IDEA09: Reflections on Designing with an Open Source Community

by Luke Wroblewski September 17, 2009

At IDEA09 in Toronto, Leisa Reichelt shared her experiences redesigning the open source content management system (Drupal) in her talk: Bare Naked Design: Reflections on Designing with an Open Source Community.

  • How do you design in an open source way? Community is the design challenge
  • Strong design direction requires dedicated resources with an authority that makes decisions.
  • WordPress & FireFox have dedicated & paid UX professionals. Leaders of the project care about good user experience. It is given priority over doing really cool things in code. In Drupal, design plays a much lower role in than developers. So designers had to things in an open way.
  • Show the community what designers do to help appreciate & understand strategic work. Developed Drupal user experience principles:
    • Make the most frequent tasks easy and less frequent tasks achievable
    • Design for the 80%
    • Privilege the content creator
    • Make the default settings smart
  • The team often felt like they were running a PR project not a design project. Spent 80% of time communicating with community.
  • Ultimately the level of engagement at the strategic level was low. For most people, strategic stuff is too abstract. All were just hanging around waiting to see what happens to the interface.
  • Used video to remind the community, that the designers were real people. Ultimately this gave people more reasons to troll.
  • Did crowd-sourced usability testing. Built a kit to get amateurs to do testing. Helped people understand how anyone could do this.
  • Ultimately, the project ended up in the issue queue. Broken up into dozens of conversations with people chiming in on conversations.
  • Project was somewhat successful – a little bit of usability improvements.
  • It’s not designers vs. developers that was the problem. It’s Framework vs. Product. Developers see the tool as a system (framework), designers see it as a product to get up and running. No one has set the top-level vision either way.
  • Designing in the open is a great thing to do for your peers. People appreciate seeing the process and learning what designers do.
  • Putting everything out there opens you up to criticism. Teaches you to learn how to share and not get personally attached to your work.