Canonical Voices

Posts tagged with 'design team'

Steph Wilson

Meet the newest member of the design team, UX designer Raul Alvarez, who will be working on the Ubuntu convergence story. Raul will be bringing new ideas to improve our apps to allow for a seamless experience across all devices. We caught up with him to tell us more about his background and what attracted him to the open source world of Ubuntu.

raul

 

You can find Raul’s blog here and reach out to him on Twitter using his handle @raulalgo.

Tell me about your background

If we go all the way back to university, I started as a computer engineer student, but after a while I got to a point where I was rather burnt out by it. Then almost by chance, I ended up studying another degree in Advertising and PR. When studying my second degree I gained a fresh perspective. I was coming from studying maths and physics to then finding myself in classes for Spanish, history, law, and eventually design, which is where I got hooked.

I turned 30 and decided to move to London, as everyone in the small town of Salamanca (West Spain) was either getting married or bored; I was the latter. I wanted to challenge myself to do the most difficult things and push a bit more. I moved into designing Forex trading apps, which was a great experience with very smart people. I got to work very close with the developers too.

I then went into e-commerce as a designer, which was another diverse industry I wanted to learn from. Getting into something I know nothing about is key for me. It’s tricky, as people want experience, but once I’m there and I learn, I feel that I have the ability to take a fresh look at things. From studying advertising and knowing how apps are build I could bring those disciplines together to work on different platforms.

Canonical was a company I wanted to be part of. Just so happens they were looking for a designer, and now here I am!

Do you have any projects you’re working / or have worked on?

In the late days of my computer engineering degree, me and some fellow students started our own business. It was when the Social Network movie was out and everyone wanted to be Mark Zuckerberg; and so did we. We created a photography social network that was like a Flickr wannabe, or closer to what 500px is now. We had good intentions and we worked very hard on it. However, we lacked the business vision and strategy to push it forward. We had two choices: we close it off and do something else, or we find a better way to make money.

Salamanca is a small town and has little going on, but it just so happened that a company was doing mobile apps on demand for clients. Instead of hiring more people when they had large spikes of work, they would reached out to other companies. My three partners were playing the role of developers and I was the designer. We spent four years designing mobile apps for various clients specific needs, most came from the advertising industry. We had some startups come to us who didn’t have much money and we would help them advertise and prototype their apps. It was always a rather constrained working environment with a low budget and working with trial and error.

What attracted you to the open source world of Ubuntu?

For me, being here is amazing because I had been using a laptop that ran Ubuntu in my uni days. I’ve always known open source and the ideas around it. I remember playing with Linux when I was at high school too.

What does UX mean to you?

User Experience (laughs). But seriously, I think the term ‘UX’ is thrown back and forth a lot and people forget what it means. It’s a lot of ideas that could or could not be UX.

People might think that UX is just associated with apps and web design. But it’s not. If you think about user experience, it’s in everything. You can use user experience to build your hotel for instance. I could say how is the lobby going to be decorated, what is the uniform going to be like, do I want the guests to find a little chocolate under their pillow? THAT is defining the user experience. You don’t need to do a lot of research. Well, you can research user experience in other hotels, that would be one approach. Or you can say I have this vision I want to make my approach work. For this you need good judgement and to think about people, but also be prepared to take risks.

One of the parts I enjoy most about designing is whenever I don’t know what I’m going to do. That is the fun bit.

What have you learned in your first week at Canonical?

I came here thinking I knew how complex an operating system was. I wasn’t even close. I realised the complexity was way down below, every single little thing is taken into account, which amazes me. Then I realised the scale of the task. It’s amazing how much work is going on here. I have a lot of respect for it.

What is your proudest achievement?

Making a decision like: I’m stuck and I need a change. I made the effort to move to a different country and to change my degree. It has always been very natural for me to take risks, but I didn’t realize how scary it actually is until I stop and think about it.

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Steph Wilson

Meet the newest member of the Design Team, project manager Davide Casa. He will be working with the Platform Team to keep us all in check and working towards our goals. I sat down with him to discuss his background, what he thinks makes a good project manager and what his first week was like at Canonical (spoiler alert – he survived it).

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You can read Davide’s blog here, and reach out to him on Github and Twitter with @davidedc.

Tell us a bit about your background?

My background is in Computer Science (I did a 5 year degree). I also studied for an MBA in London.

Computer science is a passion of mine. I like to keep up to date with latest trends and play with programming languages. However, I never got paid for it, so it’s more like a hobby now to scratch an artistic itch. I often get asked in interviews: “why aren’t you a coder then?” The simple answer is that it just didn’t happen. I got my first job as a business analyst, which then developed into project management.

What do you think makes a good project manager?

I think the soft skills are incredibly relevant and crucial to the role. For example: gathering what the team’s previous experience of project management was, and what they expect from you, and how deeply and quickly you can change things.

Is project management perceived as a service or is there a practise of ‘thought leadership’?

In tech companies it varies. I’ve worked in Vodafone as a PM and you felt there was a possibility to practice a “thought leadership”, because it is such a huge company and things have to be dealt with in large cycles. Components and designs have to be agreed on in batches, because you can’t hand-wave your way through 100s of changes across a dozen mission-critical modules, it would be too risky. In some other companies less so. We’ll see how it works here.

Apart from calendars, Kanban boards and post-it notes  – what else can be used to help teams collaborate smoothly?

Indeed one of the core values of Agile is “the team”. I think people underestimate the importance of cohesiveness in a team, e.g. how easy it is for people to step forward and make mistakes without fear. A cohesive team is something that is very precious and I think that’s a regularly underestimated. You can easily buy tools and licenses, which are “easy solutions” in a way. The PM should also help to improve the cohesiveness of a team, for example creating processes that people can rely on in order to avoid attrition, and resolve things. Also to avoid treating everything like a special case to help deal with things “proportionally”.

What brings you to the Open Source world?

I like coding, and to be good coder, one must read good code. With open source the first thing you do is look around to see what others are doing and then you start to tinker with it. It has almost never been relevant for me to release software without source.

Have you got any side projects you’re currently working on?

I dabble in livecoding, which is an exotic niche of people that do live visuals and sounds with code (see our post on Qtday 2016). I am also part of the Toplap collective which works a lot on those lines too.

I also dabble in creating an exotic desktop system that runs on the web. It’s inspired by the Squeak environment, where everything is an object and is modifiable and inspectable directly within the live system. Everything is draggable, droppable and composable. For example, for a menu pops up you can change any button, both the labelling or the function it performs, or take apart any button and put it anywhere else on the desktop or in any open window. It all happens via “direct manipulation”. Imagine a paint application where at any time while working you can “open” any button from the toolbar and change what the actual painting operation does (John Maeda made such a paint app actually).

The very first desktop systems all worked that way. There was no concept of a big app or “compile and run again”. Something like a text editor app would just be a text box providing functions. The functions are then embodied in buttons and stuck around the textbox, and voila, then you have your very own flavour of text editor brought to life. Also in these live systems most operations are orthogonal: you can assume you can rotate images, right? Hence by the same token you can rotate anything on the screen. A whole window for example, or text. Two rotating lines and a few labels become a clock. The user can combine simple widgets together to make their own apps on the fly!

What was the most interesting thing you’ve learned in your first week here?

I learned a lot and I suspect that will never stop. The bread and butter here is strategy and design, which in other companies is only just a small area of work. Here it is the core of everything! So it’ll be interesting to see how this ‘strategy’ works. And how the big thinking starts with the visuals or UX in mind, and from that how it steers the whole platform. An exciting example of this can be seen in the Ubuntu Convergence story.

That’s the essence of open source I guess…

Indeed. And the fact that anti-features such as DRM, banners, bloatware, compulsory registrations and basic compilers that need 4GB of installation never live long in it. It’s our desktop after all, is it not?

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Steph Wilson

Last week the SDK team gathered in London for a sprint that focused on convergence, which consisted of pulling apart each component and discussing ways in which each would adapt to different form factors.

The SDK provides off-the-shelf UI components that make up our Ubuntu apps; however now we’re entering the world of Unity 8 convergence, some tweaking is needed to help them function and look visually pleasing on different screen sizes, such as desktop, tablet and other larger screens.

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To help with converging your app, the Design Team have created a set of predefined grid layouts screen targets: 40, 50, 90 GU (grid units), which makes life a lot easier to visualize where to place components in different screen sizes.

Scheduled across the week were various sessions focusing on different components from the SDK such as list items, date and time pickers; together with patterns like the Bottom Edge and PageStack. Each session gathered developers, visual and UX designers, where they ran through how a component might look (visual), the usability (UX) and how it will be implemented (developer) on different form factors.

Here’s the mess they made…

Here's the mess they made...

Main topics covered:

– Multi-column layouts, panel behaviors and pagestack

– Header, Bottom Edge and edit mode

– Focus handling

– List item layouts

– Date and time pickers

– Drop-down menus

– Scrollbars

– Application menu

– Tooltips

 

Here are some of the highlights:

 

  • Experiments and explorations were discussed around how the Bottom Edge will look in a multi-column view, and how the content will appear when it is revealed in the Bottom Edge view. Also, design animations were explored around the ‘Hint’ and how they will appear on each panel in a multi-column layout.
  • Explorations on how each panel will behave, look and breakpoints of implementing on different grid units (40,50,90).
  • A lot of discussion was had around the Header; looking at how it will transform from a phone  layout to a multi-column view in a tablet or desktop. Currently the header holds up to four actions placed on the right, a title, and navigational functions on the left, with a separate header section underneath that acts as a navigation to different views within the app. The Design Team had created wireframes that explored how many headers would appear in a multi-column layout, together with how the actions and header section would fit in.
  • Different list item layouts were explored, looking at how many actions, titles and summaries can be placed in different scenarios. Together with a potentially new context/popover menu to accompany the leading, trailing and default options.
  • The Design Team experimented with a new animation that happens during a focused state on the desktop.
  • The new system exposes all the features of a components, so developers are able to customize and style it more conveniently.

Overall the convergence sprint was a success, with both the SDK and Design Team working in unison to reach decisions and listing priorities for the coming months. Each agreed that this method of working was very beneficial, as it brought together the designers and developers to really focus on the user and developer needs.

 

They enjoyed some downtime too…

Arrival dinner at Byron Burgers

Arrival dinner at Byron Burgers

 

Out in Soho

Out in Soho

Wine tasting in the office (not a regular occurrence)

Wine tasting in the office (not a regular occurrence)

 

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Steph Wilson

Community members at the Sprint

Victor and Andrew are two inspiring Community developers that have devoted their spare time to contribute to the Ubuntu Touch Music App team. I sat down with them during the Washington Device Sprint in October where they told us how they drew inspiration from the Design Team, and what drives them to contribute to Ubuntu.

You can read more about Victor and Andrew through their blogs, where they post interesting articles on their work and personal projects.

From left to right: Riccardo, Andrew, Filippo and Victor

From left to right: Riccardo, Andrew, Filippo and Victor

Hey guys, so when did you first get involved with Ubuntu?

Victor: “I started to contribute to the Ubuntu platform in March/April 2013 where I noticed there was no music app, so I started putting one together. It was pretty sketchy to start with, but it worked. I didn’t have a device to test it on so I mostly tested it using the platform on my desktop – so things were a bit hit and miss.

There was also another developer doing a music app, and at the time there was no core capability of playing music through an application for the proposed devices. Michael Hall (Open Source Software Developer) and Alan Pope (Engineering Manager) pulled Daniel Holm and I together, where we merged our core bases and started the music core app.

We didn’t have as much time as other applications, so we more or less sprinted like we are now to get things done. It was very spec driven and specific, which was helpful but sometimes it was hard to put together a full vision of what the designers wanted. So now we are redoing it from the feedback we have gathered, and it’s going pretty well. A little more agile than it was previously as to do thing faster, but it’s been fun the whole time. It’s nice to work on an application that people need and gets visibility, never get sick of hacking at it.”

Andrew: “I’m from North London, where I’m currently studying Software Engineering at Oxford Brookes University. I was working on my own music app where I just taught myself how to do things using my own framework, then I saw that these guys at Ubuntu had a similar problem to me, and so I thought I’d provide a patch. This then built up from there, and now here I am!”

Steph: “It’s amazing that someone can be in their bedroom writing codes and then suddenly your app is on a phone!”

Victor: “The other great thing about it is the Community Managers make it easy and apparent that you can contribute to different projects.”

Andrew: “Yeah someone just got in contact with me and asked me if I wanted to join the team and told me how open source projects work.”

What inspired you to contribute?

Victor: “A lot of my original inspiration was from what the Design Team had previously done. The previous iteration design spec was very large for the music app and it wasn’t as future driven, more just visually pleasing.”

Do you find it hard to implement some designs?

Victor: “We try to make it as close to the designs as we can, but obviously there’s compromises. There was some very flow driven things such as: sized cover arts that were hard to implement, but we can implement them now. It’s nice because they use the same pattern from other applications.”

Andrew: “Usually we just tell the designer that this is just not possible.”

What is it about open source that you like?

Victor: “I have been a user since 2006, but I have never been a large open source developer myself. It is hard to get involved with when you don’t know what you want to contribute to.”

Andrew: “Most applications are so developed already, so you would have to learn the existing code base and develop on it, whereas if you start a new you know everything from the get-go. Seeing your application on the device and knowing it can be on other devices too, is pretty exciting!”

How does it fit into your lifestyles?

Victor: “I’m a software engineer as well, so I write a lot of code. I haven’t really done QML or QT until I started doing these applications with the Ubuntu platform, so it has been a learning experience. I am learning something new from experienced people.”

Have you made any other applications for Ubuntu?

Victor: I’ve made a few games like Piano Tiles, and another that’s kind of like a clone of that but in QML – It’s a simple app but a good time waster haha.”

How much time does it take you to develop an app?

Victor: “It took me like a day. Andrew made a game last night! In 2 hours…”

Andrew: “Yeah we did! Loads of us at the sprint just got together in a room and made a few games.”

So you’re used to working remotely, does that put a barrier against things?

Andrew: “It sometimes delay things. However, you start to build this image of a person, so when you actually get to meet them you start to understand how they are and what makes them tick.

Victor: “Depends on how personal it really needs to be. If you are collaborating together and it’s mostly writing code and coming up with ideas, it doesn’t necessarily need to be face-to-face. It is obviously nicer, but you also get the benefit if the other person is a night owl in a different country where sometimes our hours overlap, two different chunks of time we’re working in.

Andrew: “There’s usually someone on IRC to speak to, it’s like a 24 hour operation haha.”

What’s the vibe like in the Community at the moment?

Victor: “It’s a pretty small Community at the moment, with close ties. Everyone is receptive to feedback, so if it was larger Community I don’t think it would be as receptive.”

Steph: “Thanks for your time guys!”

Here’s a sneaky preview of the music app, more will be revealed soon:

Album detail

Landing page

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Calum Pringle

Cake

Every weekly team meeting someone is tasked with baking a cake. Ivanka baked for this week’s cake day – check out her cheesecake! So you know, this is not going to become a culinary blog, but cake day is a good reason to post! Being a designer is not (always) a piece of cake.

 

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