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Configurability is not in conflict with having good defaults.
I am all for being able to change the wallpaper, the location of the panel, or to switch to *another* good theme. Still, the default look should at least be readable (no gray fonts on grayish&transparent background), usable (not all visual bells and whistles have to be on), and toned down (so you don't feel embarrassed when your co-worker looks at your newly installed desktop).
Also, perhaps more importantly, a large part of look&feel comes straight from the design and is not configurable, even in KDE. You can't correct inconsistent padding, overload of widgets, or poorly though dialog box layouts. I don't say KDE should follow Gnome in that, but *some* attention to details would be very welcome (yes, I occasionally use some KDE apps).
I found the default colors readable and do not see a gray font on a gray background. For my taste the colors are even to much toned down and I usually change the colors from Oxygen to Norway, a more friendly color theme. But I also did note some even prefer a more dark theme like Magnesium while others chose other color styles. In any case using the same color for font and background is a bug I did not note so far. You have a screenshot?
I also found visual bells and whistles to be rather balanced. For example KWin has lots of effect plugins but very few are enabled as default.
There are things which can and should be improved. No question there. Same applies for all projects, not only KDE. For paddings and margins mismatches look for example at http://www.sharpley.org.uk/node/23 and http://agateau.com/2010/12/27/common-user-interface-mistakes-in-kde... (two KDE hackers) and for ugly dialogs at http://techbase.kde.org/Projects/Usability/HIG/Dialogs (the KDE HIG for dialogs with sections like "Reduce the dialog flood" and "Dialog Layout"). Everybody is welcome to help to get that target done faster. Just join and contribute. Edited 2012-08-02 19:01 UTC