Two reviews are largely responsible for this reaction post. If you haven't read them, I encourage you to check out:
- Jay's analysis of the execution. There is nothing more insightful than reading a piece and saying "Good point. I should have examined that a little more closely."
- Richard Querin's insights. Grounded in logic and largely about the relationship between the higher level goals set forth in the identity page in relationship to the execution.
As a result, I thought I'd dig a little deeper than I did recently into what might be there to be seen.
When you are dying of thirst in a desert, a cup of water seems like the best thing in the world. That said, a small cup of water doesn't get you out of the desert or even close to the salvation that so many it seems are pouring out.
How much of the identity campaign response is truly different than what we had before? How much of it is an outpouring of relief (albeit entirely foolish) that the brown is gone? Where are the deeper veins of change?
First, we have a vocalizing of the brand identity tenets. This is a positive step in the right direction. They are defined as follows:
The Thematic Anchor
Light. "Visually light is beautiful, light is ethereal, light brings clarity and comfort."
Light also brings a plethora of other things to the table, not all positive. I'll assume that the goal of the thematic is to deliver that on the desktop.
Yep. You guessed it. Not there.
Hard to really guess who this is going to deliver the above goals to. We don't even have a ballpark demographic or culture. Well, let's be ethnocentric then and call it Westernized Culture shall we, as when you talk about light, it means some pretty radically different things in different cultures. Apparently they don't care about that.
New challenges for companies that aren't the old dogs should be navigated, not avoided.
MERIT: -2 (Additional demerit for the glaring hole of othering gets bonus points here)
Ubuntu Logo / Wordmark In Context
I'll stand by my evaluation that the typeface is vastly superior merely via addition by subtraction. Yes the older version is that bad. It spattered everything and everyone with a hideous sense that people who use Ubuntu also say things like "Y'all" and muck about with straw hats on our heads. It is that poorly executed.
This typeface is far superior. Does it meet the design goals, however? Again, because we fail to talk about contextual references of the audience, I can only make the grotesque assumption that everyone is supposed to view it through the eyes of a Westernized / European context.
- Lowercase entry letter. Nicely restrained. Touches nicely on Light thematic. Positive.
- Modulated medium to thin strokes. Again touches nicely on Light thematic. Positive.
- Arty farty sharpness touches on the Precision tenet. Positive.
- Pimple wart of the CoF reeks of afterthought. Negative.
- Non absolute black dark tone helps the Light. Positive.
- Good counter and bowls feel pretty airy. Works with Freedom and Light. Positive.
- Head nod to the older CoF speaks of history and therefore Reliability. Positive.
- In contrast to what came before purely on type? Resoundingly Positive.
MERIT: +2 (Bonus merit for banishing that old nightmare face)
The Boot Splash
- Compositionally stronger than traditional vertical centre punching. Close enough with the centre of gravity to hit Westernized composition via Phi. Positive.
- Dark aubergine looks completely acceptable in this look, but does it work to the aesthetic visual anchor of Light? Doesn't need to be on point with a literal light == light work, so I'll give it the benefit of a doubt. Positive.
- Lean sparseness is a rather brutal literal reading of Light, but it still works. Positive.
- Wart pimple looks even more out of place here. That wordmark emblem combination is now going to be around a long time given history. Negative.
- In contrast to the nasty Karmic mess before? Positive.
- Herein lies the biggest oopsie. This is a gongshow, and rightfully so as the whole point of establishing the design team is to work away from the gongshow. We can't fault the work entirely for this, as they have a long history of neglect and cluster to work out of. Neutral.
- Window decoration. Read Jay's post for a pretty good examination. It's awful. It doesn't touch on a tenet and it doesn't help push the aesthetic goal of Westernized Light. Negative.
- Icons. Handed down. Outline outline outline outline. Can't fault them. Neutral.
- Interface / GTK. Nasty. Can't fault them. Neutral.
- Wallpaper. Uninspired and seriously lacking. A blur on a blob of a blur. Poorly executed. Completely emotionally bankrupt. No audience. Weak. Symptomatic. Negative.
- Type selection. Discuss it. Think about it. Bringhurst and Tschichold are all about giving the type meaning. Bringhurst discusses choosing type for a project based on the type's lineage. None of that is here. Nothing. Empty. Vacuous. Negative.
- What is the context of this desktop? There are two others. A few glaring similarities should be out of bounds purely based on the context. Good idea for them, but we can't go there, especially when we consider what that other system stands for. Propagates more of the same negative connotations with imitation. A different company / mindshare might be able to get away with it. Linux can't. Don't quote Picasso on me unless you know what the hell he meant. Negative.
MERIT: -2 (Extra demerit for even showcasing this mess)
The Website Redesign
- Publishing grid with a little bending of the rules. Predictable application as well touches on the Reliability tenet. Collaboration and such will implicitly be there by the featured Dents / Tweets / Blog / etc. Positive.
- Light overall tone is easy to pull toward Light. Positive.
- Good sprinkling of the loose palette. Positive.
- Nasty plastic machine. Negative.
- Quirky icons for levity pushes toward Light. Positive.
- In contrast to what came before? Resoundingly Positive.
MERIT: +2 (Extra merit for the execution)
Again, I'd like to say that I believe one of Ubuntu's strongest facets was the idea that there was a connection to humanity implied. It was never executed. Throwing that out may leave them more open to the idea that it is Yet Another Operating System Computer Rubbish.
MERIT TOTAL: +1 ( +6 / -5 )
The positives of actually attempting change should be applauded. I'll stand by that.
That change must also be cautiously tempered with the realization that simply changing a colour palette won't do anything. Change for the sake of changing, logo wordmark aside, is generally not terribly productive.
This is about context. You can get no clear picture of where Ubuntu is going without considering where it is coming from. While much of the picture is equally bleak, there is room for hope in that we are actually seeing attempts at change and experimentation.
One can't evaluate a position on the chess board without examining what came before. Did the player randomly play his move and end up there? What is the process of their evaluation of the board? Does her move have a longstanding history of deep evaluation and thought enough for you to trust her move? Those answers will likely give you some hint as to whether the game will result in success or failure.
We can't expect success 100% of the time or else we handcuff everyone. We need to be a culture that respects innovation and creativity. The new identity campaign isn't entirely risky, but it isn't entirely easy to pull off either.
The creative and the innovative come at a price. That price is risk.