Human Interface Guidelines

These guidelines are designed to help developers and designers create a beautifully consistent experience on the elementary OS desktop. They were written for interface designers, graphic artists and software developers who will be working on elementary OS. They will not only define specific design elements and principles, but will also instill a philosophy that will help you decide when it is appropriate to deviate from the Guidelines. Adhering to the suggestions contained here will provide many benefits:

To help you achieve these goals, these guidelines will cover basic interface elements, how to use them and put them together effectively, and how to make your application integrate well with the desktop. The most important thing to remember is that following these guidelines will make it easier to design a new application, not harder.

However, keep in mind that this is a guideline, not a rulebook. New, amazing interaction paradigms appear every day and more are waiting to be discovered. This is a living document that can and will be changed.

For sections that have not yet been written, please refer to The GNOME HIG

Design Philosophy

The elementary OS HIG isn't just about a set of concrete rules; it's meant to be flexible and extensible. As such, this very first portion of the guideline is all about the guiding philosophy we employ. For a quick crash course, we like "The User is Drunk":

What Design Is Not

Before we get into all the things that make up elementary OS apps, there is a clarification that needs to be made. We need to understand what exactly design is about, but more importantly we want to smash two major myths:

  1. Design is not something you add on after you've completed a product. Whether you realize it or not, you are constantly designing anything you build. It is an intrinsic part of creating something. Design is not just what something looks like. It's not just the colors and fonts. Design is how it works. When you decide to add a button that does a thing, that is design. You made a decision to add a button with an icon or a label and where that button went and the size and color of that button. Decisions are designs.

  2. Design is not just, like, your opinion, man. Design is testable. One design will meet a specific goal better than another design. Consider different types of bicycles. A folding bicycle has a different set of design goals than a mountain bicycle. Things like weight, size, and tire tread are important factors in helping the intended user reach their goals. Because we understand that design is about solving specific problems, we must also understand that we can objectively compare the effectiveness of two designs at solving those problems.

  1. Design Is Not Veneer, Aral Balkan
  2. Design is Not Subjective, Jeff Law


Always work to make your app instantly understandable. The main function of your app should be immediately apparent. You can do this in a number of ways, but one of the best ways is by sticking to a principal of concision.

Avoid Feature Bloat

It's often very tempting to continue adding more and more features into your application. However, it is important to recognize that every new feature has a price. Specifically, every time you add a new feature:

Think in Modules

Build small, modular apps that communicate well. elementary OS apps avoid feature overlap and make their functions available to other apps either through Contractor or over D-Bus. This both saves you time as a developer (by other apps making their functions available to you), and is a courteous gesture towards other developers (by making your app's functions available to them).

Accessible Configuration

Providing settings can be a way to make sure an app is accessible to a wider set of users with special needs, but it can also be an easy way out of making design decisions about an app's behavior. Just like with problems of feature bloat, settings mean more code, more bugs, more testing, more documentation, and more complexity. When considering adding options to your app, try to strike a balance of making your app more accessible without pushing design work onto your users.

Build for the "Out of The Box" Experience

Design with sane defaults in mind. elementary OS apps put strong emphasis on the out of the box experience. If your app has to be configured before a user is comfortable using it, they may not take the time to configure it at all and simply use another app instead.

Ask the Operating System

Get as much information automatically as possible. Instead of asking a user for their name or their location, ask the system for this information. This cuts down on the amount of things a user has to do and makes your app look intelligent and integrated.

Is It Really About Accessibility?

Ask yourself if the configuration option you are adding is really necessary to make your app more accessible or if it makes sense to have a user make this decision. Don't ever ask users to make uninformed engineering or design decisions.

When You Absolutely Have To

Keep things contextual. Instead of tucking away preferences in a configuration dialog, think about displaying them in context with the objects they affect (much like how shuffle and repeat options appear near your music library).

If your app needs to be configured before it can be used (like a mail client), present this configuration inside the main window much like a Welcome Screen. Once again, make sure this is really necessary set-up. Adding unnecessary configuration screens stops users from doing what they wanted to do when they opened your app in the first place.

See Also:

  1. Checkboxes That Kill Your Product by Alex Limi
  2. Don't Give Your Users Shit Work by Zach Holman
  3. The Wizard Anti-Pattern by Stef Walter

Minimal Documentation

Most users don't want to read through help docs before they can use your app. Instead, they expect that your app will be intuitive and simple for them to understand without assistance.

Use Understandable Copy

Avoid technical jargon and assume little-to-no technical knowledge. This lets your app be "self-documenting."

Provide non-technical explanations instead of cryptic error messages. If something goes wrong, a simplified explanation of what happened and how to fix it should be presented.

For more information, see Writing Style.

User Workflow

Visible design is a large part of the user experience, but so is the user's workflow, or how they interact with an app. In this section, we cover a few important steps of a typical workflow:

First-Launch Experience

Required Configuration

When a user first launches an app, they should be able to get down to business as quickly as possible. If configuration is not absolutely required for the first use, they should not be required to configure anything. If configuration is required, they should be presented with a clean and simple welcome screen within the app. Avoid separate configuration dialogs when launching.

Speed of Launch

Your app's first launch is the user's first impression of your app; it's a chance to really show off its design and speed. If your app has to configure things in the background before visibly launching, it gives the user the impression that the app is slow or will take a long time to start up. Instead, focus on making the application window appear fast and ready to be used, then do any background tasks behind the scenes. If the background task is blocking (e.g. the user is unable to perform certain tasks until it's complete), show some type of indication that a background process is happening and make the blocked user interface items insensitive (see: Widget Concepts).

Welcoming the User

If there is no content to show the user, provide actions they can act upon by using a simple welcome screen. Let them open a document, add an account, import a CD, or whatever makes sense in the context of the app.

Resetting the App

If a user explicitly "resets" the app (ex. by deleting all songs in a music library or removing all mail accounts in a mail client), it should return to its first-launch state.

Normal Launch

When a user launches an app, they're performing an explicit action and expecting a fast, oftentimes immediate response. You should focus on three key areas for app launching: speed, obviousness of what to do next, and state.


As has been said before, speed, especially when launching an app, is very important. There should be as little delay as possible in between the time a user decides to launch an app and the instant they can begin using it. If your app requires a splash screen, you're doing it wrong.


When a user launches your app, they should know exactly what to do next. This is achieved by following the other interface guidelines (ensuring your app is consistent with other apps) and by offering up explicit actions from the get go. If the app typically displays "items," such as songs or emails, let the user get at those items by displaying them when the app opens. If there are no previously-opened items, you should offer to open or create a new item (such as a document) by using a welcome screen.


If the user has previously used your app, it's typically best to restore the state of the app when opening it again. This means the app comes up to right where the user left off so they can pick up their work again. For a music player, this means opening up with the view where the user left it and the song paused where the user closed the app. For a document editor, this would mean opening up with the same document scrolled to the same spot with the cursor in the same spot on the page.

Always Provide an Undo

Sometimes a user will perform an action which could possibly be destructive or traditionally irreversible. Rather than present the user with a warning, apps should let the user undo the action for an appropriate amount of time. Some prime examples of when this behavior is useful are:

This behavior should only as a last resort be implemented by providing a buffer time between when the app shows the user what happened and actually performing the action. To keep the experience responsive, the app should always look as if it performed the action as soon as the user initiates it.

This behavior strikes the best balance of keeping out of the user's way while making sure they don't do something unintended. It's important to keep the undo action unobtrusive yet simple and intuitive; a common way of doing so is by using an info bar, though other methods may also be appropriate.

See also: Never Use a Warning When you Mean Undo by Aza Raskin

Always Saved

Users should feel confident when using elementary OS; they should know that everything they see is saved and up to date.

Apps in elementary OS should operate around an always-saved state. This means that changes the user makes are instantly applied and visible and that making the user manually save things is a legacy or specialized behavior.

For example, a Song Info dialog should update the track information instantly without a user having to press a save button, user preferences should be applied as soon as the user manipulates the relevant widget, and closing an app should mean that reopening it will return to where the user left off.


When a user closes an app, it's typically because they're done using it for now and they want to get it out of the way.

Saving State

Apps should save their current state when closed so they can be reopened right to where the user left off. Typically, closing and reopening an app should be indistinguishable from the legacy concept of minimizing and unminimizing an app; that is, all elements should be saved including open documents, scroll position, undo history, etc.

Because of the strong convention of saved state, elementary OS does not expose or optimize for legacy minimize behavior; e.g. there is no minimize button, and the Multitasking View does not distinguish minimized windows.

Closing the App Window

Apps should never minimize instead of closing, as that puts the app window into a state that is foreign to users of elementary OS. Instead, windows should close or hide and re-open with a saved state. Any ongoing or background tasks should be completed soon after the window is closed, then the app should quit so as to not use unnecessary resources.

Background Tasks

If it makes sense to continue a process in the background (such as downloading/transferring, playing music, or executing a terminal command) the app back-end should continue with the task and close when the task is finished. If it's not immediately apparent that the process has completed (as with the file download/transfer or terminal command), the app may show a notification informing the user that the process has completed. If it is apparent, as with the music, no notification is necessary.

If an app performs repeat background tasks (such as a mail client fetching mail), the background tasks should be completed by a daemon and not rely on any window being open.

Re-Opening the App Window

If the user re-opens an app while a background process is still executing, the app should be exactly where it would be if the window had been open the whole time. For example, the terminal should show any terminal output, the music player should be on the same page it was when closed, and the browser should come back to the page it was on previously. For more details, see the discussion of app state on a Normal Launch.

See also: That's It, We're Quitting by Matthew Paul Thomas

Desktop Integration

An important advantage that developers have when choosing elementary OS as their platform is the ability to seamlessly integrate their application with the default desktop. There are several ways in which you can make your app a native experience on elementary OS:

App Launchers

The primary method of discovering and using your app will be through an app launcher found in the Applications Menu or in the dock. In order to provide these launchers you must install an appropriate .desktop file with your app. This includes giving your launcher an appropriate name, placing it in the correct category, assigning it an icon, etc.

.desktop files follow the Desktop Entry Specification. They should be installed in /usr/share/applications.

The contents of .desktop files should follow this formula:

Name is a(n) GenericName that lets you Comment.

GenericName=Package Installer
Comment=Install Debian packages


You should not include descriptive words in your app's Name. For example, an address book app might be called "Dexter," not "Dexter Address Book." A web browser might be called "Midori," but not "Midori Web Browser." Instead, use the GenericName attribute of your app's .desktop file for a generic name, and the Comment attribute for a longer descriptive phrase.



If your app is easily categorized or described with a generic name, you should use that for the GenericName attribute in your app's .desktop file. If you can say, "My app is a(n) ____," then whatever fits in that blank could be the generic name. For example, Quilter is a markdown editor, so its generic name is "Markdown Editor".

You should not include articles (the, a, an) or the words "program," "app," or "application" in your app's generic name.

The generic name should be in title case and may be used around the system to better describe or categorize your app:

GenericName=Markdown Editor


The system uses an app's Comment attribute (found in the .desktop file) to succinctly inform a user what can be done with the app. It should be a short sentence or phrase beginning with a verb and containing the primary nouns that your app deals with. For example, the following are appropriate comments:

An app's comment should be in sentence case, not include terminal punctuation (periods, exclamation points, or question marks), and should be as short as possible while describing the primary use case of the app:

Comment=Listen to music


The following categories may be used to aid with searching or browsing for your app. Keep in mind that you can add more than one and you should add all that apply:

For more info, see the FreeDesktop.Org menu entry spec and the list of additional categories

Categories should be separated by and terminated with a semicolon:



You may also include keywords in your launcher to help users find your app via search. These follow the "Keywords" key in your .desktop file. For example, a web browser might include "Internet" as a keyword even though it's not in the app's name, generic name, or description. As a result, a user searching for "Internet" will find the app. Here are some more examples:

Keywords should be single words (in title case) separated by and terminated with a semicolon:


See also: Desktop Entry Specification from


Contractor is a service and a protocol for exposing services easily between apps. It lets apps interact with other apps and services without hardcoded support for them. You simply add Contractor support, and then any service registered with Contractor is now available for your app to use. Your app can integrate with Contractor in two different ways:

Displaying Results from Contractor

Contractor results are typically presented to users in menu form. Keep the following in mind when presenting Contractor results:

Dock Integration

Integrate your app with the dock to communicate its status to the user at a glance.



Make progress bars unambiguous by referring to a single, specific task. For example, use progress bars to indicate the status of lengthy processes like file transfers and encoding. Do not use progress bars to compound the progress of different types of action.


A badge shows a count of actionable items managed by your app. Its purpose is to inform the user that there are items that require user attention or action without being obtrusive. This is a passive notification. A badge should not show totals or rarely changing counters. If the badge is not easily dismissed when the user views your app, it is likely that this is not a good use of a badge.

System Indicators

Indicators are small icons that live on the top panel. They give users a place to glance for quick information about the state of the system. Selecting an icon opens a small contextual menu with related actions available to the user, including a way to get the the full related system settings.


Does Your App Need an Indicator?

Indicators are designed for the system; they display information that is relevant to or affects the general usage of the device. Given that users will probably install many third-party apps, we must be careful about the number of indicators we show and how they behave. Keep in mind that only a very small set of applications need or benefit from an indicator.

Avoid adding an indicator if:


Notifications play a sound and are displayed as bubbles just below the system indicators. They briefly appear on screen where they can be selected to open the relevant app or manually dismissed by hitting the X icon. After a short time, they automatically slide away. Missed notifications can be seen in and cleared from the Notification Center indicator.


Notifications play a system sound by default, but app developers are able to set an appropriate app-specific sound for users to be able to more quickly recognize the source of the notification. Be sure to use the notifications API via LibNotify to set the sound so that it respects user settings and does not play a duplicate sound.


By default, a notification will include the icon of the app that sent it. For certain apps, it might make sense to display a different relevant image along with a notification, like a user avatar if it's a communication app or album artwork if it's a music app.

User Control

Keep in mind that users are in ultimate control over notifications and whether or not they appear. Being overly aggressive with your notificiations is a quick way to get the user to turn them off entirely or even uninstall your app.

Do Not Disturb

Users can enable Do Not Disturb mode from Notification Center or System Settings. Do Not Disturb blocks all notification bubbles and sounds until it is manually turned back off.

Notification Settings

Notification bubbles, sounds, and appearance in Notification Center can each be toggled on or off on a per-app basis from the system notifications settings. Instead of including a global toggle for all notifications in your app, direct the user to the System Settings using a settings URL to open the Notifications page directly.

See also:

  1. Developer Tips: Backgrounding & System Integration by Cassidy James Blaede
  2. Farewell to the Notification Area by Matthew Paul Thomas
  3. Status Icons and GNOME by Allan Day

Container Widgets


Windows form the foundation of your app. They provide a canvas with basic, built-in actions such as "closing" and "resizing". Although users may see windows as being all the same, elementary OS has several distinct window types. It's important to understand the types of windows available to you, window behavior in general, and behavior that is specific to a certain window type. This section will cover the different types of windows available in elementary OS. Although each type of window is a bit different, think of them all as a subclass of a window. Unless otherwise stated, they all behave as an average window.

Window Titles

When dealing with window titles, consider that their main use is in distinguishing one window from another. A good window title will provide a description that helps a user make a selection. Keep that in mind as you consider the following:

Even if your app uses a headerbar, be sure to set the window's title; it can be shown in the window switcher and elsewhere in the OS.


Dialog warning icon

Primary text providing basic information and a suggestion

Secondary text providing further details. Also includes information that explains any unobvious consequences of actions.

Suggested Action

Alert Text

An alert contains both primary and secondary text.

The primary text contains a brief summary of the situation and offer a suggested action. This text should use the CSS class primary. Primary text should be in sentence case and not include terminating punctuation, except in the case of questions.

The secondary text provides a more detailed description of the situation and describes any possible side effects of the available actions. It's important to note that a user should only need the primary text to make a decision and should only need to refer to the secondary text for clarification. This text should be placed one text line height beneath the primary text using the default font size and weight. Secondary text should be in sentence case with terminating punctuation.

Make both the primary and secondary text selectable. This makes it easy for the user to copy and paste the text to another window, such as an email message.

Please refer to Granite.MessageDialog. It is preferred as an elementary OS styled dialog that follows elementary OS design conventions.

Button Order

Button Order

"OK" is not Okay

When presenting a dialog to a user, always use explicit action names like "Save..." or "Shut Down". Consider how "OK" lets users proceed without understanding the action they are authorizing. Not all users will read the question or information presented to them in a dialog. Using specific action names will make it harder for a user to select an unintended action and may even encourage them to read the presented information before making a selection.

Suggested and Destructive Actions

If the primary action is not destructive, its button should be given the .suggested-action style class, rendering it in a highlighted style by default. It should usually be focused by default so it's quicker for the user to perform the action using the keyboard.

If the primary action is destructive—i.e. it cannot be easily reversed or undone—it should be given the .destructive-action style class, rendering it in a red style by default. Destructive actions should not be focused by default to prevent accidental activation.

Multiple suggested and/or destructive actions should not co-exist in the same context; there should only be one of either type in a dialog.

Preference Dialogs

Preference dialogs should be made Transient, but not Modal. When a user makes a change in a preference dialog, the change should be immediately visible in the UI. If the dialog is modal, the user may be blocked from seeing (and especially from interacting with) the change. This means they will have to close the dialog, evaluate the change, then possibly re-open the dialog. By making the dialog transient, we keep the dialog on top for easy access, but we also let the user evaluate and possibly revert the change without having to close and re-open the preference dialog.

See also:

  1. Why 'Ok' Buttons In Dialog Boxes Work Best On The Right by UX Movement
  2. Why The Ok Button Is No Longer Okay by UX Movement
  3. Should I use Yes/No or Ok/Cancel on my message box? on UX Stack Exchange
  4. Where to Place Icons Next to Button Labels by UX Movement


Popovers are like a contextual dialog. They display transient content directly related to something that was clicked on and close when clicked out of, like menus.


A popover should be used when a user wants to perform a quick action without getting out of the main UI. Some examples of where a popover could be used are adding a contact from an email, adding a bookmark in a browser, or displaying downloads or file transfers.

Popovers should not be used when displaying only a simple list of items; instead, use a menu. Likewise, don't use a popover if the user would spend more than a few seconds in it; instead, use a dialog. Remember that popovers are contextual and should directly relate to the UI element from which they spawn.


A Toolbar is useful for providing users with quick access to an app's most used features. Besides Buttons, a Toolbar is one of the most frequently used UI elements. It may seem like a simple container, but it is important to remain consistent in its use and organization.

Ordering Toolbar Items


Toolbar items should be organized with the most significant objects on the left and the least significant on the right. If you have many toolbar items it may be appropriate to divide them into groups with space in between each group. Keep in mind that when viewed with RTL languages, your toolbar layout will be flipped.

UI Toolkit Elements

elementary OS uses consistent user interface (UI) elements to bring a unified and predictable experience to users, no matter what app they're using. When used properly, this ensures a small (or nonexistent) learning curve for your app.

Widget Concepts

Before we get into all the widgets available in elementary OS, we need to cover some basic concepts that apply to all widgets. Employing these concepts correctly will create a more seamless experience for your users and help you avoid sifting through bug reports!

Controls That Do Nothing

A very common mistake for developers to make is creating controls that seemingly do nothing. Keep in mind that we want to present an environment where users feel comfortable exploring. A curious user will interact with a control expecting there to be some immediate reaction. When a control seemingly does nothing, this creates confusion and can be scary (Think, "uh-oh I don't know what happened!"). In some cases, controls that do nothing are simply clutter and add unnecessary complexity to your UI.

Consider the "clear" button present in search fields. This button only appears when it is relevant and needed. Clicking this button when the field is already clear essentially does nothing.


Sometimes it doesn't make sense for a user to interact with a widget until some pre-requisite is fulfilled. For example, It doesn't make sense to let a user click a browser's "Forward" button unless there is forward history available. In this case, you should make the "Forward" button insensitive or a user may click it, expecting a result, and be confused when nothing happens.

It's usually better to make a widget insensitive than to hide it altogether. Making a widget insensitive informs the user that the functionality is available, but only after a certain condition is met. Hiding the widget gives the impression that the functionality is not available at all or can leave a user wondering why a feature has suddenly "disappeared".

Hidden Widgets

When a widget only makes sense in a certain context (not as an indicator of an action to be performed) sometimes it does make more sense to hide it. Take hardware requirements for example: It may not make sense to show multi-display options if the system only has a single display. Making multi-display options insensitive is not really a helpful hint on this system. Another exemption to this rule is a widget that a user will only look for in context, like the clear button example above. Finally, Keep in mind that insensitive items will still be recognized by screen readers and other assistive tech, while hidden widgets will not.



See also: Form Label Proximity: Right Aligned is Easier to Scan by UX Movement


Infobars provide contextual information and actions to the user with varying levels of severity.


It is important to determine the severity or type of infobar to use. There are four types of infobars available:

Welcome Screen

Welcome Screen

The Welcome Screen is a friendly way to help users get started with your app.


Typically a Welcome Screen is used for apps like Music or Code where you have to import or create objects in a library before you can interact with them. This provides your users with a clear path to getting started and points out any immediate steps they must take before your app becomes useful.

If your app lets users clear its library, make sure that it returns to the Welcome Screen instead of an empty list.


The Welcome Screen consists of two sets of labels:


Grouped with each action is an icon that helps to quickly visualize it. Most of the time these will be Action icons, but you can use Places icons when importing or setting a location and even Apps icons if you must open a configuration utility.

Source List

A source list may be used as a high-level form of navigation. Source lists are useful for showing different locations, bookmarks, or categories within your app.

Source List in Files


A source list may be separated into different collapsible sections, each with its own heading. For example, a file manager might have a section for bookmarked locations, a section for storage devices attached to the computer, and a section for network locations. These sections help group related items in the source list and lets the user hide away sections they might not use.

Avoid nesting expandable sections within a source list if possible; if you find yourself wanting to do this, you may need to rethink the sections.


Hierarchy is important with source lists, both within the widget itself and within the broader scope of your app.

Sections in the source list should be sorted from most important at the top to least important at the bottom. If you're having a hard time deciding the relative importance of each section, think about which section a user is likely to use more often. Sorting the sections this way ensures that the most important items are always visible, even if the source list is too short to fit all of the items, though of course items at the bottom will still be accessible via scrolling.

A source list goes at the left side of a window (or right side for right-to-left languages). Because the user reads in this direction, the sidebar is reinforced as being before (and therefore at a higher level than) the app's contents.


Buttons are an incredibly important widget to understand since your app will undoubtedly contain them.

Tool Buttons

Open button


Tool Buttons are almost always icon-only and do not provide a button border. They should not be accompanied by a label.


All Tool Buttons should have tooltips, since they do not contain a label. This assists users with disabilities as well as giving a translation for an unrecognized icon. Tooltips should be done in sentence case without terminating punctuation.

Like text button labels, a tooltip should clearly describe what will happen when the button is pressed.

Keyboard Shortcuts

If a button has a related keyboard shortcut that will perform the same action, its tooltip should include the shortcut. See Granite.markup_accel_tooltip () for specifics.

Text Buttons

Cancel button


Text Button labels should be done in title case.

Like menu items, Text Button labels should consist of an Action or a Location but not a status. Make sure that a button's label clearly describes what will happen when it is pressed.

"Remove Account", "Transfer to Jim's Laptop", and "Import 20 Songs" are good labels.

"OK", "Get more storage!", and "Low Battery" are not good button labels. The "Get more storage!" label has incorrect capitalization and unnecessary punctuation. The other two labels do not indicate what will happen as a result of clicking the button.


Since Text buttons have a clear and explicit label, it's usually unnecessary to give them a tooltip.

  1. Why The OK Button Is No Longer Okay by UX Movement
  2. Should I use Yes/No or Ok/Cancel on my message box? on UX Stack Exchange

Back Buttons

A back button is simply a text button with a special style class. It should be used to navigate back to a previous view, typically from a child view to the main view.

The text of the button should be the title of the previous view. If the button will take the user “home,” then “Home” may be an appropriate label; however a more specific label is preferred, such as “All Settings” in System Settings. Avoid just using “Back,” as the back button is visually distinct and going back is already implied by its unique shape. The button should tell the user where it will take them back to.

When using a back button, it is recommneded to use a Gtk.Stack to switch between views. This way you get a sliding animation further representing the backwards progression when activating the back button.

Back buttons are typically seen in headerbars, but can be used in other contexts as well.

Search Fields

Apps that support the searching or filtering of content should include a search field on the right side of the app's toolbar. This gives users a predictable place to see whether or not an app supports searching, and a consistent location from which to search. Gtk+ provides a convenient complex widget for this purpose called Gtk.SearchEntry.

Search Field

Distinguish Between Search and Find

Search is for filtering the contents of a library, i.e. Music or Videos, to the matching items. Search is typically initiated when typing anywhere in a library view.

Find is for highlighting matching instances of a string, i.e. in a text editor, web page, or Terminal. It is triggered by a keyboard shortcut (Ctrl+F) or with a search icon. The find bar appears in a revealer below the headerbar with relevant actions such as find next, find previous, highlight all, etc. The revealer may also contain other relevant actions such as replace or go to line.


If it is possible to include search functionality within your app, it is best to do so. Any list or representation of multiple pieces of data should be searchable using a search field that follows these rules:


Search fields should contain hint text that describes what will be search. You can set this using the entry property "placeholder_text".

Most search fields should use the format "Search OBJECTS" where OBJECTS is something to be searched, like Contacts, Accounts, etc.

If the search field interacts with a search service, the hint text should be the name of that service such as "Google" or "Yahoo!"

Selection Controls

Selection controls present a way for users to select or enable options. There are several types of selection controls available in elementary OS:



Use checkboxes when users are making a selection of items. If you have a single option, avoid using a checkbox and use a switch instead.

Make sure that users can toggle the state of the checkbox by clicking on the label associated with the checkbox.

Labels associated with checkboxes should usually be nouns or nounal phrases.



Use a combobox (also called a dropdown) when:

Linked Buttons

Linked Buttons

Use linked buttons when:

Linked buttons can be used to select multiple related options like "Bold", "Italic", and "Underline", or they can be used to select a single mutually exclusive option (also called a mode button) like Grid, List, or Column view.

Linked buttons should never contain colored icons. Only 16px symbolic icons OR text. Do not mix icons and text.

Radio Buttons

Radio Buttons

Use radio buttons when:



Use a switch when users are toggling certain features or behaviors "on" or "off".

Don't use switches to select related items as part of a list, instead use a checkbox. Think of switches as acting on independent services and checkboxes as including objects in a list. This is an important distinction to make.

When possible, directly call out the service you are acting on. Do not use words that describe the state that the widget is describing like "Enable Multitouch", "Use Multitouch", or "Disable Multitouch". This can create a confusing situation logically. Instead, simply use the noun and write "Multitouch".

Mode Switches

Mode Switches

As of elementary OS 5 Juno, mode switches are a new switch-based widget that communicate switching between two distinct states. For example, switching between a photo or video mode in a camera. The switch is drawn smaller and inline with the provided symbolic icons. Tooltip hints can also be provided when hovering the icons.

Use a mode switch when you have two distinct and opposing states that you are switching between that can be effectively communicated via an icon. If you need text or more than two states, use a Mode Button instead.

See also: 3 Ways to Make Checkboxes, Radio Buttons Easier to Click by UX Movement


Notebooks are a type of widget that lets apps show one of multiple pages (also colloquially referenced as "tab bars").

Static Notebook

Static Notebook

A Static Notebook is a small set of unchanging tabs, commonly seen in preferences or settings screens. The tabs appear as linked buttons centered at the top of the content area. A Static Notebook should typically contain two to five tabs.

Dynamic Notebook

Dynamic Notebook

A Dynamic Notebook is a way for an app to provide user-manageable tabbing functionality, commonly seen in web browsers. The tabs appear attached to the toolbar on their own tab bar above the relevant content. Tabs are able to be rearranged and closed, and a "new tab" button is at the start of the notebook widget.


Iconography is a key part of elementary OS. Icons make up the majority of the UI that your user will be actively engaging with; they're what bring the system to life and cater to the powerful recognition engine of the human brain.


Your icon should have a distinctive shape/silhouette to improve its recognition. This shape should not be too complicated, but the icon should not always be a rounded rectangle.

Warning dialog icon Chat icon Photos icon Videos icon Online accounts icon Terminal icon

For example, if your icon's metaphor lends itself well to a unique shape, use that shape for the overall icon shape instead of placing that shape onto a generic rectangle, square, or circle.

Bad (unnecessary base shape) Better (unique shape)
Base shape Unique shape


If you're creating an icon for a hardware device or a file type (such as those for MimeType or Device icons), its shape is typically a visual representation of its real-world counterparts. For example, the icon for a camera is a stylized camera.

Camera icon Hard disk icon Mouse icon Package icon HTML Text icon Computer icon

Action Icons

Action icons are used to represent common user actions, such as "delete", "play", or "save". These icons are mostly found in app toolbars, but can be found throughout the OS.

Previous icon Next icon Document export icon Print icon Save icon Delete icon Cut icon Undo icon Inverse icon Play icon New tag icon Menu icon

If your app makes use one of these common actions, reference its corresponding icon instead of creating your own. This ensures a consistent user experience and aids in user recognition of common functions.

If your app has a unique action, you may need to create your own. When doing this, try to follow the look and feel of existing action icons, and include it along with your app.

Icon Sizes

elementary OS uses six main icon sizes throughout the OS and it's best to include all six as part of your application.

16 pixel Terminal icon 24 pixel Terminal icon 32 pixel Terminal icon 48 pixel Terminal icon 64 pixel Terminal icon 128 pixel Terminal icon
16 24 32 48 64 128
128 pixel Terminal icon

Design each icon for the size it's meant to be viewed at. In other words, do not design one icon and resize it to fill the remaining sizes, the best result is when each icon is designed individually. For more information about this practice (called "pixel-fitting") and its importance, we recommend reading Dustin Curtis' article, Pixel-fitting.

Color Palette

Color—don't be afraid to use it! Many of the elementary OS icons use vibrant colors; it's best to reserve muted tones and grays for boring system icons.

Mail icon RSS Reader icon Web browser icon Photos icon Network icon Calendar icon

Colors do have their connotations, so be cognizant of this when picking them. For instance: red is usually associated with error or "danger", and orange with warnings. But you can use these color connotations to help convey your icon's meaning, such as green for "go". We use the following palette:

Strawberry #c6262e
Strawberry 100 #ff8c82
Strawberry 300 #ed5353
Strawberry 500 #c6262e
Strawberry 700 #a10705
Strawberry 900 #7a0000
Orange #f37329
Orange 100 #ffc27d
Orange 300 #ffa154
Orange 500 #f37329
Orange 700 #cc3b02
Orange 900 #a62100
Banana #f9c440
Banana 100 #fff394
Banana 300 #ffe16b
Banana 500 #f9c440
Banana 700 #d48e15
Banana 900 #ad5f00
Lime #68b723
Lime 100 #d1ff82
Lime 300 #9bdb4d
Lime 500 #68b723
Lime 700 #3a9104
Lime 900 #206b00
Mint #28bca3
Mint 100 #89ffdd
Mint 300 #43d6b5
Mint 500 #28bca3
Mint 700 #0e9a83
Mint 900 #007367
Blueberry #3689e6
Blueberry 100 #8cd5ff
Blueberry 300 #64baff
Blueberry 500 #3689e6
Blueberry 700 #0d52bf
Blueberry 900 #002e99
Grape #a56de2
Grape 100 #e4c6fa
Grape 300 #cd9ef7
Grape 500 #a56de2
Grape 700 #7239b3
Grape 900 #452981
Bubblegum #de3e80
Bubblegum 100 #fe9ab8
Bubblegum 300 #f4679d
Bubblegum 500 #de3e80
Bubblegum 700 #bc245d
Bubblegum 900 #910e38
Cocoa #715344
Cocoa 100 #a3907c
Cocoa 300 #8a715e
Cocoa 500 #715344
Cocoa 700 #57392d
Cocoa 900 #3d211b
Silver #abacae
Silver 100 #fafafa
Silver 300 #d4d4d4
Silver 500 #abacae
Silver 700 #7e8087
Silver 900 #555761
Slate #485a6c
Slate 100 #95a3ab
Slate 300 #667885
Slate 500 #485a6c
Slate 700 #273445
Slate 900 #0e141f
Black #333333
Black 100 #666666
Black 300 #4d4d4d
Black 500 #333333
Black 700 #1a1a1a
Black 900 #000000

Symbolic Icons

Symbolic icons are common system icons that symbolize files, devices, or directories, and are also used to represent common actions like cut, copy, and save.

Each symbolic icon is a reduced form of its full-color counter part. This minimal design ensures readability and clarity even at small sizes.

Icon style comparison

Colored vs. Symbolic Icons

The use of full-color and symbolic icons is not interchangeable; both have appropriate uses.

Full-color icons are best used for:

Symbolic icons are best used:


There are three aspects to note when designing an elementary OS icon:

Composition breakdown of elementary OS Videos icon Composition breakdown of elementary OS Terminal icon

Keeping these lines in mind while designing, means you can place elements along them to ensure that icons appear more consistent when put together. For example, notice how some elements in both the Terminal and Videos icons above relate to the mean line.

Common Measurements

If you're designing a square-shaped icon, like the one for Terminal seen above, then consider using these common measurements (in pixels) for each icon:

Canvas Size Base Line x-Height Mean Line Height
16x16 1 14 8
24x24 2 20 12
32x32 2 26 16
48x48 3 40 24
64x64 4 56 32
128x128 9 104 64


However, there are exceptions. Many icons (especially mimetype icons) have ascending and descending elements, which are those elements that extend beyond the base line and x-height line (shown here in orange).

Composition exception example in elementary OS Video icon Composition exception example in elementary OS Terminal icon

Rounder components will generally require some overshoot, to compensate for the optical illusion that makes them look smaller than their rectangular counterparts.

Outlines & Contrast

All elementary OS icons have a thin outline (stroke) to improve their contrast. The width of this stroke is one pixel for all icons, at every size. The color of the outline is a darker variant (30% darker) of the primary color of the icon. For instance, in the calendar icon below, the green header has a stroke of a darker green.

Example of contrast in elementary OS Calendar icon Example of contrast in elementary Settings icon

To further improve contrast, strokes are also semi-transparent. This ensures that icons appear sharp against a variety of backgrounds. Also, if the element is near-white, this stroke acts as a border and contains, rather than overlaps, its corresponding element. See the above icon for an example of this.

Shadows & Highlights

If you picture an icon sitting on a shelf, facing you, with a light source above it, you may see a small fuzzy shadow near the bottom. Also, since the edges of an object tends to reflect more light due to your position relative to it and to the light source, they will have a highlight. Both these effects are something elementary OS icons emulate in their design to lend them a degree of realism.

Edge Highlight

To apply the edge highlight effect to your icon, draw a subtle, 1 pixel, inner stroke as a highlight. This outline is slightly brighter at the top and the bottom than it is at the edges.

Edge highlight example in elementary OS Music icon

Drop Shadow

To draw the shadow, you'll start by drawing a rectangle. Then fill it with a linear gradient that is perpendicular to the bottom margin of the icon. The gradient has three stops, the first and last of which have zero opacity. Then this entire shape is set to 60% opacity.

Shadow example 1

Next create two smaller rectangles to "bookend" the larger. Fill each with a gradient identical to the first, but make it radial instead. Center the radial gradient in the middle of a short edge with each stop directly out to the nearest edge—see below for an example. Both these rectangles are also set to 60% opacity.

Shadow example 2

Pictogram Shadow

If your icon has a pictogram, such as the play triangle in the icon below, you can give it a drop shadow to make appear extruded from the background of the icon.

Video player icon

To do this, first duplicate the pictogram, fill it with solid black and set it to 15% opacity. Next, shift it 1 pixel down and place it below the pictogram. Create a copy of this shadow and give it a 1 pixel stroke (also black) and adjust this element to 7% opacity.

Alternatively, you can also use a highlight and shadow to make the pictogram appear inset into the background.

Bad (flat pictogram) Better (extruded pictogram) Better (inset pictogram)
Flat foreground Extruded foreground Inset foreground

Icon Materials

You are free to add gloss (extra highlights) to your icon but this is only a good idea if you're emulating a surface that is more-reflective in real life (such as plastic, glass, etc.) For instance, a sheet of paper is not glossy therefore a icon emulating paper would not be either.

Glossy vs. non-glossy

Dos and Don'ts

Below are some "do and don't" examples to consider when creating icons for your app.


Although elementary OS primarily uses graphics as a means of interaction, text is also widely used for things like button labels, tooltips, menu items, dialog messages, and more. Using text consistently and clearly both in terminology and format is an extremely important part of designing your app and helps add to the overall cohesiveness of the elementary OS platform.

Writing Style

Use the following rules to keep your text understandable and consistent:

Be Brief

Don't give the user a bunch of text to read; a lengthy sentence can appear daunting and may discourage users from actually reading your messaging. Instead, provide the user with short and concise text.

Think Simple

Assume the user is intelligent, but not technical. Avoid long, uncommon words and focus on using common, simple verbs, nouns, and adjectives. Never use technical jargon.

Get To The Bottom Line

Put the most important information at the beginning of your text. If the user stops reading, they'll still have what they need in mind.

Don't Repeat Yourself

Repetition can be annoying and adds unnecessary length to your messaging.

Use Visual Hierarchy

Visual hierarchy aids users in reading and comprehending your text as well as knowing what is most important. Use headings and other text styles appropriately.


While much of elementary OS is developed in English, there are many users who do not know English or prefer their native language. While putting text into your app, keep the following in mind:


All textual user interface items, including labels, buttons, and menus, should use one of two capitalization styles: sentence case or title case.

Sentence Case

Sentence case means you capitalize like in a standard sentence or phrase.

Only the first letter of the phrase and the first letter of proper nouns are capitalized. Used for labels and descriptive text.

Title Case

Title case means you capitalize like a book or article title. In elementary OS, we follow the AP Style.

Used for titles, buttons, menus, and most other widgets.


Proper nouns should always be capitalized properly; this means that, for example, Google should always be shown as "Google," and MPEG should always be shown as "MPEG." One major exception is "elementary." It should follow the brand guidelines and always appear lowercase, even at the start of a sentence. If you're unsure how a certain pronoun should be officially capitalized, refer to the documentation of the pronoun in question.

Keep in mind these are the rules elementary OS follows for English; capitalization for other languages should follow the conventions of those languages.


Proper typography is important throughout elementary OS. Not just for consistency within the OS, but for following proper convention and presenting ourselves as a serious, professional platform.

Terminating Punctuation

Whether or not to use terminating punctuation (like a period . in English) depends on context. For secondary labels in dialogs, use terminating punctuation. For single-sentence copy in tooltips and other clarifying contexts, avoid terminating punctuation.

For multi-sentence copy in clarifying contexts, use standard terminating punctuation. If there are single-sentence labels in the same context (alongside multi-sentence labels), terminating punctuation may be used for consistency.

For questions, always include terminating punctuation (i.e. a ? in English).

Prevent Common Mistakes

Hyphens & Dashes

Hyphen (-)

Use \u2010 in code. Used for:

En Dash (–)

Use \u2013 in code. Used for:

Em Dash (—)

Use \u2014 in code. Used for:

If in doubt, refer to Butterick's Practical Typography.

These rules apply to the English language; other languages may have their own conventions which should be followed by translators.

Using Ellipses

The ellipsis character (…) is used in the interface for two primary reasons: informing the user of an additional required information and letting the user know text has been shortened.

Additional Information

An ellipsis should be used to let a user know that more information or a further action is required before their action can be performed. Usually this means that the user should expect a new interface element to appear such as a new window, dialog, toolbar, etc in which they must enter more information or make a selection before completing the intended action. This is an important distinction because a user should typically expect an instant action from buttons and menu items while this prepares them for an alternate behavior. More specifically, an ellipsis should be used when the associated action:

Shortened Text

Ellipses should be used when shortening text that cannot fit in any specific place. For example, if a playlist's name is longer than the space available in the sidebar, truncate it and use an ellipsis to signify its truncation. There are two ways to use an ellipsis when shortening text:

If you're unsure, it's best to use middle truncation, as it keeps both the beginning and end of the string intact. It's also important that you do not ship your app with any truncated text; truncation should only be the result of a user action such as resizing a sidebar or entering custom text.

When Not to Use Ellipsis

Be sure to use the actual ellipsis character (…) rather than three consecutive period (.) characters.

Naming Menu Items

Menu items should have names that are either actions or locations, never descriptions. Make sure menu items are concise, but also fully describe the action that will be performed when they are clicked.

"Find in Page..." is acceptable as it clearly describes the action that will be performed when the item is clicked. "Software Up to Date" is not acceptable. What happens if I click this item? Where will it take me? What will it do? The outcome is uncertain.