Thoughts about Libre Office design process (part 3 : analysis)

Someone has to say it loud : the current design process is very weak, and lacks some professional behavior :

  • No roadmap

Papercuts are ok, but they are only short term. LO needs short term AND mid term AND long term design projects. Sometimes, new proposals may override previous work because of lack of roadmap. For example, there is a new proposal to completely change the new template manager to make it handle the start screen, just 1 month after the first release (http://lists.freedesktop.org/archives/libreoffice-ux-advise/2013-March/001882.html).
It clearly shows a communication problem in every case :
- either the template manager is designed to handle the start screen, but only few people know that ;
- or the template manager should have been designed to handle the start screen, but not enough communication/exploration during design process ;
- or the template manager does not have to handle the start screen, but the design team never said it.

People need/ask for a roadmap : http://listarchives.libreoffice.org/global/design/msg05303.html

  • No clear direction

First, for each subject, the design team receives a lot of completely different proposals that make it difficult to handle. Some of them can be bizarre because they have no UX foundation (http://listarchives.libreoffice.org/global/design/msg05707.html). It’s very difficult to keep LibreOffice UI coherent. After some months, LO will lose its consistency (some parts will behave like iOS, others like android, others like Winphone…)

Secondly, the rules to select a proposal seem to change from subject to subject. Maybe it means that there is no validation rules ? When we read mailing-list or chat log, It seems that most of UI decisions are taken with arguments like « I prefer… » or « I think it’s better… » (most of logs in https://wiki.documentfoundation.org/Design/Meetings). And those decisions are taken by very few non-professional people (sometimes less than 5 !) while they change UI for millions of users !

  • No guidelines

Devs are asking for guidelines for basic design questions : http://lists.freedesktop.org/archives/libreoffice-ux-advise/2013-February/001826.html :

« Is there any style guideline concerning items greyed out in  UI? » 

  • Lot of energy and time wasted :

First : endless hours in chat/mail answering the same questions for every subject :

« do we target desktop users ? tablet users ? » « do we copy iOS/Android or create something else ? » « How to layout items for that common behavior ? » « Do you take care of that special use case ? »

Secondly : the global bad process wastes everyone’s time. As we are mostly volunteers, it’s very bad (« we » means all people involved in LibreOffice : devs, designers, translators, testers…). And it prevents new volunteers from joining.

  • No feedback with users

First, there is currently nothing that allow design team to have informations about users : who are they ? what tool do they use often ? what do they like/dislike in LO ? what are their papercut ?

Secondly, the design team takes decisions about design without any user testing or prototyping. These two important notions are not part of current design process (https://wiki.documentfoundation.org/Design/Meetings/2013-01-05, [21:24 --> 21:30]).
IMHO, this is the weakest, non-professional part of the current process. It typically looks like the myth of the genius designer (http://www.nngroup.com/articles/the-myth-of-the-genius-designer/).

  • Design team lacks some basic knowledge about code, coding :

This complexifies the relation with devs, or makes some proposals useless. The best example being the color picker (without asking devs, the team supposed the new color picker will provide live preview).

The last proposals (template manager, color picker) are made only through static images and lack some important informations : input datas, output datas, event workflow, different use cases, special values handling, error handling…
Here are some old proposals with minimal expected informations : https://wiki.documentfoundation.org/Design/Whiteboard/Calc_Range_Names
http://wiki.openoffice.org/wiki/User:ChristophNoack/Drafts/WelcomeCenter_2010

Or devs must take some decisions themselves while coding, because the design was not coherent with code or incomplete. The example is when Cedric had to change (in hurry!) how the new template manager handles opening a folder by removing the notion of overlay (http://lists.freedesktop.org/archives/libreoffice-ux-advise/2012-December/001671.html and you can extend to the whole discussions during december 2012 in this mailing-list : thread http://lists.freedesktop.org/archives/libreoffice-ux-advise/2012-December/001603.html and thread http://lists.freedesktop.org/archives/libreoffice-ux-advise/2012-December/001615.html and thread http://lists.freedesktop.org/archives/libreoffice-ux-advise/2012-December/001665.html).

  • Accessibility has not enough support

http://lists.freedesktop.org/archives/libreoffice-ux-advise/2013-March/001894.html

  • QA

With bad design and development in hurry, do you imagine the state of QA ?

  • Bad tools, not efficient

The best example being using a mailing list for a poll. Or creating mockups with Gimp instead of a wireframe tool.

  •  No UX skills/knowledge

It’s really the most important problem, and the most difficult to be clearly expressed.

Today, the design team theoretically handles the following areas :
(from http://www.libreoffice.org/get-involved/ux-visual-designers)

  • user experience (UX)
  • visual identity (VI)
  • accessibility
  • user support and training

The fundamental problem here is that the two first points are mutually exclusive : they work on the same subject (LibreOffice UI) but with two different and opposite point of view (pov) :

  • the UX analyses the UI with a dynamic pov : events, workflows, interactions, number of click, number of keystroke…
  • the VI analyses the UI with a static pov : perception of colors, perception of icons,  perception of space between elements, fonts, font-size, precise layout of elements…

And they require completely different skills :

  • the UX needs engineers, scientists
  • the VI needs artists, graphic artists

When we look at the proposals, the discussion in the design team (irc, mailing list), it seems that most of participants have skill only in Visual Identity. The most visible symptom being that all proposals are made as real screenshot while all professional UX designers always make proposals as wireframe. And that there is no use case, no scenario, no event workflow, nothing about UX.

This is also the case for one of the most known proposals : the citrus ui. it’s a nice proposal from an artist. But the contained ideas can’t be processed because it’s light years away from being a UX designer proposal. So it is disappointing that this proposal is often seen as the future UI of LibreOffice and that his creator is leading the design team.

  • Some problems start to appear, ESC feed-back

Hopefully, some devs are starting to realize : http://lists.freedesktop.org/archives/libreoffice/2013-March/047676.html (go to part « Learning lessons from the template manager story »). It’s a very simple list, but so significant !
But, nothing else is suggested to correct those problems.

 

In conclusion, all this is very annoying for the future of LibreOffice, because it is one of the foundations of LibreOffice and there is a lot of expectations from users. If you compare with the dev process, it’s very professional : versioning, code review, daily builds, automatic testing, bibisect…

The design process needs to be very professional too.

3 réflexions au sujet de « Thoughts about Libre Office design process (part 3 : analysis) »

    1. admin Auteur de l’article

      Thanks for your feed-back.
      You’re right about Icon studies. I forgot to talk about them.
      Well, to be fair, I wanted to talk about them, but, I saw some rough discussion on mailing list about them (http://nabble.documentfoundation.org/LO-Writer-UI-Analysis-td4032977.html#a4033135 and next) and, as I’ve no skills in VI, I put them on hold and then forgot them.
      BTW, there is a project of creating new set of flat icons (https://github.com/libodesign/flat-icons) : does the team use your results ?

      1. Heiko Tietze

        >BTW, there is a project of creating new set of flat icons (https://github.com/libodesign/flat-icons) : does the team use your results ?

        We do not analyse design issues. A flat icon that adopts the same metaphor as the equivalent of Tango would work comparable. User Prompt engages in usability only, preferably with online studies and not limited to icon tests. Have a look for ‘motifs’, for instance.

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