May 12, 2015

My Intro to UX in Open Source

User Experience or UX is the missing ingredient for many Open Source projects. UX is an emerging field that researches, analyzes, and optimizes the experience of the user (whether that’s a user of a site, service, or something else).

My experience contributing to learnosm demonstrated that it’s easy for an open source project that relies on the contributions of so many different people to lack coherent organization, design sensibilities and clear priorities if these aren’t part of ongoing and collaborative conversations. A lot of UX is about communication but especially in open source.

During my internship I kept asking what the “bigger picture” was for the project I was working on. That bigger picture I was seeking was related to the site’s overall goals and priorities for users as well as for contributors.

It wasn’t until sometime afterwards that I realized there’s a whole set of vocabulary for the challenges I had with trying to improve their documentation site. We spent a lot of time defining usability problems with the site and contribution processes; we could’ve saved a lot of time if one of us was familiar with UX.

Imagine my delight several weeks later to find concrete words for the challenges we wrestled with and tested strategies to confront them. Here’s a list of UX resources I wish I had found sooner:

Open Usability
Includes a blueprint for collaboration and for starting out as a student of UX

UX Recipes
Provides a great visual guide and intro to UX processes

Open Source Design
Excellent collection of resources, ongoing discussion about open source design processes, job and project postings

I hope to pass what I’ve learned along to the Training Working Group, other key contributors and the next OpenStreetMap intern who will continue to work on the learnosm site. I also hope to apply some of what I am learning to learnosm and to open source in general. Open source could really use better documentation and UX!