KDE Icon Chatter

As MacOS X, and arguably, GNOME, have shown, many people love photorealistic icons despite the theoretical trade-offs with usability. So if you've ever wondered about the philosophy behind KDE's default icons, you might want to read Torsten Rahn's recent article on the matter. Tackat explains how KDE's default icons are a compromise between good usability and beauty, using a mock up of traffic signs to illustrate his points. To conclude, Tackat proposes a slightly different approach for KDE 3.1: Add more photorealistic design to the application icons, while sticking to 2D for toolbars and mimetypes. But wait, there's more. In related news, Kristof Borrey has announced the release of iKons 0.5.5. More importantly, Kristof is now working on getting iKons 0.6 in shape for inclusion in KDE3. For other icon activity, check out everaldo et al on the kde-artists list. I should also point you to the growing number of KDE icon themes on KDE-Look.org.

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by Tackat (not verified)

Same opinion here :-)

by Malcolm (not verified)

I couldn't agree more. KMail is one of my fav apps, and I like the idea of keeping the same icon but revamping it.


by everaldo (not verified)

excuse me

but my icons are not icons of the macOs and they are not the icons default of the kde

they are new icons

by Joe (not verified)

Thanks for the pointer. Everaldo's icons are beautiful, me thinks.

by me (not verified)

just for everyone to see, i think what they're talking about can be seen here:


very impressive indeed! thanks!

by hude (not verified)

Cool, really cool...I like these.

by Ralex (not verified)

Am I the only one who likes the KDE default icons? Sure, there are some things that could be done better, but as a whole they do their job: No fancy photo-realism overloading the screen and distracting from the relevant stuff. Simple but nevertheless good-looking, functional icons. I don't know what everybody's complaining about. As it has been pointed out numerous times before, you can install your own theme, if you don'T like it.

I always hear that Gnome's icons are much better than KDE's. Is it just me or why do I think it's the other way round? In fact one thing I immediately disliked about Gnome is the way it looks. KDE looks functional and tidied up. Please leave it taht way!

by Rumcajs (not verified)

All the complaints were about the toolbar icons, and indeed they could be better.

by 870Fragmaster (not verified)

your not the only one :) I personally think they are fine, but maybe i dont pay much attention to my icons. Of course that may mean that they ARE well designed since they are completely functional and the user doesnt even notice them.

by Rob (not verified)

Yes, it sounds like you are !

by Vajsravana (not verified)

You are not alone! :)) What I really like in KDE current icons, is that they are EASY TO READ... they require a minimal effort both in identifying the image, and in recognizing the associated function.

MacOSX-like icons look to me like those appearently beautyful fonts with elaborated hand-written look... once you try to use them for reading a long text, you immediately look for the good, old helvetica.

by Rajan Rishyakaran (not verified)

I wonder, what fonts gotta do with icons? (I personally like Chicago though)

by Malcolm (not verified)

I like them too, though it's a psychological thing - new release - new look. I'm not sure about the complete redesigns that appear in some of the sets, but a fresh view would make the user get the feel that they have something new before they even begin to use it.

Some people think eye-candy is unimportant, but Microsoft and HIFI manufacturers have become very successful at getting people to buy their products even if they are inferior to less attractive stuff.

by Asif Ali Rizwaan (not verified)

Hi, this is the author of Klassic Icon Theme. Like towards every theme/thing, every user wants different toolbar/mime/filesystem icons. some like the standard and some want funny. The point is Even if you have 3 sets of Arrows or 3 sets of Stop/Reload button icons, you have to create 3 different icon themes with 3 index.desktop files.

if KDE allows index1.desktop, index2.desktop index3.desktop and so on... then a Single theme can be much more configurable.

The iKons theme is a befitting icon theme which is much bothered by 'change arrows', and 'change stop' button and 'etc. etc.'. if KDE allows more than one 'Index.desktop' file then it would be easy for Kristof Borrey to implement both "Professional" and "Home edition" of iKons theme into a single ikons-0.6.tar.gz file.

Same is with my 'klassic icon theme' where some users don't prefer 'yellow' toolbar arrows. though I have created red, green and blue arrows, I am forced to create 4 different 'klassic blue arrow', 'klassic red arrows', 'klassic green arrows' and 'klassic standard icon theme.'

Any hope of having multiple index?.desktop files in a single icon folder?

by Tackat (not verified)

> would be easy for Kristof Borrey to implement both "Professional"
> and "Home edition" of iKons theme into a single ikons-0.6.tar.gz file.

Well if KDE-development would include such 'overconfigurable' stuff then there would be an option in KControl to change every single pixel on the screen (and millions of other options that are used by 5-6 users worldwide only).
You are proposing some kind of "subthemes" for a theme. You are proposing a solution which is not very flexible though compared to the solution which is implemented in KDE:
In KDE an icontheme can inherit from another icontheme. Your "Klassic" Icon Theme inherits from the "Hicolor" Icon Theme e.g.
. This means that KDE is using icons from the "Hicolor" Theme if icons for certain items don't exist in "Klassic". As "Klassic" tries to look a little bit like the windows-95-icons some people might want to use some Windows-iconthemes in addition to the "Klassic"-theme. To accomplish this you can create an icontheme "My Favourite Windows-icontheme" which contains only a few icons from an MS Windows-icontheme and which inherits from "Klassic".

In Kristof's case I would just create an icontheme containing all the IKons for the "Home edition" and another icontheme which contains only those icons which are different in the "Professional" version. "Professional" would have to inherit from "Home edition" and "Home edition" would have to inherit from "hicolor". To accomplish the inheritance you simply edit the "Inherits=hicolor" line in the .desktop file of your icontheme.


by Asif Ali Rizwaan (not verified)

I tried to inherit klassic but i am not sure whether the inherit='klassic' means inherit contents of _folder_'klassic' or inherit content of _theme_named_klassic_. could you please advise me which one is correct 'the folder name' or 'the theme name', Thanks.

by Anonymous (not verified)

It's the foldername.


by csp (not verified)

It seems to me that if all of these people like the GNOME icon themes, one of them should put together a GNOME icon theme for KDE.

by Evan "JabberWok... (not verified)

I did... or at least made an attempt. Things don't line up on a 1 to 1 relationship. I have notes for a conversion utility, but never really came across a Gnome icon archive format (theme.org was down at the time), so that hampered my ability to progress on it. Maybe I'll dust off the notes and take a look at Gnome 2.0 and see if things are more documented/available.

I do have a set of KDE formatted directories full of KDE named icons from Gnome CVS (which I assume to be the defaults at the time). As I say, there's lots of missing file that just don't exist in Gnome to rename and use in a KDE icon theme.


by Asif Ali Rizwaan (not verified)

I feel that you must put that gnome icon theme at kde-look.org for our friends (we the users of KDE and Gnome users) so that KDE could feel right at home for them (Gnome users). If you like I could render a helping hand.

by Stof (not verified)

That would be a problem. The KDE 2 panel doesn't support full alpha transparency (I don't know about KDE 3), and GNOME icons simply look ugly without transparency.

by Corba the Geek (not verified)

Anybody know why, what I guess is the icon for konsole, has a representation of the default DOS prompt "> _" rather than a traditional UNIX shell prompt "$ "?

You only get to see "> " as a prompt in UNIX land in a non-shell "command line" application. For example a debugger or and interactive restore.

Is this deliberate? Ignorance or just (bad) taste?

by Tackat (not verified)


of course I am aware of this problem :-) In fact one of the first versions of the konsole-icon _did_ have a "$" instead of the ">_" painted on the screen.

But there were some problems in respect to this politically correct solution:

- to paint a "$" you need at least 7 pixels in height to recognize it - 9 pixels would be better. On a 32x32 -icon this would mean that 25-30% of the icon would be covered by the "§" which would look strange. The ">_" only requires 3 pixels in height :-)
- In addition KDE is not targetted at the Unix geeks only: Most users probably have only used Windows before. These people don't know anything about "$"'s but the ">_" looks quite similar to the DOS prompt.


by Corba the Geek (not verified)

Thanks, an excellent explanation. I am happy now.

by Darren Winsper (not verified)

My shell prompt currently reads "darren@stargazer(darren)>" so I don't think it's that unrealistic :)

by KDE User (not verified)

Because not everybody uses bash, stupid. Only Linux users do.
csh/tcsh standard prompt is ">".

by Ishfaque Khanzada (not verified)

Please give me a way to learn me that at dos prmopt (before dos prompt)
3 colors are showing)as (colors c:\>) please

by Philippe Fremy (not verified)

I couldn't agree more. It is very important for an icon to be simple clear, not aggressive (colors), without too much detail, easily distinguishable from other icons.

This doesn't mean they have to look cartoonish but it is a way to achieve this. Don't forget too that some people have difficulties to see all the colors, that some don't see icons without high contrasts, that some can't get the details because they are shortsighted. There are conflicting constraints here, but this highlights how the issue is tough. And what helps people with disabilities also helps "normal" people. If you are working very late on a very important thing, you will appreciate if you can grab an icon meaning in 1/10 s.

By the way, the KDE help icon is highly unusual. The other desktops I know use a question mark for the help, which looks to me like a common accepted practice. This makes it immedietaly recognisable. I fail to do that in KDE.

by Tackat (not verified)

> By the way, the KDE help icon is highly unusual.
> The other desktops I know use a question mark for the help,

Hm, would you really expect the _answer_ of your problems behind a question mark? ;-)

Of course I know that people are quite used to help-icons which show question marks from other OSes. That's why I already thought about adding a question mark layed over the life-saver.

On the other hand Gnome and Mac OS X are using this symbol now, too (and I guess the next version of Windows will do the same). so ...


by Roger (not verified)

I don't think KDE icons are ugly, but they are not wonderful also.

When people see KDE for the first time, what they will remember the most is its appearence. Usability and features will come after. So, in my opinion, it is very important that the default theme is as beatiful as possible.

I've seen people that started using gnome instead of KDE just because it was more "professional", refering to its appearance.

by Anonymous (not verified)

> I've seen people that started using gnome instead of KDE just
> because it was more "professional", refering to its appearance.

I have seen people who use KDE instead of Gnome just because it
looks more professional.

Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. Something that looks beautiful to some people might piss off others. I know about people who switched back from Aqua/Luna (in Mac OS X/ Windows XP) because the artwork was too offensive in terms of beauty.

I couldn't get my work done either if a gorgeous naked lady would sit in front of me while I try to do my job ...

by Roger (not verified)

I agree with you, but I'm talking about the default theme, or at least an included theme that is as impressive as OS X/ Windows XP. I can tell you that it is easier to make someone try something new when the appearence is nice and for the masses OS X/ Windows XP is nicer than KDE's.

Of course, option is always good and that is what KDE is all about, you can always change your theme. But it lacks an appealing theme.

by Alain (not verified)

> I've seen people that started using gnome instead of KDE just because it was more "professional", refering to its appearance.

What a joke... To be professional, it has to be functionnal, easy to read, without useless flashing appearance...

As many (a majority, I think), I like the KDE default icons. It is the good way, it gives a good first impression, but it is interesting to easily change all the icons, because flashing fun is also a good thing (for non professional...)

by david hj (not verified)

For the most part, I think the KDE icons are functional, professional and excellent. I'm not interested in anti-aliased eye candy.

However, I do think some of the icons look a little too "cartoonish". In particular, I would like the arrow icons to look smoother and cleaner. The same goes for the reload button.

just my 2p.

by Ilan Volow (not verified)

If you want to prevent misinterpretation, you should LABEL THE TOOLBAR BUTTON, like GNOME does. Yes, I know KDE does have an option to display text under the icon, but this setting is not turned on by default. Keep in mind that majority of users are always going to go with the preinstalled default whatever it might be. Netscape vs. IE, need I say more? Go with the most usability-friendly default, and if some geek doesn't like it, he can turn it off. Another reason to label the toolbar button: It makes the button bigger. Why make it bigger: Fitts' Law. Fitts' Law is a principle of cognitive psychology stating that the time to access a physical target is the function of the distance to the target and its size. In the case of a toolbar button, the toolbar button with the label is bigger than one without, therefore it has a faster access time with a mouse. A really tiny toolbar button, such as the microsoft ones that a lot of KDE apps seem to imitate, have very slow access times with a mouse.

To learn more about how you can use Fitts' Law to design better user interfaces (or if you think I'm BS-ing or am arguing a matter of preference), check out this article at the site of UI guru Bruce Tognazzini


by Bryan Feeney (not verified)

The problem is that for most apps, if you stick the label underneath the button, some buttons will disappear off the edge of the window. To access them you have to click the (narrow) continuation button, and then select them. from a dropdown. At this point Fitts Law goes out the window, the amount of time needed to access some buttons (or even discover their functionality) increases enormously.

Incidentally, Netscape was the first to add labels under buttons (NS 3.x), and IE followed it, and then discarded it to a certain extent with IE5.56/IE6.0, where half the buttons have no labels, and the rest have labels beside them.

Weird and all as it seems, we owe most of the UI enhancements of the late nineties to the rivalry between the Netscape and IE browsers.

by antialias (not verified)

Both of you are right, sort of. The excellent example is Konqueror. If you enable text under icons, some buttons will dissapear (if you only have default set of buttons on the toolbar), and that's only because viewmag+ and viewmag- icons have for long descriptive text ('Increase font size' & 'Decrease font size'). That can be easily solved by replecing text under these icons with 'Zoom (font)+' & 'Zoom- (font)'.
The best thing would be some kind of compromize, and that would be text beside or under the most used toolbar icons (back, forward, home, reload) or even that can be maybe customized (I don't know, maybe someone uses more cut'n'paste than back & forward :)
One can create toolbar icons for, for example, back and forward buttons (as Asif Ali Rizwaan created recently - thanks Asif :), so you can have 'longer' back and forward icons (22x53 pixels) while other icons are still in default 22x22 size. I use such toolbar icons and it improved browsing here.
These kind of icons can be easily created for all KDE applications, and that's the power of KDE.

by Ante Wessels (not verified)

I uploaded a black and white theme to kde-look.org. The icons can be used by
LCD/Monochrome-displays and by visually impaired people.


by Dominique Schaefer (not verified)

I've installed crystal icons on kde 3 and it looks very nice I find with mosfet installed too my linux is very nice, it were good I find to deliver with kde these options.