mpt wrote an essay last year, “Why Free Software has poor usability, and how to improve it“, which is a follow-up to his original, “Why Free Software usability tends to suck“. The more diplomatic title is perhaps a reflection in microcosm of mpt’s own personal journey ;-)
We are already doing some of the stuff he suggests, such as (by example) “establish[ing] a culture of simplicity” and using distributed version control. Is there more we can do? Some ideas:
- “Establish more and stronger incentives. For example, annual Free Software design awards“. Could we run these, perhaps in collaboration with openusability.org (although it seems to have gone a bit quiet)? We are at the forefront of pulling together volunteer designers to work on free software with the Mozilla Creative Collective. Graphic design isn’t usability, but it does show we are reaching out to non-traditional communities. Disadvantage: we wouldn’t be able to win. ;-)
- “Develop and promote screen capture, video recording, and other software that makes tests easier to run“. We have to figure out how to do user testing remotely. Is there any recording software out there that will record a user’s desktop, and audio, and video from their webcam? All three are IMO necessary if you want to be able to review a usability test remotely. I can find software, like RecordMyDesktop, which will do desktop and audio, but no-one has added in webcam support yet. I guess this it outside the expertise of the Mozilla project, but hopefully someone else will read this and take the task on.
- Develop and promote VoIP, video chat, virtual whiteboard, sketching, and animation software that allows easier communication of design ideas over the Internet. There seems to be no web-standards-based virtual whiteboard software, and yet with <canvas> it should be easy. Anyone fancy knocking up a demo? You wouldn’t even need to do conflict resolution – lines just overlay each other. Add the ability to import images (screenshots), join a phone conference, and you have a ready-made design space.