Canonical Voices

Alejandra Obregon

Designing cloud tools in Cape Town

Our cloud design team has just returned from a trip to Cape Town for our mid-cycle sprint. We have the luxury of being collocated in London and working closely throughout the whole year, but these sprints give us an invaluable opportunity to collaborate with other stakeholders and engineers working around the world. We get together to define priorities and review progress on our goals for this cycle.

We can showcase upcoming features and designs and get feedback from a variety of sources.

This time we also heard from cloud architects who are building data centres with the products we design. It gave us an insight into how our products are being received in the field – what is working well in reality, what we need to do more of.

The week mainly involves lots of talking, drawing, presenting and discussing topics and we work to a tight schedule.

But we also get a chance to socialise and get to know people we work with in different time zones, which I think is just as valuable as the working bit.

At the end of the week we plan in detail for the next few weeks based on the outcomes of our conversations.

It’s an exciting time to be at Canonical. A new version of our provisioning product MAAS has just been released and it’s a huge evolution and something we’re very proud of.

The new Juju GUI just went live today! It has a completely revamped interface to make it easier to build and manage your cloud applications and services.

Our Autopilot tool for building OpenStack clouds will have a really nice set of new options in our next release.

Below are some photos of our week in Cape Town. I’m looking forward to our next Ubuntu release in April and the evolution of the cloud tools that come with it.

If you’d like to join the fun, get in touch, we’re hiring!

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Rae Shambrook

In the coming months, users will start noticing things looking more and more different on Ubuntu. As we gradually roll out our new and improved Suru visual language, you’ll see apps and various other bits of the platform take on a lighter, more clean and cohesive look.

Why refresh apps at all?

As Ubuntu brings convergence to life—embracing today’s as well as future devices—our visual style and UI Toolkit need to evolve to support the new world. The changes taking place platform-wide make it simpler for designers and developers to integrate convergence from inception, and help apps come to life equally on mobile or desktop without a lot of additional work. As we apply new convergence UI and UX patterns to general-purpose components like lists and checkboxes, we also seek out opportunities to work with community developers and designers to put the thinking and new components into practice. The Clock app has been one such opportunity.

 

clock_old_design

The Redesign

Our clean, crisp and lucid Suru visual language and style works well with the added functionality required for convergence. There’s less visual distraction and noise than ever, providing a clear pathway to making the most of the new toolkit’s convergence functionality.

Our Suru visual design language is based on origami, with graphic elements containing meaningful folds and shadows to create the illusion of paper and draw focus to certain areas. Using the main clock face’s current animation (where the clock flips from analog to digital on touch) as inspiration, it seemed natural to place a fold in the middle of the clock. On touch, the clock “folds” from analog to digital.

clock_new_design

To further the paper look, drop shadows are used to give the illusion of layers of paper. The shadow under the clock face elevates it from the page, adding a second layer. The drop shadows on the clock hands add yet another layer.

As for colours, the last clock design featured a grey and purple scheme. In our new design, we make use of our very soon-to-be released new color palette. We brightened the interface with a white background and light grey clock face. On the analog clock, the hour and second hands are now Ubuntu orange. With the lighter UI, this subtle use of branding is allowed to stand out more. Also, the purple text is gone in favor of a more readable dark grey.

The bottom edge hint has also been redesigned. The new design is much more minimal, letting users get used to the gesture without interrupting the content too much.

In the stopwatch section, the fold is absent from the clock face since the element is static. We also utilize our new button styling. In keeping with the origami theme, the buttons now have a subtle drop shadow rather than an inward shadow, to again create a more “paper” feel.

stopwatch_design

This project has been one of my favorites so far. Although it wasn’t a complete redesign (the functionality remains the same) it was fun seeing how the clock would evolve next. Hope you enjoy the new version of the clock, it’s currently in development so look out for it on your phones soon and stay tuned for more visual changes.

Visual Design: Rae Shambrook

UX Design: James Mulholland

 

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Femma

We arrived in Helsinki on Sunday evening, ready to start our week long SDK sprint on Monday. Our hotel was in a nice location, by the sea.

The work stuff

The SDK is a core part of Ubuntu and provides an array of components and flexibility needed to create applications across staged and windowed form factors, with good design and user experience in mind.

The purpose of the sprint was to have the designers and engineers come together to work on tools and components such as palette themes, bottom edge, header, scrollbars, focus handling, dialogs, buttons, menus, text selections and developer tasks such as IDE, packaging and application startup.

Monday morning started with walking into our venue that looked somewhat like a classroom.

 

Classroom

The first task of the day required some physical activity of moving all the tables around so that the environment was much more conducive to a collaborative sprint.

Jouni presenting

Each day we broke off into working groups for our respective sessions and ironed out any existing issues, as well as working through new and exciting features that would enhance different SDK components.

Theme palette sessionJamie, Pierre and Zsombor working hard on the colour palette.

Jamie the professor

Old school pointing devices, Jamie gives it a go, looking very much like a professor!

What we achieved

During the course of the week we achieved what we’d set out to do:

  • Amended the theme palette to include any missing colours and then apply these to various components
  • Completed the implementation and release the bottom edge component into the staging environment
  • Completed the section scrolling prototype and have it reviewed by visual design and UX
  • Completed the portrait and landscape edit mode header prototype
  • Worked out behaviour of complex SDK components for focus handling and added some best practice examples to the specification
  • Communicated and gained concensus on the context menu design, who are now gearing up for some pre-requisite work and then implementation of context menus
  • Prepared the visual rules for buttons and made the Ubuntu shape ready to use for buttons
  • Completed the design for sliders  
  • Discussed a tree view component for navigation
  • Created a first draft of tabs wireframes and functionality agreed
  • Created a first draft of text selections visuals and reviewed, UX and functionality was discussed ready to include in the specification
  • Created the Libertine packaging project and containers
  • Tidied up the IDE
  • Created some Snapp packages and got them working
  • Ramped up some new  investigative work that arose in our collaboration

The planets aligned… literally

In the early hours of Wednesday morning  (before breakfast) a few of us managed to witnessed a planetary conjunction (Venus, Mars and Jupiter) which was truly amazing… a surprise benefit of sprinting in the arctic circle.
Even though there were a few hours of daylight, we managed to embrace the cold and stand outside to enjoy the beautiful views during lunch and coffee breaks.

The bay

All in all, it was a very productive and fun sprint. We left with a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie.

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Matthieu James

An expanded device mono icon set

We will soon push an update of the Suru icon theme that includes more device icons in order to support the Ubuntu convergence story.

Because the existing icon set was focused on mobile, many of the new icons are very specific to the desktop, as we were missing icons such as hard disk, optical drive, printer or touchpad.

When designing new mono icons, we need to make sure that they are consistent with the graphic style of the existing set (thin outlines, rare solid shapes, etc).

A device, like a printer or a hard disk, can be quite complex if you want to make it look realistic, so it’s important to add a level of abstraction to the design. However the icon still has to be recognisable within the right context.

At the moment, if you compare the Suru icon theme to the symbolic mono icons in Gnome, or to the Humanity devices icons, a few icons are missing, so you should expect to see this set expand at some point in the future — but the most common devices are covered.

In the meantime, here is the current full set:

Device icon set

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Steph Wilson

Today we celebrate our amazing Ubuntu Community and show our appreciation for all the hard work put into making Ubuntu what it is today.

Ubuntu is not just an operating system, it is a whole community in which everybody collaborates with everybody to bring to the life a wonderful human experience. When you download the ISO, burn it, install it and start to enjoy it, you know that a lot of people made magnificent efforts to deliver the best Ubuntu OS possible.

To show our appreciation, the Community Managers and Designers have nominated several community application developers to receive a special thank you for their outstanding work:

  • Dan Chapman (dekko)
  • Boren Zhang (dekko)
  • Kunal Parmar (calendar)
  • Stefano Verzegnassi (docviewer)
  • Riccardo Padovani (calculator, notes)
  • Bartosz Kosiorek (calculator, clock)
  • Roman Shchekin (shorts, docviewer)
  • Joey Chan (shorts)
  • Victor Thomson (music, weather)
  • Andrew Hazen (music, weather)
  • Nekhelesh Ramananthan (clock)
  • Niklas Wenzel (terminal, dekko/platform)

We’ll send everyone an official Ubuntu keychain and sticker pack.


 

We also got hold of some other special Ubuntu items and because it is impossible to pick favourites, names were drawn out of a hat:

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The following folks will be receiving a special Ubuntu gift from us:


3rd prize: An official Ubuntu hat – Niklas Wenzel

 

2nd prize: An official Ubuntu pad from Castelli – Andrew Hazen

 

1st prize: An official Ubuntu wireless mouse from Xoopar – Joey Chan

 

Well done guys!

Community Appreciation Day merchandise pack

Models not included.


Show your appreciation:

  • Ping an IRC Ubuntu channel and leave a thank you
  • Send an email to a mailing list; you can do it to a LoCo mailing list
  • On social media:
  • Or if you see a community member in the street, go up to them and give them a well-deserved pat on the back :)

For everyone who works out of passion and love for Ubuntu: we thank you, and hope it will encourage more contributors to join and make Ubuntu even better!

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Anthony Dillon

Using Vanilla with Jekyll

We’re using NPM as Vanilla’s package manager. Which gives us a number of advantages such as, an easy way to install and update the CSS framework. This all worked fine until we hit an issue with Github Pages. They do not supporting install scripts therefore it is not possible in npm install. Highlighted in this issue #4 on the Jekyll Vanilla theme project.

There are a number of ways to use Vanilla with Jekyll. Here are the number of methods we discussed with their pros and cons.

Commit node_modules

This is not recommended as it duplicates a lot of code. The repo will grow in size as it will include all the framework code also.

Clone and commit Vanilla without NPM

Again this will include the entire framework in the repos code base. Another downfall would be the loss of the NPM update process.

Use Git submodules

This is the method we went with in the end. Creating a submodule in the git repo does not add all the code to the project but includes a reference and path to include the framework.

By running the following command it will pull down the framework into the correct location.

We lose NPM’s functionality but submodules are understood and run when a Github Pages are built.

Conclusion

These methods were derived from a short exploration, but solved our issue. Any better methods would be very much welcomed in the comments. You can see a demo of the Vanilla theme running on the projects Github Page below:

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Elvi

After many hours of research, testing and never-ending questions about structure, design, aesthetics and function, we’re very happy to announce that Jujucharms has a new homepage!

All through this site redesign, our main aim has been to make complex content easy to digest and more fun to read. We’ve strived to create a website that not only looks beautiful, but also succeeds in thoroughly explaining what Juju is and the way it can improve your workflow.

Key content is now featured more prominently. We wanted the homepage to be illustrative and functional, hence the positioning of a bold headline and clear call to action which users immediately see as they access the site.

One of the key change between the old homepage and the new is the addition of two visual diagrams, which we have made sure to optimise for whichever device users may be accessing the site with. The first diagram explains the most relevant aspects of the service and how users can incorporate it into their workflow (Fig. 1). The second explains the different elements that compose Juju and the way the service works at a technical level (Fig. 2).

jujucharms-home-diagramFigure 1.

jujucharms-home-2Figure 2.

After scrolling, visitors encounter a section which allows direct access into the store, encouraging them to explore the wide range of services it offers. This allows for a more hands-on discovery and understanding of what Juju is – users can either start designing straight away, test it, or explore the site if they wish to find more information before trying it out.

Jujucharms.com homepage discovery

Overall, we’ve made sure to re-design our homepage in a way that truly benefits our audience. In order to do so we conducted numerous user testing sessions throughout the development of the site and re-iterated the designs based on our user’s feedback. This approach enabled us to understand which content and elements should be prioritised and define the best way to evolve the design.

We collaboratively reviewed and analysed our findings as a team throughout the process and made decisions on next steps to take. After quite a few iterations we hope to have designed a homepage which reflects the core concept and benefits of Juju, and that it becomes something that users will want to come back to.

We hope you like it and look forward to hearing your thoughts about it!

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Inayaili de León Persson

Ubuntu 15.10 is here!

And ubuntu.com has a brand new homepage too!

The new homepage gives a better overview and links to all Ubuntu products. We also wanted to give visitors easy access to the latest Ubuntu news, so we’ve included a ‘latest news’ strip right below the big intro hero with links to featured articles on Ubuntu Insights.

We’ve also improved the content and flow of the cloud section, and brought the phone and desktop sections up to date.

Let us know what you think. And try the new Ubuntu 15.10!

ubuntu.com homepage before and after release

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James Mulholland

We sat down with Dekko star Dan Chapman to get an insight into how he got involved with Ubuntu and his excitement for the release of the Pocket Desktop.

me

Dan has been an active member of the Community since 2013, where he has worked closely with our Design Team to create one of our first convergent showcase apps: Dekko. He also helps out with the Ubuntu QA community with package testing and automated tests for the ubuntu-autopilot-tests project.

The Dekko app is an email client that we are currently developing to work across all devices: mobile, tablet and desktop. If you are interested in contributing to Dekko, whether that be writing code, testing, documentation, translations or have some super cool ideas you would just like to discuss. Then please do get in touch, all contributions are welcomed!

Dan can be reached by email dpniel@ubuntu.com or pop by #dekko on irc.freenode.net or see his wiki page https://wiki.ubuntu.com/dpniel

Early Dekko exploration

Dekko Phone Retro 1

What inspired you to contribute?

I first got involved with the Community in 2013, where Nicholas Skaggs introduced me to the Quality Team to write test cases for automated testing for the Platform. I can’t remember why I started exactly, but I saw it as an opportunity to improve it. Ever since then it’s been a well worth it experience.

What is it about open source that you like?

I like the fact that in the Community everyone has a common goal to build something great.

How does it fit into your lifestyle?

I study from home at the moment so I have to divide my time between my family, Ubuntu and my studies.

What I do for Ubuntu and my course are quite closely tied. The stuff I do for Ubuntu is giving me real life practical skills that I can relate to my course, which is mainly theory based.

Have you made your work with the Ubuntu Community an integral part of your studies as well?

I’m actually doing a project at the moment that is to do with my work on Dekko, but it’s for interacting with an exchange server and implementing a client side library. Hopefully when that’s done I can bring it into Dekko on a later date. I try to keep my interests parallel.

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

Quite a large proportion of my time goes towards Ubuntu.

How is it working remotely?

I find it more than effective. I mean it would be great to meet people face-to-face too.

Dekko development

Dekko Phone Retro 2

What are you most excited about?

Being able to have a full-blown computer in my pocket. As soon as it’s available i’m having the pocket desktop.

Do you use your Ubuntu phone as your main device?

I do yes. The rest of the family do too. I even got my eldest boy, who’s 9 to use it, as well as my partner and mother-in-law.

How is it working with the Ubuntu Design Team?

It’s been great actually because i’m useless at design. There’s always something to improve on, so even if the designs aren’t ready there’s still enough to work on. There hasn’t been big waits in-between or waiting for you guys as you’re busy. The support is there if you need it.

Have you faced any challenges when working on an app for many form factors (phone, tablet, desktop etc)?

The only challenge is getting the design before the toolkit components are ready. It was a case of creating custom stuff and trying to not cause myself too much pain when I have to switch. The rest has been plain sailing as they toolkit is a breeze to use, and the Design team keep me informed of any changes.

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

I speak to a fair few of them now through Telegram, that seems to be the place to talk now there’s an app for it. It’s nice you can ping your question to anyone and you’ll get an immediate response relatively quickly. Alan Pope, always gives you answers.

What are you thoughts on the Pocket Desktop?

It is exciting as it’s something different. I don’t think there’s competition, as we all have different target audiences we are reaching to. I’m really excited about where the Platform is heading.

The future of convergent Dekko

Dekko Future

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Robin Winslow

Last weekend I went to my first Pycon, my second conference in a fortnight.

The conference runs from Friday to Monday, with 3 days of talks followed by one day of “sprints”, which is basically a hack day.

PyCon has a code of conduct to discourage any form of othering:

Happily, PyCon UK is a diverse community who maintain a reputation as a friendly, welcoming and dynamic group.

We trust that attendees will treat each other in a way that reflects the widely held view that diversity and friendliness are strengths of our community to be celebrated and fostered.

And for me, the conference lived up to this, with a very friendly feel, and a lot of diversity in its attendants. The friendly and informal atmosphere was impressive for such a large event with more than 450 people.

Unfortunately, the Monday sprint day was cut short by the discovery of an unexploded bomb.

Many keynotes, without much Python

There were a lot of “keynote” talks, with 2 on Friday, and one each on Saturday and Sunday. And interestingly none of them were really about Python, instead covering future technology, space travel and the psychology of power and impostor syndrome.

But of course there were plenty of Python talks throughout the rest of the day – you can read about them on my other post. And I think it was a good decision to have more abstract keynotes. It shows that the Python community really is more of a general community than just a special interest group.

Van Lindberg on data economics, Marx and the Internet of Things

In the opening keynote on Friday morning, the PSF chairman showed that total computing power is almost doubling every year, and that by 2020, the total processing power in portable devices will exceed that in PCs and servers.

He then used the fact that data can’t travel faster than 11.8 inches per nanosecond to argue that we will see a fundamental shift in the economics of data processing.

The big-data models of today’s tech giants will be challenged as it starts to be quicker and make more economic sense to process data at source, rather than transfer it to distant servers to be processed. Centralised servers will be relegated to mere aggregators of pre-processed data.

He likened this to Marx seizing the means of production in a movement which will empower users, as our portable Things start to hold the real information, and choose who to share it with.

I really hope he’s right, and that the centralised data companies are doomed to fail to be replaced by the Internet of Autonomous Things, because the world of centralised data is not an equal world.

Does Python have a future on small processors? Isn’t it too inefficient?

In a world where all the interesting software is running on light-weight portable devices, processing efficiency becomes important once again. Van used this to argue that efforts to run Python effectively on low-powered devices, like MicroPython, will be essential for Python as a language to survive.

Daniele Procida: All I really want is power

The second keynote was just after lunch on Friday, Daniele Procida, organiser of DjangoCon Europe openly admitted that what he really wanted out of life was power. He put forward the somewhat controversial idea that power and usefulness are the same thing, and that ideas without power are useless.

He made the very good point that power only comes to those who ask for it, or fight for it. And that if we want power not to be abused, we really need to talk about it a whole lot more, even though it makes people uncomfortable (try asking someone their salary). We should acknowledge who has the power, and what power we have, and watch where the power goes.

He suggested that, while in politics or industry, power is very much a rivalled good, in open source it is entirely an unrivalled good. The way you grab power in the open source community is by doing good for the community, by helping out. And so by weilding power you are actually increasing power for those around you.

I don’t agree with him on this final point. I think power can be and is hoarded and abused in the open source community as well. A lot of people use their power in the community to edge out others, or make others feel small, or to soak up influence through talks and presentations and then exert their will over the will of others. I am certainly somewhat guilty of this. Which is why we should definitely watch the power, especially our own power, to see what effect it’s having.

The takeaway maxim from this for me is that we should always make every effort to share power, as opposed to jealously guarding it. It’s not that sharing power in the open source community is inevitable or necessarily comes naturally, but at least in the open source community sharing power genuinely can help you gain respect, where I fear the same isn’t so true of politics or industry.

Dr Simon Sheridan: Landing on a comet: From planning to reality

Simon Sheridan was an incredibly most humble and unassuming man, given his towering achievements. He is a world-class space scientist who was part of the European Space Agency team who helped to land Rosetta on comet 67P.

Most of what he mentioned was basically covered in the news, but it was wonderful to hear it from his perspective.

Naomi Ceder: Confessions of a True Impostor

When, a short way into her Sunday morning keynote, Naomi Ceder asked the room:

How many of you would say that you have in some way or another suffered from imposter syndrome along with me?

Almost everybody put their hands up. This is why I think this was such an important talk.

She didn’t talk about this per se, but contributing to the open source community is hard. No-one talks about it much, but I certainly feel there’s a lot of pressure. Because of its very nature, your contributions will be open, to be seen by anyone, to be criticised by anyone. And let’s face it, your contributions are never going to be perfect. And the rules of the game aren’t written down anywhere, so the chance of being ridiculed seem pretty high. Open source may be a benevolent idea, but it’s damned scary to take part in.

I believe this is why less than 2% of open source contributors are female, compared with more like 25-30% women in software development in general. And, as with impostor syndrome, the same trend is true of other marginalised groups. It’s not surprising to me that people who are used to being criticised and discriminated against wouldn’t subject themselves to that willingly.

And, as Naomi’s question showed, it is not just marginalised people who feel this pressure, it’s all of us. And it’s a problem. As we know, confidence is no indicator of actual ability, meaning that many many talented people may be too scared to contribute to open source.

As Naomi pointed out, impostor syndrome is a socially created condition – when people are expected to do badly, they do badly. In fact I completely agree with her suggestion that the existing Wikipedia definition of impostor syndrome (at the time of writing) could be more sensitively phrased to define it as a “social condition” rather than a “psychological phenomenon”, as well as avoiding singling out women.

While Naomi chose to focus in her talk on how we personally can try to mitigate feelings of being an impostor, I think the really important message here is one for the community. It’s not our fault that open source is scary, that’s just the nature of openness. But we have to make it more welcoming. The success of the open source movement really does depend on it being diverse and accepting.

What I think is really interesting is that stereotype threat can be mitigated by reminding people of their values, of what’s important to them. And this is what I hope will save open source. The more we express our principles and passion for open source, the more we express our values, the easier it is to counter negative feelings, to be welcoming, to stop feeling like impostors.

A great conference

Overall, the conference was exhausting, but I’m very grateful that I got to attend. It was inspiring and informative, and a great example of how to maintain a great community.

If you want you can now go and read about the other talks.

(Also published on robinwinslow.co.uk)

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Robin Winslow

The weekend before last, I went to PyCon UK 2015.

I already wrote about the keynotes, which were more abstract. Here I’m going to talk about the other talks I saw, which were generally more technical or at least had more to do with Python.

Summary

The talks I saw covered a whole range of topics – from testing through documentation and ways to achieve simplicity to leadership. Here are some key take-aways:

The talks

Following are slightly more in-depth summaries of the talks I thought were interesting.

Friday

Leadership of Technical Teams – Owen Campbell

There were two key points I took away from this talk. The first was Owen’s suggestion that leaders should take every opportunity to practice leading. Find opportunities in your personal life to lead teams of all sorts.

The second point was more complex. He suggested that all leaders exist on two spectra:

  • Amount of control: hand-off to dictatorial
  • Knowledge of the field: novice to expert

The less you know about a field the more hands-off you should be. And conversely, if you’re the only one who knows what you’re talking about, you should probably be more of a dictator.

Although he cautioned that people tend to mis-estimate their ability, and particularly when it comes to process (e.g. agile), people think they know more than they do. No-one is really an expert on process.

He suggested that leading technical teams is particularly challenging because you slide up and down the knowledge scale on a minute-to-minute basis sometimes, so you have to learn to be authoritative one moment and then permissive the next, as appropriate.

Document all the things – Kristian Glass

Kristian spoke about the importance, and difficulty, of good documentation.
Here are some particular points he made:

  • Document why a step is necessary, as well as what it is
  • Remember that error messages are documentation
  • Try pair documentation – novice sitting with expert
  • Checklists are great
  • Stop answering questions face-to-face. Always write it down instead.
  • Github pages are better than wikis (PRs, better tracking)

One of Kristian’s main points was that it goes against the grain to write documentation, ‘cos the person with the knowledge can’t see why it’s important, and the novice can’t write the documentation.

He suggested pair documentation as a solution, which sounds like a good idea, but I was also wondering if a StackOverflow model might work, where users submit questions, and the team treat them like bugs – need to stay on top of answering them. This answer base would then become the documentation.

Saturday

Asking About Gender – the Whats, Whys and Hows – Claire Gowler

Claire spoke about how so many online forms expect people to be either simply “male” or “female”, when the truth can be much more complicated.

My main takeaway from this was the basic point that forms very often ask for much more information than they need, and make too many assumptions about their users. When it comes to asking someone’s name, try radically reducing the complexity by just having one text field called “name”. Or better yet, don’t even ask their name if you don’t need it.

I think this feeds into the whole field of simplicity very nicely. A very many apps try to do much more than they need to, and ask for much more information than they need. Thinking about how little you know about your user can help you realise what you actually don’t need to know about your user.

Finding more bugs with less work – David R. MacIver

David MacIver is the author of the Hypothesis testing library.

Hypothesis is a Python library for creating unit tests which are simpler to write and more powerful when run, finding edge cases in your code you wouldn’t have thought to look for. It is stable, powerful and easy to add to any existing test suite.

When we write tests normally, we choose the input cases, and we normally do this and we often end up being really kind to our tests. E.g.:

What Hypothesis does it help us test with a much wider and more challenging range of values. E.g.:

There are many cases where Hypothesis won’t be much use, but it’s certainly good to have in your toolkit.

Sunday

Simplicity Is A Feature – Cory Benfield

Cory presented simplicity as the opposite of complexity – that is, the fewer options something gives you, the more simple and straightforward it is.

“Simplicity is about defaults”

To present as simple an interface as possible, the important thing is to have many sensible defaults as possible, so the user has to make hardly any choices.

Cory was heavily involved in the Python Requests library, and presented it as an example of how to achieve apparent simplicity in a complex tool.

“Simple things should be simple, complex things should be possible”

He suggested thinking of an “onion model”, where your application has layers, so everything is customisable at one of the layers, but the outermost layer is as simple as possible. He suggested that 3 layers is a good number:

  • Layer 1: Low-level – everything is customisable, even things that are just for weird edge-cases.
  • Layer 2: Features – a nicer, but still customisable interface for all the core features.
  • Layer 3: Simplicity – hardly any mandatory options, sensible defaults
    • People should always find this first
    • Support 80% of users 80% of the time
    • In the face of ambiguity do the right thing

He also mentioned that he likes README driven development, which seems like is an interesting approach.

How (not) to argue – a recipe for more productive tech conversations – Harry Percival

I think this one could be particularly useful for me.

Harry spoke about how many people (including him) have a very strong need to be right. Especially men. Especially those who went to boarding school. And software development tends to be full of these people.

Collaboration is particularly important in open source, and strongly disagreeing with people rarely leads to consensus, in fact it’s more likely to achieve the opposite. So it’s important that we learn how to get along.

He suggests various strategies to try out, for getting along with people better:

  • Try simply giving in, do it someone else’s way once in a while (hard to do graciously)
  • Socratic dialogue: Ask someone to explain their solution to you in simple terms
  • Dogfooding – try out your idea before arguing for its strength
  • Bide your time: Wait for the moment to see how it goes
  • Expose yourself to other social situations, where arguments are less acceptable

All of this comes down to stepping back, waiting and exercising humility. All of which are easier said than done, but all of which are very valuable if I could only manage it.

FIDO – The dog ate my password – Alex Willmer

After covering fairly common ground of how and why passwords suck, Alex introduced the FIDO alliance.

The FIDO alliance’s goal is to standardise authentication methods and hopefully replace passwords. They have created two standards for device-based authentication to try to replace passwords:

  • UAF: First-factor passwordless biometric authentication
  • U2F: Second-factor device authentication

Browsers are just starting to support U2F, whereas support for UAF is farther off. Keep an eye out.

Data Visualisation with Python and Javascript – crafting a data-visualisation for the web – Kyran Dale

Kyran spoke about visualising data, and demoed using Scrapy and Pandas to retrieve the Nobel laureatte data from Wikipedia, using Flask to serve it as a RESTful API, and then using D3 to create an interactive browser-based visualisation.

(Also published on robinwinslow.co.uk)

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Steph Wilson

We believe that the first impression matters, especially when it comes to introducing a new product to a user for the first time. Our aim is to delight the user from the moment they open the box, through to the setup wizard that will help them get started with their new phone.

Devices have become an essential part of our everyday lives. We choose carefully the ones we want to adopt, taking into account all manner of factors that influence our lifestyle and how we conduct our everyday tasks. So when buying a totally new product, with unfamiliar software, or from a new brand, you want to make the first impression count in order to seduce and reassure the user that this product is for them.

The out of the box experience (OOBE) is one of the most important categories of software usability. It essentially says how easy your software is to use, as well as introducing the user into your brand through visual design and tone of voice, which can convey familiarity and trust within your product.

How did we do it?

We started to look at research around users past experiences when setting up a new device and their feelings about the whole process. We also took a look at what our competitors were doing, taking into account current patterns and trends in the market.

From gathering this research we started to simplify as much as possible the OOBE workflow. Taking into consideration the good and the bad things, we started to define our design goals:

  • Design for seduction
  • Simplicity
  • Introduce the brand through design
  • Transform the setup wizard

What did we change?

First of all we started from the smallest screen, taking the existing screens we have for mobile and assessing the design faults and bugs.

In order to create a consistent experience across all devices, we drew together common first experiences found on the mobile, tablet and desktop:

  • Choosing a language
  • Wifi setup
  • Choosing a Time Zone
  • Choosing a lock screen option

One of the major changes we wanted to achieve was to give the user the same experience across all devices, moving us closer to achieving a seamless convergent platform.

What did we achieve?

  • We achieved our main aim in creating the same visual experience across all devices.

Convergence

 

  • We defined two types of screens: Primary screen (left), Secondary screen (right)

Image 1

The secondary screens created more space for forms, which helped us to define a consistent and intuitive animation between screens.

 

  • All the dialogs were transformed where possible into full screens. We kept the dialogs only to communicate to the user confirmation or error messages.

Image 2

 

  • The desktop installer was simplified and modernized.

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The implementation of the OOBE has already begun and we cannot wait for you to open the box and experience it on your new Ubuntu device.

UX Designer: Andreea Pirvu

Visual Designer: Grazina Borosko

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Robin Winslow

Prepare for when Ubuntu freezes

I routinely have at least 20 tabs open in Chrome, 10 files open in Atom (my editor of choice) and I’m often running virtual machines as well. This means my poor little X1 Carbon often runs out of memory, at which point Ubuntu completely freezes up, preventing me from doing anything at all.

Just a few days ago I had written a long post which I lost completely when my system froze, because Atom doesn’t yet recover documents after crashes.

If this sounds at all familiar to you, I now have a solution! (Although it didn’t save me in this case because it needs to be enabled first – see below.)

oom_kill

The magic SysRq key can run a bunch of kernel-level commands. One of these commands is called oom_kill. OOM stands for “Out of memory”, so oom_kill will kill the process taking up the most memory, to free some up. In most cases this should unfreeze Ubuntu.

You can run oom_kill from the keyboard with the following shortcut:

Except that this is disabled by default on Ubuntu:

Enabling SysRq functions

For security reasons, SysRq keyboard functions are disabled by default. To enable them, change the value in the file /etc/sysctl.d/10-magic-sysrq.conf to 1:

And to enable the new config run:

SysRq shortcut for the Thinkpad X1

Most laptops don’t have a physical SysRq key. Instead they offer a keyboard combination to emulate the key. On my Thinkpad, this is fn + s. However, there’s a quirk that the SysRq key is only “pressed” when you release.

So to run oom_kill on a Thinkpad, after enabling it, do the following:

  • Press and hold alt
  • To emulate SysRq, press fn and s keys together, then release them (keep holding alt)
  • Press f

This will kill the most expensive process (usually the browser tab running inbox.google.com in my case), and freeup some memory.

Now, if your computer ever freezes up, you can just do this, and hopefully fix it.

(Also posted on robinwinslow.uk)

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Jamie Young

dConstruct 2015

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We had a great time at dConstruct in Brighton last Friday. Ubuntu was the premier sponsor of the event, so 15 of us headed down from London in the small hours of the morning to set up our stand and enjoy a day out.

Origami competition

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Our stand became a landscape of wolves and unicorns as attendees of the conference took up our challenge to fold one of these animals (with instructions) to win themselves a brand new BQ Aquaris E5 Ubuntu Phone.

The talks

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The theme of the talks was ‘Designing the Future’ so we had robots, The Jetsons, various superheroes and The Terminator all making an appearance during the day.

Josh Clark demonstrated real magic on stage. Matt Novak revealed the secret behind robot vacuum cleaners of the 1950s (they were radio-controlled). Nick Foster brought us all back down to earth with a great talk on designing for the mundane and finally Dan Hill encouraged us to look more closely at the planning regulation notices pinned to lampposts.

If you want to hear all the talks from the day you can find them here.

A well deserved lunch!

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After a morning of mental sustenance we needed some real food in our stomachs and we all set off for a tasty lunch at the Chilli Pickle, just around the corner from the venue. Feeling energised from the spicy food, it was back for round two of talks…

Positive feedback

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From the moment the doors opened we had people coming up to the stand to speak to us about Ubuntu. We had a really positive response from attendees to the stand, where we were showing off demos of both Ubuntu Phones. People were really happy to see us, which was nice! From our end, it was invaluable meeting you all and hearing all the interesting questions you had for us. We hope we managed to answer them all!

A sunny day out

A beautiful sunny day, without a drop of rain, made it for a nice day out of the office: that alone is usually enough to fill anyone with energy and inspiration.

The future is sponsored by Ubuntu

We are inspired to support entrepreneurs and inventors focused on life-changing projects. We’re building open source tools for the next generation of devices, things, desktops and clouds.

Take a look at www.ubuntu.com

Join us

Passionate about good design and creating delightful experiences? We’re looking for people who love to learn and share their knowledge and ideas.

See all the design jobs on canonical.com

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Inayaili de León Persson

We’re going to be at dConstruct!

Ubuntu is once again sponsoring the excellent dConstruct conference, taking place this Friday, 11th September in Brighton.

This year’s theme is “Designing the future” and we can’t wait to hear what the stellar lineup of speakers has to share.

As ever, if you’re going to be there, come and say hi, and grab a few Ubuntu goodies while you’re at it.

In the meantime, why not listen to the dConstruct podcast, where Jeremy Keith talks to the speakers before the event?

See you on Friday!

Ubuntu at dConstruct 2014

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Inayaili de León Persson

August’s reading list

The design team members are constantly sharing interesting, fun, weird, links with each other, so we thought it might be a nice idea to share a selection of those links with everyone.

Here are the links that have been passed around during last month:

Thanks to Robin, Luca, Elvira, Anthony, Jamie, Joe and me, for the links this month!

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