New Minimalist Desktop Backgrounds

I have something I designed on the side that I’m very eager to share with Mac/iPad/iPhone users today. But first, the story behind this side project. Please indulge me for a brief moment, then enjoy my gift to the world.

I have a confession to make. I’m a designer that can’t be satisfied. People like me are so rare, right? I hope you know that I’m kidding. I think I can speak for many of us when I say that it’s difficult to find satisfaction in our desktop backgrounds. That’s right, those images that plague all of our screens. Take this one for example:

A typical desktop background picture

A typical desktop background picture

It’s very attractive, but after a minute or so, I’m already tired of thinking about it. I’m not especially big on space, nor do I want my subconscious thinking about space while I’m at my Mac. I want to think about the tasks I’m using my devices for free from distractions.

I came to this fatigue point many years ago. My desktop experience was waning under the pressure of my designer neuroses. I tend to grow tired of images that are imposed on me relatively quickly, even if I at some other time chose to make that image my desktop picture. Whether I like it or not, wallpapers are the images that are set before me the most often. Commonplace visuals grate on my nerves after a few days.

I would love to look at beautiful imagery all day, but like a nutcase, it doesn’t matter to me how professional and artistic the imagery on my screen is. There is no doubt in my mind that the timelapse night sky wallpaper above would delight some people for its technical and artistic refinement. But if I see it day in and day out, I grow tired of the image.

So much so that on an impulse, I would spend hours looking for a newer and "better" wallpaper. I would go into auto pilot at my Mac killing time looking through desktop wallpaper sites. That’s time that I’m no longer willing to sacrifice to the gods of beautiful and distracting imagery.

The problem with the average wallpaper site

The Internet is chock-full of sites that giveaway tens of thousands of pictures for free. These solve my problem, right? Ha! No.

They are often cesspools. Most of them are websites that I really don’t want to browse. There’s a lot of images that I have no interest in seeing, let alone downloading. There are whole categories I don’t want to take a casual glance at, because they will derail my focus when I really shouldn’t be killing time looking into my options in the first place.

They steal your attention. The "safe for work" wallpapers are often little more than alluring billboards. These thumbnails are a screenshot from one such popular desktop background site.

Wallpapers from a popular online source

Wallpapers from a popular online source

They are spellbinding to be sure, and they show some promise because the designers obviously want to dazzle you, but they aren’t background worthy. I don’t need desktop distractions. I want subtlety, which is the ideal for wallpaper in the real world as well as the computer space.

Backgrounds are often poorly designed by amateurs. Thousands of amateurs that feel good about doodling in Photoshop for the second time will make something "creative" and share it on the web. This has gotten out of hand, as now literally hundreds of thousands of lame designs are cluttering up wallpaper sites. It’s very discouraging to filter through these tacky graphics for hours on end while you’re trying to find just a few tasteful ones.

Link baiting is the price you pay for a few free wallpapers. The top results in my searches turn up ultra attention-getting images. I click on what I expect is the thumbnail that will present the resolution of the wallpaper I want. It opens up another window, a pop up, and another call to action — as bad as a two-bit torrent site. Eventually, I might click on the right link for the preferred background, but by then I feel the tension with the noise of the Internet, and it’s beating me this round.

So, I scurry away from my search with just one wallpaper or two that may or may not satisfy my mania. I then put a newly downloaded image on my desktop only to find that it doesn’t suit my device’s personalized space. I absolutely detest this experience, and I’m ashamed to admit that it’s happened to me countless times over the last 15 years.

A solution for the hopeless desktop environment

It was a few years ago when I set out to identify the ideal backgrounds that would cure me of my wallpaper obsession. Here’s what I wanted desktops to accomplish for me:

  • Images that are attractive at a glance
  • Appealing to me no matter what I’m using my Mac to do, for work or play
  • The images should be uncomplicated, to avoid distractions with unnecessary details
  • The longer I can tolerate the design, as to leave the background unchanged for a lengthy number of days, the better
  • They should lack artistic imperfections (like over-sharpness, blown-out highlights, over-saturation, tacky branding, staunch politically incorrect [or correct] themes…) which usually spoil my appreciation for an otherwise creative and attractive image
  • Backgrounds should subtly mesh with foreground elements, such as my web browser, text editor, and OS X’s Finder
  • If at all possible, the graphics should contribute to a healthy state of mind (calm, attentive, orderly, mindful)

Lots of designers have attempted to accomplish these guidelines with their desktop art, but usually one or more of the end goals are sacrificed because it’s tough to satisfy all of them. This is a difficult problem to solve. If it were easier, designers would have made wallpapers long ago that would have worked for anyone in any setting, and that sounds practically impossible.

But that’s exactly what I wanted to do, if I could. In the least, I wanted to aim high and make desktop pictures that would be far superior than what most wallpaper sites have to offer. Hence, it was necessary that the images I design be somewhat neutral: not influenced by the dictates of personal tastes. They ought to strike the widest range of human approval.

I theorize that if I’m successful, I will have images that I enjoy on my desktop no matter what my present disposition. If I could be in any mood working on any task with anyone while taking any action on my Apple device, and be satisfied with the background, I would have arrived upon something great.

A preview of desktop backgrounds from the Focus Collection

A preview of desktop backgrounds from the Focus Collection

Browse and download the images here »

As a result of my pursuit after years of consideration, I’ve created what I am naming the Focus Collection: blurred desktop pictures that are colorful, simple, consistent, smooth, and subtly attractive. Even if these aren’t mesmerizing works of art, or the most imaginative photographs, they fit the context: images that recede into the background so that apps (where I want my energy concentrated) are a pleasure to use for long stretches of focused time.

Field testing the Focus Collection

Time will tell if I am achieving my goals with these. They have been working for my workflows. Many more are on the way, so if you think you’re interested in the project but want to see more, come back soon.

If you like this first of the Focus Collection, please use them and feel free to share them. I hope you like them as well as I do. I would like it if you refer others to my site that are interested, but under all circumstances, feel free to give them away to your friends.

If you would share some feedback that would be appreciated, as I would like to think my end goals are almost obtainable. I really want desktop pictures that will make most Mac users happy no matter their use case for the longest period of time.

The best alternative to the Focus Collection

Obviously, my blurry background images will not be all things to all people. So, if you really want beautiful desktop pictures that are in full focus, then I highly recommend John Carey’s site, 50 Foot Shadows. He regularly posts beautiful wallpapers that are appealing on most every level.

John has your macro shots of various odds and ends, scenic landscapes, stark black-and-white photos that put Ansel Adams to shame… You name it, John has thought of it.

Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. Joe’s passionate about web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Additionally, Joe is the host of the Top Brew and Techtonic podasts, both featured on iTunes.