Welcome to the resources for USABLE.tools 🧰

The USABLE resources focus on supporting maintainers of OSS, developer contributors, and OSS tool teams to better utilize design practices and create more user-centered tools.

USABLE.tools is a collaboration between Superbloom, formerly Simply Secure, Internews, and Okthanks.

We wanted to make sure that the resources we created were relevant and useful to our audience: OSS tool teams. So, at the start of this resource project we spoke to OSS tool teams so that we could better understand what aspects of user/human-centred design remain unclear to them. We completed seven interviews with OSS tool team members and discovered insights such as:

  1. ‘Design and designers cost a lot’ - Design is perceived as ’expensive’. When unpacking this idea, we find that design is a less ‘understandable and visible’ aspect of software creation and development. Especially the ‘invisible’ design work, such as user research, UX insights, facilitation, and capacity building, is not often viewed as an ‘output’ and therefore a ‘waste of money’. Visual design is much easier to ‘see’ and therefore more valued. Although when prior research hasn’t been invested, it is harder to create the visual design and the result is less user/human-centred.

  2. Design tooling is not as fit for purpose as developer tool sets. However, this came down to a mention of designers ’not being on github/gitlab’ (or similar code base repository locations). The key insight here is to invest time in building designers’ understanding of common OSS practices as well as building OSS tool teams’ understanding of design practices. Plan for onboarding and welcoming beyond expecting designers ’to read the OSS manual’.

  3. How do OSS tool teams find designers and experts? Designers interested in OSS exist and there are communities for them to communicate, collaborate, and meet OSS teams. Yet, usually the OSS tool teams have to ‘go outside’ of their sphere of comfort to find and connect with designers. This is true for a wide variety of diversity and inclusion needs within OSS and best described with the phrase "You won't meet new kinds of people in your own house!"

  4. We heard that working collaboratively with developers as early as possible is a way to encourage successful design in OSS. For this collaboration to work, both designers and developers must invest time and effort in each others’ day-to-day processes to build trust. It’s important to remove as much constraint and tension within the collaborative relationship as possible. That means going beyond designing for ‘short time frames of development’ to ‘building trust and understanding widely within the OSS in order to design effectively for real users’.

  5. There are common differences in developers’ understanding of design, and therefore not all designers will know what and how to deliver design to accommodate developers’ understanding of design. For example, some developers want high-fidelity prototypes based on a grid, while others are used to implementing with wireframes and a style guide. The best approach here is: growing a common understanding of design terminology/practices, learning what to ask for, and ensuring a designer is set up for success.

  6. Volunteer designers in OSS are perceived as ’too slow’. Generally designers do their work outside of Github/Gitlab and this can contribute to OSS tool teams not fully understanding how long ‘good’ design takes. Ensuring there is a plan for onboarding, mentoring and integration into the OSS tool does help with this.

  7. In the early design research phases like user testing, usability research and synthesis, there is an upfront investment in helping designers ‘upskill’ and make the most of the community of users. This is important because user/human insights allow an OSS tool to achieve a new level of maturity beyond the ‘itch to scratch’ implementation process. Yet, this upfront work can be frustrating when there is already a backlog of identified issues in need of developer attention. Placing focus on user research helps the team identify the high-impact problems and this goes a long way to helping design and development in OSS tools work together.

  8. High risk users and human rights centred design for sensitive/safety OSS tools is a complex topic with detailed and careful considerations and needs. Open practices and design methods don’t always work well with high risk users OSS tools. This needs to be addressed by designers and the wider team to establish guidelines jumping into the work.

We decided to focus on four themes 🎢

  1. Addressing design misconceptions: delving deep into user testing by considering frequently asked questions and tensions
  2. Promoting collaboration: How to guide OSS tool teams to better understand user testing and practice the skills alongside designers
  3. Focusing on the user: How to work together in a synthesis process with real user testing insights to converge on core user problems/needs
  4. Hearing a variety of voices: Asking the OSS community how they collaborate on complex OSS tools

We created these resources! ⭐

And we completed these community events with the community! ⭐

Future resources and community events to come! We are excited to continue this work. There are still many ideas from our interviews and wider knowledge about design in the OSS tool ecosystem - so watch this space.

We participated in these community events/activities! ⭐

Future resources and engagements to come! We are excited to continue this work. There are still many ideas from our interviews and wider knowledge about design in the OSS tool ecosystem - so watch this space. If you want to suggest a resource or make additions or changes, most of the resources have their own GitHub repositories linked above next to each resource. Additionally, this micro site is on an open respository on GitHub where you can contribute, open issues and dicsuss topics related to the resources and community events with the team that maintain them. Repository for the ‘Dev’s guide to… microsite