Want to learn design skills? Want to help Fedora? Fedora Interaction Design Hackfest, Tuesday 24 Nov

Hopefully my post title has captured your attention. 🙂 I would like to let you know about a project starting up right now that is a great opportunity for you to:

  1. Learn about how interaction design is done.
  2. Pick up some interaction design and user research skills.
  3. Get involved in an open design project.
  4. Help make Fedora better!

So the Fedora Board has started an initiative to create Fedora user profiles and personas to help inform decisions about Fedora policy and design in the future.

Okay Mo, so first of all, what is a persona?

From Wikipedia:

Personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic that might use a site or product. Personas are useful in considering the goals, desires, and limitations of the users in order to help to guide decisions about a product, such as features, interactions, and visual design. Personas are most often used as part of a user-centered design process for designing software and are also considered a part of interaction design (IxD), have been used in industrial design and more recently for online marketing purposes.

A lot of discussion about personas is available on Cooper’s blog and is a good read for getting up to speed on what they are and how they work.

Okay, uh, so how are personas going to help us make Fedora policy and design decisions?

Well, for example, you may recall the great panda panda-monium from early www.fedoraproject.org redesign mockups, in which about half of folks giving feedback loved the panda (“Please kill to keep that damn Panda, mairin. The thing is too cute and seems to look like a great little mascot.”), and the other half felt the panda was an insult to Fedora users (“In general i like the layouts…. for 6 year old kids. If this is the best you can come up with you might as well base it on this: http://ostiaunlobby.files.wordpress.com/2008/07/teletubbies-group2.jpg”)
Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion of the pandas. Those opinons may or may not have any bearing on how our target users might receive them, though. If we have a set of Fedora personas defined, we can talk about how each of the personas, designed to be representative of our target audience would feel about pandas. Discussing whether or not the Fedora panda is a good choice for our *target audience* or not will help us make decisions based on the target audience we’ve agreed upon for Fedora rather than base it on knee-jerk / personal / anecdotal reactions that merely represent the personal opinons of the folks who happened to be around at the time to give their feedback.
There’s more discussion of potential benefits of personas to Fedora in a post I made yesterday to the ‘User Profiles’ thread on fedora-advisory-board list, so please check it out for more info and please feel free to dive into the discussion with any questions / commentary / feedback you have.

Well Mo, this sounds good. But where do we get personas from?

We’ll build them. Well, I think there’s a lot of different methods to going about constructing personas, but to be good they need to be backed by user research data. User research data can take many forms.
The approach I’d like to propose for Fedora persona development is based on the user research process advocated for in Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research by Mike Kuniavsky. A high-level / action-oriented summary of the approach is as follows:

  1. Define the product and product goals. Done.
  2. Decide on an audience to target with the product that will help meet the product goals. Done.
  3. Conduct interviews of product stakeholders in order to determine high-level research questions to consider exploring with members of the target audience. Proposal for doing this.
  4. Draw up a list of specific research questions to answer to start conducting user research on the intended target audience. These are specific rather than high-level questions. For example:
    • “Does the target audience care about software freedom or not?” could be a Fedora Board stakeholder high-level research question.
    • Specific questions that could be explored during research, “Does that target audience know what free software is?” “Does the target audience already use free software? If so, which software?”
  5. Prioritize the specific research questions, pick a cut-off point for how many to explore, and determine research methods for each.
  6. Draw up a research schedule and assign specific research tasks to volunteers.
  7. Do the research! And check in with volunteers to make sure they’ve not run into any issues and help them resolve them.
  8. Hold a data analysis session. Cluster the data from the research into 3-8 groupings from which to build the personas on.
  9. Brainstorm and document the personas!

So…. How can I help?

SO GLAD YOU ASKED!!!! 🙂 I am blocking out Tuesday, November 24th to be an interaction design hackfest. I want to run it from 3 pm – 6 pm EDT (8 PM – 11 PM UTC) on #fedora-design on irc.freenode.net. I’d like us to start working on work item #3, conducting interviews of product stakeholders, in order to get moving on the persona-building process. Depending on how far we get we may be able to dip into #4 and #5.
What concrete actions will helping involve?

  • Interviewing Fedora stakeholders via email or IRC in order to answer the stakeholder interview questions.
  • Documenting the Fedora stakeholder interviews by organizing the interview results on a Fedora wiki page.
  • Reviewing the interview answers and brainstorming potential research questions.
  • Per research question, brainstorming ways we can gather data to help answer the question. (Could we answer that question by running a questionnaire on Planet Fedora? Could we answer it by running some usability tests at FUDcon Toronto next month? Could we answer it by looking at fedoraproject.org website logs?)

You do not have to be an artist to help with design! So show up next Tuesday and find out how you can help. 🙂

  • Date: Tuesday 24 November 2009
  • Time: 3-6 PM EDT; 8-11 PM UTC
  • Place: #fedora-design on irc.freenode.net
  • Host: mizmo (me!)
  • Agenda: Fedora User Research Plan

p.s. for the panda-haters, how about this mascot:


  1. I'll be there!!!! this is just AWESOME mo!

  2. Marketing was actually going to have a case studies ("$name uses Fedora!") making sprint (led by Sakis Samaras) for the first hour of that timeblock – what can we do to make what we're making most useful to you?
    I'll be headed to the Design sprint after our sprint, and will encourage others to come with me. 😉

  3. adamwill says:

    can we have a persona for a scarily-intense geek who is prepared to go to the sword to defend his (they're always guys) distro of choice to the death, spells Microsoft 'Micro$oft' (alternatively: 'Microsucks, Microshaft…), reads Boycott Novell religiously and spends three hours a day on Slashdot?
    also one for an embittered QA engineer waving a half empty whisky bottle and yelling at the kids to get off his lawn? 🙂

    1. I'm sorry, but I find the last comment a little disheartening.
      1) There are valid reasons to criticise _both_ mainstream operating systems from an ethical standpoint. If handled properly, this is an asset that Libre software can leverage against the mainstreams. It is unlikely that the significant strategic leverage the ethical component of Libre Software offers can _ever_ be countered by the mainstreams. This philosophy runs in concurrence with many influential design patterns such as environmentally and ethically sensible business models.
      2) Even if this comment is in jest, it is seriously missing the whole point of understanding audience and undermines the validity of the approach. This isn't about defining cliches and stereotypes. The entire point of audience-centric design is to walk away from the mythconceptions you have and arrive at and arrive at a concrete model for usage. By offering nothing more than trivial associations and cliches, you do nothing to further the legitimate and credible merits of audience centric design.
      This is _serious_ business. There is no everyone. There is no all. There is no application that will ever meet everyone's needs.
      There are only audiences with select and specific needs / goals. The role of design is to draw a clear path between the audience and their goal. The other earmarks of design such as 'efficiency', 'discovery', 'simplicity', and 'intuitive' are all _subjective_ aspects of design that are rooted in the audience.[1]
      While it is wonderful that formalised practice to design is slowly gaining traction in our Libre culture, fickle and half-hearted application of canonised design principles will no more further the movement than a silly comment about pandas.
      "Audience governs all."[2]
      [1] http://www.uigarden.net/english/easy-intuitive-an
      [2] Design Basics Index, Jim Krause ( http://www.amazon.ca/Design-Basics-Index-Jim-Krau… )

      1. Hi Troy, I'm fairly certain Adam was in self-referential jest 😉

  4. Oh, it's like that is it?
    The hotdog gets all the glory, while the Happy Breakfast Taco Guy is still in the shadows…

  5. […] Posted in Uncategorized by mairin on November 24, 2009 So we had a very productive interaction design hackfest today in […]

  6. great, thank you.

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