Bare Naked (Open Source) Design

Leisa Reichelt talks about D7UX at IDEA2009
Today Leisa Reichelt gave a presentation to IDEA2009 on her experiences running the Drupal 7 user experience project. She shared insights she had learned about how to design in an open way with a highly distributed team, such as using video missives such as the “We Need You” video to communicate with developers.

One of the biggest challenges she said she faced was that the project was designed by developers with other developers in mind, even though there were two key groups of users that were alienated by the product. They could not engage with strategy statements or goal descriptions.

Finding a way to communicate who the real users are

She tried to combat this by creating two characters, Verity the content creator and Jeremy the web-savvy non-developer, and referring constantly to them. (Leisa stressed these were not personas in the formal sense, although they were used in similar ways). This approach yielded a lot of success and enabled them to engage with contributors through a Flickr group where sketches and screenshots could be annotated and discussed as well as a project blog at

Engaging at the right level

The Six Layers of User Experience - by Leisa Reichelt

Another challenge was how to engage the developers at the right level. She showed this model of the six layers of user experience, and tried to communicate to developers that nothing could be achieved at the appearance/interaction level (the level they were operating at when focussing on fixing bugs), until there were stable foundations and agreement at the conceptual level. To reinforce this point, she did not show screenshots during her presentation, because the focus should not be on the appearance alone. The issues were at the conceptual level – There was no consensus as to whether Drupal should be considered a framework or product, which are two very different paradigms, almost impossible to unite in a single environment.

Sharing out the usability testing work

Leisa also talked about the success they had in crowdsourcing usability testing by preparing kits for project contributors, and then collating results and performing additional verification (since those interviewing were not formal trained). This proved successful and less work than remote usability testing.

Handling the personal side

The experience was difficult personally as well. Leisa said she had learnt that “it is possible to survive sporadic personal attacks for up to 6 months without going completely bonkers!” and that she now has an incredibly thick skin. She has set up a support network and community of practice for design and UX people in open source at

On the benefits of designing in the open

She was positive about the process of designing in the open, saying it’s “a great thing to do for your peers, we don’t get to see each other’s work very often”. She encourages others to try it, and since the project is being done in the open, anyone can follow through the approaches that have been used (for example via the YouTube group and the Flickr group) and learn from their experiences.

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