GNOME Usability Hackfest

Back in the Dublin office today after last week’s GNOME Usability Hackfest in London, during which I didn’t blog nearly enough.

My main goal for the week was to help figure out a plan to revise the GNOME Human Interface Guidelines, which I originally helped to write almost a decade ago, but which really haven’t kept pace with the changes in either hardware or software technology over the past 5 years.

The notes from all the discussions we had aren’t all that impressive to look at, but I think the key thing is the general agreement to have less monolithic text, and switch to more of a pattern library approach. This should allow us to react much more quickly to changing trends in GNOME UI design, maintain related patterns for different types of devices such as desktop, touchscreen and stylus devices, and even allow individual distros to customize the library with their own unique, in-house patterns if they so desire. (Which hopefully won’t be too much, but it’s clear that, for example, the GNOME-based Moblin UI is a different beast from the vanilla GNOME desktop, so the Moblin team will likely want to maintain some patterns of their own.)

I’ve already started to draft up a template for what a GNOME UI pattern might look like, and hope to flesh things out a bit more over the next couple of weeks.

Of course, many other things were discussed at the hackfest as well. Nautilus and gnome-shell were hot topics, as was the old chestnut of a GNOME control centre redesign—on that front, I ended up moderating a couple of card sorting sessions during the week where we had users categorize 100 settings into groups of their choice. Charlene from Canonical presented an Empathy usability report, partly to discuss the findings, but mostly to discuss how best to present such reports to GNOME developers. And of course, Seth’s vision of a future GNOME desktop hit the headlines, making it to Ars Technica almost immediately!

On the community front, some ideas for improving the tools we use to analyse and report usability data were also discussed. And there was a strong presence from the accessibility community, to keep us all honest when coming up with anything new.

Many thanks, of course, to Google and Canonical for sponsoring the event, and particularly to the latter for hosting us in a 27th floor office so we didn’t need to waste money on the London Eye 🙂

4 thoughts on “GNOME Usability Hackfest”

  1. It’s great to see the HIG getting revived interest. In terms of “Even allow individual distros to customize the library with their own unique, in-house patterns if they so desire”, I hope it stays clear what is the GNOME HIG, and what is a variant of the GNOME HIG for something other than the GNOME desktop. (Like Meego, say.) It’s important for an app author to be able to write to the standard GNOME HIG, and have their GNOME app fit in perfectly on any GNOME desktop, no matter which distribution it is.

  2. @Owen: Yes, this is something that we’re cautious about and will have to handle pretty carefully. Personally I would go so far as to say we possibly shouldn’t allow such variants on at all, and put the onus on anyone who wants a modified version for their own purposes to host it elsewhere. We might also mandate (insofar as we can) some verbage in the template to be used by such patterns, that explains their non-standardness and links back to the patterns.

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