In many years working with an Xfce installation from Debian, I have never tried to make my desktop environment personal, except from choosing a grey background. I wasn't content with it, but since I wasn't able to change much of the design anyway, I never tried. However, I've felt a wish to contribute to free software in the field of desktop design or user interface for a decade now.

The free software movement needs designers to care for intuitive interaction as well as the human desire of beauty. The designer's role should not be limited to painting flowers on given walls. Proprietary software providers know this and takes care of consistent design. A well designed interface not only makes consumers trust the functionality, it actually can improve it.

Extensive knowledge about aesthetics, color, letterforms, readability, layout and visual communication as well as experience with web design and CSS code is not enough to design a desktop.

Neither do we need programmers to be designers, nor do we need a new breed of designers thinking like programmers. We need collaboration. We need programmers to understand what designers can do and designers to understand just enough of the framework to understand how they can work with user interface design and collaborate with programmers.

We visit local distributions to understand their presumed special needs for localisation and branding, to learn or to get inspired from their example, and maybe convince them to or help them get back into Debian.

We wish to make it easier to make distibutions in Debian. To make [Debian Pure Blends]. We want to make it easier to customize the looks and feels of the desktop, to make branding easier, to make localization easier, to make design easier across theming engines. Less frustration, more fun.

This effort is about reuse of ressources. This is about collecting and preserving all the effort and love, that small distributors have put into their desktop distribution. It's fun to create something, but maintaining it, keeping it alive, is less fun, and harder to keep volunteers involved with. Many local initiatives have only a short livespan. This might be the simple nature of things, but through Debian the inventions, the hacks, the innovation created by those smaller distributions can be preserved and recycled.

We need master themes, we need best practices, we need documentation; we need people with experience to join us in this effort. We might also need bridging tools or wrapper tools to take care of the glitches between programming languages. We don't yet know exactly what we need.

So far we've been working with [Hamara Linux] in Manesar near New Delhi, a free Indian distro aimed at local new computer users and schools. The beautifully designed Hamara desktop is based on Trisquel. I compare their design elements with others. In the process, I learn more about the anatomy of a theme. In the case of Hamara, the design includes a slideshow during startup, a customised Conky widget design and a nice installation interface as well as a whole set of beautiful wallpapers for the user to choose from. We have been met with generosity and wonderfully engaged people there, and will return to Hamara Linu near the end of our journey, this time in their new hacklab in Pune, being established in January.

We have traveled to Kathmandu to meet with FOSS engaged engineers and students in two technical universities. A local educational project squeezed in a short meeting with us. More than one subscribed to our mailing list! We met with Ankur Sharma from app design studio [Expresiv Studio], and he immediately grabbed the idea to work on a project involving design guidelines for software design.

Everything was arranged by and would not have happened without the help of our local dear friend [Chandan Gupta].

Our next stop is Hyderabad. Swecha, an organisation with a linux distribution of their own, has agreed to a three weeks collaboration period with us during Christmas and New Year. We are amazed of how well we are being received and are looking forward to collaborate and learn more from them, hoping that we can inspire others on our way to join forces and get creative.