Open source user experience

Aaron J. Seigo aseigo at
Wed Feb 18 21:39:54 CET 2009

On Wednesday 18 February 2009, Celeste Lyn Paul wrote:
> On Wednesday 18 February 2009 02:09:11 pm Aaron J. Seigo wrote:
> > On Tuesday 17 February 2009, Michael Rudolph wrote:

> > honestly, we're lacking a couple of critical tools to really start
> > bringing designers in en masse; plasmate is a step towards addressing
> > that, but certainly can't/won't be the whole answer.
> Plasmate won't solve the people problem, it just provides a more useful
> design tool to work with UI elements than Qt Designer.

the reason i brought it up is that if we bring in designers of various ilk, 
but have few or no appropriate tools for them to use, it becomes a lot harder 
to sustain any sort of activity. it's a lot more useful when people can get 
directly involved versus talk at the people who are empowered to be directly 

> People are the biggest hurdle.


> If we can get people, I would say our second challenge is having a place to
> think and discuss independent of current development.

i'd like to think that we're continuing to do that here. it's why at Tokamak i 
spent that first 40 mins or so of our time focusing people on not getting 
stuck on what we've already done. what you seem to be saying is that "here" 
isn't "open" enough for people who are coders. is that about accurate?

> However, the entire KDE project needs to be able to do this.

one step at a time, i guess.

at Tokamak we talked about kwin, and in retrospect realized we should have had 
a kwin person or two in attendance, because we're trying to expand that 
coverage a bit beyond "Just plasma" to give a more sensible over all user 
experience, at least for the desktop component.

> To me, Plasma
> feels like a very exclusive team which is difficult to get in to.

how does it feel that way?

from my perspective, we have this plugin based system and a wide open 
playground where nobody has to ask permission to do anything.

> There is
> a small set of people working on an influential part of the environment,
> but if you aren't developing Plasma widgets then you don't get to join. If

first, there will always be a small set of people. design does not work with 
100 people sitting around the table searching for consensus all day.

that said, which widgets do you feel "locked out of"? i mean, to be perfectly 
blunt, i haven't actually seen much input from others, particularly of the 
well informed sort, and that certainly isn't because there are barriers drawn 
around the widgets.

the tasks widget has had multiple authors that have taken it completely 
different directions. ditto for the system tray, and i'm sure there are other 
examples. that things can maintain some homogeneity in the process is a bit 
impressive, but it's not indicative of closed-walls dev.

so there's evidently a human interface issue here (of the wetware sort). what 
are we doing to communicate to you that it's a closed city?

> other people wanted to rethink high level concepts such as windows and
> workflows, how do they do that when all of the creative thinkers are locked
> in a room together?

plasma isn't a room. it's a practical project for a bigger mindset. practical 
projects are absolutely required, otherwise nothing useful happens. 
reinventing every KDE app is just too big of a project to chew on; some would 
say we barely made it with just "reinvent the desktop code base".

obviously, this isn't the "right place" to discuss, say, dolphin. there are 
some natural limits to the scope here, but they do extend to pretty much 
anything that's "desktop shell".

so that said, if you want to rethink high level concepts such as windows and 
workflows, you are welcome to do that here.

the *only* requirements we have here is:

* be informed
* be collaborative
* be specific
* be realistic

realism is pretty loosely defined in plasmaland. e.g. "realism" means "we 
don't have holographic projectors; heck, we don't even have multitouch devices 
to play with yet." basically, it has to be achievable.

the specific requirement prevents vague hand waving that can only lead 
nowhere. saying "we should have a new workflow concept" isn't specific. saying 
"here's a new workflow concept i've been considering.." is.

btw, the hover interfaces in dolphin and gwenview both came from stuff we 
first played with in plasma. it can and does work.

> Lately, I've been feeling there is Plasma on one side of the wall, and then
> there is me with what's left of the usability project on the other, with
> Nuno and the Oxygen team straddling the wall for random bits of UX. I do my

can you describe this wall a bit more? (so that we can address it)

> best to help the developers who come to be with help, but it's not too
> creative and limiting without team members.

you're looking for a UX team that's dynamic and growth driven like the plasma 

> You've probably noticed my
> involvement with Kubuntu has increased over the past year in addition to my
> other KDE work. The simple reason is that it allows me to get involved in
> shaping the user experience more than KDE does.

on the one hand, there's often a lot more of a cavalier attitude downstream 
for such changes. after all, if they don't say anything, the users just blame 
us upstream. as such, there's rarely as much care or concern applied to 
changes in our downstreams. it's more like "sure, whatever, let's do it that 
way and ship it. why not?", while we tend to try and think through things a 
bit more thoroughly. that means we move a bit slower, though really not so 
slow as to be anywhere near annoying or counter productive.

other than the pace of making these type of decisions, i'm not sure what the 
differences are. perhaps you can provide some more details.

> I always try to push the
> good stuff upstream afterwards, but that's not the point. I should be doing
> it upstream to begin with so everyone benefits.

.. and so you aren't working counter productively to other parallel efforts.

> I guess is that Plasma has a lot of things going for it in terms of it's 
> philosophy for creative processes. It could be used as a model for 
> founding a more project-wide initiative. However, it doesn't seem like an
> open environment which can be easily joined, either by fresh designers who
> are interested in contributing or extended in to the rest of the KDE
> project. 

i guess step one is having the rest of the project respect plasma a bit more. 
you may not have noticed, but we're not the most popular group of people. 
we're the ones who fucked up the panel in 4.0, after all, if you don't recall. 
(yes, that's dripping with cynicism and sarcasm.) we struggle for respect from 
others, even those who are doing "new" things like the kwin people. there's 
very little interest in actually thinking big and worrying about things like 
"user experience".

this is why i created my own little playground right here: so i could get on 
with things without struggling against the tide constantly.

as things pay off more and more visibly, i expect others to take notice and 
start adopting some of what we're doing. if we don't succeed wildly with 
plasma, it likely won't ever happen. it's that simple. developers, as a broad 
group, are simply too pragmatic and unimaginative to have it happen in some 
spontaneous frenzy of "i get it!".

it's a similar process to the one that led to a cleaned up file manager, a 
cleaned up image viewer, a cleaned up ....

Aaron J. Seigo
humru othro a kohnu se
GPG Fingerprint: 8B8B 2209 0C6F 7C47 B1EA  EE75 D6B7 2EB1 A7F1 DB43

KDE core developer sponsored by Qt Software

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