UDS: Design and Reduced Friction

I sent this to the Ayatana group and I’m posting here to my blog to invite any designers who are not in that group.

This is an invitation to all designers who will be at UDS-M soon to talk about reducing the resistance in the community to Ayatana developments and directions. So I want to kick off a discussion here and then carry
it on at UDS:

We’ve seen in the wider community resistance for a number of decisions that have been taken by the DX, Design and Ayatana groups in both Karmic and Lucid cycles. Various things seem to generate irritated users who are naturally not pleased about change.

As a community leader I don’t like this kind of fighting. So I’ve been thinking more about how to reduce the problems through better communication and conflict resolution.

I believe better communication doesn’t just mean talking in more places or going into more depth about the technical details of a design. It means using certain inviting language and designing the communication
for the audience, making sure that your course correcting each time there is a conflict of interest so the next communication includes as points what has been brought up before and doesn’t lead to duplication.

The observed culture has had a tendency to consider conflict as a bad thing, an all or nothing affair to disprove ever tenant. I’d like to encourage the view that conflicts are not about going all one way or all
another way but are about considering and factoring in the consideration into a variance so that the outcome is not exactly like either party predicted.

Some of that good dialectic goes on here in this mailing list, but that’s not communicated much outside where it would do good to calm people. I believe some of the problems stem from language of outside
publishings, e.g: “We’ve made this choice because we believe it’s better for normal users, there are no options and if your an advanced user, we’re not really thinking of you when we made this choice so please
don’t ask for us to add options.” (hyperbole, but you get the point)

Basically an invitation to get irate and not much of an invitation to come and help factor in various different positions and considerations. Not that this is the intention, I believe that the people writing these articles are really trying to communicate to the users. But language and ability to cope with user’s opinions seems to turn an opportunity to advance the design of Ubuntu into a flame war that ends up turning users off.

A few of my community circles react to Design Team news with a *sigh* and “Oh god what have they done now”. The teams reputation is low and it’s over shadowing the really great work that’s going on. How can I
convince people to trust decisions or even get involved if they don’t trust that the discussions are fair, balanced and considered? So I’d like to be able to build up social relations so that we’re not just on par with other teams, but surpass their ability to bring people in and form their world view into solid multi-consideration design.

I want people to think of Canonical and think of an awesome company that really get involved with it’s users (downstream) and it’s suppliers (upstream) and is really clever at blending everyone’s positions into something awesome. MPT is a perfect example, very good at considering and communicating effectively with the community. *cheer* Thanks! You’ve been great at calming various people.

Thoughts and Responses best put onto the Ayatana mailing list or held for UDS.

11 thoughts on “UDS: Design and Reduced Friction

  1. Speaking of upstream involvement….did anyone from the Canonical design team(s) actively participate in the Gnome Usability Hackfest that was hosted at Canonical main offices in London a couple of months back? When the design of Gnome 3 was being discussed did they participate? And if so did they bring up the suitability of libappindicator for integration into GNOME 3 as a topic of discussion?


  2. Drupal has had a mostly conflict-free involvement of UX experts in its 7.x development process. I think it would be wise of Ubuntu to at least examine their example.

  3. Jef, I don’t have the answers to all your questions, but the first one is rather obvious. Given that Canonical hosted the event, it would have been surprising, almost rude, if they didn’t participate.

    The list of participants is here: http://live.gnome.org/UsabilityProject/London2010

  4. “A few of my community circles react to Design Team news with a *sigh* and “Oh god what have they done now”. ”

    I think these people are deeply troubled, or at best simply don’t understand design. As a creative industry professional who has spent 5 years playing around Linux but cringing at the unintuitive and ugly design, I think Ubuntu is improving leaps and bounds in every cycle. Yes there have been some design choices which I haven’t agreed with 100%, but no where near enough that I would have negative feelings about the process overall, and certainly not to the point that I am dreading the next change. I can only wonder how cynical and misinformed someone needs to be to think that negatively about changes which are clearly improving things.

    If there are ways the design team can present their changes to reduce specific conflicts (like window buttons) then great, but if they start pandering to people who clearly just ‘don’t get it’ and resist every change, then they are wasting their time which is better spent working on design choices.

  5. That’s could very well be the cultural problem, people think they’re pandering to people who ‘don’t get it’ when in fact they’re mearly interacting with people ‘who understand their own viewpoint’.

    If your in the design field then you should know that thinking only gets you so far, step 2 must be other people.

  6. to all:

    You only answered the first part of the question…. the hook.
    Did either of the named employees provide a summary, a blog… anything about their activity at the hackfest..about their take on the discussion? There’s been lots of discussion about the hackfest on planet gnome….none of it from Canonical participants. Nor has their been a summary even in the Ayatana list. Hell, gtk+ devel list got a post hackfest summary thread.

    And the important part of the question remains unanswered was whether they actually brought up any of the relevant design work Canonical is doing in the discussion…specifically libappindicator.

    Why am I harping specifically libappindicator? Because prior to the hackfest Ted Gould implied in a gnome discussion that he would be making an effort to see that Canonical would be there to talk about its suitability.

    http://www.mail-archive.com/[email protected]/msg18029.html
    “I’ll ping usability and see if we can get this on the agenda for the
    usability hackfest next week.”

    Was it discussed at the hackfest or not? If not.. Canonical dropped the ball badly on working to answer the question of libappindicator suitability for gnome 3. If it was discussed.. then someone dropped the ball and failed to communicate the meat of the discussion. I’ve seen nothing at all from anyone..public or private…that suggests Canonical brought up any working going on in the scope of Ayatana for discussion as a technology suitable for the gnome 3 design discussion that went on. You can’t claim to be working with upstream on a technology and then blow an opportunity to talk face-to-face in your own offices about it…its not cricket.


    I’ve seen ZERO discussion about how

  7. @Jef

    Despite your obvious dislike of Canonical and its products (which I obviously like as I donate my time freely to a number of them), I often find your comments on Ubuntu related blogs interesting where other people simply see a troll. You keep people honest with their sloppy uses of statistically data. I’ve also seen insightful comments from you on issues related to community dynamics and volunteering. But for some reason you seem intent on pushing this thread completely away from the topic at hand. This post is about tensions that can arise between a community and its sponsor. Perhaps you could share with us something about the relationship between the Fedora community and Red Hat that might be useful. Or maybe ways that the Fedora design team works collaboratively and deals with the issue of explaining their design decisions to the wider community.

    Instead you demand answers to what seems to be your topic of the week. The author of this post doesn’t work for Canonical, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t attend the UI hackfest. Why do you think he has the answers you want?

    @ everyone else

    For those interested in the conversation on the mailing list, the thread starts here:


  8. andrewsomething:

    1) I’ve never to my knowledge made a public statement with regard to my like or dislike of any Canonical product. And such a comment would be inappropriate because I’ve never used a Canonical product. Just like it would be inappropriate for me to state a like or dislike for products made by the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco company. as I’ve never used them myself And just like in the case of R. J. Reynolds, I’m critical of Canonical as a company because of the actions and public statements they make about their products.

    2) I think Canonical’s relationship with regard to upstream projects is very very relevant to the discussion at hand. Look at the tone and the wording of all the Gnome posts from non-Canonical employees who went to the hackfest hosted at Canonical. Look at the information they provide about work-in-progress ideas about the direction Gnome 3 is going. They are each enthusiastic and inviting of feedback but also they build on each other as a public, accessible dialog. The upstream Gnome people made a concerted effort to communicate the flow of the conversation… not dictate a final solution. These are different individuals with different corporate and non-corporate interests having a public discussion to reach a consensus. They have to come to some sort of consensus that isn’t dictated by a single corporate view to get things done. That makes all the difference in how ideas are communicated.

    A lot of what I see in the problem in Canonical’s design process comes directly from the tight corporate control Canonical has on the design team as a single corporate interest. It’s classic group think which grows to meet management expectations..instead of concepts of a meritocracy. The more interaction Canonical has with outside interests where real consensus is required, the better they will get at communicating in the way Martin wants.


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