While it is an interesting exploration to disassemble something and attempt to diagnose why something is failing given its position in an art and design context, it is equally worthy to pay attention to something working.
The new Ubuntu alternate wallpaper selection is perhaps the best example of successful art and design work in Ubuntu yet.
When Things Work
The Ubuntu 10.10 wallpaper selection is in the repositories and available for perusal. They are, as of the time of this writing, as follows:
If we ignore the Purple -6 Vomit of Inducing Horror, I would suggest that this is likely the most successful presentation I have seen in Ubuntu proper.
Why Does it Work: Composition
The samples are all well composed when one pays attention to the guidelines of classical composition. Centre punching an object has a place, but sadly, in the last incarnation, it was misplaced.
In no other iteration of alternate wallpapers have we seen such a cohesive application of composition within the images. There are a few edge cases that are close, but the visual gravity of the items still tends to locate them closer to the classical notions. A huge gain if we compare against the images from the last selection.
Why Does it Work: Hue Range
Ubuntu has suffered the claustrophobic and suffocating consistency-for-consistency's sake vision for a number of iterations. This results in a plethora of "alternate" wallpapers that were nothing more than brown smears of brown smears. Last release saw some absolutely empty grasps at embracing the brand identity default colour.
Worthless. Empty. Vacuous.
This iteration of the alternates however, we are finally seeing the earmarks of intelligent selection. Gone are the worries of the blind Utopian Usability Pig, and instead, an engagement of the mind is starting to leak through.
We have a good range of hues in this selection. When we step back and look at them as a collection, we see a solid mixture and variance. A uniformity through variation.
Alternate wallpapers should be just that - alternatives. Offering a range of hues is a tremendous step in that direction.
Why Does it Work: Emotion
Thankfully, the pathetic abortions of worthless blurry garbage have been boxed and stuffed into the attic. Instead? A dog, a flower, a landscape. Something that engages the mind. Something that may actually mean something to someone. Even abstract impressionism, given birth in a very clearly defined historical context, had a key component that so many miss while they are creating blurry garbage - impression.
An engagement of the brain. A memory. An emotion.
For those that like alliterations, it is a purely positive progression.
Why Does it Work: Mise-En-Scene
The default selection of alternate wallpapers has a voice when viewed as a whole.
In an ideal world, it is a unique voice that reflects the ideology and emotional foundation of the brand identity. While we are still wallowing in some strange amoeba-like progression towards that in Ubuntu proper, the default wallpaper selection is clearly making strides alone.
As a group, the alternate wallpapers have more of a voice than the entire rest of the system.
While it is easy to criticize something when things are struggling or the wheels on the wagon are square, it is quite possibly more difficult to notice when something is working well given the contexts.
The default wallpaper selection in Ubuntu 10.10 is, I believe, the strongest of any release thus far. While the rest of the brand identity is struggling to say anything, the default wallpapers have some unique voices.
Artistically and photographically sound, with a good use of the depth, colour, value, and composition, they are the most visually tight selection yet.
Is there room to flesh this out further? Likely. What would one do to elevate the default set of wallpaper alternates? Would it be nice to perhaps underpin the selection with subtle emotional cues? Yes. Would it be nice to offer some other refined and sophisticated communication into the mix? Yes. Is there something else to be had there? Quite likely yes.
That said, those are extremely optimistic questions. The bigger and grander "Where do we go from here?" or the "How can we elevate the game further?" are worth discussing in the proper circles with the proper mindset.
With this iteration of the wallpapers, whatever the dead weight that was dragging the selections down is clearly gone, and we are left with a set of wallpapers that should be applauded. In fact, I'd dare say that whoever was responsible for the selection is likely sitting alone at Canonical, as their vision is clearly going in a more healthy direction than whatever myopic team / individual has insisted on the default wallpaper.
I'd be so bold as to say that half of the problem with the vast majority of Libre art and design is the work itself. The other half is the fact that no one apparently realizes how utterly disturbing the work is. Sadly, the default wallpaper in 10.10 is still subject to that statement.
If the default wallpaper is deemed acceptable to Canonical, the entire art and design team and everyone involved in any capacity should be deemed as nothing more than a sham and charlatanism. It is an extremely loud statement. It speaks.
Get a vision. Get an audience. Get a voice.
From there, we can attempt to deliver emotion.
Better yet, when your corporate culture is blind, let the people with sight deliver the goods. The alternate wallpaper hints that there is at least one person at Canonical that values artistic and creative presence.
In closing, I'd like everyone that values art and design to unequivocally dismantle the notion that a default wallpaper doesn't matter. That someone should simply change it. Let's start treating art, design, presence, aesthetics, and experiential design with the same respect and credibility as the code in the kernel.
Nothing less is acceptable.
Thank you all for your time...