Unity Switcher highlight does not stand out enough

Bug #857627 reported by Andrew on 2011-09-23
This bug affects 12 people
Affects Status Importance Assigned to Milestone
Ayatana Design
unity (Ubuntu)

Bug Description

The light gray icon highlight in Unity's Switcher (Alt+Tab) does not visually contrast against the other icons enough, making it require extra effort to distinguish which icon is currently selected.

It now takes more time for me to visually scan for the currently highlighted icon than I would normally spend with the Switcher open.

ProblemType: Bug
DistroRelease: Ubuntu 11.10
Package: unity 4.16.0-0ubuntu2
ProcVersionSignature: Ubuntu 3.0.0-11.18-generic 3.0.4
Uname: Linux 3.0.0-11-generic x86_64
ApportVersion: 1.23-0ubuntu1
Architecture: amd64
CompizPlugins: [core,bailer,detection,composite,opengl,imgjpeg,compiztoolbox,decor,resize,snap,regex,gnomecompat,move,grid,text,mousepoll,imgpng,vpswitch,place,winrules,unitymtgrabhandles,animation,wall,session,fade,workarounds,scale,expo,ezoom,scaleaddon,unityshell,bench]
Date: Fri Sep 23 11:09:46 2011
InstallationMedia: Ubuntu 11.04 "Natty Narwhal" - Beta amd64 (20110413)
 PATH=(custom, user)
SourcePackage: unity
UpgradeStatus: Upgraded to oneiric on 2011-09-23 (0 days ago)

Andrew (andrewkvalheim) wrote :
Omer Akram (om26er) on 2011-09-24
Changed in unity:
status: New → Incomplete
Changed in unity (Ubuntu):
status: New → Incomplete
Matt Giuca (mgiuca) wrote :

I would recommend adding a different colour highlight border around the edge of the active one, and removing the colour border around all of the other ones, so the only one with a colour border is the active one. It's hard to tell from the attached screenshot, but for example Firefox will have a dark orange background and bright orange border.

Change it so the current active one has some colour border (perhaps light orange to go with the brown background), and all the other icons have no border (so Firefox will still have a dark orange background but no orange border).

andre felix (afelix-design) wrote :

I feel the same discomfort when using the switcher.

I noticed that white icon backgrounds was avoided, but the highlight in the selectet icon still not enough.
In a quick change, it confuses me to know wich one is actually the selected one. Guess I'd try the border changing suggestion of Matt, in a first study.

By the way, I'm using the 12.04 beta, so it looks like it wasn't solved yet.

Nick (soapduk) wrote :

I agree the switcher is not clear enough to navigate visually. It often takes me a moment or two longer than it should to figure out which app is highlighted.

It's one thing to have coloured app backgrounds on the launcher but when it comes to the alt-tab switcher I think these colours compared to the relative lack of visual contrast of the hilighted item make for poor usability. And usability should come before visual appeal.

The Gnome-shell switcher is much cleaner, simpler, and more obvious which item is hilighted, eg:

If you compare the differences here, you see all the extraneous information the Unity switcher is presenting the user who just wants to quickly switch app: coloured backgrounds on each app, 3d effect boarders on each app, a boarder around the whole switcher, and boarder lines on either side of the boarder around the switcher... Talk about over-complicated.

TomasHnyk (sup) on 2012-04-28
tags: added: needs-design

Can't agree more. The difference in colour and lightness added by the highlight is well within the range of variation among a typical set of icons displayed. A mental effort, or otherwise unnecessary switching, is required to detect the higlight. That reduces switching speed and is uncomfortable.

The same is true when switching among the windows of the same application. The fuzzy orange decoration around the window border is hard to see against the dark red background. There is added difference in lightness, but it only works (but not too well) for windows having white background. Dark-coloured windows are not distinguishable with this method, and the only highlight remaining in that case is border decoration, which is very weak.

 I can't recall a similar problem with any other switcher, including the old compiz switchers. For example, the way Apple does it, they darken the icon's background (icons themselves are transparent) and they add a white border around it, thus doubling the contrast. That makes the icons stand out very well, without making them obnoxious.

Another thing that contributes to failure in Unity's switcher, I think, is that it is heavy on decorations. Note that all borders have complex shapes and gradients, and that is distracting. That clutters the view and reduces the contrast, making it more difficult to find what you are looking for. Nick points out the same problem in the comment above; I totally agree. Clutter is not consistent with speed.

Nick (soapduk) wrote :

Regarding the needs design, I have not created a mock up but I have made some suggestions as to how it should change, that would help someone to create a mock up. These suggestions are based mostly upon the above discussion:

Improving Unity's confusing switcher.

-get rid of boarders, or just have a very discrete one (eg 1px thick and a similar colour to the switcher background).

-remove app background colours which reduce contrast from the hilighted app

-if necessary after having made the above changes, increase contrast between background and hilighted app by making hilighted app brighter. This should include when two instances of the same application are shown.

-(rounded) squares around app icons are unneccessary but I do see their use in keeping with the Unity theme and appearing similar to the launcher. Perhaps if their background colour is the same as the switcher colour and their boarders become low contrast, they might not be too distracting.

-IMO the rest of the behaviour of the switcher is good. It could do though with becoming less graphically intensive (and this may of course be an area for another team), although some of the above changes *may* assist with this.

rg (rob-themayfire) wrote :

So glad I'm not the only one with this problem. Been using Unity for a couple months now and the different border and background colors in the switcher are *still* confusing me into selecting the wrong thing. This case seems to be gathering gratuitous suggestions like barnacles, but for me the problem would go away completely if the border color and background color was uniform across all switcher icons.

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