Canonical Voices

Anthony Dillon

Over the past year, a change has emerged in the design team here at Canonical: we’ve started designing our websites and apps in public GitHub repositories, and therefore sharing the entire design process with the world.

One of the main things we wanted to improve was the design sign off process whilst increasing visibility for developers of which design was the final one among numerous iterations and inconsistent labelling of files and folders.

Here is the process we developed and have been using on multiple projects.

The process

Design work items are initiated by creating a GitHub issue on the design repository relating to the project. Each project consists of two repositories: one for the code base and another for designs. The work item issue contains a short descriptive title followed by a detailed description of the problem or feature.

Once the designer has created one or more designs to present, they upload them to the issue with a description. Each image is titled with a version number to help reference in subsequent comments.

Whenever the designer updates the GitHub issue everyone who is watching the project receives an email update. It is important for anyone interested or with a stake in the project to watch the design repositories that are relevant to them.

The designer can continue to iterate on the task safe in the knowledge that everyone can see the designs in their own time and provide feedback if needed. The feedback that comes in at this stage is welcomed, as early feedback is usually better than late.

As iterations of the design are created, the designer simply adds them to the existing issue with a comment of the changes they made and any feedback from any review meetings.

Table with actions design from MAAS project

When the design is finalised a pull request is created and linked to the GitHub issue, by adding “Fixes #111” (where #111 is the number of the original issue) to the pull request description. The pull request contains the final design in a folder structure that makes sense for the project.

Just like with code, the pull request is then approved by another designer or the person with the final say. This may seem like an extra step, but it allows another person to look through the issue and make sure the design completes the design goal. On smaller teams, this pull request can be approved by a stakeholder or developer.

Once the pull request is approved it can be merged. This will close and archive the issue and add the final design to the code section of the design repository.

That’s it!

Benefits

If all designers and developers of a project subscribe to the design repository, they will be included in the iterative design process with plenty of email reminders. This increases the visibility of designs in progress to stakeholders, developers and other designers, allowing for wider feedback at all stages of the design process.

Another benefit of this process is having a full history of decisions made and the evolution of a design all contained within a single page.

If your project is open source, this process makes your designs available to your community or anyone that is interested in the product automatically. This means that anyone who wants to contribute to the project has access to all the information and assets as the team members.

The code section of the design repository becomes the home for all signed off designs. If a developer is ever unsure as to what something should look like, they can reference the relevant folder in the design repository and be confident that it is the latest design.

Canonical is largely a company of remote workers and sometimes conversations are not documented, this means some people will be aware of the decisions and conversations. This design process has helped with the issue, as designs and discussions are all in a single place, with nicely laid out emails for all changes that anyone may be interested.

Conclusion

This process has helped our team improve velocity and transparency. Is this something you’ve considered or have done in your own projects? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear of any way we can improve the process.

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Inayaili de León Persson

Last month the web team ran its first design sprint as outlined in The Sprint Book, by Google Ventures’ Jake Knapp. Some of us had read the book recently and really wanted to give the method a try, following the book to the letter.

In this post I will outline what we’ve learned from our pilot design sprint, what went well, what could have gone better, and what happened during the five sprint days. I won’t go into too much detail about explaining what each step of the design sprint consists of — for that you have the book. If you don’t have that kind of time, but would still like to know what I’m talking about, here’s an 8-minute video that explains the concept:

 

Before the sprint

One of the first things you need to do when running a design sprint is to agree on a challenge you’d like to tackle. Luckily, we had a big challenge that we wanted to solve: ubuntu.com‘s navigation system.

 

ubuntu.com navigation layers: global nav, main nav, second and third level navubuntu.com’s different levels of navigation

 

Assigning roles

If you’ve decided to run a design sprint, you’ve also probably decided who will be the Facilitator. If you haven’t, you should, as this person will have work to do before the sprint starts. In our case, I was the Facilitator.

My first Facilitator task was to make sure we knew who was going to be the Decider at our sprint.

We also agreed on who was going to participate, and booked one of our meeting rooms for the whole week plus an extra one for testing on Friday.

My suggestion for anyone running a sprint for the first time is to also name an Assistant. There is so much work to do before and during the sprint, that it will make the Facilitator’s life a lot easier. Even though we didn’t officially name anyone, Greg was effectively helping to plan the sprint too.

Evangelising the sprint

In the week that preceded the sprint, I had a few conversations with other team members who told me the sprint sounded really great and they were going to ‘pop in’ whenever they could throughout the week. I had to explain that, sadly, this wasn’t going to be possible.

If you need to do the same, explain why it’s important that the participants commit to the entire week, focusing on the importance of continuity and of accumulated knowledge that the sprint’s team will gather throughout the week. Similarly, be pleasant but firm when participants tell you they will have to ‘pop out’ throughout the week to attend to other matters — only the Decider should be allowed to do this, and even so, there should be a deputy Decider in the room at all times.

Logistics

Before the sprint, you also need to make sure that you have all the supplies you need. I tried as much as possible to follow the suggestions for materials outlined in the book, and I even got a Time Timer. In retrospect, it would have been fine for the Facilitator to just keep time on a phone, or a less expensive gadget if you really want to be strict with the no-phones-in-the-room policy.

Even though the book says you should start recruiting participants for the Friday testing during the sprint, we started a week before that. Greg took over that side of the preparation, sending prompts on social media and mailing lists for people to sign up. When participants didn’t materialise in this manner, Greg sent a call for participants to the mailing list of the office building we work at, which worked wonders for us.

Know your stuff

Assuming you have read the book before your sprint, if it’s your first sprint, I recommend re-reading the chapter for the following day the evening before, and take notes.

I printed out the checklists provided in the book’s website and wrote down my notes for the following day, so everything would be in one place.

 

Facilitator checklist with handwritten notesFacilitator checklists with handwritten notes

 

I also watched the official video for the day (which you can get emailed to you by the Sprint Bot the evening before), and read all the comments in the Q&A discussions linked to from the emails. These questions and comments from other people who have run sprints was incredibly useful throughout the week.

 

Sprint Bot emailSprint Bot email for the first day of the sprint

 

Does this sound like a lot of work? It was. I think if/when we do another sprint the time spent preparing will probably be reduced by at least 50%. The uncertainty of doing something as involved as this for the first time made it more stressful than preparing for a normal workshop, but it’s important to spend the time doing it so that things run smoothly during the sprint week.

Day 1

The morning of the sprint I got in with plenty of time to spare to set up the room for the kick-off at 10am.

I bought lots of healthy snacks (which were promptly frowned on by the team, who were hoping for sweater treats); brought a jug of water and cups, and all the supplies to the room; cleared the whiteboards; and set up the chairs.

What follows are some of the outcomes, questions and other observations from our five days.

Morning

In the morning of day 1 you define a long term goal for your project, list the ways in which the project could fail in question format, and draw a flowchart, or map, of how customers interact with your product.

  • Starting the map was a little bit tricky as it wasn’t clear how the map should look when there are more than one type of customer who might have different outcomes
  • In the book there are no examples with more than one type of customer, which meant we had to read and re-read that part of the book until we decided how to proceed as we have several customer types to cater for
  • Moments like these can take the confidence in the process away from the team, that’s why it’s important for the Facilitator to read everything carefully more than once, and ideally for him or her not to be the only person to do so
  • We did the morning exercises much faster than prescribed, but the same didn’t happen in the afternoon!

 

The team discussing the target for the sprint in front of the journey mapDiscussing the target for the sprint

 

Afternoon

In the afternoon experts from the sprint and guests come into the room and you ask them lots of questions about your product and how things work. Throughout the interviews the team is taking notes in the “How Might We” format (for example, “How might we reduce the amount of copy?”). By the end of the interviews, you group the notes into themes, vote on the ones you find most useful or interesting, move the most voted notes onto their right place within your customer map and pick a target in the map as the focus for the rest of the sprint.

  • If you have time, explain “How Might We” notes work before the lunch break, so you save that time for interviews in the afternoon
  • Each expert interview should last for about 15-30 minutes, which didn’t fee like long enough to get all the valuable knowledge from our experts — we had to interrupt them somewhat abruptly to make sure the interviews didn’t run over. Next time it might be easier to have a list of questions we want to cover before the interviews start
  • Choreographing the expert interviews was a bit tricky as we weren’t sure how long each would take. If possible, tell people you’ll call them a couple of minutes before you need them rather than set a fixed time — we had to send people back a few times because we weren’t yet finished asking all the question to the previous person!
  • It took us a little longer than expected to organise the notes, but in the end, the most voted notes did cluster around the key section of the map, as predicted in the book!

 

How Might We notes on the wallsSome of the How Might We notes on the wall after the expert interviews

 

Other thoughts on day 1

  • Sprint participants might cancel at the last minute. If this happens, ask yourself if they could still appear as experts on Monday afternoon? If not, it’s probably better to write them off the sprint completely
  • There was a lot of checking the book as the day went by, to confirm we were doing the right thing
  • We wondered if this comes up in design sprints frequently: what if the problem you set out to solve pre-sprint doesn’t match the target area of the map at the end of day 1? In our case, we had planned to focus on navigation but the target area was focused on how users learn more about the products/services we offer

A full day of thinking about the problem and mapping it doesn’t come naturally, but it was certainly useful. We conduct frequent user research and usability testing, and are used to watching interviews and analysing findings, nevertheless the expert interviews and listening to different perspectives from within the company was very interesting and gave us a different type of insight that we could build upon during the sprint.

Day 2

By the start of day 2, it felt like we had been in the sprint for a lot longer than just one day — we had accomplished a lot on Monday!

Morning

The morning of day 2 is spent doing “Lightning Demos” after a quick 20-minute research. These can be anything that might be interesting, from competitor products to previous internal attempts at solving the sprint challenge. Before lunch, the team decides who will sketch what in the afternoon: will everyone sketch the same thing or different parts of the map.

  • We thought the “Lightning Demos” was a great way to do demos — it was fast and captured the most important thing quickly
  • Deciding who would sketch what wasn’t as straightforward as we might have thought. We decided that everyone should do a journey through our cloud offerings so we’d get different ideas on Wednesday, knowing there was the risk of not everything being covered in the sketches
  • Before we started sketching, we made a list of sections/pages that should be covered in the storyboards
  • As on day 1, the morning exercises were done faster than prescribed, we were finished by 12:30 with a 30 minute break from 11-11:30

 

Sketches from lightning demosOur sketches from the lightning demos

 

Afternoon

In the afternoon, you take a few minutes to walk around the sprint room and take down notes of anything that might be useful for the sketching. You then sketch, starting with quick ideas and moving onto a more detailed sketch. You don’t look at the final sketches until Wednesday morning.

  • We spent the first few minutes of the afternoon looking at the current list of participants for the Friday testing to decide which products to focus on in our sketches, as our options were many
  • We had a little bit of trouble with the “Crazy 8s” exercise, where you’re supposed to sketch 8 variations of one idea in 8 minutes. It wasn’t clear what we had to do so we re-read that part a few times. This is probably the point of the exercise: to remove you from your comfort zone, make you think of alternative solutions and get your creative muscles warmed up
  • We had to look at the examples of detailed sketches in the book to have a better idea of what was expected from our sketches
  • It took us a while to get started sketching but after a few minutes everyone seemed to be confidently and quietly sketching away
  • With complicated product offerings there’s the instinct to want to have access to devices to check product names, features, etc – I assumed this was not allowed but some people were sneakily checking their laptops!
  • Naming your sketch wasn’t as easy as it sounded
  • Contrary to what we expected, the afternoon sketching exercises took longer than the morning’s, at 5pm some people were still sketching

 

The team sketchingEveryone sketching in silence on Tuesday afternoon

 

Tuesday was lots of fun. Starting the day with the demos, without much discussion on the validity of the ideas, creates a positive mood in the team. Sketching in a very structured manner removes some of the fear of the blank page, as you build up from loose ideas to a very well-defined sketch. The silent sketching was also great as it meant we had some quiet time to pause and think a solution through, giving the people who tend to be more quiet an opportunity to have their ideas heard on par with everyone else.

Day 3

No-one had seen the sketches done on Tuesday, so the build-up to the unveiling on day 3 was more exciting than for the usual design review!

Morning

On the Wednesday morning, you decide which sketch (or sketches) you will prototype. You stick the sketches on the wall and review them in silence, discuss each sketch briefly and each person votes on their favourite. After this, the Decider casts three votes, which can follow or not the votes of the rest of the team. Whatever the Decider votes on will be prototyped. Before lunch, you decide whether you will need to create one or more prototypes, depending on whether the Decider’s (or Deciders’) votes fit together or not.

  • We had 6 sketches to review
  • Although the book wasn’t clear as to when the guest Decider should participate, we invited ours from 10am to 11.30am as it seemed that he should participate in the entire morning review process — this worked out well
  • During the speed critique people started debating the validity or feasibility of solutions, which was expected but meant some work for the Facilitator to steer the conversation back on track
  • The morning exercises put everyone in a positive mood, it was an interesting way to review and select ideas
  • Narrating the sketches was harder than what might seem at first, and narrating your own sketch isn’t much easier either!
  • It was interesting to see that many of the sketches included similar solutions — there were definite patterns that emerged
  • Even though I emphasised that the book recommends more than one prototype, the team wasn’t keen on it and the focus of the pre-lunch discussion was mostly on how to merge all the voted solutions into one prototype
  • As for all other days, and because we decided for an all-in-one prototype, we finished the morning exercises by noon

 

Reviewing the sketches in silenceThe team reviewing the sketches in silence on Wednesday morning

 

Afternoon

In the afternoon of day 3, you sketch a storyboard of the prototype together, starting one or two steps before the customer encounters your prototype. You should move the existing sketches into the frames of the storyboard when possible, and add only enough detail that will make it easy to build the prototype the following day.

  • Using masking tape was easier than drawing lines for the storyboard frames
  • It was too easy to come up with new ideas while we were drawing the storyboard and it was tricky to tell people that we couldn’t change the plan at this point
  • It was hard to decide the level of detail we needed to discuss and add to the storyboard. We finished the first iteration of the storyboard a few minutes before 3pm. Our first instinct was to start making more detailed wireframes with the remaining time, but we decided to take a break for coffee and come back to see where we needed more detail in the storyboard instead
  • It was useful to keep asking the team what else we needed to define as we drew the storyboard before we started building the prototype the following day
  • Because we read out the different roles in preparation for Thursday, we ended up assigning roles straight away

 

Drawing the storyboardDiscussing what to add to our storyboard

 

Other thoughts on day 3

  • One sprint participant couldn’t attend on Tuesday, but was back on Wednesday, which wasn’t ideal but didn’t impact negatively
  • While setting up for the third day, I wasn’t sure if the ideas from the “Lightning Demos” could be erased from the whiteboard, so I took a photo of them and erased it as, even with the luxury of massive whiteboards, we wouldn’t have had space for the storyboard later on!

By the end of Wednesday we were past the halfway mark of the sprint, and the excitement in anticipation for the Friday tests was palpable. We had some time left before the clock hit 5 and wondered if we should start building the prototype straight away, but decided against it — we needed a good night’s sleep to be ready for day 4.

Day 4

Thursday is all about prototyping. You need to choose which tools you will use, prioritising speed over perfection, and you also need to assign different roles for the team so everyone knows what they need to do throughout the day. The interviewer should write the interview script for Friday’s tests.

  • For the prototype building day, we assigned: two writers, one interviewer, one stitcher, two makers and one asset collector
  • We decided to build the pages we needed with HTML and CSS (instead of using a tool like Keynote or InVision) as we could build upon our existing CSS framework
  • Early in the afternoon we were on track, but we were soon delayed by a wifi outage which lasted for almost 1,5 hours
  • It’s important to keep communication flowing throughout the day to make sure all the assets and content that are needed are created or collected in time for the stitcher to start stitching
  • We were finished by 7pm — if you don’t count the wifi outage, we probably would have been finished by 6pm. The extra hour could have been curtailed if there had been just a little bit more detail in the storyboard page wireframes and in the content delivered to the stitcher, and fewer last minute tiny changes, but all-in-all we did pretty well!

 

Maker and asset collector working on the prototypeJoana and Greg working on the prototype

 

Other thoughts on day 4

  • We had our sprint in our office, so it would have been possible for us to ask for help from people outside of the sprint, but we didn’t know whether this was “allowed”
  • We could have assigned more work to the asset collector: the makers and the stitcher were looking for assets themselves as they created the different components and pages rather than delegating the search to the asset collector, which is how we normally work
  • The makers were finished with their tasks more quickly than expected — not having to go through multiple rounds of reviews that sometimes can take weeks makes things much faster!

By the end of Thursday there was no denying we were tired, but happy about what we had accomplished in such a small amount of time: we had a fully working prototype and five participants lined up for Friday testing. We couldn’t wait for the next day!

Day 5

We were all really excited about the Friday testing. We managed to confirm all five participants for the day, and had an excellent interviewer and solid prototype. As the Facilitator, I was also happy to have a day where I didn’t have a lot to do, for a change!

Thoughts and notes on day 5

On Friday, you test your prototype with five users, taking notes throughout. At the end of the day, you identify patterns within the notes and based on these you decide which should be the next steps for your project.

  • We’re lucky to work in a building with lots of companies who employ our target audience, but we wonder how difficult it would have been to find and book the right participants within just 4 days if we needed different types of users or were based somewhere else
  • We filled up an entire whiteboard with notes from the first interview and had to go get extra boards during the break
  • Throughout the day, we removed duplicate notes from the boards to make them easier to scan
  • Some participants don’t talk a lot naturally and need a lot of constant reminding to think out loud
  • We had the benefit of having an excellent researcher in our team who already knows and does everything the book recommends doing. It might have been harder for someone with less research experience to make sure the interviews were unbiased and ran smoothly
  • At the end of the interviews, after listing the patterns we found, we weren’t sure whether we could/should do more thorough analysis of the testing later or if we should chuck the post-it notes in the bin and move on
  • Our end-of-sprint decision was to have a workshop the following week where we’d plan a roadmap based on the findings — could this be considered “cheating” as we’re only delaying making a decision?

 

The team in the observation roomThe team observing the interviews on Friday

 

A wall of interview notesA wall of interview notes

 

The Sprint Book notes that you can have one of two results at the end of your sprint: an efficient failure, or a flawed success. If your prototype doesn’t go down well with the participants, your team has only spent 5 days working on it, rather than weeks or potentially months — you’ve failed efficiently. And if the prototype receives positive feedback from participants, most likely there will still be areas that can be improved and retested — you’ve succeeded imperfectly.

At the end of Friday we all agreed that we our prototype was a flawed success: there were things we tested that we’d had never think to try before and that received great feedback, but some aspects certainly needed a lot more work to get right. An excellent conclusion to 5 intense days of work!

Final words

Despite the hard work involved in planning and getting the logistics right, running the web team’s trial design sprint was fun.

The web team is small and stretched over many websites and products. We really wanted to test this approach so we could propose it to the other teams we work with as an efficient way to collaborate at key points in our release schedules.

We certainly achieved this goal. The people who participated directly in the sprint learned a great deal during the five days. Those in the web team who didn’t participate were impressed with what was achieved in one week and welcoming of the changes it initiated. And the teams we work with seem eager to try the process out in their teams, now that they’ve seen what kind of results can be produced in such a short time.

How about you? Have you run a design sprint? Do you have any advice for us before we do it again? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

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Tom Macfarlane

Our stand occupied the same space as last year with a couple of major
changes this time around – the closure of a previously adjacent aisle
resulting in an increase in overall stand space (from 380 to 456 square
metres). With the stand now open on just two sides, this presented the
design team with some difficult challenges:

  • Maximising site lines and impact upon approach
  • Utilising our existing components – hanging banners, display units,
    alcoves, meeting rooms – to work effectively within a larger space
  • Directing the flow of visitors around the stand

Design solution

Some key design decisions and smaller details:

  • Rotating the hanging fabric banners 90 degrees and moving them
    to the very front of the stand
  • Repositioning the welcome desk to maximise visibility from
    all approaches
  • Improved lighting throughout – from overhead banner illumination
    to alcoves and within all meeting rooms
  • Store room end wall angled 45 degrees to increase initial site line
  • Raised LED screens for increased visibility
  • Four new alcoves with discrete fixings for all 10x alcove screens
  • Bespoke acrylic display units for AR helmets and developer boards
  • Streamlined meeting room tables with new cable management
  • Separate store and staff rooms

Result

With thoughtful planning and attention to detail, our brand presence
at this years MWC was the strongest yet.

Initial design sketches

Plan and site line 3D render

 


Design intent drawings

 

 

 

 

 

3D lettering and stand graphics

 

 

 

 

 

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Barry McGee

One of the most complex aspects of managing continuous development on a large codebase is ensuring that it remains stable.

This problem is particularly acute when building out front end architecture using HTML & CSS due to the inherently global nature of CSS.

How many times have you shipped a CSS change to one small part of a website only to find you’ve inadvertently broken a page element on a different page entirely?

This problem usually arises because of all your CSS loading via one external file, added to each page of your website. If you don’t namespace or isolate your styles correctly, changes to your CSS may have unintended consequences.

Structuring your CSS using the BEM convention or similar can help prevent such clashes. However, in a fast moving team where multiple developers are working on a large codebase daily, relying on code convention alone is often not enough to stop visual regression bugs from creeping in.

Ideally, you or a team member should check each page of your site, in turn, to make sure nothing has broken, right? While that’s a solid QA approach, it doesn’t scale very well. As your site grows, it can become all time consuming to check each page, especially if you consider you may also need to check each page over multiple breakpoints.

That’s where automated Visual Regression Testing (VRT) tools can seriously lighten your workload. A VRT tool will typically run through your site and capture a baseline snapshot of all your pages to use as a benchmark.

After you then make some changes, you run the process again and the VRT tool will compare the latest capture of your pages with the baseline capture and highlight the differences. It’s at this stage where you’ll be alerted to any unintended consequences.

The concept of VRT has been around for a few years but up until now, most solutions have involved setting up your process locally, typically involving quite a few moving parts. When trying to get a project team to integrate VRT as part of their workflow using one of these solutions, we always ran into trouble as it was so difficult to keep individual developer setups consistent – inevitably, I’d spend longer debugging VRT setup than I would visual diffs.

I then stumbled upon Percy.io, which offers VRT software as a service. I was immediately interested in how we might utilise it for Vanilla Framework, our constantly evolving CSS framework.

I immediately signed up for a trial and was quickly impressed with their GitHub integration and ease of use. Percy is unobtrusive, and it’s only when a feature progresses to the Pull Request stage does Percy come into play. It will run as part of the Travis CI build and then report back if it has found any visual diffs for review. You can also configure Percy to test across defined breakpoints.


Percy’s Github integration is a big win

The person reviewing the PR can then click through to the project dashboard on percy.io and review the highlighted diffs. If the changes are expected based on the what has been outlined in the PR, then the changes can be approved.


Comparing different pages for visual differences

When the feature merges, these changes then become the baseline. If unexpected changes are highlighted, the reviewer can then highlight this to the developer for amendment.

As we make multiple changes a day to our Vanilla codebase while aiming for a weekly release, having VRT as part of our continuous integration has afforded us extra confidence that our releases do not contain missed bugs and regressions.

Related:

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Anthony Dillon

The Vanilla team needed to solve two issues which have been paining the development of Vanilla Framework for some time.

Firstly we needed to improve our workflow for testing and QAing components on our local machines. Up until now, we have been using npm link on our local branches of Vanilla with our local website branch, then reviewing the examples in the components page of the documentation. This caused a lot of extra overhead to reviewing Vanilla.

Secondly, since we actually build the docs.vanillaframework.io site using the Documentation theme (vanilla-docs-theme), the Vanilla pattern examples we ended up reviewing were no longer purely styled by Vanilla Framework, but as they were extended by the theme.

The documentation of the matrix pattern in Vanilla

The documentation of the matrix pattern in Vanilla

The solution

To solve both these issues, we decided to decouple the examples from the documentation. This change allowed us to move the coded examples of the patterns into a separate “examples” directory of the codebase and remove the hard-coded examples from the documentation.

As the examples were a part of the Vanilla Framework code we simply linked each example page with the Vanilla built from the same branch. This means all examples are only styled by Vanilla and nothing else.

Another benefit that came from this change was that now we have an easy way to find an example of a pattern when reviewing or QAing a pull request. Whereas previously we had to do the npm link dance. Now we simply check out the branch and run the internal Jekyll site to build Vanilla giving us a directory of pattern pages.

Examples in the docs

So we were happy with these changes: we had solved the issues at hand and were ready to head off and have a celebratory coffee.  But, we couldn’t leave the documentation without examples and code snippets.

To solve this issue, we used an embedding paradigm like on Codepen.

Example of a Codepen embed

Example of a Codepen embed

We set about creating a small JavaScript project that would find a link to the page with a specific class and grab the href attribute from it, replacing the link with an iframe of the link. This gave us a nice progressively enhanced experience:

Example of progressive enhancement - on the left is an example with JavaScript enabled, right is an example is JavaScript disabled.

An example of progressive enhancement – on the left is an example with JavaScript enabled, right is an example is JavaScript disabled.

We were still lacking the code snippets, so we made the script also pull the HTML source of the linked page into the example, then display the contents of the body in a code block appended after the iframe.

The wrap-up

And that was it. The solution gives us:

  • A single place for example code
  • Examples only displayed using Vanilla
  • A local testing environment
  • Documentation examples that are automatically up to date

We named this mini project example-js. Please feel free to fork it, use it or file any issues you may find.

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Will Moggridge

Introducing tutorials.ubuntu.com

The web team has been hard at work on our new Ubuntu Tutorials website and we are proud to share our work with the community. Our first set of tutorials are based around snap usage and building snaps with snapcraft. We will continue to work on our catalogue to broaden it to a variety of subjects.

Ubuntu Tutorials is part of a bigger project to improve our documentation across our other projects. Our goals are to improve the discoverability and the ease of use for our documentation. Having followed Ubuntu and been part of the community for many years, I am excited to be involved with this project. I hope we can keep moving forward with this work and give back to the community.

Polymer and our source code

The website is built using Google’s Polymer framework with their Codelabs web components. Polymer has been a great and enjoyable experience and really made the web components so much more more exciting. I am already looking to see where I can use these technologies in the rest of our projects. We recently had a hack day and had the opportunity to explore putting Vanilla Framework in web components. I am happy with our initial work with Vanilla web components we are looking forward to continue exploring and developing them.

The Ubuntu Tutorials website source code is available for you to dive into, at the Ubuntu Tutorials GitHub repository.
A big thank you to Didier Roche, whose work was the foundation for this.

Our next steps

Looking to the future, we are already thinking about and preparing improvements for the site. We have been really happy with the feedback we are getting on the GitHub issues page. A number of the issues have been requests for tutorials on certain topics. This is really useful and interesting to us, so that we can see which areas to focus.

I am interested in simplifying our process for creating and contributing to Ubuntu Tutorials. Not only for us but also to empower you. One strong area for this is adding functionality to write tutorials using markdown. This will increase visibility for all and remove some overhead to us, while also making it simpler for people to contribute to our catalogue. We are currently looking into this and hope we will have a solution soon.

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Anthony Dillon

Hack day 2

This week, the web team managed to get away for our second hack day. These hack days give us an opportunity to scratch our own itches and work on things we find interesting.

We wrote about our first hack day in August last year.

Getting started

We began by outlining the day and reviewing ideas that had been suggested on a Google Doc throughout the previous week by everyone on the team. We each voted by marking the ideas we would be interested in working. Then we chose the most voted ones and assigned groups of 2 or 3 people to each.

The groups broke up and turned their idea into a formal project with a list of the tasks required to produce an MVP. Below is a list of the ideas and outcomes from each team.

Performance audit of the current websites

Team: Rich, Andrea, Robin

The team discovered a tool called Lighthouse by Google Chrome which analyses a web page and returns a full audit of the dependent assets and accessibility issues.

The team spent some time trying to create a service using Lighthouse to produce an API, then realised that Google Chrome team had done this work already. The service is called Moonlight. Moonlight is a SaaS to test the performance of a page.

As Moonlight takes a single webpage endpoint to test., we need a way to recursively test pages. The team created a profiling script to gather the references endpoints of a site.

Canonical web team dashboard

Team: Luke, Ant, Yaili

The goal of this project was to motivate the team to improve key areas at a glance. The  metrics we wanted to capture were:

  • Whether the site is up or down
  • Live visitors countsMonthly unique visitors
  • Monthly unique visitorsOpen issues on the project
  • Open issues on the projectOpen PRs on the project
  • Open PRs on the project
  • Information about the last commit to the sites code base
  • PageSpeed insights tests results

We gathered a set of sites we would like to collect these metrics on:

  • www.ubuntu.com
  • www.canonical.com
  • maas.io
  • jujucharms.com
  • landscape.canonical.com
  • design.ubuntu.com
  • design.canonical.com
  • insights.ubuntu.com
  • developer.ubuntu.com
  • community.ubuntu.com
  • summit.ubuntu.com

The team used MERN stack (MongoDB, expressjs, React and Nodejs) and modified its sample project to create a interface which could be displayed depending on the state of the data. For example, the up or down card would display all sites as up but once one went down the card would change to an error state and only display the information about the site that is down. By designing for emotion in this way, we can intelligently utilise the limited space available in a dashboard.

The team also used a few plugins to gather some data:

  • ping-monitor to ping our sites to check if they’re up, down or broken
  • node-http-ping to get response times for the same set of Canonical sites

Storing the data in MongoDB to keep historical data and using the /api endpoint to return the response time and status for each site, the team managed to produce a simplified dashboard showing the available state of our list of sites.

Ubuntu.com dev tools

Team: Graham, Karl


As a team, we have been using gulp scripts to lint and test our code locally and in our CI environments for sometime. But we have never got around to applying these checks to our flagship website, www.ubuntu.com.

The plan here was to implement gulp scripts to lint Sass and JavaScript. And, to also look into further options like spell-checking, auto-prefixing and HTML validation.

The team added Sass linting and borrowed the linting tasks from our styling framework vanilla-framework. This produced a long list of lint issues. The team tracked the lint errors and quickly fixed them to get a passing CI run.

Adding JavaScript linting (jsHint)

The team also implemented JavaScript linting using jsHint on the current JavaScript within the sites code base. This produced a number of JavaScript lint errors which were fixed, ignoring the plugin code.

Finally adding the new linting steps to the Travis configuration. So the linting is tested on each pull request.

Vanilla web components prototype

Team: Barry, Will, Robin

To enable Vanilla on a variety of platforms. This would allow people to use Vanilla in modern web apps.

The team  created a base repository using Polymer’s tools and started creating web components for Vanilla.

They discovered that the styling needs tweaking to be compatible with web components. Possibly just by building a shared styles import which is included in each web component.

The team started by importing vanilla-framework from NPM, then built modular scss files containing only relevant parts from Vanilla, and finally imported the modular style file in web component.

Inside the repository there is a vanilla.html which imports all of the components. Components can individually be included as needed.

This work includes a demo system, with API documentation. The demo system displays the component and the markup used to create it. This is accessed by running `polymer serve` and accessing the site.

This work can be used to build solid web components for use in Polymer and we can also use this work to jumpstart React components.

HTTP/2 on vanillaframework.io

In the midst of all this work. Robin found time to tackle the task of hosting our styling frameworks website on HTTP/2. It’s currently a proof of concept but can now be considered as the start of work item to roll out.

Demo site

Conclusion

Again, this was a successful hack day with everyone busy working on things that interest them. Although there were less completed outcomes this time, we did set up a number of good projects which are ready to be continued.




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Robin Winslow

We’ve been making an effort to secure all our websites with HTTPS. While some Canonical sites have enforced HTTPS for a while (e.g.: landscape.canonical.com, jujucharms.com, launchpad.net), it’s been missing from our other sites until now.

Why HTTPS?

The HTTPS movement has been building for years to help secure internet users against black-hat hackers and spies. The movement became more urgent after Edward Snowden revealed significant efforts by government agencies to spy on the world population.

The EFF have helped create two projects: LetsEncrypt – which massively simplifies the free installation of HTTPS certificates; and HTTPS Everywhere – a browser plugin to help you use HTTPS whenever it’s available. The advent of HTTP/2 has helped negate performance concerns when moving to HTTPS.

Google have also made efforts to encourage websites to enable HTTPS: First announcing in 2014 that they would consider HTTPS support in their search ranking algorithm; and last year, that Google Chrome would start visually warning users of “insecure” (non-HTTPS) websites.

Our sites

We made https://www.ubuntu.com HTTPS-only in October of last year, and have since done so on 10 more sites:

We hope to enable HTTPS on our other sites in the coming months.

Although enabling HTTPS can be relatively simple there were a number of specific challenges we had to overcome for some of our websites. I hope to write more about these in a follow-up post.

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Tom Macfarlane

Yakkety Yak

The Yakkety Yak 16.10 release animal artwork is now available to download here.

16.10 release animal

db_yak_logo-artwork

Origami Yak

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Initial design exploration

Design development – head detail

db_yak_heads

Final Yak

Colourways

T-shirt design

db_yak_t-shirt

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Joseph Williams

Working to make Juju more accessible

In the middle of July the Juju team got together to work towards making Juju more accessible. For now the aim was to reach Level AA compliant, with the intention of reaching AAA in the future.

We started by reading through the W3C accessibility guidelines and distilling each principle into sentences that made sense to us as a team and documenting this into a spreadsheet.

We then created separate columns as to how this would affect the main areas across Juju as a product. Namely static pages on jujucharms.com, the GUI and the inspector element within the GUI.

 

 

image02

GUI live on jujucharms.com

 

 

image04

Inspector within the GUI

 

 

image03

Example of static page content from the homepage

 

 

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The Juju team working through the accessibility guidelines

 

 

Tackling this as a team meant that we were all on the same page as to which areas of the Juju GUI were affected by not being AA compliant and how we could work to improve it.

We also discussed the amount of design effort needed for each of the areas that isn’t AA compliant and how long we thought it would take to make improvements.

You can have a look at the spreadsheet we created to help us track the changes that we need to make to Juju to make more accessible:

 

 

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Spreadsheet created to track changes and improvements needed to be done

 

 

This workflow has helped us manage and scope the tasks ahead and clear up uncertainties that we had about which tasks done or which requirements need to be met to achieve the level of accessibility we are aiming for.

 

 

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Grazina Borosko

The Yakkety Yak 16.10 is released and now you can download the new wallpaper by clicking here. It’s the latest part of the set for the Ubuntu 2016 releases following Xenial Xerus. You can read about our wallpaper visual design process here.

Ubuntu 16.10 Yakkety Yak

yakkety_yak_wallpaper_4096x2304

Ubuntu 16.10 Yakkety Yak (light version)

yakkety_yak_wallpaper_4096x2304_grey_version

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Tom Macfarlane

Ubuntu Core

Recently the brand team designed new logos for Core and Ubuntu Core. Both of which will replace the existing Snappy logo and bring consistency across all Ubuntu Core branding, online and in print.

 

db_core_logo-aw

 

Guidelines for use

Core

Use the Core logo when the Ubuntu logo or the word Ubuntu appears within the same field of vision. For example: web pages, exhibition stands, brochure text.

Ubuntu Core

Use the Ubuntu Core logo in stand alone circumstances where there is no existing or supporting Ubuntu branding or any mention of Ubuntu within text. For example: third-party websites or print collateral, social media sites, roll-up banners.

The Ubuntu Core logo is also used for third-party branding.

The design process

Extensive design exploration was undertaken considering: logotype arrangement, font weight, roundel designs – exploring the ‘core’ idea, concentric circles and the letter ‘C’ – and how all the elements came together as a logo.

Logotype

Options for how the logotype/wordmark is presented:

  • Following the design style set when creating the Ubuntu brandmark
  • Core in a lighter weight, reduced space between Ubuntu and Core
  • Ubuntu in the lighter weight, emphasis on Core
  • Core on its own

 

db_core_logotype

 

Roundels

Core, circles and the letter ‘C’

 


Design exploration using concentric circles of varying line numbers, spacing and line weights. Some options incorporating the Circle of Friends as an underlying grid to determine specific angles.

Circle of Friends

 

Design exploration using the Circle of Friends – in its entirety and stripped down.

Lock-up

 

db_core_lock-up

How the logotype and roundel design sit together.

Artwork

Full sets of Core and Ubuntu Core logo artwork are now available at design.ubuntu.com/downloads.

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Inayaili de León Persson

A week in Vancouver with the Landscape team

Earlier this month Peter and I headed to Vancouver to participate in a week-long Landscape sprint.

The main goals of the sprint were to review the work that had been done in the past 6 months, and plan for the following cycle.

IRL

Landscape is a totally distributed team, so having regular face-to-face time throughout the year is important in order to maintain team spirit and a sense of connection.

It is also important for us, from the design team, to meet in person the people that we have to work with every day, and that ultimately will implement the designs we create.

I thought it was interesting to hear the Landscape team discuss candidly about how the previous cycle went, what went well and what could have been improved, and how every team member’s opinion was heard and taken into consideration for the following cycle.

 

Landscape team in VancouverLandscape team discussing the previous cycle

 

User interviews

Peter and I took some time aside to interview some of the developers in 1-2-1 sessions, so they could talk us through what they thought could be improved in Landscape, and what worked well. As we talked to them, I wrote down key ideas on post it notes and Peter wrote down more thorough notes on his laptop. At the end of the interviews, we collated the findings into a Trello board, to identify patterns and try to prioritise design improvements for the next cycle.

The city

But the week was not all work!

Every day we went out for lunch (unlike most sprints which provide the usual hotel food). This allowed us to explore a little bit of the city and its great culinary offerings. It was a great way to get to know the Landscape team a little bit better outside of work.

 

Vancouver foodLots of great food in Vancouver

 

Vancouver also has really great coffee places, and, even though I’m more of a tea person, I made sure to go to a few of them during the week.

 

Vancouver coffeeNice Vancouver coffee

 

I took a few days off after the sprint, so had some time to explore Vancouver with my family. We even saw a TV show being filmed in one of our favourite coffee shops!

 

Exploring VancouverExploring Vancouver

 

This was my first time in Canada, and I really enjoyed it: we had a great sprint and it was good to have some time to explore the city. Maybe I’ll be back some day!

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