Admirable that you are finally setting your sights on the right target -- Apple.
Now, somewhere at the front of my grey matter (albeit rather shrunken and useless grey matter) I can't help but think "Why does such a brilliant visionary still fail to understand the underlying logic of art and design?"
It makes no sense.
First, you let absolute blights take place regarding the Ubuntu brand. Nothing like dollar-shop packaging to really elevate a sense of luxury and elegance. I know... it wasn't Canonical's idea -- that was Valusoft (like you didn't get alarm bells from the company name?) Surely your dozen glossy Wal-Mart-esque photo shoot gone bad Shipit CDs are the pinnacle of elegance, no?
Ok... we forgive you. You are a brilliant guy and damned be me if I don't firmly believe that you are capable of actually caring about art and design presence as it pertains to Ubuntu.
Let's start with where we have come from. Ubuntu has had from October 2004 to get its art and design elements in place. Since then, what have we had? I would speculate that we have seen:
- A blind insistence on poor design patterns. This means glossy rubbish. This means a reliance upon abstract backgrounds in the name of pleasing no one. This means tepid delivery and poor craftsmanship on all fronts. This means completely inadequate communication between the web presence, the marketing presence, the desktop presence, and every other element in Ubuntu. This means chasing after hideous creatures such as Microsoft corporate design missteps. Sorry, by "poor design patterns" I probably should have said "no design patterns". The result? I'll let everyone be the judge.
- A shallow and vacuous discussion about art and design whenever it rears its head. "Pretty", "Beautiful", and other such empty words mean nothing to anyone who knows even a brief 101 level understanding of art. And yes Mark, this is about art. Given free reign of development, we produce ghastly hodgepodge designs (see Ubuntu mobile) with no care and attention to audience. Do you think that you can define a word such as "Beautiful" without defining the obvious subtext that screams "Beautiful for whom?"
- A horrible ignorance to the fact that the craft of art, design, photography, music, and every other element is an extremely broad spectrum of learning. In plain terms, don't expect much when you hire people with no education. Sorry... that's reality. Let it go. Do you think for a minute that Apple and Microsoft would even venture a job offer for an entry level graphic position without a degree? Yes... some people out there who care about art, design, music, photography, etc. actually study these things for years. Sometimes they even go so far as to get a Master's or Doctorate level degree (Diana Fong comes to mind. Is it any coincidence that the glory years of Fedora 5, 6 and 7 were forged under her term? Compare with the ghastly and bland delivery of 8 and 9, for example, or the less than mediocre bank-cubicle OpenSUSE?) One of the fathers of Constructivism El Lissitzky? Yep... educated in art and design. The amazing typographic brilliance of Jan Tschichold? Yep... educated in art and design. I'd go on and on, but I doubt I could convince you. Maybe one guy... this J. Ive guy I have read about... oh yeah... looks like he went to design school too. Weird.
- Simple lack of caring. Does Ubuntu really care? You occasionally, about once every couple of years, offer a chittering about typography or design, but do you really and fundamentally have a respect and care for the field?
- Care. This part I know you can do. You are one helluva brilliant mind, and dare I say that all of FLOSS's future has a deep investment in your ability to lead us out of this. Sit down with interested parties and have a discussion in earnest. Involve everyone from marketing to key developers. Create understanding and caring. Shirk the ignorant. Create a culture that real artists, designers, musicians, and other creative types want to be a part of. Think Xerox PARC but artistic. Think the design team at BMW. Heck... go listen to Chris Bangle talk about design. Surely he might have an impact on you?
- Read. That's right... sad but snoringly boring books on art and design. Not great bedtime reading for someone with a code-centric approach, but maybe you will see something that clicks. At the very least, you will perhaps develop a little more understanding as to why our culture in FLOSS is so dearly lacking the supremely focused and caring individuals that can lead the way. I know they are there. Hell... I have watched them drop by, become completely saddened, and leave. Let's turn that tide around.
- Support people with credibility. Somewhere, someone needs to have credibility to lead us out of this. We need someone with passion, education, and the ability to actually discuss the issues at hand. We don't need more people talking foolishly about "Ugly" "Usability" "Beautiful" etc. Understand that to attract the real deals, we are going to need real deals at the helm. It is entirely unlikely and implausible that a gifted and trained artist, designer, photographer, musician, etc. will rally behind people that can't discuss the issues with the language and understanding that trained folks deliver.
- Listen. It is quite possible that we have been beating around the right path for gosh knows how long only to never really see it executed. Ashton Lafferty's work surely showed you that even a baby step in the right direction yields amazing results. Now imagine if the execution were more than a mental fart and a whim of amoeba-like decision making. Ashton is a member of the community. Imagine that! I'd say that you suddenly may have realized that producing the artsy-fartsy stuff goes a long way. Now try to visualize that impact on merchandising, marketing, promotion, and most importantly, satisfaction.
- Figure out the audience. Apple has been spot on in this. Yes they ignore the business sector. Yes they pay close and dear attention to the artsy types. Yes they choose to leave some options out. Yes they alienate some people. After all of that though, do you see the dividends? I loosely ranted about this quite a while ago, and I'd argue that the number one core reason that we flail with the design-by-amoeba is this very reason.
- Goal. Four years we have run up and down the pitch not knowing what the hell we were doing. Is this fear? Is this rooted in some uber-geek insecurity that refuses to let Ubuntu become what it so rightfully deserves to be? Once we have an audience clearly in mind and rationalized, let's set a damn goal. Why are we pursuing the dark theme? What is a new icon set going to attempt and provoke regarding emotion? What the hell is the point of typography if we have nothing to communicate? What the hell is Ubuntu design going to say?
I'd answer that question with a single resounding "YES". It was one decision. It was all about a bird. I'd bet that it was argued, debated, and discussed. I'd bet that there were many inside of Canonical who wished to see that bird get killed. I'd bet it came down to your decision. It was a wise one. As you move forward, pay close attention to the culture you have created at Canonical regarding art and design. If there is one thing I will say about Steve Jobs (and I don't have much to say about him) is that he absolutely and fundamentally cares and believes in art and design. He pushes it. He observes it. He is passionate about it. He imbues his culture at Apple with that care. He puts it at the forefront.
Now imagine if we had a Steve Jobs with an ethical grounding. Someone who admits to his neglect of the art and design situation and, because of his absolute and true inner resolve, chooses to learn in an area where he needs to. Imagine that fictional Steve Jobs with a deep rooted belief in Free Software. Imagine that fictional Steve Jobs with the will to provide an ethical computing platform.
Now if only I could quit imagining.
When you were out in space looking out into the awe inspiring vastness, I wonder what it was like. Care to take us there?