We now come to our final Community Week for October 2016, and this time we’re talking to the Design team. Design is an essential aspect of LibreOffice development, and it’s sometimes tough to find the right balance: some users want the interface to change rapidly with each release, whereas others are more conservative and prefer an incremental approach. When new features are added to LibreOffice, they must be made accessible and easy to find, but not interfere with the workflow of experienced users.
The Document Foundation, the non-profit entity behind LibreOffice, has a dedicated user experience mentor: Heiko Tietze. He works with the Design team to research and implement user interface improvements, trying to take into account the needs and wishes of as many users as possible. We caught up with Heiko to see what he’s working on at the moment…
What is your role in the Design team?
I’m the user experience (UX) mentor and my role is to support and facilitate work on the user interface (UI) of LibreOffice – how it looks and behaves. This includes giving my advice on Bugzilla tickets with the needsUXEval keyword, conducting surveys and quick polls, working on and publishing proposals on the design blog, managing weekly design meetings, defining human interface guidelines (HIG), creating prototypes, etc. In general, my task is to get more people involved.
How did you first get involved with LibreOffice?
In the 1990s I studied psychology with a focus on methodology and statistics. Scientific experiments typically end up with a mass of data, so getting familiar with programming is a big plus – which brought me towards usability. Some years ago I volunteered with a couple of tests about the icons used in LibreOffice.
Later on this moved forward to more advanced studies on how users deal with the product and what they expect (find all blog posts here). And finally The Document Foundation made a tender last year for a freelancer for UX and design work, and I was picked for it.
What does your typical workday look like?
Usability is about users, so basically I observe, talk, interview, watch videos, and read comments to get an impression of what our users need. My day starts with reading emails – typically a lot come in from the ux-advice mailing list. Commenting can often take some time when a ticket is not clear in respect to the workflow.
When working on a new UI design I start by researching the issue and collecting all the requirements first, and then I scribble mockups that follow our principles of simplicity, consistency, and ease of use. While this might sound straightforward, it isn’t always so. Usability is an iterative process where everything needs to be discussed and improved repeatedly. If you want to learn more about the work of the design team read “How we work” on the wiki.
What areas in Design are working well, and what needs to be improved?
Regarding the team, we are doing pretty well in my opinion. There is always room for improvement and we need to be faster with decisions on UX-related tickets. But that’s how open source works, slowly. And regarding the application, I believe we need to improve on simplicity and clear concepts. There are numerous functions for special workflows that hinder beginners. And on the other hand we have a lot of hidden gems that even experts never use.
Who else is involved and what do they do?
The design team has many contributors who are experts from different areas including members of the development team. Some spend a lot of their spare time committing patches for menus or UI files, while others work on small aspects such as visual design or icons. Find a list of members see this wiki page.
How can regular (non-developer) LibreOffice users help out?
Everyone is an artist, and everyone is a user. The simplest way to contribute to LibreOffice is to file bugs and submit enhancement requests to our bug tracker. For those who want to do more, we have tasks for the very beginner (eg assign nice names to colors, create custom shapes), for experienced UX/UI designers (eg revamp the bibliography dialog), and for advanced developers (typically Google Summer of Code students). On our wiki we list the topics so everyone can get an impression about the demands: click here for all the details.
Finally, we’re currently running a survey asking users how LibreOffice should handle missing fonts. It would be great if LibreOffice users could read the survey and choose whether they like the change or not in the form at the bottom.
Thanks Heiko. Coming up later in the week, we’ll explore in further detail what the Design team does, and show you some more ways to get involved.