Open source moving toward individual vision, away from design by committee

An economics podcast is an unusual place for a discussion of UI design, but this conversation with Eric Raymond (The Cathedral & the Bazaar) includes the usability of open source software.

Open source development works when,

  1. Capital goods required to do the work are cheap.
  2. The limiting factor on the work is human creativity and attention.
  3. The work is intrinsically rewarding.
  4. There is an objective metric for success that everybody in the hive mind can agree on without too much effort. Without that condition you get thrashing.
  5. Zero-cost communications.

Any designer knows Item 4 is a problem: different types of users with a wide range of experience, conflicting goals, etc.  The open source community is starting to recognize that UI design requires a single vision. They are appointing “UI dictators” within each project who “get their way.” “It’s better to have a flawed individual vision than try to do it by committee.”

EconTalk: Eric Raymond on Hacking, Open Source, and the Cathedral and the Bazaar
(program notes and audio)


Is the Printed Newspaper Obsolete?

Buckmaster of Craigslist doubts that we have seen the end of the printed newspaper.  He mentions, in an interview with Tom Keene from Bloomberg, the usability requirement to meet the needs and wants of the customer:

“The number of employees required to meet the requests and needs and wants of users turns out to be startlingly low.”

Buckmaster of Craigslist Doubts Demise of Newspapers Feb. 28 (Bloomberg) — Jim Buckmaster, chief executive officer of Craigslist, spoke yesterday with Bloomberg’s Tom Keene about the company’s strategy to allow more free postings of advertisements on its web site.

And yet, so few companies try to do it.


Embrace the Sketchy Prototype

We tend to really like paper prototypes in our line of work.  We often find that by just doing three or four prototypes that we have significantly increased our knowledge of what the client needs up front.

Techniques and tools are discussed at introspectiveH.


We think it’s worth examining.


The Positive Spiral: Six Keys to Success

University of Toronto business-school dean Roger Martin on how Milton Glaser and Massimo Vignelli think about design and its relevance to business.

  1. they don’t confuse what they presently see with reality, and therefore don’t see the present state of a thing as immutable.
  2. they don’t fear the ambiguity that’s created by models or concepts that conflict with one another. Rather, they see the benefits of such conflict and ambiguity in spurring their creative juices.
  3. they believe that there’s always a better design out there…
  4. they’re confident that they can always find a design solution that meets their high standards.
  5. they’re unconcerned about wading into the necessary complexities that one must grapple with before coming to an elegant design solution.
  6. they refuse to rush to choose one side or the other of the conflict inherent in their task, or to race through the difficulties without giving themselves a chance to develop a new and better insight.


This six-part mental stance propels its adherent along a positive spiral. A person with such a stance naturally develops tools for handling ambiguity, complexity, and conflicting models, and is inclined to garner experiences that deepen skill and sensitivity.

Full Article


Same Lucent: The Ethnographer

From the June 19 edition of Business Week…For Lucente, the ethnographer, consumer observation has been a big route
out of HP’s dilemma. Until recently, HP’s merger with Compaq Computer
had produced an unintegrated company with hundreds of isolated
businesses and thousands of products. To help build a unified, creative
culture and reconnect with HP’s customers, Lucente launched a major
research project. He involved members from all departments — design,
marketing, R&D, even outside consultants — to immerse themselves in the
lives and homes of 28 families around the world. The goal was to make
sure that HP was “living and breathing with the customer,” Lucente says.

What the trips showed was that families across the globe were deluged
with information from their phones, computer screens, cameras, and
social networking connections. They were lost, with no idea how to
navigate through the information. To Lucente, the obvious answer was a
steering wheel.