Saturday, March 8, 2014

Audience analysis: GNOME

The first step in preparing a usability test is to understand the users. Often, project owners will identify users in broad terms, then create "user profiles" that define a set of theoretical users of the system. By creating these user profiles, all members of the project can use the same starting point in discussing usability, and how design decisions will affect certain users. With an agreement on user profiles, a designer can say "This change will help users like Frank" or provide critiques like "This updated design actually makes it harder for users like Susan." This takes design discussion away from personal experience, and helps designers remain focused on the users.

For my usability study, I plan to examine several programs from the GNOME desktop environment. So, who are the target users for GNOME?

Allan Day of the GNOME Project shared that GNOME does not identify a subset of users, such as developers or computer experts. Rather, GNOME targets all users. GNOME looks at the user experience across three categories. From Allan's email to me:

1. Core experience - this is the operating system, it includes the shell and the rest of the "bare" system. It is a very "thin" platform for running apps. ie. We provide as little functionality outside of applications as possible.

2. Core apps - these cover the basic things that almost everyone needs, as well as some essential utilities that are needed by the system. You get a browser, apps for viewing files and other content, handy utilities like a calculator, and so on.

3. 3rd party apps - these are how diverse users fulfil their more specialist requirements. Applications are how you extend the functionality of your system.

I wouldn't necessarily say that the core apps are targeting a particular kind of user. Rather, they are targeting what the majority of users have in common.

As a result, the design vision in GNOME addresses a broad audience. Users may be anyone, from computer novices to computer experts, from programmers to graphics designers to writers and grandmothers. GNOME seeks the lowest common denominator. Accordingly, the usability test design must not target a particular kind of test participant. Testers should represent a mixture of backgrounds, gender, and age groups.

So I guess I get to skip the step of defining the target users. The usability test should instead examine design patterns in GNOME, rather than specific applications or programs.

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