Thursday April 30th, 2015 by Heiko Tietze, Yousuf Philips and Jan Holešovský
The work on usability and design is often seen as some kind of anarchistic creativity: some people receive divine inspiration out of the blue and read tea leaves to decide how features have to be implemented. But that’s not true. Both the creative work on visual design as well as the composition of an effective and efficient user interface is hard work based on axioms. Those fundamentals are “written in stone” by Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) with the objective to improve the experience for users by making application interfaces more consistent and hence more intuitive and learnable.
The Libreoffice project identifies with Mozilla’s generic UI principles and refers to Gnome as its guideline for controls. Furthermore, some rough ideas were collected on the whitepages. At this point we want to restart HIG.
All usability work starts with artifacts that guides through decisions. Those artifacts consist first of all of the vision which describes the goal of the project. It can be emotive and a source of inspiration, for instance by outlining how the final product makes the world a better place. Next artifact (or rather usability method) is the persona. It represent the average user, ideally based on empirical data, and provides thereby a common understanding among the design and development team. Last but not least we want to state a user experience manifesto that prioritize UI principles.
LibreOffice on Desktop UX goal: Simple for beginners and powerful for experts.
- Novices can start to work with LO without the need to read a manual
- In every situation the user is confronted with only a few options – but can get all on demand
- Experts will have access to all functionality
- Full access keeps usability first but might need some training
Benjamin is a 17 year old boy who goes to secondary school. He just started to do his home work with LibreOffice since it has been required by his school. As a beginner he expects to write text and to create presentations as on paper. He doesn’t know about themes, styles, templates, and formatting. He knows how to browse internet, play games, and use tablet & phone. He hates to do home work and to work with a desktop PC. His goal in general is to do stuff as fast as possible, accuracy is not his major concern. To solve problems he neither would read documentation nor use an trial and error approach. Things that cannot be done immediately and out of the box will not be done at all.
Eve is 34 years old, single, vegetarian, pacifist, and open-minded in technology in general. She works as an executive secretary in an NGO for animal rights. She studied economics and sociology. During her studies she used Open Source, and understood the attitude & community culture. Her duty is to summarize and publish studies, to request and write reviews, and doing the accounting. Cooperation is an important aspect of her work.
Adrian is 40 years, married, two children, living in the suburbs, with a technical college education having a BA in computer science. He works as an IT expert at a company that has transferred from Microsoft Office to Libreoffice. He is responsible to keep the system running including all networking (printers, storage, backups), to provide all workstations with templates for corporate identity, and to install updates. He evaluates early versions, works with the QA team, and files bugs. Personally, he doesn’t use Libreoffice on a daily basis.
The ISO 9241-110 defines seven principles for usable interaction design:
- Self-descriptiveness (the dialog should make it clear what the user should do next)
- Suitability (the dialog should be suitable for the user’s task and skill level)
- Controllability (the user should be able to control the pace and sequence of the interaction)
- Familiarity (the dialog should be consistent with user’s expectations)
- Learnability (the dialog should support learning)
- Individualization (the dialog should be able to be customized by users)
- Robustness (the dialog should be forgiving)
Libreoffice focuses on:
- Simplicity by default with full functionality on demand
Every processing has two ways of access: a very simple way with the core features only and an advanced way with all features
- Consistency over Efficiency
Users should feel familiar with all tools rather than having specialized apps.
- Usability over Graphical Design
Form follows function, Libreoffice respects the OS theming.
- Follow general design principles (https://wiki.documentfoundation.org/Design/Principles)
Of course nothing is written in stone. We explicitly ask you to comment. Can you identify yourself with the vision? Do you agree with the personas? Finally it would be great if you make use of the artifacts. For instance, arguing pro or con a new feature is much easier when you refer to Benjamin or Eve because of the empathic abstraction from yourself.
The next steps for the design team are to add guidelines for controls and pattern. Of course the HIG should be the first place to go not only for usability experts but also developers, and the localization and documentation team should also be interested in consistency.