Design by enthusiasm

As many of you are most probably aware I work for Canonical and some of my blog posts from here are syndicated to design.canonical.com. I was asked a rather interesting question on that blog and partly due to the impatience of the asker decided to respond by way of a post. My other motivation for responding in this way because I didn’t want an interesting question to be lost in the comments.

The question: “I wonder if the ‘open for all’ in FOSS makes the design part suffer from ‘design by comitee’? What are your thoughts on this?” – Tor Løvskogen Bollingmo

It can be hard to avoid any design anywhere being subject to influence by committee. It is very hard to avoid being influenced by people who are louder, stronger, more powerful, more persuasive and to avoid giving discussions too much weight. Get too many stakeholders involved and things can quickly get messy. This is the very reason I am an advocate of user-centred design. Good data is the ultimate opinion neutraliser.

In open-source, it seems to me, we suffer from a proliferation of design by enthusiasm. A passing comment turns into a mock-up, which turns into some code and before you know it – KAPPOW! – ladies and gentlemen, we have a feature!

We definitely don’t want to curb our enthusiasm, but I do think we need to learn to direct it.

Ideas are cheap. Let’s learn to be discerning. Let’s get enthusiastic about building great things for a set of target users to fulfil a particular need.

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Guadec Day 2: In pursuit of critical mass

Today I was reminded of this quote by Jane Goodall:

If everyone could think a little bit about small choices they make every day: What do you eat, does it result in animal cruelty? What do you wear, how was it made, does it damage the environment? When people start thinking like that they do change. They do make changes. And when more and more people think like that we get critical mass.

– Jane Goodall

In the conversation I was having we were discussing the presence of design in open-source. There have always been some great designers in open-source. It is time to push for a critical mass of people who know how to care about user experience and together with other talented developers and designers can deliver applications which offer an outstanding standard of experience which combines great design and great implementation.

I wrote a post a little while ago about why open source matters.

Open source may not be the answer to all the world’s woes but it provides a framework for a freedom to collaborate on solving problems that affect all of us.

(Is it weird to quote myself?)

Firefox raised the standard for browsing. We need more applications which empower people to do what they want and need to do and do it brilliantly.

To create a critical mass of people who will adopt our open-source platforms we need to start with a gentle revolution of our own. Only then will open-source receive the attention from the masses which it deserves.

I like GUADEC.

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Guadec Day 1

This week I am at Guadec in Den Haag. For those less familiar with working on open-source projects Guadec is the annual gathering of developers, users and businesses primarily focused on GNOME. GNOME, for those of you who don’t know is the core desktop element of Ubuntu.

Explanations for the uninitiated now delivered, I will proceed with my news!

It all starts at breakfast, of course. Introductions to Andreas Proschofsky, Daniel Siegel of Cheese fame and hellos with lots of familiar faces.

I attended the Design Thinking workshop which was very well executed and I hereby declare my full intention to steal the Lego intros exercise.

The UX Advocates BOF session was an opportunity to talk more widely and it certainly highlights that there are quite a few real problems to overcome. I shall be very interested to see how the Shotwell UX Advocate experiment goes and look forward to using it to help us shape the initiative. I have committed to offering some mentoring to would-be UX Advocates and look forward to Allan Day telling me what my next duties are!

Good HIG session, lots to do! I know that our very own mpt can’t wait to get going.

The highlight of my day? A very Eurpoean kiss on both cheeks from the ever-charming Bastien Nocera.

Now for an evening of eating, drinking and solving problems. Toodle-pip!

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Thank you

This weekend @petegale, Jules and I completed Oxfam Trailwalker in 24 hours 39 minutes.

We could not have done it without our amazing support crew: Tom, @clarissima, @harveymarketing and Nick. Thank you for patching us up and keeping us going. Thanks also to Ben who turned up with sweet hot coffee at just the right moment.

Thank you to the Gurkhas for the smiles, the cheers and the clapping.

All the tweets and texts from everyone were amazing and kept us smiling when everything was hurting.

Thank you to everyone who has donated money to Oxfam and the Gurkha welfare trust on our behalf. for anyone who hasn’t got round to it yet, it isn’t too late!

And finally, thank you to Oxfam for helping all of us see what we can do.

Thank you all.

Video: Finishing Trailwalker 2010

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Design and the art of walking up hills

I quite enjoy the challenge of taking on long distances; mostly walking, sometimes bicycle. There is something enormously satisfying about getting to the end. In order to be fit enough to undertake these efforts I exercise quite regularly. I cycle wherever and whenever I can and I go for short runs when I don’t have time for long walks. It is inevitable (especially living, as I do, in Brighton) that from time-to-time one encounters a hill. Hills are difficult. Depending on tiredness levels and mode of transport they can be almost impossible. My trick, especially on very long walks (and very steep hills), is to keep my head down and take small steps. The path is right there under my feet, looking up just reminds me how long the hill is and how far I have to go.

Hills: small steps, eyes down.

Walking a long distance requires a plan, every turn is planned and every hill expected. The path is the goal.
Design is a wilful act of creation; intent. It is a process from idea to implementation, a journey which starts with a vision. The vision is the goal.

Both activities consist of steps. Small steps are easier.

When taking small steps up a hill keeping your head down and your eyes glued to the path you will get to the top and it will feel good. But you might miss the view.
When taking small steps through a design, keeping your head down and your eyes glued to the path can feel good but there is a very good chance you will get lost.

Design: smalls steps, eyes everywhere.

This Saturday 17th July I am walking 100km for Oxfam. Please sponsor me.

Oxfam’s goal is simple. To end global poverty. Let’s help them get there!

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Art in the open

Are you a musician? Do you make beautiful illustrative wallpapers? Do you take amazing photographs? Do you make clever and inspiring videos or animations?

You may be interested in the Ubuntu Free Culture Showcase.

Do you make open-source tools for creating any of the above?

I hope you will be interested in the Ubuntu Free Culture Showcase.

Do you create works of art on free and open-source software?

The Ubuntu Free Culture Showcase could be something which is right up your street!

The Ubuntu Free Culture Showcase offers artists an opportunity to have their work included in the default installation of Ubuntu which is used by millions of people. The aim of this project is to celebrate free culture and to encourage the use and improvement of open-source tools for creativity.

Full details are on this wiki page.

There are groups on flickr, soundcloud, vimeo and deviantart ready and waiting for you to share your work.

I very much look forward to your contributions!

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Invite the future into the room

One morning on my train journey to work I read this article by Alex Steffen (thanks @argonaut for the link)

I began drafting this post the week before the UK General Election.
We are now embracing our new Tory Light government.
UK current political hot topic is cuts.
Turns out that we aren’t that powerful when it comes to volcanic ash and oil leaks.

From Alex’s post:

The future that my parents’ generation warned us about forty years ago looks an awful lot like our present. The ice caps are melting, deserts are spreading, the planet is thick with people, most of the world’s primeval forests are gone, the seas are in crisis, and pollution, famine and natural disasters kill millions of people a year. Compared to the world we might have had, had the progress of the early 1970s continued steadily through the following four decades, we live on a half-ruined planet.

Not a particularly cheery paragraph?

Alex asks us to invite the future back into the room.

“We need millions of people ready to put the future back in the room. We need millions of people ready to demand that their governments, their companies, their communities and their cultural institutions confront the reality of the futures they make every day.”

Alex maintains that the future is not lost. He invites action.

Not all of us can or want to be revolutionaries but we can all contribute towards change.

The future I envision has a massive impact on who I choose to vote for, where I buy my food, what products I choose to work on, the products I choose to buy, where I bank, how and when I travel.

In the world I occupy the well-being of the many impacts my life. I will worry less about the tax I pay than I will about how those taxes are spent.

Let’s do what Alex suggests and keep the future in the room, vibrant and alive.

Posted in environment, humanity | Tagged , , , | 3 Responses

Opinions. Have them.

Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

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Reasons to celebrate 29th April 2010

One of the first things I did when I joined Canonical just over a year ago was conduct some user research. The idea was to identify some broad areas that needed to be addressed and so I devised sessions that included topics like dealing with music and photos, browsing the Internet, chatting with friends, etc. This initial set of participants had never used Ubuntu nor were they familiar with open-source.

One thing that became apparent very quickly is that it is the little things that get neglected in many open-source applications and in Ubuntu itself. It seems that often, the easiest things to fix go neglected for the longest time. I chatted about this to people like Rick Spencer and so the Hundred Paper cuts project was born.

Today, as Ubuntu 10.04 LTS goes out the door, I would like to celebrate the fact that the papercutters succeeded in healing <blink>102</blink> paper cuts!

The project has been running for two release cycles. The first time we ran it David Siegel, on my team, put a huge amount of effort and energy into getting things running. The second cycle was able to build on the momentum of the first; processes were refined and the understanding of what a papercut is had already entered our collective vocabularies. We came out of the gate faster! In this second cycle, I would like to thank all the papercutters and especially Vish, Sense and om26er who have contributed an enormous amount of work into this splendid result.

This project doesn’t restrict itself to addressing bugs in Ubuntu. The perspective is the users’ so many upstream applications are included. For this last cycle a special thanks to Gwibber and Empathy!

Hip hip hooray!

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What makes a good design critic?

While at CHI earlier this week, I went along to a session with the same title as this blog post. I was looking for some inspiration, something to take to a UDS (Ubuntu Developer Summit) session perhaps, something to turn into a blog post, food for thought.

The session at CHI included a food critic, a restaurant designer, a food stylist, a chef and a user experience director; correction: the chef couldn’t make it and Bill Buxton was supposed to be there but couldn’t so they asked the VP User Experience from Experian to step in (too much detail?).

I was very excited that this would be an interesting session but confess to giving up early. I think it was a great idea to put these people together but it just didn’t come together. No mind, the idea of it got me thinking.

Professional criticism is a genre. The food critic in attendance had worked hard at his particular tone of voice and had developed a persona that people would want to read. He talked about trying to give people a sense of a restaurant then was clearly delighted with the story he was able to tell about a restaurant with a particular set of photographs which he wove through his review. There is no doubt that his job is to inform but it is also to entertain. Restaurants need to be written about; reviews are a major part of their marketing plans. I can only speak for myself here but I enjoy reading reviews and I like them to be memorable. I will listen to what the critic has to say about the food and am curious about the atmosphere and service but a memorable review will might make me visit. The photographs from the example given would probably have enticed me into the restaurant – be they ridiculed or celebrated – as long as the food sounded good. Interestingly, the photographer rang the critic to defend their work.

The architect/restaurant designer told the story of a new restaurant that he worked on which had got a poor review – not for the food, but for his work, for the atmosphere. He described ringing the particular critic, inviting her for lunch and giving her the context of brief, budget, design intent.

Criticism as a word has negative connotations and yet, without it, progress would be extremely hard. I can imagine a scenario with a chef: “Try this… You like?”, “More tarragon you say? Interesting.”, “Hmmm, what about this?”.

Criticism and feedback are a vital part of any creative process, as is quality control.

Going back to our chef for a moment he may be willing to hear suggestions while he is deciding how to plate a dish: “You think it’s too green?” but, when the dish is about to be carried off to a table, the mode is very different: “There is no radish on this plate!”

The aim is, I have no doubt, to only let the food critic see the plate that has the radish.

In order to make my job, and my team, as useful as possible to the open-source and Ubuntu community, I need feedback at 3 levels.

1) I need to know if the radish isn’t on the plate.

2) I need to hear about the tarragon idea.

3) I need to be told about the overall impression. If the photos on the wall are distracting you from the food, I need to be able to address that.

Stealing an analogy that came up over lunch last Friday; releasing software in alpha is like inviting people to watch pre-production rehearsals of a play. As we see and hear it all come together we are still chopping and changing the script, the costumes, and the set.

For our part my team and I will do our best to do as follows:

1) Let you know we meant to put a radish on that plate.

2) Create a forum where the addition of tarragon can be suggested and discussed.

3) Continue to read the reviews.

The third area is the most interesting. While I am sure it would be a very interesting exercise to take every person who writes a review out for lunch and have a conversation about context and design intent, this approach isn’t scalable. Let’s start with design.canonical.com, #ayatana on irc, the Ayatana mailing list and, you are welcome to come and find us at UDS.

Tarragon you say? Interesting.

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