Putting Icon Themes on a Diet

Feb 6 2006

Many have noticed ground has started to shake in the rotting icon theme department. Why the cleanup? Why not keep the sleeping giant alone?

I believe the gnome icon theme should be as generic as possible. Right now we have an icon theming system, but not really. What good is a theme system that requires every theme to ship with a full set of the thousands of icons? Nothing looks worse to me than a mish-mash of icon styles. What good are accessible themes when they had so many “holes” in it (showing default mimetype icons with tiny text labels to differentiate them apart). Even GIT hasn’t really been “complete”. How could Bluecurve, Gorilla or Nuvola ever achieve that?

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Let me offer the following paralell. I loved how the Mozilla folks avoided the Frankestein and solved the issue of specific needs with their extension system in Firefox. Firefox only ships with essential functionality, that pretty much everyone will find useful. And if there is a need for a specific functionality for a specific user base, somebody sits down and writes an extension for it. Such extensions are developed separately from the main app.

Similarly gnome icon theme should only ship with the bare essial icon set. A set that will be easier to maintain, and easily themed by other authors. A set with defined naming and metaphors.

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And then there will be room for extra sets installing to the theme prefix, yet having a separate maintainer. I am sure to jump to a gnome-icon-theme-artists when time allows. I do want to easily distinguish Blender project files form generic text document as much as seeing GIMP‘s XCF files better in a bunch of PNGs. I will probably also do a gnome-icon-theme-hackers for developers to be able to find Makefiles or header files in a folder full of C files easier. But before I do (or somebody else does) our desktop will not be shipping icons that don’t look good in a file selctor. Icons that pretend to be 48x48 while being 48x52. It will be shipping a relatively small set that will provide scalable icons for large density screens and will allow for distributions to theme easier if they want to.

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And gnomers, don’t be affraid not to use an icon in your app. It’s better not to have it at all than to have a non-obvious sucky one. Steven got it right when he once said that if you can’t think of a good metaphor for an action, maybe that action doesn’t really need an icon. Yes you heard me. A guy who’s spent most of his work time drawing icons warns you about using too many ;) And I’m not the only one.