Workflow and Upload: two new button concepts for Lucid

Further to my post regarding the new Ubuntu branding design, default themes and the ever-so troublesome button layout proposed for the upcoming new LTS release “Lucid Lynx”, I was reading around the internet about the whole button layout issue until I came across a quote from Mr. Shuttleworth himself that struck a chord in me:


“Moving everything to the left opens up the space on the right nicely, and I would like to experiment in 10.10 with some innovative options there.”


This got me really thinking about the possibilities of that space. What could we do there? How can we utilise this free room effectively? I slept on it for a few days until a couple of ideas blossomed in my head, like fresh daffodils in Spring. So, I present to you, the humble reader, two button concepts that I’ve designed: the Workflow button and the Upload button.


The Workflow Button

Consider this: let us say that you are working on a design in Inkscape. You finish the initial design and now you want to port that file over to GIMP. The process required to perform this flow is launch GIMP (either from a dock, command or menu, possibly changing viewports/minimising Inkscape beforehand), open up the Open File dialog, locate the file you were working on in Inkscape and port it into GIMP to continue work.

We can make this workflow much more direct and simple using the Workflow button.

My UI concept of the new buttons for Ubuntu Lucid


Note the two buttons on the right-hand side of the titlebar. The left one is the Workflow button and the button next to it is the Upload function. Let us focus on the Workflow button. Essentially, what this button allows us to do is keep our focus on the file we’re working with whilst moving it through different applications as and when needed. It means you can literally jump from application to application whilst keeping the file we’re working on in constant focus. A non-interrupted workflow. So how would this work? Well, if we click on the Worflow button…

A UI menu concept for a new Workflow button


…a menu appears, giving us a choice of applications to open our current file into. This menu should be customisable; the user should be able to choose what applications should appear in the Workflow menu depending on what file type you’re working on (any image files, like jpegs, pngs, svgs etc., will give you an application like the list above. Text filetypes would give you a different set of application suggestions and so on). NOTE: yes I know that the menu style I’ve designed here is not currently possible in the confines of GTK, but I’m not limiting my imagination here.

So, to continue with our case study, I want to port this SVG piece I’m working on from Inkscape straight into GIMP to continue work with textures and other effects. Let us click on the GIMP icon…


Two actions could happen here: Inkscape could be minimised or we’re switched to a fresh viewport to open GIMP onto. This could be customised. GIMP has finished loading and…


…has opened our file directly, ready for us to continue work on it.

No need to open the new application browse through our filing system and opening the file we were just working on, we can literally just “jump” from one application to another whilst keeping our current activity in focus. Simple and direct and would be quite a time saver as well.


The Upload Button

And now an explanation of the second concept button. Ubuntu Lucid is looking to have a strong focus bringing various online activities, such as social networking, straight to your desktop. A way that this is being implemented is via the MeMenu. It’s an extremely interesting concept and it’s something that the KDE SC is also very keen on via a myriad of different social networking plasmoids. Another important feature due to evolve considerably in the Lucid release is the Ubuntu One cloud service, offering users 2Gb free of online storage to store files or sync with others.

Thinking about this web-interactivity from the desktop, an idea came to me. What if, for example, you’ve finished editing a photo from your recent holiday and you want to upload it directly to Facebook? Gwenview, the default image viewer in KDE SC, has this functionality, but I think we should be able to expand this function so that you can upload ANY file to ANY online service you need directly from whatever application you’re currently using to edit your file with. Perhaps you’re collaborating with a coder and you’re both sharing code back and forth via a shared and synced Ubuntu One folder you have set up for this purpose. Wouldn’t it be good to just upload the file straight to the Ubuntu One folder directly from the application you’re working in? Wouldn’t it be nice to upload a holiday snap straight from your image editor of choice directly into a Facebook album of yours?


With the Upload button, we can. Whereas currently, if we want to upload an image to Facebook we’d have to open our browser, load up Facebook, find the album we want, open the Open File dialog, locate the image we want then upload it… with this button we can simply upload the image we are currently working on, regardless of what application, directly to Facebook. Or upload a piece of code directly to Ubuntu One. Or post an image directly to Tumblr.

The menu, and the online services, should again be customisable; the user should be able to choose what online service suggestions they are presented with.

The user tailors their own workflow experience.


Is this all possible?

You know what? I have no idea. I’m not a coder/programmer. I’m just a dreamer. If someone checks out these ideas and figures out a way of implementing them, then that, my friends, is all gravy. Assumedly, various Metacity hacks would have to be made. I’m just guessing here. Rather, consider these new buttons an exercise into the possibilities of all that newly created titlebar space made available in Lucid Lynx. These ideas excite me and I would love to see them become a reality. Whether they will or not is another question entirely.

Still, a designer can dream.

Ian Cylkowski aka Izo

Logo & Brand Identity Design, GUI/UX Design

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38 Comments so far. Comments are closed.
  1. I like those ideas.
    Metacity would have to be able to give user possibility for making buttons with custom actions, like summoning menu with user-defined content – this would at least give Upload File to functionality easily, and with some scripting I’m sure that Workflow menu would also be possible.

  2. Anzan,

    Excellent. Please send this to the Ayatana mailing list.

    I might actually bother using the mouse more and click some buttons.

  3. Those are interesting ideas ! The Workflow really would be awesome.
    But what about these buttons when browsing a web page, chatting with friends, playing a game and such actions that are not shipping with files ?

  4. Those Ideas are Great! Nothing is impossible for open-source developers. They managed to create tremendous and inventive Gnome Shell. Why they couldn’t implement such a great innovation to our desktops.

  5. Dude,

    I have just one question: why Canonical is wasting so much time not hiring you? You should be working there a long time ago.

    By the way, do you have any idea for a GTK-Metacity theme? XD I bet it would be great too.


    • Izo,

      @rafeviper: thanks for the comment and the nice words! Working for Canonical would be pretty cool. I have done a few GTK themes in my time.

  6. David,

    All of this could be solved by copying and improving upon the Mac’s proxy icon: an icon in the title bar that represents the window’s file (since every window is supposed to have a one-to-one mapping to a file). That icon would work exactly like the file’s icon in the file browser. You would be able to drag and drop it to move, copy, or save the file somewhere (making the save dialogue unnecessary). The icon could have its own menu, including things like ‘Open file with’, so you can switch applications without the window changing. As for ‘Upload file to…’, a separate menu shouldn’t be needed, as that can be done by dragging and dropping the icon onto representations of each service in Nautilus. Of course, that, in turn, would require that those services that store files be available through the filesystem—another badly-needed improvement in integration with online services.

  7. acidrums4,

    First of all excuse me for my bad english, hope that you understand me.. I think that the idea itself is very cool, but the window border is not the best place to put that options… Maybe would be better if these actions were part of the menu of each application (like “File->Edit with Gimp” or so). I think in that way for three reasons:

    1. That “free area” of the window border (metacity, emerald, xfwm4 or whatever) would include other buttons that give the possibility to each user a better manipulation of windows: like “arrange in vertical mosaic”, “arrange in horizontal mosaic”, “close all”, “maximize all”, “make screenshot of this window” and so.

    2. In Gnome-KDE or any desktop environment are many windows that are not part of an application, or applications that don’t produce, edit or play documents: terminals, configurations of the desktop or system, etc. Then put that buttons in all windows would be useless.

    3. Nowadays there are many people that don’t have an internet connection in their PC, or don’t have accounts on sites like facebook/picasa/etc (like me :D) or are not interested on publish their work on the web.

    …But remember that this is only my opinion!

    • Izo,

      @acidrums4: thanks for the comment. Regarding your points:
      1. It seems you’re talking of more window management options for any metacity buttons. It’s an interesting idea, but would they aid the efficiency of the users workflow?
      2. Yes, you make a valid point about applications like terminals.
      3. This is another valid point, not everyone IS connected, but we have to recognise that more and more in modern life, becoming ARE becoming connected and clearly Ubuntu wants to stay on top of that. I appreciate your post!

  8. jon,

    Pretty sweet, but I’d be personally concerned with ending up with too much complexity on the title bar… But maybe some more refining on the interface could slim things down a bit, for examples a single “Actions” button. Or broaden the idea of “send to” to include apps, websites, or people.

    • Izo,

      @jon: thanks for the comment, I can see where you’re coming from concerning complexity, it’s a valid point and you make a thoughtful suggestion. These ideas of mine are by no means perfect or even concrete, this is why I like open discussions and free-flowing creativity.

  9. Holy crow, I had better start writing about Aether. If I don’t have something on Planet Ubuntu in three days, please give me a very strong pinch.

    I have been picturing precisely this for a while. The starting point is a system where applications specify the types of files they will open and the types of files they will output. They implement a standard method of performing transactions with other applications using those files.
    (Eg: Web browser requests an image, user chooses Cheese, …, Cheese gives web browser a path to an image file in /tmp).
    Telling an application to open a file is a bit simpler because the existing infrastructure already does that, though I think it can be improved a little as well.

    We have this functionality in a reasonably standard way on the CLI thanks to stdout and so on, but it kind of got lost in the GUI.

    The Transactions part is important, and I’m hoping could lead in to your stuff through a lot of careful GUI work.

    Quite dear to me is a desire for something much like that workflow button, existing in the file manager as a popup when you single click on a file. Two reasons: double click is stupid, default file handlers are disastrous. You can’t have one application that does all possible jobs for a given file type (and where the file manager blindly delegates the task of opening a file to that application without giving it or the user a say). Basically Open With, but as a first class interaction with a pretty GUI.

    So, I wholeheartedly agree with you! Today’s UI (even on MacOS) does not accommodate workflows. We send the user on a mad quest around the screen, journeying through the Applications menu (the launchpad!) multiple times for a single task.

  10. Such a nice idea… Good interaction between applications and Internet. Thanks for the idea…

    A topic will be open on Ubuntu forum development section to discuss this manner… And I will try to ask people in the community to put it in brainstorm of next version as well…

  11. Fantastic idea. I always dreamed of something like this – I really hate switching between applications just to follow one workflow… And about the technical side: I think it is perfectly possible, although I think that it has to be implemented for every single application as in my opinion there is no generic solution… It is important, that you gain access to just temporary saved version of a file and every application stores them in another place – imagine the power: you open a picture in – let’s say – GIMP. After a few minutes of working on it, you send it to your girlfriend asking her, what she things about your creation in its current stage. I’m sure you don’t really want to save a copy just for this reason. Instead you take just the current version from the temporary working file. Great!!!

    • Izo,

      @lordfinga: thanks for the comment and the nice words. Being able to upload “snapshots” of current work is VERY interesting, I like that.

  12. iRiUX,

    Very innovative Idea, I like it a lot.

  13. nospam,

    Useless, bloat, ugly…

    Windoze is a thousand of necessary shortcuts and redundant features

    AltF2+application name to open any application in Gnome, no cuter, no shortcuts, no fuss

    Don’t associate work-flow with stupidity, reduced brain faculties or laziness.

    Blinking icons & redundant buttons for young insecure minds

    A laugh at “”creativity””, “”concepts””, “”being””

    • Izo,

      @nospam: thanks for the comment. This wasn’t designed to render the user more stupidr or to assume that the user IS stupid in the first place. Rather, this is an exercise in increasing the EFFICIENCY of our production and work on Ubuntu. You would sound more at home on a keyboard-shortcuts workflow environment, which is fine and acceptable, but not a lot of people interact with their computers in such a way.

  14. The ideas are _very_ nice. But they have nothing to do with the window manager, so
    1) they would be totally non-portable to many other window managers
    2) they would kind of mess the UI organization
    3) they would require the developers of each single application to enable them
    4) they would require changes to the gtk libraries, not just themes.

    So, all in all, I really hope something like those two functions happen… but I’m afraid the title bar is not the right place to do it – certainly not at a distro level.

    Moreover, GNOME 3 will change a lot of things…

  15. David,

    @Izo: Yeah. The more I think about it, the more I realize that a GNOME alternative to the Mac’s proxy icon would open up many possibilities for improving the Desktop. I’m not a Mac user, and have never actually seen this in action, only having read about, but I found a video explaining it. It’s pretty clear to me that the Mac implementation can be improved upon vastly, including but not limited to the addition of your ideas. It could give Ubuntu a significant usability advantage over other operating systems.

  16. Your UI idea is one of the most exciting I have come across in many years. I really hope it makes it into Maverick. Are you in contact with Canonical and their design team? The workflow idea is just brilliant. When a user is looking at a picture, and they want to email it to someone, it doesn’t make sense for them to leave the picture, open an email program, search for the picture, and then attach it. They were already looking at the picture! Many of us have become very good at doing that sort of thing but it is still a very round-about process. Good work and good luck.

    • Izo,

      @Grant: thanks for the comment and thanks very much for the nice words! This is exactly how I feel about the Workflow; increased efficiency and productivity can occur when we move to a more docu-centric approach, as opposed to an applications-based one. A very kind soul has submitted my idea to the Ayatana Mailing List, where it’s currently being debated as we speak. LINK

  17. Thanks for the link to the ongoing debate. I smiled when I saw one person’s comment about power users. I don’t want to be a power user of my OS. I want my OS to be simple and intuitive – even if that means it sacrifices some potential power.

    I liked this comment: “For example when you want to reduce the filesize of photos before sending it to someone by email. I’d like to ‘copy’ current photo, ‘paste’ it to Gimp, crop it and reduce it, then copy/paste it to Thunderbird without having to navigate inside Nautilus.”

    Thee is some real potential in the following idea too, esp around extra processes: “The available targets for the document could be defined by external administrators (the distro creators, or an online repository) to which the user can subscribe. Throwing the current document to a target could have extra processes other than opening in a different application – such as versioning, saving a copy to a shared folder, applying a visual filter to an image…”

    What did you make of the document icon in the title bar idea (as per OS X)? I think I prefer your two buttons approach because it doesn’t leave the user wondering what to do but suggests some options.

  18. pancake,

    It is possible in fact..but do you really want to load all this responsability to the window manager?

    This is somewhat similar to an API already done in Maemo that allows to share contents from different applications to public services. This is, to push a picture by mail or things like that.

    I think this is useful because conceptually you get a simple workflow, but a part from the applications gimp and inkscape.. you cannot think on these concepts globally, and in some situations you need some conversion (file format, resize, ..)

    If you extend the sharing concept to all applications you end up designing a communication API allowing you to create pipelines of source/type->filter->destination which is similar to what gstreamer does, and it’s ok for multimedia contents, but not for others.

    I can think on this but doing it at application level, like the drag&drop mechanism, which is at the end a way to move contents from one application to another, and the receiving application have some ‘pads’ to specify the format types it supports, making it simple to detect to which ‘sinks’ you can ‘send’ the content to.

    Something are in the web, and you select a picture, or a text, and then control+right-click to get that not-yet-done ‘sharing-contextual-menu’ would be nice, so you can push the text to or a upload a file to a remote server.

    I think that this is somewhat already done by silver-something in apple and gnome-do or whatever in gnome (i dont really use gnome or apple 😉 so i dont care too much about the names.

    I think that this concept popups the need to have a way to easily move contents from one place to another without having to handle strange workflows like having to use the file manager.

    This is something the platform should provide, standing out of the window manager and the graphical environment.

    Just my 5 cents :)

    • Izo,

      @pankcake: thanks for the comment, there’s definitely food for thought here, and this is just an idea and by all means nowhere near a final proposal, which is why I’m happy to hear instructive criticism from someone like yourself.

  19. rsw,

    These are all great ideas. People have been complaining lately that FOSS just copies everything from other OSes and never innovates. These are the perfect things to make those folks eat their words.

  20. Mindaugas,

    Kill button?

  21. Miguel,

    Two things,
    1. This breaks GNOME HIGs, which is much more important than adding some “cool” stuff. Interfaces should be coherent and predictable and…
    2. Then, what is then menu toolbar for? maybe we should move everything for win buttons. People is gonna get confused with what to expect to be in those windicators and what’s in the menu toolbar.

    • Izo,

      @Miguel: thanks for the comment! It’s a valid argument, we still don’t know what Shuttleworth plans to use “windicators” for…

      • David,

        Ian will you like to be involved in the development of a custom Ubuntu OS for a unique and dynamic multi-functional enabling hardware platform currently been sponsored by a consortium of African firms? I am a key player in the company and the project and consider your creativity and skills to be of tremendous impact on the success of the development.
        Please kindly reply to this response to enable me proceed on how we could initiate private discussions.