If we want the world to embrace free software, we have to make it beautiful. I’m not talking about inner beauty, not elegance, not ideological purity… pure, unadulterated, raw, visceral, lustful, shallow, skin deep beauty.
We have to make it gorgeous. We have to make it easy on the eye. We have to make it take your friend’s breath away.
That’s why I’m thrilled with the work of some of our community artists. Check out this logo from Who (ignore the scaling, view it directly):
If you are of an artistic bent then I would urge you to get involved with the Ubuntu Art Team, and peruse or join the Ubuntu Art mailing list. There is also a new site for community-contributed artwork, being developed by Brandon Holtsclaw and I think currently available at art-staging.ubuntu.com though it will move to art.ubuntu.com and get more horsepower shortly.
Of course, “pretty but unusable” won’t work either. It needs to be both functional and attractive. Rather than bling for bling’s sake, let’s use artistic effects to make the desktop BETTER, and obviously better.
This is a challenge we (the free software community) share with scientists too.
I had a great coincidental chat with a guy from Imperial College, London, recently. He lectures in a course which teaches scientists and engineers how to communicate with the rest of humanity. This is close to my heart – I love the bleeding edge, physics, computer science etc, and I can’t stop my imagination from turning ideas into exotic works of mental art. But mental art isn’t something you can convey very easily – it’s in your head, after all. If we want people to get excited about science we have to show them what it’s makes possible. Imperial College teaches people who love science how to make it fascinating for everyone else too – something NASA could take to heart.
Similarly, I met up with Susan Greenfield from the Royal Institution – not a loony bin for inbred monarchs, but a public forum for the demonstration, discussion and discourse on science that goes back to the days of Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday. In those days, science was hot entertainment for the gentrified classes, who would gather of an evening in formal dress to listen to scientists talk about the magical world that was opening up under their microscopes and instruments. We spoke about a number of things but I thought that their mandate was most similar to that of the Hip2BeSquare project which I fund in South Africa, which brands the idea of being “smart with your life” for students and pupils in SA (think about it – which pays off more in your life, an extra hour of math or an extra hour on the football field… it takes a lot of math before the marginal benefits line up and it’s time to hit the fields).
All of which goes to say that messaging is important – learning how to “show off your best stuff” is an essential skill, and I hope the free software community will take that to heart.