Contemplating Open Source UX

There are many reasons why I am tremendously excited about being involved in the redesign project for Drupal.org, not the least of which is that – for a change – I’m actually allowed to talk to you all about the project as we go. Afterall, it’s an open source project – we don’t care so much for confidentiality and Intellectual Property, what we care about here is being open and being part of the community.

Exciting yes? but also somewhat terrifying! What an amazing (and enormous!) community to try to become a part of! As Mark said in our keynote at Drupalcon – it feels like being the new kid at school – will we make friends?!  But one of the things I’m really thinking hard about is how to harness their amazingness in the best way for this project?

Back in the olden days I was a project manager, so I have a great appreciation for an approach that works to limit the amount of feedback that you take into a project – how much, how often etc. Trying to get ‘consolidated’ feedback has traditionally been the goal, so that we can move through the design process as efficiently and calmly as possible.

As a part of our plan we have already factored in ‘community feedback’ to the iterations of the prototype that we’ll be releasing from very early in the design lifecycle – the community *will* be involved in this project, albeit in a somewhat structured way.

But, against all of my project management instincts, I am itching to get as much community involvement in this project as I possibly can! To encourage the entire community to think about things like experience strategies, and information architecture and  user centred design.

I am tempted to set up a Twitter group (@drupalredesign perhaps) where we can all tweet little brainbursts we have about the redesign. To set up a Flickr group where we can all post annotated screenshots of stuff we like, stuff that’s broken. To blog about half finished ideas I’m having about strategies and solutions we’re working on.

This is all ridiculously dangerous from a expectation management perspective – there is no way on earth that we could make any assurances about taking everything into consideration, answering every suggestion or issue raised, solving all of the problems…. (don’t let me start coining a project management buzzword that involves ambiance!)

And yet… it’s also ridiculously exciting.

Already, from blogging about the gaming / karma issue, I’m now talking to someone out in Drupal land who is already working on a module we might be able to use. I wonder whether we would have made that connection otherwise.

Eh. I almost feel as though it is inevitable. We have to open up completely, and just see what happens.

I’m almost certain some expectation management/ community disasters will ensue, but hopefully also some amazingness. I’m sure you’ll hear all about it as we go!

What say you? Am I having a moment of insanity? Or shall we open the floodgates and see what happens?

8 Responses to “Contemplating Open Source UX”

  1. Matthew Milan September 6, 2008 at 1:18 pm #

    Love the idea, think it’s not only important but necessary.

    I did a presentation a month or so ago talking about this subject and how it differed between the IA/UX community and the Account Planning field. I actually feel that the UX community does this better then some other communities. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go further. We still have a long way to go.

  2. James Breeze September 6, 2008 at 1:41 pm #

    Leisa,
    Open feedback and collaboration is so cool!
    I have previously set up a http://www.tangler.com forum (that is one of the reasons it was originally designed).
    Recently, I also set up a Ning.com network for the online psych therapy tool I am working on.
    Both allow attachments and images (for screen shots) Plus a whole lot more!
    This slideshow http://www.slideshare.net/jamesbreeze/researching-your-market-with-social-networks is along those lines and I am turning it into a workshop (tonight!) that I will share soon.
    Have fun!

  3. Dan Brown September 6, 2008 at 1:58 pm #

    Leisa,
    “Open source user experience” strikes me as a close cousin to the concept of “perpetual beta” — design work is happening constantly and in close collaboration with the pool of users (or community members).

    What role does the designer have in this scenario? Dictator? All your design decisions belong to me, but thanks for the good ideas. Or is it mediator, where the designer facilitates the conversation and directs it to some unified decision-making? (Questions not necessarily rhetorical… :-)

    Either way, you’re laying some fascinating groundwork. As the science of software development evolves, so, too must our approaches to design.

    Can’t wait to see the result!

  4. David Geilhufe September 6, 2008 at 5:49 pm #

    There is no other conceivable way to capture within a design the core values of Drupal… the community is currently a net negative to the Drupal brand (IMHO). For Drupal to be (far more) successful community needs to become a net positive. This would be just one step.

    We already have a model for managing that community complexity… the designer is the core comitter of ideas. Some patches make it, some don’t.

    The expectation would be that ideas that make it through the designers (you all) get into the design.

  5. Dan Harrelson September 6, 2008 at 6:14 pm #

    I will be following your process closely as the sharing of our work and our thinking is something that Adaptive Path is passionate about.

    I recently wrote about the need for an increased focus on design in the world of open source software. I am thrilled to see that groups like Drupal are starting to recognize the need for UX. By sharing your ideas publicly, I can only hope that the rest of the Drupal developer community begins to see UX’s value.
    http://www.adaptivepath.com/blog/2008/08/04/open-source-design/

  6. leisa.reichelt September 6, 2008 at 11:45 pm #

    Glad to hear I’m not insane then… so begins the journey!

    @Dan Brown – I think it’s definitely about facilitation. Within this project, we are all seeing the official ‘redesign project’ as really just being the creation of a framework from which the Drupal community can make good decisions going forwards. It’s much more about learning to fish than presenting a lovely looking fish at the end of the design phase. Setting up these channels for communication and working out how to feed them into the process is probably a key part of that.

  7. gaele September 7, 2008 at 1:30 pm #

    “Afterall, it’s an open source project – we don’t care so much for confidentiality and Intellectual Property”

    Please don’t feed the memes. I guess by Intellectual Property you mean copyright? Open Source projects care very much for copyright. Drupal’s licence, the GPL, is based on it.

  8. Livia Labate September 7, 2008 at 10:09 pm #

    The idea of openness and community facilitation as work process sounds almost Utopian it’s so positive. So what are the risks? What you pointed out – ability to have consolidated feedback – seems like the highest risk, but only if you set the expectations that all feedback is considered equaly.

    My theory is (and I’m hoping to learn from your experience with Drupal) that because people in this community have all kinds of ideas, opinions, and even solutions in their heads already, an entirely open feedback process would be very useful for you BEFORE or in preparation for designing a solution – really, to scope out the project (identifying the problems).

    Once you have scoped out the project and you know what will be tackled (whether that’s really specific, like features or a general sort boundaries of the design problem), I think it’s in specific request for feedback on specific things that may generate the most value, given your enormous community.

    That’s why I was asking on Twitter if you were planning on showing interim deliverables and allowing informal feedback. The example of Wired’s editorial process blog really got me thinking about that http://blog.wired.com/storyboard. Seems very powerful. One a side note, I’d be very curious to how a commnunity would react to other inputs you are using (for example, if you do a landscape/competitive analysis to start the project and share that, people could poke holes, add to it, debate it, etc). I suspect the openess of the process would enrich even your ‘standard’ tools.

    Finally, if you are going to let the feedback floodgates open and provide multiple channels for feedback, it will be really high energy. And as brilliant as it is to have so much feedback you don’t know what to do with it, it can be very draining on you as a designer if you set the expectation of action or response to feedback.

    I mentioned this on twiter but now that I read your post the metaphor of putting things out to dry as part of the washing machine cycle totally fits ;)