Edit: Since writing this post, I’ve been re-hired by another UX team at Oracle. I apologise to anyone who thinks this makes me a Bad Person.

Sun badge photo, August 2000
Sun badge photo, August 2000

Seventeen years and a few months after I joined Sun, today is my last day at Oracle.

I was already a grizzled 7-year usability veteran when I moved to Ireland in 2000 to work on GNOME for Solaris, and by extension, try to help the GNOME community figure out how to focus on and deal with usability issues. While it’s been a handful of years since I last actively did that, I’m posting this from our latest build of GNOME 3 on Solaris, so I guess I didn’t completely break everything.

Presenting Sun's GNOME usability study results, GUADEC 2001
Presenting GNOME usability study results, GUADEC 2001

I’ve no idea what I’ll be doing next, but I do know it’s been a privilege to work with some of the smartest people in tech, not least in the the GNOME community, and the related open source projects that I worked on over the years. So to all of you reading this, thanks for that.

If anyone’s looking for a UX designer based just far enough outside Dublin that he’d prefer not to have to commute there every day, you can find me on LinkedIn, or any of the other places on the interwebs you’d expect. (As an emeritus foundation member, I even still have a email address… but don’t use that as I haven’t updated my .forward file yet!)

End of Line?

I know this has been discussed a few times in recent years and until recently I’ve been vaguely against it, but the amount of spam we’re now seeing in the usability mailing list moderation queue is greatly outweighing the number of actual posts (probably by at least 100 to 1). When we do get a ‘real’ post, it rarely gets a reply from any of the currently-active designers anyway.

If it were up to me, I’d say it’s probably now about time to put it out to pasture, to be reunited on the Obsolete list with its illustrious ancestor, its workhorse brother and its weird uncle that nobody talks about.

A New Experience

Today, after a fraction over 12 years, I bade farewell to the Solaris Desktop team to join Oracle’s Systems Experience Design team, a.k.a. sxDesign, which has a wider but still largely Solaris-focused usability remit.1

There’s been a good deal of overlap and collaboration between the two teams over the years anyway, so it’s not exactly a step into the unknown. The elders among you will remember the GNOME 1.4 usability study I presented at GUADEC in 2001, for example, which was primarily the handiwork of a previous incarnation of sxDesign… I pretty much just turned up at the end to steal the glory for the Desktop team. In your face, people I’m going to be working with now!2

While this pretty much brings an end to any ‘day job’ involvement I still had in the GNOME community (which has been basically ‘none’ for the past couple of years anyway), it certainly won’t be the end of my interest. If anything, I’ll probably be using GNOME more often again, albeit the trailing-edge enterprise-stable version we currently ship with Solaris 11. But I’ll certainly be keeping a keen eye on the GNOME 3 releases too, and continuing to call for its inclusion in Solaris as soon as is practical :)

1 A move I was first approached about making in about 2003, I think… who says I’m rubbish at making snap decisions?

2 I’m not really. They all left years ago.

I’m not going to GUADEC…

Is there a badge for that? :)

This will only be the second time since 2001, when I revealed how many users in our study had asked what the fried egg on the GNOME menu bar meant, that I haven’t made the trip. Other than the very first GUADEC in Paris, which happened just before I joined Sun, the only other one I’ve missed is Stuttgart in 2005.

So it feels a bit weird not to be going this year, but only a bit. It’s been a while since I made a useful contribution to anything GNOMEish (unless you count the daily ritual of deleting spam from the usability list admin queue), GNOME 3 seems to be getting along just fine without any of my suggestions, and for the time being I’m not even working on any desktop projects in my day job. So this time, I suspect, I probably won’t be back at GUADEC for a while… unless it makes a return to Dublin of course :)

Y’all have fun now!

Interaction 12, Dublin

I was fortunate enough to spend three days at the IxDA‘s Interaction 12 conference in Dublin’s swanky new Convention Centre this past week. When you’re more used to attending Linux/free/open-source-type gigs, it’s always a bit of an eye-opener to attend a completely different type of conference, and this was no exception… although while the audience at any given talk was awash with iPads and iPhones rather than Linux tablets and Android phones, in many ways the sense of community and desire to drink beer was very much the same :)

Anything in it for for GNOME?

Well, interaction design is interaction design, so most of the talks were applicable in one way or another. A couple struck me as perhaps being of particular interest to our design community, though.

Information Architecture Heuristics

Most of us are familiar with Neilsen and Molich’s 10 usability heuristics, and they’re still quite useful… but they’re also over 20 years old, and computing devices have moved on a lot since then. Abby Covert presented 10 updated heuristics for modern interaction design, presented in her slide deck here.

In some ways they’re not actually not all that surprising, or indeed different from the original 10. But there’s merit in validation, too, and I’ll certainly give them a whirl the next time I’m doing a heuristic evaluation.

Demystifying Design: Fewer Secrets, Greater Impact

Lean UX advocate Jeff Gothelf gave his talk about how to take some of the perceived magic out of UX design, by involving non-designer peers and managers more in the design process, to help reduce the amount of bike-shedding and other detrimental activities that can occur when stakeholders don’t necessarily understand how or why a particular design decision was reached.

I know this is something we all try to do in communities like ours… in some ways it’s one of our defining characteristics. But even still, we often find ourselves open to accusations of doing “design in secret” (a.k.a. “on IRC”), so perhaps there are some things we can learn from Jeff’s slide deck.

Communication & Content in Web Software

As a bit of a grammar pedant, I enjoyed this talk by local IxDA stalwart Des Traynor, much of which focused on how microcopy (labels and other snippets of text in your UI) can make or break your website or your application. Of course we already have some awesome documentation guys in GNOME who worry about this sort of stuff, but IMHO we don’t always involve them enough in copywriting the UIs themselves. Des hasn’t put his latest slides up just yet, but there’s a recent version here, along with a short blog post and a video him giving a similar talk in September.

Hacking space exploration and science

Finally, as a bit of an astronomy geek myself, I was surprised and pleased to see a talk about this topic at an interaction design conference. Ariel Waldman is the founder of the Science Hack Day in San Francisco, and spoke about that, Galaxy Zoo and Planet Hunters, among other things. Not too much in her slide deck that’s directly applicable in a GNOME context, I just enjoyed the talk :)


Said farewell to an old friend today: the 14″ Sony KVM1400U TV that my parents bought for me when I left home in June 1993. (I well remember double-checking with the man in the shop that it had a SCART input, as I was desperate to get a better picture from my Commodore Amiga 500+ than the RF input I’d been using up to then gave me… and eschewing the slightly more expensive variant that had teletext, as that seemed like something I’d never use.)

Sony kv m1400

It’s been used almost daily since then and was still working perfectly, and I hate replacing stuff that does. But if nothing else, it had been dropped so many times that the case was in several bits and I couldn’t really guarantee it was still electrically safe. So off to the great recycling plant in the sky (well, Argos) it went. Somehow I doubt that the 19″ LED TV we bought to replace it, for almost exactly the same price in numerical terms, will last another couple of decades.

(We aren’t a completely CRT-free household yet, though—we have a larger and equally well-used Sony warhorse in the dining room that’s probably still got a year or two left in it!)