Thursday, December 15, 2016

2016 year in review, part 1

2016 has been a great year in open source software, and I wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of my favorite articles from this year. In no particular order:

1. Teaching usability of open source software
In Fall semester, I taught an online class on the usability of open source software (CSCI 4609 Processes, Programming, and Languages: Usability of Open Source Software). This was not the first time I helped others learn about usability testing in open source software, having mentored GNOME usability testing for both Outreachy and the Outreach Program for Women, but this was the first time I taught a for-credit class. In this article, I shared a reflection of my first semester teaching this class. I also received feedback from teaching the class, which I'll use to make the class even better next time! I teach again in Spring semester, starting in January. And I shared a related article in preparation for next semester, looking ahead to teaching the class again.

2. Cultural context in open source software
Have you ever worked on an open source software project—and out of nowhere, a flame war starts up on the mailing list? You review the emails, and think to yourself "Someone over-reacted here." The problem may not be an over-reaction per se, but rather a cultural conflict. I don't mean to reduce entire cultures to a simple scale, but understanding the general communication preferences of different cultures can help you in any open source project that involves worldwide contributors. A brief introduction.

3. First contribution to usability testing
In order to apply for an Outreachy internship, we ask that you make an initial contribution. For usability testing, I suggest a small usability test with a few testers, then write a summary about what you learned and what you would do better next time. This small test is a great introduction to usability testing. It exercises the skills you'll grow during the usability testing internship, and demonstrates your interest in the project. This is a guest post from Ciarrai, who applied for (and was accepted to) the usability testing internship this year. Ciarrai's summary was an excellent example of usability testing, and I posted it with their permission.

4. How to create a heat map
The traditional way to present usability test results is to share a summary of the test itself. What worked well? What were the challenges? This written summary works well, and it's important to report your findings accurately, but the summary requires a lot of reading on the part of anyone who reviews the results. And it can be difficult to spot problem areas. When presenting my usability test results, I still provide a summary of the findings. But I also include a "heat map." The heat map is a simple information design tool that presents a summary of the test results in a novel way.
5. Visual brand and user experience
How does the visual brand of a graphical desktop affect the user experience? Some desktop environments try to brand their desktop with visual elements including a distinctive wallpaper. But it's not just images that define a visual identity for a desktop environment. The shapes and arrangements used in the presentation also define a user interface's visual brand. In this way, the shapes influence our perception and create an association with a particular identity. We recognize a particular arrangement and connect that pattern with a brand.
I'll share the remainder of the list next week.

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