Monday, June 29, 2009

LinuxTag WrapUp

The LinuxTag in General

From 24th to 27th the LinuxTag, “the most important place for Linux and open source in Europe”, took place in Berlin. I was able to join the other German community members on Thursday, the second day of the event. So there were still two and a half day to go; filled with (strong) discussions, presentations … and fun.

The fun (first). What luck, I was on time to join the LinuxNacht (the Linux night) – yummy dishes, live music (very good but also a bit loud for people who wanted to chat). Professional pictures of that event can be found – among others – in the press pictures corner. Here is one example...

The work. Besides providing help and support for everyone at our booth, there were numerous talks given by our community members. In the whole program, there were 10 presentations planned for Remarkable, I think.

Unfortunately, I missed the change to attend other projects' presentations. The one which I remember best was the one I held ;-)

Project Renaissance

The presentation itself did run rather well, except the application which demonstrates the dynamic prototypes. It froze completely – before I was able to demonstrate anything. Fortunately, one of the attendees tried it for himself and announced that it works smoothly; except the button I clicked on :-) Besides this little issue, the software is absolutely amazing – try it!

After the presentation, there has been an interesting Q&A session – one question by a representative of the administration of a German city should be mentioned. It seems that there is some uncertainty for both large businesses and government what kind of influence Project Renaissance might have on the re-training effort of their users. Why is that important? Many people rely on what they know from previous software versions, so changes in general might have influence on the people's efficiency. If the change is huge, then re-training is necessary – costly in large scale deployments. I answered that it is currently planned to integrate interface elements step-by-step. So we will be able to provide a well tested system which will improve the efficiency in the long run. Even if these organizations upgrade the software after years (it is usual to stick with one version for a long time), then the improvements intended for all users will have a positive impact on their employees.. Fortunately, I got the feedback that the question was “well answered” - which hopefully is an indicator that the Renaissance really cares about things that. We definitively should not forget about that.

Another feedback I got from one of our own community members was about the goal being communicated a bit unclear. Although UX loves to be precise, being a bit less abstract might help here – when compared to mission and goal statements . Maybe we should include the Design Directives (which Andreas developed some months ago) in all future presentations:

  • Discover essential functionality at first glance: a clearly structured UI with self-explanatory icons and labels
  • Gain in experience on the fly: explore and use more advanced features with less mouse clicks
  • Create eye-catching documents in less time: don't feel like struggling with styles and formatting, just pick a beautiful template
So these directives might be a nice complement to the presentation slides (German) which are now available at Project Renaissance presentation page. Also available is a short article about Project Renaissance which was written during (!) the talk by a nice guy from the German Linux Magazin.

Other Projects and Contacts

Of course, one of the central ideas of such an event is to meet other people. There were numerous very interesting people... For example, there was Björn from We talked about e.g. how to promote OSS so that more usability expert join these projects. A real pleasure to talk to him, so I hope we will stay in contact!

Other nice contacts have also been established with people from KDE. André and I visited their booth to have a look at KOffice 2.0 which has been released recently. Although the underlying technology seemed to be very capable, we wondered whether the software is intended for end-users. An example: The software lacks some features although the buttons are there. It “halted” once and behaved a bit strange – when looking from an end-users point-of-view. Later, it was explained to us that the 2.0 codeline is a “platform release” which means to be targeted at developers. Okay, that cleared things up... (By the way, further information in given in the blog post "starting the 2.0 series".) Personally I have to say that the KDE folk is absolutely nice and I'm really much looking forward to meet them again.

UX in the Physical World

Similar to one of my blog posts of the last year's OOoCon, I noticed two nice UX related real-world-examples. First, the urban railway service in Berlin did chose a nice label for their recycle bins for collecting paper...

Did you notice it? It seems that the symbol for paper wasn't clear enough, so they added the word “Newspaper”. Due to the space restrictions, the seem to have it shortened to “New”. Looking at it now, it seems that only new paper is accepted. The good thing is, there is no need to ever empty the recycle bins :-)

Another thing we discovered were the salt and pepper shaker at the LinuxNacht. Some weeks before, a good friend of mine told me about the problems to identify the salt – is it the one with one or more holes? A simple problem for somebody having a job in the scientific research. So how could this be addressed?

Still having salt and pepper in mind, I would say that the current LinuxTag was well spiced. I would like to express my deepest thanks to the “LinuxTag Crew” and the LinuxTag e.V. (a non-profit organization) for managing the whole event together with Messe Berlin. See you next year!


Monday, June 22, 2009

Design Proposal Collection, Lessons Learned

The following text is an excerpt from Community Feedback...

Lessons Learned

So what can be concluded now that the Design Proposal Collection is over? After looking at the individual feedback we got during the proposal collection and thereafter, it seems to have worked well. The weakest points seem to be the schedule and some parts of the documentation.

The initial schedule – two weeks for the working phase – was simply too tight. To be honest, some of us were unsure about that even before we announced the call for proposals. On the other hand, the decision to run it for another week gave us the opportunity to publish more information and to – hopefully – gain more interest in joining our Design Proposal Collection effort.

Concerning the documentation, there were mainly irritations about how the two templates (Impress file, wiki page) relate to each other and what level of detail is required. One idea of a solution could be to use the wiki to announce and point to the proposals, then only fill in the actual idea in the Impress-based template (which we would subsequently extend to include more). Then, somebody could have transferred all the content to a harmonized wiki page.

In a broader view, what are the alternatives to avoid confusion?

  • Simply, reduce the formalism to – hopefully – gain room for further creativity. But this definitely requires more effort to collect, analyze and discuss the ideas.
  • Increase the formalism and the documentation. Although this might restrict creativity and “scare” contributors, it will ease the post-processing of the results.
At the moment, it is unclear which tact would be best, so we'll leave it to be decided anew for each coordinated effort – looking at the focus, the complexity, the resources, etc. each time.Even if we put more emphasis on an effort's focus – there will always be a wide variety of response types from individual community members. In general it can be observed that community members want to share all the ideas they have and they often do so even if they do not fit the question posed. Even for a new Design Proposal Collection it seems that we can only set the expectations. The UX project is happy to serve as a multiplier to stimulate the overall brainstorming process :-) But, having in mind the constantly incoming general UX ideas, the project still lacks a central point to easily collect big and small ideas (not requests for enhancement or feature requests), which can be assessed by the whole community.

Another item is the communication channels – mostly we used blogs and mailing lists. Although this information was somehow “automatically” spread in the open-source community, such natural dissemination takes time. If we plan another effort similar to this one, and especially if there is a rather challenging schedule, then we should directly address the most important online news sites. This might save time and attract more people to join the effort.

Finally, the UX team to express its deepest thanks to all the people involved!

Want to read the full text? Check Community Feedback...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Transparent Decision Making

Did you ever experience that? You quickly want to print your presentation slides, so you select File – Print and then you go to the printer to grab the paper. Being at the other side of the office you might wait forever... The reason might be the following modal dialog which waits for your input until printing gets started.

Unfortunately, there are technical reasons for to be not that efficient when it comes to printing certain object types. So instead of consuming an enormous amount of resources, these dialogs have been introduced to let the user deci
de how should handle these objects. But, as we saw before, these dialogs interrupt the user's work flow. So my question is, whether this behavior is still acceptable...

How to answer that? The go
od news is, that our User Feedback Program provides a first insight in the real use of our product. I had a look at the user feedback raw data which is available for Impress and Draw and looked up all the items related to the transparency warning. I know, the current data basis might not provide significant numbers and there are still some issues, but let's just have a look at it... How is the dialog used?

Interesting, isn't it? If I got it right, then the dialog appeared 81 times and our users never let reduce the transparency during output; there are no numbers for the button „Yes“. Moreover, 9 decided to avoid this warning in the future, since the checkbox has been checked 10 times and unchecked 1 time. Similar settings are available in Tools – Options... – Printing. There, one user deactivated „reduce transparency“ which seemed to be active before User Feedback was collected, so no activation has been tracked.

Can these numbers tell the truth? An Issue Tracker query done quickly (Query 1, Query 2) revealed only the rather new issue 101479 which refers to a confusing error message when printing transparent objects. Although this issue has no votes, and is therefore only confirmed by the reporter, this is an indicator for people being irritated by the given text... May that be the reason for 81 times clicking on „No“?

Or, are today's computers fast enough? To check that, I looked up some data in the currently active User Survey 2009 which currently contains 164818 full responses. There, 75.25% of all users run either on a PC or a Notebook (21.05% didn't answer that question). Being questioned how satisfied these users are with the speed of the computer system (the computer, not, 48.05% are satisfied or very satisfied (no answers by 37.52%). So it can be concluded that the majority of our user base which answered that question perceive their computer to be rather fast.

Summary: The User Feedback data tells us that our users always activate printing with transparency. There is currently only one issue related to the printer warning; it is about the understandability of the dialog text. And, the largest part of our user base are at least satisfied with their computer's performance. Did you expect that?

Conclusion: If will keep its printing technology, and the ongoing collected user data will show similar results, then we should at least hide the transparency warning per default. Most of our users will be affected in a positive manner – less distraction by modal dialogs and therefore an improved perceived behavior of Okay, there might be users/administrators who think the decision is beneficial to them and who know clearly understand what it technically means – these people can easily activate the warning in the options dialog.

The Fine Print: Currently, the User Feedback system is active since the release of 3.1 in mid May. Thus, there a need for more data to confirm the current trend. In each case it will be near to impossible to clearly identify how often printing has been used in Impress or Draw, but I guess it is about 300 times for the current data which was exported 2009-06-05. So why is that important to me? As most of you might know from a previous blog posting by Philipp, I recently joined the i-Team for optimizing the new Printer Dialog in terms of User Experience. The collection of data what special options mean and how they are used is my first task, so expect to come more in the near future. If you want to know more, then please have a look at the cwsprinterpullpages in the wiki.

Finally, I think the data collection is a great chance towards more ... Transparent Decision Making ;-)

Happy printing,