Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Design by Fire Café - Design in Open Source

On Monday 20 sep I attended Design by Fire Café, which is an informal gathering for (interaction) designers. Each café features a short, inspiring presentation as food for discussion. Last Monday Bojhan Somers presented "Design in Open Source". Bojhan works at User Intelligence and is UX manager for Drupal.

To start of, Bojhan named some examples of successful open source projects such as Firefox, Ubuntu and Wordpress. Despite these projects having little dedicated designers compared to the amount of developers and users, they are able to create a successful UX. According to Bojhan it is the culture within these projects which is the major success factor in creating good UX.

Side note, some nice examples of gathering / dealing with UX issues from these projects are
Planet Firefox and Ubuntu 100 Paper Cuts.

Next Bojhan went into more detail on Drupal. From a major usability test in 2007 at the University of Minnesota it was clear Drupal needed UX improvement (l
ater on more usability research followed). Drupal's UX team started the UX project to get these UX improvements into version 7. Just to make it clear: Drupal's UX team is not a full time dedicated team, its members are people who have the Drupal design role besides their everyday job. Bojhan mentioned he spent about an hour a day in his UX role. So it was a real challenge for the UX team to change the culture in the community and thus get the UX improvements realized.

UX design challenge
Here's a summary of their 'lessons learned'.
  • Their was a shift of focus in the design; traditionally Drupal focused much on the technically oriented users (site admins). Now they are focusing more on the user group who uses Drupal extensively (authors and editors).
  • The UX team formulated core UX principles; these were 4 high level principles which helped to maintain the focus in discussions instead of getting lost in details.
  • The UX team introduced an iterative design process which contained "explore", "discuss" and "design" cycles. Designers were encouraged to be as visual as possible (use visuals and mockups) in the discussions to make problems more visible and better discussable. The team also noticed the issue queue was thé tool developers worked with. So they made sure the design discussions took place IN the issue queue.
  • Developers needed to learn; developers were used to start coding right away. They had to get used to this new process with its iterations and mock-ups before coding (you know, "Plan to throw one away").
  • Designers needed to learn too: designers were used to creating a near-perfect design before 'releasing' it. But this is impossible in the open source world. Designs need to be released early and should be more about showing the line of thought (thus educating other contributors).
  • Initially there were concerns that the 'design by committee' process would be slow and result in mediocre solutions. It turned out this was not the case; 'thought leaders' (mostly designers) arose and were the ones making design decisions.
Iterative design process

All in all I think it was a really nice presentation containing valuable lessons which we can learn form at Hippo.

1 comment:

  1. We "threw one away" when designing opensource.com. I did a blog post about it: http://opensource.com/should-be/10/1/state-opensourcecom

    Nothing major, but the important thing is that we listened to our alpha and beta users, and implemented.

    This is a great post, thanks for sharing.