What I used to think I knew isn't helping: adventures in higher ed open source

Cautionary Drupal Tales

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I was aware of Drupal’s recent user experience project, but in a recent exchange John Norman brought it to my attention again with a link to Leisa Reichelt’s post-mortem reflections.

It is all to [sic] easy to make excuses for why designing in an open source community can be tough. Certainly there are lots of communication challenges and we don’t necessarily have the right tools. Some people focus on the relationship between designers (minority) and developers (majority) in these communities – I think to do so is to focus on a symptom  of the problem and not the cause.

Sam later told me he had mixed feelings about coming across Leisa’s reflections, in that she seemed to leave with more frustration than accomplishment, and perhaps there is something irreducibly hard about doing design work in these communities. The usual rules about why open source is a good thing don’t seem to translate well to design activities.

The tension between openness and effectiveness is a particular one worrying me these days.  I’m well acquainted with the voices that see this as a false dilemma, but recent experience leaves me not so sure. I’m skeptical about analogizing coding and design.

The way that we are currently engaging with the community is very different to the way the community currently gathers to discuss and resolve issues – which is very much consensus driven. I cannot say often or loudly enough how much we crave communication with the Drupal community on this project, but in order for us to do our job well, we need to engage in a somewhat different way.

I think that’s right. All the same, I think I’m working – in awkward, halting ways – to find out how and where consensus-driven approaches can be effective in this design-led effort. It’s clear I’ve put some stock into the idea of using our functional experts to come to some consensus on fundamental capabilities. I think there is also a lot of promise in distributed user research and testing. But many eyes do not seem to make design problems shallow.


Written by khomotso

December 11, 2009 at 1:19 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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