Archive - February, 2011

A model for design leadership in the Drupal community

DesignModel

The discussions around the design and user experience objectives for Drupal 8 begin to kick off and will no doubt crank up a gear at the upcoming Drupalcon.  (are you coming? come to my workshop! no ux/design experience necessary)

As much as I want to see us continue the great trajectory for improving the user experience for Drupal that I think the community achieved with Drupal 7, I have some reservations about our capacity to maintain this momentum without addressing some of the structural issues within the community – effectively the environment in which design can happen.

There are bunch of topics that we can explore around this – I’ve pitched a Core Conversation for Drupalcon about redesigning the issue queue, for example. I hope I get to talk a whole lot more that during the coming months. Today I want to talk about a structure of leadership for design in the community and to propose a model.

One of the main reasons that we were able to achieve so much with Drupal 7 was because the D7UX team (which I was privileged to be a part of) were given a mandate, a bit of authority, and a clear brief. If we want to continue to take big steps with Drupal’s user experience (and we still need to take several big steps on this front if we want to be competitive and remain a viable option for a wide audience), we need to find a way to replicate this focus in the longer term.

Currently we have two UX Maintainers – Roy and Bojhan – who are both incredibly dedicated and do great work within the community to promote a better user experience. I have nothing but the greatest admiration for their resilience. There are also, increasingly and largely thanks to Acquia,  more UX and usability resources available within the community.

We have the dual challenge of encouraging existing community members to become more ‘UX-y’ and attracting UX Outsiders into the community in order to grow this team. We also have the dual challenge of making many, many incremental changes that could rapidly improve Drupal’s usability (we call these the ‘low hanging fruit’), as well as considering the bigger, more hairy challenges around defining and understanding target audiences, and finding ways to create good experiences for an incredibly wide set of journeys and requirements.

Eaton recently took a good stab at describing some of the big UX challenges ahead for Drupal 8 and offering a good proposed approach – I recommend reading through this, including the comments, if you haven’t already.

In order to make it possible for such changes to happen, I propose that the Drupal UX Community requires three types of leadership: A UX Maintainer (or two), a Design Pattern Library Maintainer and a Designer in Residence. Let me describe these in reverse order.

The Designer in Residence: This person is tasked with addressing some of the Big Design Problems – the more strategic/structural problems that will impact Drupal’s long term ability to be a compelling choice for organisations in the coming years, that will look at the challenges of multiple platforms from a UX perspective, that will look at target audiences and optimising out of the box experiences/on boarding. This role will benefit from having an ‘outsider’ perspective. This person works with the UX Maintainer(s) to take great strategy and turn them into achievable tasks. This person shares their work with the Drupal community and the UX Community at large, along the lines of what we did with D7UX. They are Drupal’s UX ambassadors to the outside world, they help draw fresh UX talent into the community. They conduct generative research. This is a role that could be rotated every six months or so, getting fresh eyes on the big problems would be fantastic. We could invite people we’d love to work with to take this role from time to time.

Design Pattern Library Maintainer (or librarian, if you prefer): this person leads and coordinates a project to develop an excellent library of design/UX patterns that can be applied consistently throughout core and into contrib. They work with the UX Maintainer(s) to ensure that new patterns are applied/communicated and they take requests from the UX Maintainers to develop patterns that are missing or confused. They might conduct A/B testing to establish optimal patterns. They take work from the Designer in Residence and turn them into patterns as a part of the process of making big design ideas achievable.

UX Maintainer(s): work with the overall community to get the day to day UX work done. Help push things through the queue, coordinate and communicate usability testing, incrementally improve the UX of Drupal by knocking over the ‘low hanging fruit’ improvements, help educate and train up members of the community to be more UX-interested and UX-aware. Works with the Pattern Librarian to see that patterns are implemented well across core and contrib, works with the Designer in Residence to make Big Ideas achievable.

I believe that each of these roles should have clearly identified goals for a defined term (say, six months?) so that they can see and show what success looks like and be able to get useful feedback on the work they’re doing.

I also believe that these roles should be funded positions. I believe that one of the best ways an organisation can support good User Experience in Drupal is to put their hand up to offer sponsorship for a part time role for six months.

If we do this – get the structure in place for good design to happen, and create funded positions to make working on Drupal a viable alternative for good UX people who have so many other competing demands on their time at the moment – I am very excited about the prospects of Drupal’s User Experience in the years ahead.

Something significant needs to happen in the way we do Design and UX in Drupal – along the lines of D7UX but more embedded and integrated and more sustainable. We won’t achieve what we need to by making lists and prioritising them. We’ve still got a lot of big problems to solve and a lot of hard graft to do.

What do you think – might this help make it happen?

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