Had a great meeting with the rest of the GNOME Art Team at GCDS!
Together we came up with some points on where we would like to take GNOME visually in the coming 9 months.
One of the things we all agreed on is that a new widget theme is not going to be enough to create a visually stunning desktop.

Fewer but better
At the same time as we’re introducing massive 256×256 icons for places that require 64×64 and up, we also want to take the opportunity to cut down a bit on the massive amount of icons currently used in menus. At the same time, we also want to introduce some guidelines on when to properly use them to enrich your interfaces.
The current approach is that some items have them, and some don’t, and this is because no artist had time to draw it, or because the action is too complex to convey in a small icon, or both. And hand to heart, that’s not a really good guideline.

Getting rid of things (or changing defaults for that matter) is always tricky, as the initial reaction from people used to the old behavior is that nothing of value gets added. However, we believe this is a visually more attractive default and that it will result in a cleaner and more efficient interface (and you can always change it back).

What are the exceptions?
A menu item shall have a icon if it represents a dynamic object such as a:

  • Application
  • File or bookmark
  • Device

How do I make sure the exceptions show in the menus?
Just patch your application to use gtk-image-menu-item-set-always-show-image

Won’t this slow me down, as icons are so quick to spot?
While it’s true that the eye recognize color very quickly, having both text and image also means more information for the brain to process. It’s also worth to note that text skimming speed for adults is around 400-700 wpm.