Unity and the Dash

2 months ago I promised you a new post. Unfortunately, real work took me away from my blog activity. A lot of thoughts have crossed my mind since then, and I’d like to share some of them with you. I’m going to talk about Unity focusing on the dash.


We all know Unity, the default Ubuntu launcher, Dash and lot more, probably the most important Ubuntu project, a big effort to innovate the linux desktop. Despite these efforts, a lot of users seem not to feel comfortable with it. People don’t appreciate innovations if changes solve problems creating new ones.
I’m really pleased to see Canonical efforts on desktop research, and Unity, that has reached 5.0 version, is absolutely a great step forward (do you remember the suse slab menu?), but it still has some design leaks. Unity could be a big trouble for users approaching linux for the first time or coming from Gnome 2.0 layout. Now I’m going to explain my critics:

My critics on Unity dash design

Lack of exploration: I have learned an important lesson from website development:
A great search feature can’t justify a poor user experience. Unity has a great search tool but is too hard to have a contents overview or find items exploring its dash.
For example, imagine you are an Ubuntu newbie user and you want to explore the applications list looking for installed Internet apps. You have a fresh Ubuntu 11.10 and no idea of what is in your system (this is not uncommon, remember that by now, Ubuntu is a growing platform with a limited diffusion).
Looking at the old Gnome vintage menu it was quite simple to figure out what apps are installed in each section. As you can see in the screenshot below in Unity things are a bit more complicated:

Navigating Internet section on Unity. A step by step guide

Not that simple indeed. There are too many steps and clicks, even for my 50-year Ubuntu dad and my newbie girlfriend (I sometimes use my family as guinea pigs for my 2-cent usability tests) ๐Ÿ™‚
Contents organization: My personal point of view is that Unity dash is cluttered and not well organized. Contents are grouped in subcategories, so, for example Applications section is divided in “Recently used”, “Installed apps”, and “Available apps”. As a result Apps are sometimes duplicated or hidden when menus have more than 5 or 6 elements. An image is usually better than a thousand words.

Duplications in "Recently Used" and "Installed apps" categories

Furthermore “Installed Apps” and “Available apps” aren’t the same things: the first ones lay on your computer, the other ones in the wonderful software center. Why mix them on the same page? I suspect this might be a source of noise. The problem is in the approach: search over presentation and design.

Docs section: In many circumstances it is simpler to search a file using the Unity search box instead of navigating through the file manager. This often saves me from the “Where the fuck I saved my file?” nightmare.
However I’d like a simpler interface, without neither “Filter results” nor “Folders, Downloads and Recent files” groups. It’s enough showing all your files and optionally filter them by name or time (es. show files accessed last week)

Integrating Unity with Ubuntu ecosystem: Ubuntu has a great software center, a Music store and a cloud service. Every service is well integrated in its own applications, why don’t integrate them in the dash? The dash already shows some available applications from the software center, why don’t extend this concept to the Music available on the Ubuntu Music store? And also, why don’t allow users to install applications or buy Music directly from the dash?

Unity redesign concept

Below I’m not going to show any “Dash home” mockup: Not because I don’t like it but I simply think that with version 5.0 the “Dash Home” reached his aim. I focused my work on other sections:

Apps section

All apps view (Search is selected by default)

A group view of all my installed applications

Available apps (Allow install directly inside unity)

Available apps (Installing process)

Where is my just installed app?

Docs section

A docs section showing all your docs

A time view of your docs using zeitgeist

Music section

Your music collections in one simple view

A grouped by genre view of your music

That’s all

That’s all for now. I haven’t finished assessing Unity yet. I should work, among others, on a Dash Music store view on a Video section and more. However, there are already much information duscussed for a first article. I’m going to stop here and I’ll cover further topics on next articles.
If you like this post or have any suggestion/critics, just let me know.


3 thoughts on “Unity and the Dash

  1. OMG!
    This is perfect!
    Exactly what I was looking for!
    How can I get this?


    It’s not so simple indeed.. First I have to propose the idea on the Unity design Mailing list or on Ubuntu brainstorm, then (if the people likes it a lot) hope that the Ubuntu design team will approve it… ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. really good proposals.

    i would love something similar to that.

    Dash has lots of potential. Even installing apps would be faster in the dash.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s