard layout is usually a colored flag; 
this is annoying partly because it's a national flag, but also partly 
because it's omnipresent color.

> ...
> I'm not completely opposed, I just would like to have a bit more
> background before adding exceptions and making the guidelines more
> complex.
> ...

Fair enough.

Matthew Paul Thomas

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