Night and Day Theming

The punchline: We need flat/zen themes with push-button dark/light theme settings that apply both system-wide and dark/light theming per individual app.

I am firstly and lastly a writer. But, Ubuntu was just too attractive for me not to understand development life under the hood. I’m one of the chosen who identifies with both app users and app developers. I stand in the middle and see the future.

For almost two years, I have watched my VPS/Desktop Ubuntu hobby mature into beta. In the process, I have come to understand two best-kept secrets about theming.

  1. Coders and media workers need “dark” desktop/environment themes; writers need “light/bright” themes.

  2. There are WAY too many desktop themes for Ubuntu.

Light/Dark Themes: Writers v Coders

Dark themes are all about eyesight and pupil dilation. We see pictures, videos, and computer code better by looking at light letters against a dark background.

But, desktop publishing apps prepare text as it will appear on white, printed paper. So, that theme must be light to agree with eyesight and pupil dilation in a bright environment.

Linux Desktop Themes

Fortunately, Linux has given us desktop theme options. The “others” haven’t figured that out these needs and might never. Linux needs to stay two steps ahead…

Today’s Theming Problem: Desktop themes are applied across all apps; themes should be per-app.

…you get my drift and probably see where I’m going with this.

Overlap of Skills: Vector and Blogging

Working in a dark environment makes sense for pounding code, probably. It certainly makes sense for editing videos and rasterized images (photographs and pixels). Working in a light/bright environment makes sense for designing brochures that will be read in daylight, letters, business cards, and research papers—all of which will be printed on white paper.

But, are two Venn overlaps: Bloggers and vector artists

Vector design (i.e. Inkscape and scalable logos) could be for printing on white paper. But, it could also be used for logos that end up in rasterized pixel art.

Blog and news writing is another problem: For the most part, it only uses styling used in Markdown. So, “white paper” may not apply…

  • TinyMCE (WordPress editor), Ghost, etc. can’t provide both text editing tools and rendered posts in the theme. The finished body work and engine under the hood are opposed. Editing and reading is separate and must remain that way.
  • Writing post/story content and arranging text for printing in a word processor are totally separate tasks.
  • The current trend is to write in Word and paste into the Blog editor. But, that will soon reverse!

Perhaps a blogger is working on a white-paper wordprocessor all day. Perhaps he is a news writer preparing stories in a dark cave. A blogger could be an artist working in a dark or light environment.

Blog/post/story editing apps, as well as Vector design apps like Inkscape, need light/dark change options with the click of a button.


Speaking strictly for Ubuntu (what I use), Themes are over-abundant. In 15.04, an Ubuntu Theme site came on the scene, and it now is loaded with totally awesome themes that were broken by the GTK integration in 15.10, 16.04, and 16.10. There is no way to maintain all those themes!

Many themes = broken themes

As of close 2016, many native Linux themes have annoying gradients and shadows everywhere—which squanders serotonin. It is a real, logistic problem that artists/writers—not developers—know to be true. That’s why so many dark, flat themes came on the scene.

Then, they died.

It’s sad. Adapta seemed to endure the best. Numix and friends are great. Vertex, Flatabulous, Ultra Flat… Market-analysis “take-away lesson” is: We need “flat” and we need “light/dark” options. That’s that the Ubuntu Themes website taught us.

Theming Tomorrow

Technology works best when we don’t know we are using it.

Unity 8 looks promising so far. But, ten years later, smooth animations won’t be as important as serotonin conservation. Look at every step of theme development since GNOME: The themes that catch on have two traits:

  1. They mentally stay out of the way, regardless of art in themselves.
  2. They are maintained.

Apple and Windows have endured long with only one desktop theme. I’d love more themes. We can have more themes. But, Ubuntu’s theme market was crushed by inferior themes merely because those inferior themes were maintained. Four maintained themes for Ubuntu could revolutionize the world.

While writers, artists, and media gurus may want “flat/zen” theming, pure-geek code monkeys may want title bars with gradients and 3-D buttons so that they can find title bars more easily. Even gradient v flat is conditional.

Themes can be corned or rounded, bouncy-fluid or plain, gradient or flat… The key is that the best themes are the least memorable—whatever that means for the day and its trends—because good themes allow creative work to hold the spotlight.

If themes are maintained, and the interface is so clean that we don’t remember it… Then, we only need night-and-day options, depending on the type of work we have at the moment.

So, as takes off, I hope to run it as a “loud lifter”. I won’t just offer ideas; I won’t just code my own ideas; I’ll contribute things that are the way I use them and make sure that everyone knows why.