Call for participation: an ubuntu default theme lead by the community?

Hey everyone,

As part of our Unity 7 to GNOME Shell transition in 17.10, we had last August a Fit and Finish Sprint at the London office to get the Shell feeling more like Ubuntu and we added some tweaks to our default GTK theme.

The outcome can be seen in the following posts:

Some more refinements came in afterward and finale 17.10 has a slightly modified look, but the general feedback we got from the community is that the ubuntu GNOME Shell session really looks and feels like ubuntu.

So I guess, objective completed (next level, attribute your earned point to person’s skills… :p).

All done?

However, as in any good RPG, this isn’t the real end of the story (there is the next boss!): we heard as well some people (on the community hub, in blog post comments) asking for a more drastic refresh of our theme and we generally agree with this. That would be a good idea to rebase and refresh our desktop with the help of the community!

For any themes, there are multiple parts:

  • The Shell theme itself (css).
  • The GTK3 and GTK 2 theme. The first one is using css, the second is some C code.
  • An icon theme.

Here is thus a call for participation if you are interesting into getting into that journey with us. The idea is to have few people (I think, 2-3 people + @popey and I), having contributed to popular shell or GTK themes already, leading this project. That way, we can define what changes to the theme feels like “ubuntu” or not. We will coordinate all the work on the community hub to ensure that every decision is public and explain why.

We will sync regularly with the Canonical design theme (we have one meeting at the end of the month already) to check progress and get advice. Once the theme for the Shell, and GTK bindings are ready, we’ll switch the default ubuntu to it. That may or may not happen for the LTS, depending on the advancement. If it’s not ready to be switched by default, we will thus give instructions for our advanced users to get a taste of what’s currently cooking up :slight_smile:

How do we get that going?

The idea is to restart from scratch, basing on upstream (GNOME) work. Indeed, the current ubuntu theme is in pure css, upstream is using sass. The Shell theme itself didn’t deviate much, but the general idea is:

  • for GTK3 apps, starting from Adwaita (default GNOME theme), and modify constants and slight behavior modifications in the sass files. That way, we don’t deviate too much and it will be easy to rebase with the numerous theme changes every new GTK release gets.
  • for the Shell, using their sass files and tweaking for the same reasons.
  • for the icon theme, we might start from our unity8 Suru icon set?

Also, even if we hope that contributors from popular united and other themes will come along, the fact to start back from upstream’s playground provide a nice neutral and clean ground, we didn’t prevent from cherry-picking from what exists already. :slight_smile:

Come with us!

Anyone can contribute (preferably via pull request on the projects we will created), however, in design, it’s always easier to have ideas than coming with concrete technical help ;). This is why there is this call to get some ideas of the number of people willing to spend some time on this project.
The needs skills are either CSS (we’ll use SASS, more on that later) or C GTK theming. Also, Icon designers are more than welcome. :slight_smile:

Excited? Join us! If you are interested (in either leading or just contributing), please post below your intents and ideas. Also, please reference your technical skills so that we can get an idea on the amount of awesome help we’ll get!

We’ll of course post more info on the same desktop section once we are ready to kick in the project! Hope, you are as thrilled by this project as we all are :grin:


Awesome idea, I’ll be pleased to contribute with what I can do

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Very thrilled! Some stupendously hot (not mine) concept art:

I’m very willing to spend time on this, but I don’t have a lot of experience with CSS and even less with SASS. I have plenty of experience with C, but not with GTK theming.

I can also help to setup testing/CI infrastructure, I use Python and git daily. It might be useful to setup an automated process to rebase our changes when new versions of the upstream Gnome theme come out…


Is there any default icon set we can use as a base ? PNG or SVG, preferably on Github.

Hello everybody!

Great idea I was waiting for!

Maybe you already read about my work in the last month, because I have already put a lot of time and energy in the project “Finding Ubuntu”. It’s not just a new theme, it’s also a lot of usability considerations and it’s also about general issues.

Find it at:

Have a look at it and you will see that maybe I’m the right person for the job. What needs to be said: I am not a programmer and not a developer. I have already been managing software projects as a project manager and I’m very into practical design. Especially in a project like this, design alone is not enough.

So just contact me if interested,


Depending on what we as a community want to do, I can see the several possibilities:

  • The Suru icon theme by Sam Hewitt, if we want to continue the guideline that were in Unity8

  • The papirus or paper theme if we want some kind of material-like design.

And many other :smiley:


Read your slide deck last month, you’ve put a lot of thought into it. Worthwhile read for anyone writing DE extensions for Gnome. But this particular contest is for a theme, so to submit something there’s got to be code. However your input as a thoughtful tester for the various submissions would be valuable.

Big, big enthusiastic vote for Sam Hewitt’s Suru icons. I hope he’s got enough time to finish them before 18!


Finally an announcement!
It’s obvious that the most popular linux distribution, should have the most beautiful out of the box desktop - let’s make that happen (hopefully) for 18.04 :grinning:

I say +1 for using the beautiful Unity8 Suru icons. Could someone make a priority list with the missing icons? Some mime types are missing etc. (Sam Hewitt?)

I would also recommend taking inspiration from the Arc GTK theme. It is arguably the most popular GTK theme at the moment. Transparent touches in window elements (and in the Nautilus sidebar) help emphasise the themes light, airy, and yet thoroughly modern appearance (from OMG Ubuntu)

Is there a need for mockups of parts of the UI? GDM, Nautilus, Activities Overview…


+1 for Arc. It can be really a great inspiration to modernize Ubuntu, as there is many elements that give some kind of a similar feeling (especially the spacing and the transparency), while being more “modern” !

TBH, I think that we could propose some prototype either as mock-up, either as a some slightly modified other theme (color swap, edt, etc) in order to discuss here ideas and possibilities. It could help discussing ideas, and having all together a reflexion about in what direction we want to go. :slight_smile: (but it’s just a proposition, because I think that we certainly have different ideas about how could look Ubuntu 18.04)


How about the United gnome theme?

Just reading it’s description it fills all the requirements.

"Based on a Ubuntu 18.04 design concept with some inspiration from Unity 8. "


Cool! I didn’t see this before. Thanks for making this!

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Hi! I’ve been a designer for about 17 years now and really into icon design…how can I contribute?

I really like the look of Ubuntu 17.10 + GNOME stock icons, but there’s clearly a lot of momentum here to make Ubuntu look less like macOS (gradients and realistic icons) and more like Android (flat colors and uniform icon shapes). Please keep usability in mind if Ubuntu really makes the jump from one style to the other.

Example: Ambiance makes it really clear which window has the focus – its title bar has a bright gradient, whereas background windows use a flat dark gray. I find it much harder to tell which window is focused with Arc and other flat themes.
The Suru icon theme and others also remind me of minimalist movie posters: They’re really subtle and clever if you know what you’re looking at, but I don’t think they’re self-explanatory enough for newcomers. For example, the calendar icon is a roundrect with a number, whereas GNOME’s icon is a lot more detailed. There’s also inherently more “distinctness” that icons can have when their shapes are wildly different, which makes it easier to scan a list of applications.

I don’t have any skills that I can offer, but if there’s something like a Patreon for Linux usability tests, I’d love to chip in.

Excellent idea to start from scratch. I think that Stefan Edward Kreenn with his precis analysis of the UI has a lot of good ideas to enhance the User eXperience of the new Ubuntu theme eventhougth his analysis is broader and just a simple theme enhancement(
If we mix that job with Roman Nguyen’s job ( adding the Suru icone theme we could get a good final result.


I have a good question about the icon theme.

Unity8 had a very cool thing where every icon had 1:1 aspect ratio and wasn’t transparent, just a full square icon and then that same icon would be cropped by the UI for example in the dash or dock or that app scope, the icons were cropped to be more rounded.

Could the same be achieved in Ubuntu gnome? I think that way icons would be much more flexible. We would have one square icon set but could possibly choose a different crop shape like: square with rounded corners, circle, pentagon etc.

Is this something that could be done in gtk? It would be much cooler then just a static icon theme and a new way of approaching icon set shapes, possibly a very strong UI/UX feature for Ubuntu :slight_smile:


That would be a really, REALLY cool feature…kinda like Android Oreo adaptive icons.

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Big fan of the paper / papirus icon sets, great icons with flat appearance, they are quite common in the linux world for good reason

I liked the idea of this theme: Ambiance & Radiance flat colors - I don’t think it’s the best looking theme out there just a good idea, to take ambiance as it currently is a not alter it all that much just make it flatter in effect.


Hey everyone. I’m the maintainer of the United theme that was based on Jovan Petrović’s 18.04 mockups. I’d love to help out with the effort. I can offer my time and CSS/SASS skills and help turn whatever mockups and ideas that come about into a working theme.