Bye Bye Brown

Time for a change..

The new style of Ubuntu is driven by the theme “Light”. We’ve developed a comprehensive set of visual guidelines and treatments that reflect that style, and are updating key assets like the logo accordingly. The new theme takes effect in 10.04 LTS and will define our look and feel for several years.

Back in October 2008 at the Ubuntu Intrepid Release Party in London we celebrated the release of Ubuntu 8.10. It was a great party with loads of Canonical and Ubuntu Community representation present. In the UK the London release parties are usually an opportunity to kick back, have a beer or five and celebrate. One or two laptops can usually be seen, but most hands are tightly grasping glasses of ale than CD-Rs.

I was lucky enough to have a chat and couple of beers with our sabdfl Mark Shuttleworth. We talked about the latest release, video editors and the default theme. I just want to say:-

Ubuntu 10.04 was my idea.

Ok, not really. One thing that Mark did talk about was the need for long term plans for the desktop look and feel, and how he envisaged the Ubuntu Desktop in the years to come. Being impatient I wanted to know what was going to happen, and I wanted whatever it was to happen now! He didn’t say anything specific about the detail at all. When I pressed him I think his exact words were an incredulous “I’m not telling you that!”.

One thing we discussed in detail was the user experience, and how we (the Ubuntu project) need to raise our game. He was keen on the prospect that users didn’t see Ubuntu as an 2nd class citizen when compared to the alternatives like Windows and OSX. He said he wanted people to actively “choose Ubuntu” because of its features and how beautiful it is. He wants to show new users that we’re better than the competition, rather than people just considering us an also-ran.

I came away from that evening with my head spinning.

I was very, very drunk.

Almost exactly a year later I attended an event setup by BT, IBM and Canonical called Accelerating Enterprise adoption of Open Source Software along with The Alans from The Open Learning Centre. The event itself was a great idea, but didn’t quite get the attendance we’d hoped for.

Photos © Paul Sumner Downey

Mark took part in some open discussion moderated by Glyn Moody, and gave a keynote speech. In it he focussed on cloud computing, the underlying technologies and convincing businesses of it’s advantages. However he introduced the keynote with a little story.

He told of how he’s keeps getting people approach him saying “Love Ubuntu, but dude! brown!?”. This of course caused a ripple of laughter from members of the audience familiar with the brown desktop some of us have come to know and hate love. He continued “more recently my design team have approached me and said ‘Mark! Aubergine!'”. He highlighted that he was wearing an aubergine coloured shirt and then pointed to me (in the front row) and said “popey! shush!” which I thought was amusing, but which also left me perplexed.

Well, with todays announcement that ‘aubergine’ comment makes sense.

The new brand has been announced and documented which shows the significant work that has gone into the Ubuntu brand refresh. Canonical have put together a world-class design team to come up with these changes. It’s no secret that over the last few releases Ubuntu has been changing, with some of those changes making it through to the release already. The new notification system, a brighter default desktop background, changed update manager behaviour and multiple delivered backdrops to choose from are all stepping stones towards something bigger. It’s alll change for the font, logo, colours, brand and textures.

Whilst the fact that Canonical have been working on this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone close to the Ubuntu project, today it’s become public. With the announcement just released we can now talk about the new Ubuntu brand, and start working on integrating the proposed changes.

Canonical reached out to the governance boards of the Ubuntu project to gain feedback and ensure they approached this in the best possible way. Numerous key members of our community were invited to Canonical in London to learn how the decisions had been made, and the current plans for the project. In the past I think Canonical might have just dumped this on the world with no consultation, so this is a great step towards more openness and helps dispel the myth that Canonical don’t engage.

The refresh covers a lot of ground. One of the most notable (prompting this blog title) is the move away from brown to orange. Personally I’ve never really had a problem with the brown. I quite like it in fact. I realise others don’t though, and whilst I’m a little sad to see us move away from the human, earthy colours of our heritage, I’m also happy to embrace the new look and feel. It’s fresh and polished, just as it should be.

The colours from the circle of friends logo will be missed, but some might argue it’s time for the logo to mature. Perhaps the old logo looks too child-like, which has suited Ubuntu for over 5 years now, but now we’re a big 6 year old, it’s time to move on, put away the crayons and grow up.

The new logo at the top of this article has a new typeface called ‘Ubuntu’ and whilst it’s nowhere near finished (last count I think they had about 15 characters done) it will eventually replace the old Ubuntu Title font.

Canonical are looking to get community involvement in helping develop this font – which looks like it will become the default at some point. Clearly the first characters to be done were “ubnt” for Ubuntu and “CANOIL” for the Canonical logo – which borrows a person from the Ubuntu circle of friends and sticks her in the “O”.

Indeed there will need to be a lot of community involvement across the board. From desktop developers to community website contributors and everyone in between.

I’m loving these themes.

What do you think?

56 thoughts on “Bye Bye Brown”

  1. Already gave you my opinion on IRC, but to summarise, I think it looks like vomit (the desktop background), semen (the light titlebars) and a boat sailing backwards (the logotype).

    Other than that, good effort!

    1. What did you expect to add by repeating that gratuitous and disgusting scatology here, then? Your comment is neither original nor useful. I can pull up years-old comments like yours about the brown theme, and even the first time is wasn’t clever: even two-year-olds can think up ways to reference so-called toilet “humour.”

      If you have anything to add to the discussion, cut the infantile references and tell us what you’d rather see. That’s part of the standard that those working on the design have agreed to, and that standard is a huge part of what makes Ubuntu great. If you actually care about Ubuntu, then I encourage you to learn how to contribute positively. Otherwise, if you’re just trolling (Congratulations! Few trolls would get this far!), I hope you don’t take long to realize that all it does is make you even more grouchy and unsatisfied. Good luck!

      1. Hi Adam!

        Sorry you were so upset by my comments. I’m just a day-to-day user with no interest in getting involved in Ubuntu’s politics or development. This is just my gut reaction as an ordinary person who uses Ubuntu.

        To even the balance, I’d like to add that Xubuntu’s default themes are fantastic, at least in the last version I used (9.04) – approaching a thing of beauty, in fact.

        1. Hello, Taras.

          I greatly appreciate your comment in reply and apology, especially the good temper in which you responded (especially considering that, while my rebuke was directed only against your words, it could have been reasonably read as a personal attack). Big kudos to you!

          I too am just a day-to-day user, so I understand the disinterest in getting into Ubuntu politics or development. Reactions of personal opinion are to be expected since popey specifically asked, “What do you think?” I guess what I’m trying to say is I don’t disagree that your opinion has merit; instead, I just didn’t feel it had been useful in that form. So Bravo for a well-stated addition of what direction you would prefer instead. I agree that Xubuntu is a great example and it would be great if the Ubuntu theme took some theme ideas from Xubuntu.

          Thanks again.

    2. Hahaha, thanks for your comment, I had a good laugh.
      But I don’t really agree, the new design is quite ok except for the purple background which is awful!

      Nevertheless; the new position of the close window button is catastrophic.
      Listen to the users, and change it back!!!

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  2. I like the new style, but I’m a bit worried about how moving the control buttons for windows from the upper right to the upper left is going to affect Ubuntu users who have grown very accustomed to having those buttons where they are. There’s also the problem of running programs like Google Chrome, which modify the window heavily, placing the buttons in particular position. Why should my buttons be in one place in Chrome and another place everywhere else?

  3. Hello Ubuntu osx edition! Only with added ugly orange. Of course all these decisions are made without any community involvement at all, because the community did nothing to help Ubuntu grow.

      1. How many on those boards are non-employees? How many people were allowed to talk about it? It is a pity that canonical wants to do more and more of these things in a closed fashion. The early always-be-open mentality that attracted me is long gone and the communtiy is rapidly becoming a second class citizen in canonical-linux-land.

        And no, these are not just some rushed comments after seeing a new design, it is something that has been bothering me for a much longer time.

        1. Most of the people on those boards were community members and not employees – maybe two employees out 15 people notified. We asked those folks to keep it to themselves while we could have a conversation between these leadership members in the community and to give us a chance to get the six community reps into London to continue discussions.

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            1. I am kind of surprised you see it this way, Dennis. I would have thought from your experiences working with Ubuntu and at UDS that you know that we do our best to work as closely with the community as we can.

              It is as simple as this: we have a design team who perform incredible contributions to a free software Operating System. We worked with our governance boards first as we felt it would be respectful to their leadership to give them a heads up, and we paid for the leaders of our main derivative distributions to come to London to work with the design team. The font in the new logo is open, we have a liberal trademark policy, and everything is Open Source.

              I am sorry this didn’t meet your expectations for community or transparency.

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              1. “We worked with our governance boards first as we felt it would be respectful to their leadership to give them a heads up”

                This part seems to be the problematic one: the governance boards, which presumably govern the Ubuntu project, are not being asked permission, but are being given a ‘heads up’ on what’s going to happen anyway.

              2. “we have a design team who perform incredible contributions to a free software Operating System”…

                Maybe the so disturbing left buttons and overall bad Mac OS clone look… could be their last contribution to free software.

                Just see how these changes (especially buttons) are welcome worlwide in ubuntu forums!

                For a LTS version, which also targets corporate environments, that will probably a greatest deal breaker than for home users: No one wants to experience such huge ergonomy change and it’s impact on productivity imo.

                On top of that, reversing all this mess in gconf cause troubles: icons that was in the past (at least up to the latest LTS) homogeneous and symetrical in design… are no more => Very bad look when you reverse all to the usual position.

                So, a huge change… and no good way to cope with: Good job guys, you’re going straight in the wall!

  4. As mentioned before, a complete OSX clone. Mono-style icons, 3 round buttons located on the upper-left corner of the window border? Even the new drop-down arrows resemble the aqua interface.

    Come on, can’t we EVER do anything innovative on our own?

  5. As with any Linux distro if you don’t like something you have the power/freedom/choice to change it. I often keep the brown but sometimes configure my own scheme and background. The ‘Old Human Theme’ will still be available for those wanting it I guess. The new website mocks and printed materials look great.

    I have a stack of the current Ubuntu stickers….wonder how much they will go for on eBay now 🙂

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  6. I don’t know, it doesn’t look at all innovative to me.

    It doesn’t stand Ubuntu apart at all. What made the Human theme was the fact that it looked different. You knew a person was running Ubuntu from the theme. This one isn’t unique at all.

    Personally I use “Elegant Brit” found on

    1. Yeah… I do agree… I think that if it will change to make common users happier, it should be more sophisticated. We developers are not the best to contribute with design changes. Personally, I don’t like brown, but I use it since it is part of the Ubuntu personality. If it will change, for a good reason like please the common users, so this effort must not be wasted.

  7. One thing that really grates me is the graphic in the logo is now superscript. It’s like a copyright circle or something.

    I much preferred it vertically centered on the left of the logo.

    1. Yeah, the alignment really bothers me. It seems like an asterisk to me, which has all sorts of strange connotations.

  8. The theme looks very good, but the altered window button position…people will complain.
    (Also keep in mind tech service often refers to the “upper right corner ‘x'”, people WILL be confused. Make it optional and with the normal position by default, I suggest.
    (I don’t care if it’s Gnome guidelines or not, this must be optional, or you will be facing complaints from newcomers and old users alike)

    1. Canonical has been running usability testing sessions in their London offices recently, I expect the changes to Nautilus etc is a result of that research.

      I have trust in their usability engineers. If it does prove to be a problem for users, people will adopt to new interfaces VERY quickly. Take mobile phone interfaces for example, they change for the better all the time.

      1. I have enough reasons to not trust usability studies too much, working with average people “facing” computers. Some of those usability changes backfire easily and conflict with previous “education” from users, either previous versions or different OSs.
        Also, the lastest weeks have shown a few flaws with the “following usability studies blindly (disregarding user feedback)” by Gnome developers. More reasons to be skeptic.

        You overestimate the non-technical user, unfortunately, consistency is a must. They don’t have enough interest to know what the close button is, they just learn that clicking somewhere in a corner of the window, it closes up.
        Either way, it is largely inconsistent with the rest of window managers out there, this would only fit with people that never used a computer before, since otherwise “custom” kicks in, even for technical users.
        Consider that people won’t use only their own computers, and work computers aren’t likely to have Gnome with this theme…(remember how the corporate world is, with the intranets and such, it is a sad reality) as soon as they reach work, the attempt to educate them for change, is lost, as they will head for the top right again. Eventually, they will change the theme to save time/confusion (if they didn’t do before). Or make noise in forums about how “stupid” the change is and how they are returning to windows.

        Sounds like a change for the sake of change, or to avoid “being compared with the evil M$ windows” (which would be a really immature reasoning).

  9. I think it’s brilliant; it’s a great start to a new branding and theme. I like the new design choices coming to Ubuntu, and while I can see room for improvement, I am pleased with the amount of progress.

    The complaints that it seems to be copying the Mac OS X theme are strange yet inevitable, in my opinion. It’s rare (perhaps impossible) to see a truly unique auto design that is free from any elements used first (or more famously) by another manufacturer, yet there isn’t often much complaint about “copying”. The software industry isn’t much different. Mac OS can’t be completely original, nor can Ubuntu be. Why? Because much of Mac OS’s interface is based on established principles of design. (Also, there are plenty of elements in Mac OS that Apple didn’t invent and had even been used by other operating systems first.) Though the Ayatana project isn’t trying to design Ubuntu to look “like Mac OS”, they must have similarities because they’re also applying principles of design. (One example is the principle of creating a uniform or harmonious feel by using monochrome shades; designers and artists undoubtedly knew this long before computers were invented. Designers from both Apple and Ayatana have studied that concept well enough to know that if they want the panel(s) to communicate uniformity, making the icons monochrome is a good way to do it.)

    Whenever changes come to Ubuntu, there are people who complain it’s too much like one major OS (Mac OS) or another (Windows), while at the same time, people (sometimes the same ones!) complain it’s not enough like such-and-such major OS to be familiar and easy for new users to pick up. I’m impressed with how well Ubuntu does at balancing uniqueness and familiarity.

  10. I’ll copy my comment posted on OMGUbuntu here. To me, it’s almost there (60%) but still needs improvements. Check it out:

    GOOD: rounded corners, dark and light themes (people need to choose), transparency in description, background (agrees with splash), control shades (nice!), monochrome icons on top bar (beautiful), no menu icon (does someone use it?);

    BAD: red close button (doesn’t match the theme); default font (too big, too fat – why don’t use new font here???); icon theme (too naive to me) ;

    DON’T-KNOW: controls on left (I really beleive they should be close to the scroll bar), new splash (I still don’t know if it’s better or worst than black), bottom bar (are you planning something else here?).

    QUESTIONS: 1. No bottom bar, where open windows will be? 2. Controls on left, will they keep it there? 3.

    It seems there’s still work to do but, apart from the default font and default icons, it’s by far the best them I’ve seen to date. It’s original and keeps ubuntu’s identity. And thanx, it doesn’t look like Mac.

  11. 1. In the panel: the offline icon doesn’t look like it belongs.
    2. Title bar: The depression behind the buttons is ugly and distracting.
    3. The close button should be the same color as the others, or at least have a more subtle color.
    4. GTK theme: The gradients on the buttons are not nearly subtle enough.
    5. Light theme: Either have more contrast between the head and body of the window, or they should share the same background. The current look feels ‘dirty’.

    Overall This is a good start, but the new themes are uninspired and look outdated. Perhapse the designers should try using an orange background instead of the dark gray in the dark theme, similar to the outside in the CD Concept:

    Also, what will the GDM theme look like in Lucid, and will the users be able to customise the GDM and Plymouth themes?

  12. Good grief, we aren’t a happy bunch of bunnies are we! People bemoaned at the brown colour scheme and wanted a new theme. They get one and again, people complain.

    I like the new look, a company with a product needs to reinvent itself every few years to keep it fresh and new.

    As to the position of the radio buttons, Yes its MacOSXish and after working on MacOSX for several years, I have never once found the control on the left to be an issue.

    People also need to be reminded that this is Linux, if you ain’t happy with it, you can change the theme and colour scheme to what you want. This isn’t Windows or OSX where you are stuck with it, this is the beauty of Linux.

    Good job to the dev’s and I’m sure over the comming releases there will be more refinments and tweaks.

  13. i am happy that ubuntu has gotten/is getting rid of the bottom panel. i personally make it a point to remove the bottom panel everytime i install a new version of ubuntu.

    also, the thing which i admire is that ubuntu now looks cool! ‘cool’ even before one has even ‘touched’ it. thats very important. the default look i believe defines the feel of the OS at least to newbies, and many using ubuntu are new linux users.

    and yes, one need nmot emulate the mac to make an OS look good. 🙂

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    1. I read that they haven’t gotten rid of the bottom panel, it’s just a personal preference of the owner of the computer in the screenshots, the same for the left window controls.

  14. Bye bye brown? the dark theme has a lot of brown, and both themes have a lot of beige, same as old human style. The good changes are in the branding artwork, but the themes are not very far from “humanity”…

  15. 1. It’s seems Ubuntu has thrown away it’s identity to be more ‘MAC’ish! Why Ubuntu has to copy the upper panel icons and colors from Mac OSX? Windows has it’s own identity, so does Mac; but where is the distinctive identity of Ubuntu? Doesn’t it looks like ubuntu is suffering from it’s own identity crisis?

    2. What about the changes of icons (systems, folders, navigation etc.)? Hasn’t the time come to change them too? The Humanity icons are looking very toyish comparing to the new theme(s).

    3. And please… consider the sleek bread crumb style for Nautilus (which can be found here: ).

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