As you all know, we've been traveling a long road from Jupiter to Luna. One of the goals targeted for this release is a massive overhaul of our icon theme. It's still in the works, but I'd like to preview for you some of the big changes, talk about some of the reasons behind changes, and show you where you can go to test out the new icons and help track down any problems introduced in the latest revision.
On free desktops like elementary, we have a fundamental problem: there is a lot of fragmentation around icon names. This happens when a desktop environment decides to add a prefix to it's icon names (xfce-whatever), or when a toolkit decides to add a prefix (gtk-whatever), or when erroneous words are included (STOCK_whatever). And what happens is that people who make icon themes end up adding symbolic links (or symlinks; a shortcut or alias) into their themes in order to try to cover all of these duplicate icon names. Well, I've just about had enough of this nonsense. It's pretty difficult to maintain an icon theme with thousands of symlinks filling it up. So for 3.0 I'm going to stick as closely as humanly possible to only the most sane, common, and desktop/toolkit/whatever-agnostic icon names I can find. This means that the icon theme will be much smaller in terms of number of files, it should be more stable in terms of not having to watch out for broken symlinks, and it should be much easier to maintain since there is less to worry about.
One of the coolest new things in icon tech lately is Symbolic icons. These are the flat single-colored icons that we see becoming so popular on mobile devices. They're great in status bars and text entries, in panels and inline toolbars, and many other places. But until now, as icon designers we've had a huge problem with them: Black icons don't show on Black backgrounds and vice versa. But now, using the -symbolic icon name space, we can design icons that adapt their color with your theme and look great on dark or light backgrounds.
File Type icons (also called mimetype icons) saw quite a few changes this cycle. The most noticeable change is the removal of the old page curls on document files. There are also a number of other stylistic changes such as using the same note shape as BeatBox, better color distinction between different mimetypes, better support for common mimetypes, etc. These new icons should be much more immediately recognizeable and look a whole lot better.
Something I've really been working on this cycle is having much better lighting and color. You'll notice that the old accessibility icon and the old playlist icon above use a completely different blue, but the new ones use the same shade of blue. It's one of those nice consistency things. You'll also notice that the new blue is much more vibrant and alive. It isn't like the old dull color.
Other important changes center around the use of Shape and Color as a distinguisher. With the icons above (dialog-warning vs dialog-error), the color was changed to better reflect the "threat level" (warning as yellow, reserving red for errors) and the shape was changed to make it much more clear which icon this is and what situation you have arrived at.
You really have to see all the changes for yourself. If you're a brave daily PPA tester, you should see the update soon (if not already). If you're not yet using our daily or testing PPA, a word of caution: It's called the cutting edge for a reason. Icon themes are not a game. Using the daily ppa could literally render your system completely useless. I recommend either waiting for a more stable release or using a secondary machine to test. With that said, you can examine our testing ppa here and add it to your system if you so desire.
Please remember that this is the beginning of a testing cycle, so you will encounter problems. Please report your problems. There may be regressions introduced in this revision. Happy testing, and thanks a bunch :)