Canonical Voices

Posts tagged with 'canonical'

Iain Farrell

13.04 wallpaper selection

 

The community team for wallpaper selection got together last week #1304wallpaper on Freenode and between us we’ve determined that we’d like to submit the following images as our delightful wallpaper selection for 13.04.

Many thanks to everyone who came to discuss options and help with the selection and in particular those who highlighted that some of the images shortlisted previously might not be the submitted user’s own image and or appear in other distros. Your constant vigilance is much appreciated!

Constant vigilance as Mad Eye Moody would say

So what now? Well the compressed file has been uploaded to a bug marked against the wallpapers package on Launchpad and this is where Seb, Didrocks and others will ensure that the images make it into the release before UI freeze.

Thank you again to everyone who helped and to Ken, Seb, John and Didrocks for the final push.

I’m still signed into #1304wallpaper most of the day, UK time so come find me or drop me a mail if you have any questions, concerns or the like.

See you next cycle/ rolling release!


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Iain Farrell

Trazo solitario by Julio Diliegros - on Flickr

Quantal is well on the way to being the great release we’ve come to expect from Ubuntu so it’s time to add to that sheen with a set of quality wallpapers from our fantastic community. This cycle we’re going to try to make the process better than before by setting out a clearer vision for what we think will make a great set.

Firstly we’re interested in quality not quantity so we’re going to limit ourselves to 10 images on the final CD. We’ll take submissions in the Flickr group as before and don’t forget we need your image licensed as CC by SA. Each Flickr user will be limited to 1 submission to the group so choose carefully!

Secondly I’ve been speaking to Otto, the Lead visual designer at Canonical, to help ensure that what we get feels at home on the desktop. The guidance we’ll follow when selecting images to go into the release is as follows:

  1. Images shouldn’t be busy and filled with too many shapes and colours, a similar tone throughout is a good rule of thumb
  2. They should have a single point of focus, a single area that draws the eye in
  3. We should avoid having anything on the left and top edges as this will clash with the interface elements of the Launcher and Panel
  4. Try your image at different aspect ratios to make sure something important isn’t cropped out on smaller/ larger screens

To shortlist from this collection, as usual, we’ll be going to the people whose images were selected last time around to help us choose the final 10. In doing this we’ll hold a series of public IRC meetings on #1210wallpaper to discuss the selection and in those sessions we’ll get the selection team to try out the images on their own Ubuntu machines to see what they look like on a range of displays and resolutions. Anyone’s welcome to come to these sessions but please bear in mind that an outcome is needed from the time that people are volunteering and there’s usually a lot of images to get through so we’d appreciate it if there isn’t too much additional debate.

The group’s open for submissions now and we’ll close it at 5pm on the 28th August 2012 to start going through the images.

So, get all your great summer photos out and as always ping me if you have any questions. I’ll be lurking in #1210wallpaper on freenode. I hope it’s been sunnier in places other than the UK!


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John Lea

Introduction to task switching

A key part of any operating system user interface is how it enables the user to switch between multiple tasks. In most desktop operating systems tasks are encapsulated into windows, and the most frequently used method of multi-tasking is window switching. Desktop OSs have multiple methods of window switching (e.g Alt-tab, clicking on indicators, notifications, etc…) however the most common means of window switching is via using what is variously termed a Launcher, Taskbar or Dock. Traditionally there has been a 1:1 correlation between each window and its representation in the Taskbar (see Windows2000 or Gnome2).


(Ubuntu Hardy Heron used Gnome2 which featured one taskbar icon per window)

With Windows XP, Microsoft introduced a way to aggregate multiple windows that belonged to the same application into a single task bar button. This change was primarily focused towards personas who made heavy use of multi-tasking; this feature only switched on when the number of windows represented in the Taskbar exceeded the length of the Taskbar. It gave the benefits of increasing the number of windows that could be comfortably represented in the available task bar space, and reduced the time and effort it took the user to visually scan a crowded Taskbar and identify an application. The cost of this change was that an additional click was required to switch to a window that was not the most recently focused window of that application.

Windows XP desktop
(The WindowsXP desktop that introduced the concept of representing multiple windows with one taskbar icon)


Unity’s current window switching functionality

Fast forwarding to 2009, when working on the original designs for Unity we knew that window switching was one of the key areas of any OS’s user interface, and we set out to design a window switching paradigm that would surpass the utility and usability of the contemporary competition at the time (Windows 7 and OSX Snow Leopard). The Launcher was only 50% of that equation, the other 50% was a set of functionality we termed the ‘Spread’.

The Spread designs were completed, prototyped and tested well before the launch of Unity with 11.04, but unfortunately due to the huge number of other items that needed to be completed before we could launch a brand new desktop shell, the decision was made to postpone the development of this feature and use the Compiz equivalent of this functionality as a stop-gap measure.

Ubuntu 11.04 desktop
(Compiz window switching in Ubuntu 11.04)

While using the Compiz window switching functionality enabled us to hit 11.04 launch deadline, there are a number ways in which it could be improved. Since then many many bugs, mailing list and forum postings have also requested the same set of functionality that was postponed as a result of this decision. Requests we frequently receive include:

  • Please make it easier to tell one window from another, all terminals look very similar!
  • Make it easier to select windows using keyboard navigation and shortcuts
  • I would like to be able to easily close windows from the window switcher view
  • Can you make it clearer to see which application’s windows are currently being displayed (in the switcher view)?
  • I find it difficult to see which window is currently focused in the window switcher view, can this be improved?
  • Can you find a way to make window switching faster?

Window switching requirements

After researching the window switching problem space and examining the use cases that a window switcher needs to support, we distilled the findings into a set of design requirements. These were:

  • To aid window identification, the window previews should to be as large as possible, taking maximum advantage of the available screen real estate.
  • Window switching needs to be very intuitive and easy to understand for new users. In user testing, a user who has never used Ubuntu before must be able to switch windows without encountering any difficulty.
  • More experienced users should be offered an accelerated method of ultra-fast window switching.
  • Users should be presented with all the information that is pertinent to making a window switching decision, but no more.
  • The window switching mechanism should follow the activity/task hierarchy, in order to minimise time needed to identity the required application, support intensive multi-tasking use cases with very large numbers of windows, simplify the Launcher ordering problem, and make the most efficient use of the Launcher’s screen real estate.

A very brief introduction the ‘Spread’

So now with 12.04 almost behind us, we have dusted off our original Spread designs and given them a light spring clean ahead of development starting in 12.10. So without further ado…

This design shows when happens when a user clicks on the Firefox icon to spread the available windows. The maximum amount of screen real estate is dedicated to making the window previews as large as possible. Moving the pointer over any of the previews will display the window name in a window title bar, and a close button is included so that any window can be dismissed directly from this view. When in this view users can also directly switch to spreads of other running applications by clicking on application icons in the Launcher.

In addition to pointing and clicking with a mouse or trackpad, power users can perform all window switching actions without taking their hands off the keyboard. Holding down the SUPER key will reveal the Launcher with numbers overlaid on top of the individual Launcher icons.

Pressing a number performs the equivalent action to a left click, so if a app is already focused pressing its number will reveal a spread of its windows.

When the spread is revealed, numbers are displayed in the bottom left corner of the previews. Pressing a number will then select the relevant window and close the Spread. Added together this allows a power user to switch to any window of any application just by using the SUPER and NUMBER keys. In addition users will be able to navigate the Spread by using cursor keys to move the orange focus box and ENTER to select.

Another new feature is the ghost window ‘New Window’ option. Previously if a user wanted to open a new window for an application that was already running they had to either middle click on the application’s Launcher icon or press CTRL+N. The problem was that new users had no easy way of discovering these options. When using the Spread, a user can select the ghost window to open a new window of the currently focused application. This feature has even more benefits in a multi-monitor context, and if a application does not support multiple windows this option is not displayed.

Other features include the ability to filter the windows by typing…

and of course this new functionality apples to the SUPER+W spread of all windows on the desktop.


Multi-monitors, workspaces, and all the other gory details

This article only takes a very brief look at a few of the Spread’s features, and barely scratches the surface of the Spread design. A lot of thought has also gone into designing how the spread works in multi-monitor and/or multi-workspace environments, and if you are interested in learning more and reading all the gory details of how every corner case and eventuality is handled, head over to Unity Switching section of the The Toolkit to read the full spec.

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Iain Farrell

All the way back in January we kicked off the submissions process for the next released of Ubuntu.

We did this using Flickr and since then the group has been inundated with over 2,700 submissions! This is an incredible achievement in a reasonably short time and many of the entries are looking great.

Charline, on the Canonical Design Team, contacted me earlier today to ask about what comes next. Well, first of all I’d like to thank everyone who has submitted thus far. It’s an incredible amount of user generated content and we should be chuffed to bits to have so much good stuff to sort through. Next I’d also like to encourage anyone who _has_ submitted to review what they’ve placed in the group. We are about to ask a small group of people to select from nearly three thousand images. If you’ve submitted more than one image if you could please review your images and decide if we really should be considering them all that would be a huge help :)

Lastly, don’t forget the deadline for submissions is March 15th 18:00 UK time. At that point I’ll close the group and the judges will start sorting through these entries. Then from their selection we’ll try and get down to a number of images that can be safely fitted onto the CD image. As always we’ll separate out the entries selected into their own group and we’re also looking into making a package of all the selected images so the completionists out there can get all the wallpapers in one easy package.

Easy, huh? Well you don’t have to sort through 3000 images in a week! ;) Happy snapping, sketching and scanning!


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Mika Meskanen

Ubuntu and Canonical had a very strong presence at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The main attraction was our Ubuntu for Android prototype that was published just a week earlier. The beautiful cubic pavilion also housed the Ubuntu TV demo, Ubuntu One, and our established desktop and cloud offerings. The booth attracted a constant flux of curious visitors representing all walks of life: media, industry people, businessmen, technology enthusiasts, students and… competitors.

John Lea, Oren Horev and myself from the Design Team joined Canonical sales, business and technical staff in this bold effort. In addition to running demos and having interesting conversations with the visitors to the booth, we also had the opportunity to have a look at the endless exhibition halls and floors of the conference and do research on what makes the mobile world tick at the moment.

If the MWC 2012 had to be summarised in one tagline, anyone would probably admit, that it was a one massive Androidfest.

Google’s recently upgraded operating system was simply everywhere. Spearheading the Android avalanche were the latest generation supermobiles – every device manufacturer was showing off with their versions of quad-core, high-definition, 4G/LTE smartphones and tablets bumped up to the latest specification.

Bells and whistles ranged from glasses-free 3D displays to Dolby sound to watertight casings – demonstrating that OEM customisations go beyond branding and skinning the interface.

Google themselves hosted an extensive Android area that was more like a theme park than a typical business affair: fans and passers-by were treated to a smoothie bar, a tube slide (presumably an homage to Google offices), grab-a-plush-Android game – and lucky ones could have had their Nexus phones pimped up with Svarovski crystals assembled by an industrial robot.

In stark contrast to Google’s rather playful attitude towards their ecosystem, the manufacturers were more poised for flexing their technological muscle. The impending hockey-stick curve of serious mobile computing power seems to all but prove the concept behind Ubuntu for Android. The phones of the near future are going to effortlessly run desktop and mobile operating systems simultaneously, and those extra cores can do more than just keep your hands warm in your pocket. Similarly, in our hands-on testing, the demoed 4G/LTE connections were lightning fast, signalling that accessing your cloud and thin client applications from a phone running a full productivity desktop can shift the paradigms of your mobile working life.

While this year’s congress was overrun by Android, it will be interesting to see whether this will be repeated next year, when we can assume to see the effects of Google’s Motorola acquisition and the impact of Windows 8. The latter had reached Consumer Preview stage and was presented in a separate session outside the main exhibition.

Most of the manufacturers had an odd Windows Phone in their inventory, but basically its marketing was left to Nokia, who also occupied a substantial exhibition floor not far from us. The newfound underdogs were quite upbeat about their Lumia phones, 41 megapixel cameras and the staff were very approachable in their stripy Marimekko shirts and funny hats.

In one of the quieter affairs, the Nokia Research Centre demoed an indoor positioning system that promises 30 centimere accuracy and presumably lands in a Bluetooth standard in the near future, enabling a range of user experience scenarios for malls, airports and alike. Affordable Asha phones and Nokia Life for emerging markets were featured as well.

Aside from phones, there were a number of smart TV upstarts. We saw a few demos built on old versions of Android, where a phone interface jumped on the screen as soon as the user leaves the home screen. A more captivating demo came from the Korean company Neo Mtel, who showed off a UI with lots of lively widgets and affectionate animations. They also had a tablet-based “second screen” to complement the product vision.

Perhaps a little surprisingly, Opera (of the Opera browser fame) showcased a TV platform based on web technologies.

In Hall 7 we also had the pleasure of having Mozilla as our next door neighbours. They had set up a nice lounge where people could try out the latest Firebox browser for Android phone and tablet. The Boot to Gecko initiative had matured into the Open Web Device together with Telefonica, and resulted in a working demo of a phone OS, based entirely on web technologies with APIs to talk to the handset’s camera, sensors and telephony software, for example. It was also interesting to exchange thoughts on open-source design and development with the fine Mozilla employees.

Meanwhile, there were some interesting evolutions in device form factors to be discovered. Samsung exhibited a 10-inch Galaxy Note tablet with Adobe Photoshop Touch and very precise and responsive drawing stylus. With the exception of tactile feedback the experience is closing in on that of pen and paper – and for many, the benefits of digital malleability can outweigh the constraints of analogue tools.

Notepad-sized phones are parallel to this trend. The Galaxy Note phone got a rival from LG’s 5-inch Optimus Vu. Both devices channel the passport-size Moleskine or Muji notepad and flaunt oversized screens and stylus input. To prove the point, Samsung had dragged a bunch of portrait street artists to capture the likenesses of volunteering visitors on these polished pixelslates.

The requirement of pocketability and one-handed use has caused many (starting with Apple) to overlook this emerging form factor, but not everyone keeps their mobiles in their pockets and many use their phones with two hands anyway. It will be interesting to see how the notepad phones fare in the market and what kind of UI patterns will prevail there.

Last, but not least, the Padphone from ASUS is a very interesting play on device convergence and as such resonates with Ubuntu for Android. The Padphone is a smartphone that docks into a tablet shell and instantly becomes a tablet. The tablet with the phone inside can then be docked into a keyboard, turning the device into a laptop. While some clunkiness with the hardware remains, the user interface seems to transition from phone to tablet seamlessly and in a snap. However, there’s less wow in the tablet-to-laptop transition, where just a mouse pointer is added into the mix. Since Android is designed for touch this is no surprise, but there’s some added value in having a physical keyboard for typing.

Amidst all the sensory overload and throughout the four days of congress, the Ubuntu booth felt like an oasis of good vibes all the time. The interest and support from people we encountered was really encouraging and very heartwarming. Hands-on videos from the booth went viral across the internet. Many said that Ubuntu for Android was the highlight of the Mobile World Congress 2012.

Visit the Ubuntu for Android site for more…

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Paul Sladen

Back in 2008 Nick Ellery noticed that the default printer test page used more ink that it really needed to: Bug #298935 (“test print uses far too much ink”). Millions and millions of these pages get printed every year, so any saving in ink will be amplified. In addition, it still had the pre-2010 Ubuntu logomark: Bug #933489 (“Ubuntu Printer test page has old branding”). Hopefully, the ink saving will help save the planet and everyone will benefit from something slightly prettier.

Scan of new Ubuntu 12.04 Printer Test Page. The design is scaled to fit any size, not just A4 and US-Letter

With the first Ubuntu 12.04 Beta release now out and having been in prepartion over the last fortnight, there’s been a chance to look over and see if the Design Team can assist with reponding to any bugs that might have been missed for too long.

One year ago there were a number of good suggestions for making the test printouts to be more reusable, for instance by including a calendar or origami shape and would be good to incorporate in the future. Perhaps you can come up with a good design and suggest it for the next release cycle building up to Ubuntu 12.10?

Thank you to Lucas Camargo for experimenting with thinning the previous template. To Emily Maher on the design team for working on a more compact circular design that matches the rest of Ubuntu (and should use even less ink). And to Lars Ubernickel and Till Kamppeter for writing and uploading the new bannertopdf support code that pulls in the design and sends it out to the printer with debugging information appended.

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John Lea

How is Unity designed?  How can I contribute to this process?  Why did you make thus and such decision? The Unity Design Team is frequently asked these questions, and this article aims to de-mystify our design process and highlight the different ways in which volunteer contributions can help improve the Ubuntu user experience.

Before diving into the design process, let’s take a look at the types of contributions Ubuntu receives.  Ubuntu contributions can be divided into two equally valuable categories: whole project contributions and piecemeal contributions.

Whole project contributions are autonomous projects created by a single developer or a group of community developers and designers working together.  One example of such a project is the excellent http://ubuntu-tweak.com.  Some user experience design tasks require frequent ongoing high bandwidth dialogue between design team members; this is easier to achieve when a small group of contributors take responsibility for the end to end delivery of a project.  Whole project contributions empower the project contributors to take complete control of all aspects of the user experience design.

Piecemeal contributions are contributions that help one individual aspect of a larger project.  Examples of piecemeal contributions include bug reports, small patches and suggestions on how to improve public design specifications.  Coordination is required to ensure that the piecemeal contributions fit together into a coherent whole.  Thus some of the user experience responsibility is ceded from individual piecemeal contributors to the project’s steering team.  In the case of the Ubuntu desktop, the design decisions are coordinated by the Unity Design Team.  In this environment, many elements are contributed by external designers and developers, but the areas of user experience design that require high bandwidth, frequent communication are dealt with by the Unity Design Team.

 


1. Divining the future

Before we get started on designing anything, we need a long term vision and strategy of where we want to be in several years time, and a high level roadmap of what we need to do in order to get there.  My personal take on the Ubuntu vision is that Ubuntu aims to “help humanity by creating a fully open source free software platform that becomes the platform of choice for all computing devices and form factors”.  By virtue of reading this article you are probably one of the small minority of the population who cares and feels passionately about the benefits of open source computing.  But when the majority of people consider buying or using a product, they make a decision based on cost, personal utility, and user experience.  ‘Open source’ versus ‘closed proprietary software’ doesn’t often come into the equation.  So if we are going to succeed in making Ubuntu the platform of choice for the world, one of the things we need to do is deliver a user experience that surpasses the standard set by our closed source proprietary software competitors.  And to do this we need a vision to aim for, of where the world is going to be in 2, 5, and 10 years time.

To help shape our strategy and roadmap we listen to what the brightest minds are saying by:

  • attending conferences
  • reading articles, blogs and forums
  • watching people’s behaviour
  • reading and watching sci-fi books and films
  • and trying to live observant, interesting lives… ;-)

 

How you can be a visionary and help shape the world

If you have a vision of the future or ideas about new ways of doing things, make yourself heard.  Everything from talks at conferences to ideas posted on http://brainstorm.ubuntu.com/ are thrown into the Ubuntu mixing pot, so if you have a great idea, tell people about it.  The more time invested in exploring your idea and communicating it to the world the more influence it is likely to have; a paper presented by a PHD student who has spent a year exploring a particular topic has a better chance of being influential that one or two forum postings.

 


2. The first step in designing a feature; what problem are we trying to solve?

The development of a feature starts as soon as resource becomes available.  After selecting the next appropriate item from our roadmap, the first questions we ask are “what problem(s) are we trying to solve?” and “what are our objectives?”.  One useful tool to help define the problem is to explore the problem using user narratives, and think about the impact of the problem on different personas (user archetypes which represent patterns of behaviour and common goals).  Another useful tool is to undertake requirements capture with members of the target audience.

 

How you can contribute to defining the problems

If you are suggesting either a new feature or a change to existing functionality, first state the problems you are trying to fix.  This opens the door to exploring different possible solutions, and ultimately finding the optimal way to meet the requirement.  Including user narratives in bug reports/mailing list postings/etc… can open up productive discussions that explore different ways of tackling the problem.  They also make it easier for others to understand the problem you are investigating, and therefore improve the likelihood of a solution being built.

 


3. What thinking has already gone in to trying to solve this problem?

Once the problem that we are trying to solve is clearly defined, the next step is to assemble the previous thinking that has gone into the problem area.  Understanding what has gone before and the current state of the art is the starting point from which new connections can be made, concepts built upon and extended, and new ideas created.  Mailing lists, bug reports, and forums are scoured for pertinent information and products relevant to the problem space are examined.  In addition to the collation of previous thinking, fresh research can also be conducted to generate new insights.  This solid understanding of the existing problem space is a elemental ingredient of the design process.

 

How you can contribute to the background research

If a discussion on a design problem is taking place, either in your own project, in a bug report or on a mailing list, feel free to add pertinent information from related fields or descriptions of how others have tackled related problems.  Throwaway opinions are cheap, but considered  background research is a very valuable contribution.

 


4. Ideation

Ideation requires high bandwidth communication between all participants, both for the rapid expression and debate of ideas, and to ensure that everyone in the multi-disciplinary group rapidly gains and retains a shared understanding of the problem space.  When starting a new project at Canonical, we have found it very beneficial to get all the developers, visual designers, UX architects, etc… who will eventually work on the new feature together in a single physical location and spend a week brainstorming and exploring ideas.  In addition, these design exploration sessions help gel the feature team together, and the interpersonal bonds that are established improve team communication and set a positive tone of discourse that persists throughout the entire course of the project.

During these ideation sessions, we:

  • Spread out all gathered information and explore patterns and structures.
  • Jointly brainstorm and sketch ideas.
  • Discuss all areas of the problem space, propose and iterate multiple ideas for tackling all the different aspects of the problem.
  • Examine the problem from different angles; user costs and benefits, technical possibilities, strategic direction, competitive landscape, fit with roadmap, etc…

At the end of this stage we will have a collection of ideas for solving the problem.  And this collection of ideas will have been discussed and examined by the whole feature team.

 

How you can participate in ideation

At a small scale you can make piecemeal contributions to ideation by participating in bug report discussions and offering different ideas for solving the problem.  As a larger scale you can get involved in ideation by joining or starting a community project team that is focused on delivering a feature.  Propose an idea, gather some developers and designers together, and start your design process!

 


5. User Experience design

User Experience design starts with the ideas generated in ideation, and through an iterative process evolves the concepts and fleshes out the interaction details.  Typically a UX architect will take the lead on designing a feature, and as they work through this process they will continually bounce ideas off other members of the feature team and other designers.   User testing is also utilised to provide feedback and inform the evolution of the design.   The UX architect’s work will also be reviewed with the overall UX lead to ensure consistency and linkage with all the other projects that are being designed and developed in parallel.

User Experience architects have a number of tools at their disposal for designing and defining the functionality of a feature or product.   Multiple tools are used simultaneously in order to approach the design from different perspectives; for example wireframes show grouping and hierarchy of elements at a specific moment in time, so they are frequently combined with use cases or sequence diagrams to ensure that the user journey centric viewpoint is also considered.

For very tactile and interactive elements, designing through prototype iteration is an invaluable technique.  An example of this in action is the recently released launcher reveal prototype.   In addition to defining the functionality, user experience design also involves taxonomy, association mapping, and personas.

 

How you can participate in User Experience design

As user experience design builds on top of steps 1-4,  before starting the first task is to make sure these preparation steps are complete.  In the case of adding a piecemeal UX design contribution to a bug, this involves reviewing the bug discussion and satisfying yourself that these preparation steps have been adequately completed.  If you are working on a whole project, make sure that all the previous steps have been conducted jointly with the other members of the project team.

Then start designing!  Look at design patterns that can be utilised, and keep an open mind by looking at mobile and web patterns in addition to established desktop design patterns.  Some good starting points are ‘About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design’ by Alan Cooper, ‘Designing Interfaces’ by Jenifer Tidwell and also the pttrns mobile app design pattern showcase.  Approach the design from different perspectives; to learn more about the mechanics of using use cases to take a user journey centric approach I recommend the excellent ‘Writing Effective Use Cases’ book by Alistar Cockburn.  And keep looking at the design through the eyes of the personas you are targeting, otherwise you may end up designing the product just for yourself!

The artifacts you produce will vary depending on the projects requirements, but should include at the very least elements of layout design (wireframing), functional design (use cases, prototypes, etc…) and Information Architecture (hierarchy maps).

 


6. Visual design

Visual design is the marrying of form and function, it affects user confidence and comfort and makes for a compelling experience.  As we work through each level of the design process, we are both iterating the design and adding further detail.  We start with coarse brushes making wide strokes and work our way to the point where we are using fine brushes to refine the final intricate attributes.  Human beings perceive visual information before they perceive analytical information, and Visual design is about reducing the mental workload for our audience whilst delivering a delightful and cohesive aesthetic experience.

 

How you can participate in Visual design

If you are working on a whole project contribution, fire up your design programs of choice and start iterating the visual design!  For piecemeal contributions a great place to start is theme, icon and wallpaper design.  For a good example of a great community visual design contribution take a look at the Faenza icon theme by ~tiheum.

 


7. Implementation

Development resource is the biggest bottleneck to getting new features implemented, so the most valuable way you can make piecemeal contributions is by taking items from the bug list and submitting patches.  Implementation is also part of the design process, because as a feature is built even more understanding is gained and further refinements are iterated.

 

How you can participate in implementing new features and fixes

Pick a bug from underneath either the “Design changes signed off but not handed over” header at http://people.canonical.com/~platform/design/ or “Upstream projects that can be worked on” at http://people.canonical.com/~platform/design/upstream.html .  If you have any questions about a bug ping either myself (JohnLea), swilson, or nuthinking in #unity-design on Freenode IRC .  The Ubuntu wiki Unity page is good place to start finding out more about how you can help with the implementation of Unity.

 


8. Identifying user facing bugs and QA

After a feature lands it is time to start identifying bugs.  A good starting point is to look at the UX specification of a feature, and check that the implementation matches design.  Where there is a divergence, citing the relevant part of the specification in the bug report is both useful and will also raise the bug’s priority.  On the other hand, designs are never perfect and it may be that there is a bug with the design itself.  In this case it is also useful to cite the issue in the relevant UX specification as part of the bug report.  Unity UX specifications are available at http://design.canonical.com/the-toolkit/ , and we are currently working to increase the number of specifications that are publicly available.  Also all the design bugs that are currently queued for implementation are publicly available at underneath the “Upstream projects that can be worked on” header at http://people.canonical.com/~platform/design/upstream.html .

 

How you can participate by reporting bugs

If you are reporting a user facing bug affecting any part of Ubuntu, make sure the bug is marked as ‘also affects project’ ayatana-design.  The bug will then be triaged by the Unity design team, and if accepted it will enter the stack of bugs that are awaiting implementation.  Sometimes a bug will be marked as ‘Opinion’.   This means that the issue is acknowledged but the exact change request detailed in the bug is not currently scheduled for implementation.  This may be because further consideration is required, or because a project that will fix the bug in a different way is currently in the pipline.  Bug reports are one of the most useful ways you can contribute, every single bug that is reported to ayatana-design is reviewed by the Unity design team.

 


9. User testing

This will be coming soon in a subsequent article…

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Stewart Wilson

We first posted a blog back in December about our work on the multi-monitor experience for Ubuntu. Back then we published the first revision of the Multiple Monitors UX Specification, and got some great feedback. We have taken comments, corrections and suggestions on board, and have come up with an updated multi-monitor specification. The specification can be found here:
 
 

There are several improvements to the specification (including more elegant discoverability of the Greeter login across displays, improved placement of windows upon removal of a display and a more feasible solution for providing missing resolutions in the Display Preferences panel).
The document has also been restructured in places, with new and extended sections, specifying in further detail how elements such as the Guest Session, Launcher, Spread and mouse cursor should work in a multi-monitor setup.

We have also created a prototype to explore how the Greeter works across multiple displays.

Multi-Monitor Greeter Prototype

Multi-Monitor Greeter Prototype

You can check out the prototype by downloading it from here: http://ubuntuone.com/6MHk2xkW5L3Bl9pGsj10z4

Unzip the package and double-click the executable in the folder. You will need more than one display to check this prototype out. As you move your cursor across displays, the Greeter will follow the cursor, allowing you to easily log in on any display. The Greeter itself is not interactive, we are just exploring how it moves between displays. There are also a few keyboard controls to try out:
 

Press Escape to exit the prototype.

Press Space to check out the prototype against a number of different desktop backgrounds (will cycle through the images in /usr/share/backgrounds)

Hold down Alt to show numbers on each display. Still holding down Alt, you can then tap a number to move the Greeter across to that numbered display, allowing you to change the display you log in with, without using the mouse. In the final implementation, the Super key will be used rather than the Alt key, but I can’t bind to that keyboard shortcut in my prototype.

Please let us know your thoughts on the updated specification and the new Greeter prototype.

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Inayaili León

If you’ve ever had to create Ubuntu or Canonical related design materials, chances are you had a look at the Brand Guidelines, which, until now, have only existed in the form of bulky PDFs. Those days are over, as we happily introduce the brand new Ubuntu Brand Guidelines site, where you can read the guidelines and download the assets necessary to create your projects.

Ubuntu Brand Guidelines homepage
Ubuntu Brand Guidelines homepage

You can learn more about the Ubuntu brand values and the brand assets, such as our logos, colour palette and pictograms, and how to use them. You can also consult some of our Web-specific guidelines, look at examples of design work that has been done, and download assets like the logos and pictograms.

Ubuntu Brand Guidelines - Brand assets section
Brand assets section on the Brand Guidelines site

This is the first iteration of the site: lots of content is being prepared and will be added later on, and we will also work on some refinements to the asset download process, as well as adding many more useful downloads, such as templates and photography.

Among the more frequently requested assets are HTML and CSS snippets and templates that can simply be copied and pasted on internal and external projects, so the designer or developer can be certain everything looks as it should. This is in the works, but it’s something that takes a little bit more time to get just right, so please bear with us.

For now, we’d be delighted to get your feedback on this first version: have you found anything particularly useful on the site? What would you like to see there that you think it’s missing? How do you think it can be improved?

We hope we enjoy the online Ubuntu Brand Guidelines!

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Stewart Wilson

For the multi-monitor design project, we have been making use of prototypes to develop and test some of the finer interactions of the system. One such crucial element is the reveal of the Launcher, particularly as we are exploring having a Launcher on each display. The motivation for making the Launcher available from any display is to allow the user to launch and switch applications, without having to travel onto another display to do so.

So, here is a prototype for the Launcher reveal, which we would like to share and get some feedback on.
 
 

Download the prototype application and source code

It is worth pointing out that this prototype concentrates on the detailed interactions for the Launcher reveal only. This is not the more fully featured multi-monitor prototype, mentioned in a previous post (first shown at the October 2011 USD), which will be shared a little further down the line.
 
 

Launcher Reveal Considerations

With a Launcher available on each display, we have chosen to hold the cursor briefly at the edge of any display which does not sit on the left-most edge of the extended desktop, allowing the user to push against the edge to reveal the Launcher. Important considerations here are:

  • The Launcher reveal must be reliable and easy to achieve when required
  • The Launcher reveal must not be too sensitive: there is already an issue with false positives for the reveal, when targeting items near the left edge of the screen (eg. the browser Back button)
  • The user should be able to pass quickly and easily onto the display to the left – they will not always be looking for a Launcher reveal.
  • Related to the previous point, if a user overshoots onto a display to the right (when targeting items such as scrollbars on the far right of a left-located display), it should be quick and easy for them to correct their position back onto the other display.
 

Running the Prototype

The prototype is a C++ Qt application. Download the archive and unpack it. You may be able to launch the application by just double-clicking on it. If this doesn’t work, you will need to launch the executable from the terminal. The steps are as follows:

  • Unpack the downloaded archive to a suitable location. In this example, we unpack onto the Desktop.
  • Open the LauncherReveal folder on the Desktop and try double-clicking the LauncherReveal executable to launch it.
  • If this doesn’t work, launch the Terminal application.
  • Type ‘cd Desktop/RevealLauncher’ to change to the directory which contains the executable (replace ‘Desktop’ with the directory you have unpacked the archive contents into if necessary)
  • Type ‘sudo ./LauncherReveal’ to launch the executable. To grant permission for the system to run the executable, you will then be prompted to enter your login password.

We have used quite a low-level language and framework for the prototype because it needs to create windows across multiple displays and to manipulate the position of the mouse cursor.

You can run the prototype on a PC with a single display, and try out the Launcher reveal. However, the prototype really becomes interesting when you run it with more than one display attached, and check out the Launcher reveal across all displays.

This prototype concentrates on the Launcher reveal only, so there are lots of things (windows, top bar) which do nothing. The prototype will only work properly for multiple displays with the same height, organised in a row. Being a prototype, this is essentially throw away code, which lives just to explore a very specific set of interactions, for a limited configuration of hardware.

In order to reveal the Launcher, you push the cursor into the left edge of a display for a fraction of a second (100ms by default). This works on any display (not just the far-left display), as we hold the cursor at the edge of a display when it crosses from either the left or right. Push a little more (a further 150ms by default) and the cursor will break through onto the next display.

The images of the browser window are used to test for false positives and overshooting problems when trying to target the Back button on the far left, and the vertical scrollbar on the far right.

 

Tuning the Parameters

You will notice a panel with lots of parameters to tweak. We have chosen defaults which work well for the small sample of people and hardware we have tested the prototype with so far – informal ad-hoc testing at this stage. Here is an explanation of each parameter and the trade-offs they represent:

Launcher reveal: push for 100 ms
The length of time the user must push against the left edge of the display to reveal the Launcher. For lower values, you get a more responsive-feeling Launcher, but you also get more unwanted reveals when targeting items on the left of the display (eg. the browser back button). Try tuning this value up to 200ms for less unwanted reveals, but you’ll need to push a little harder for those reveals that you want.

Pass display edge: push for 150 ms
Once the Launcher has revealed, we don’t want the cursor to break straight onto the next display, so we continue to hold the cursor for a little more time on a left-most edge. This gives the user the opportunity to stop pushing and move to target a Launcher icon. Lower values make it easier to move from one screen to another, but more likely that you will break though onto the next display when you wish to target something in the Launcher.

Event sampling period: 50 ms
The event sampling period is the size of the time-slices which are used to determine when the user has stopped pushing. A time-slice which collects no mouse events will result in an ‘end-of-push’ condition, cancelling a Launcher reveal or movement across a display edge. Lower values will increase the chances of an unwanted ‘end-of-push’ condition (for gentler pushes or older hardware). This period must be large enough to divide the previous time values into multiple time-slices, otherwise they just degrade into timer delays.

Cursor travels freely after crossing display edges for 1000ms
In order to allow the user to quickly correct an overshoot onto another display (when targeting items to the left or right extremities of a display), we temporarily drop the hold-at-edge behaviour once the cursor crosses an edge. Lower values give the user less time to make any corrections, but making this value too large results in missed edge-holds and Launcher reveals.

Cursor travels freely at velocities over 1000000 pixels/sec
In the prototype, we have prioritised easy, predictable Launcher reveals over travelling very quickly across the extended desktop. The user can still travel across the desktop fairly quickly, although they will be detained for a fraction of a second at any edges in the way. If you want to try out an alternative prioritisation (quick travel across the extended desktop, requiring a slower, more careful and deliberate targeting of the edge for a Launcher reveal), then drop this value down from the very high default value (which effectively disables this feature), to something in the region of 2000-5000 pixels/sec.

Hold cursor at right edge of displays (true)
We found that symmetric behaviour, with respect to holding the cursor on display edges, feels more natural, and also makes it easier to target items near the right edge of a display. However, this feature can be disabled, in order to evaluate whether less intervention on cursor movement might be preferable.

Show Launcher proximity shadow (true)
A shadow will appear at the left edge of a display to improve the discoverability and feedback for the Launcher. It grows out as the cursor approaches the edge, and then grows further still when the user pushes against the edge, providing feedback that the push is being recognised and the Launcher is about to reveal.

 

How It Works

You can check out how the prototype works by looking at the source code. If you know some C++ and Qt, you should hopefully be able to make some sense of it.

Fundamental to the interactions here, is the ability to determine when the user starts to push against an edge, and when they stop. We measure the duration of the push to see if we should reveal the Launcher or let the cursor through onto the next display. It is straightforward to determine when the push starts: we identify the first mouse move event which crosses a display edge. But how to determine when the push ends is more difficult. Jason Smith, on the DX team, came up with the neat solution of splitting the entire duration of the push into smaller time slices. For each time slice, we count the number of mouse move events coming in. As soon as a time slice expires which has collected no mouse events, then we have the end of our ‘push’.

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Stewart Wilson

Over the past few months we have been working on improving the multi-monitor experience in Ubuntu. We took the opportunity at UDS in November to get some feedback on a prototype, which shows how we are planning to develop the multi-monitor experience over the next few cycles:

Here is a short video of the prototype in action at UDS:

Multi-monitor prototype at UDS

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbwNMnNUGFA

We invested in a six monitor rig and the prototype to test a number of different display configurations and to ensure that our design ideas scale well. However, our main focus for Precise is to ensure that we deliver a reliable and supportive experience for the core use cases, such as connecting to a second display or projector, disconnecting displays and using a closed laptop with an external display.

So here is the Phase 1 specification, scoped for the next couple of cycles, incorporating the feedback we got from the prototype and sessions at UDS:

http://design.canonical.com/the-toolkit/unity-multi-monitor-interactions/

Work continues now on the prototype, which will be used to conduct usability testing on the launcher, spread, window management and workspace interactions for multiple monitor setups.  We will be publishing the prototype on this site (the Ubuntu prototype application, along with the Qt C++ source code) in the near future, so keep tuned for more Multiple Monitor news.

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Marcus Haslam

Mark Shuttleworth’s keynote this week at the Ubuntu Developer Summit includes introducing Juju, including a big slide showing off the new Juju logo. Below is the story of how that logo it came into being. The Juju project is done. We asked the Juju community to help, and out of out of love for the brand they responded:

Juju logo

Juju was finally released to all the Dev-Ops out there, and so it’s time for a little look back on how the Juju logo come into being. Four months ago in the middle of July 2011 the Design Team received a request for some help with a new logo. This was for a project what was just on the edge of the RADAR and nobody was quite sure how big it would get!

Abi R had a number of ideas for logos, the most interesting where the wavey “magic carpet” designs. After that Robbie introduces some ideas around the letter ‘e’ as the project has still called Ensemble at the time, and Abi had a couple of further goes at developing that into a cuboid concept to go with the atoms. These all got collected up and attached to the bug report that you can read.

Ensemble was about to get a rebrand, to become Juju. Juju is a west-African system of beliefs, and has the ‘u’ sound much more akin to the other ‘Ubuntu’ and “Unity’ words that the family projects working within Ubuntu tend to get. This is when the call went out to the Design blog for some new ideas. Martin Owens did a sun/shield design making use of the circle concept seen in the Ubuntu Circle of Friends, and the other suggestion from “Birdy” was for a concept around a flying bird.

Mark Shuttleworth also suggested something around the topic of “connections”. So with everything in the basket, from Flying Carpets to Flying birds when it was time to sit down and play with the designs. What you can see here is the first concept presented to Mark for review.

This didn’t really have the “connections” aspects (Juju is about magically plugging components together to semi-automatically build a bigger system). The other things that didn’t seem to work was the dots on the ‘j’s in the word ‘juju’, so what you see is a slightly modified version of the Ubuntu Font Family. There’s the circle, there’s the connections, and also the Canonical/Ubuntu “dots” at the joins. It’s spells “juju” in the logo if you unwrap it in the right way, and spells “WW” in morse code!

After all Juju can only do two thirds of the server configuration site to make a website for you, you still have to do the other third! Thanks all for the juju designs. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this as much as I enjoyed trying to put everyone’s ideas together into one pot.

To read more about Juju visit juju.ubuntu.com and learn how you can ‘charm’ even the largest cloud or cluster deployments.

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Iain Farrell

Last night I watched “Press Pause Play” which in it’s own words is a film about fear, hope and digital culture. If you’ve not heard the talk surrounding the movie one of the trailers is below and we’ll catch up once you’ve … well … caught up :)

Good huh? The interesting thing about Press Pause Play is that it speaks to people who are out in the world creating interesting things and discusses what the brave new world of powerful computers, amazing tools for creation and sharing of content and ideas instantly means for the creative arts. For better or worse anyone can be a film maker now or a photographer or web designer or musician. Install Ubuntu from a USB key, plug that computer into an internet connection and “Ta-Dahhh!” you’ve got instant access to tools which allow you to create amazing things. Or functional things. Or mundane things. Or robots … seriously … people are making robots and they’re using Ubuntu to do it.

The film is extremely good and I’d urge anyone interested how people make stuff today, music, art, film all that “stuff” to watch it. I also think there’s a lot in there for people passionate about free and open source software. The way that we create software, these tools, this approach, it’s helping people who’ve never met to collaborate and produce all sorts of things.

I found it an inspiring watch and best of all it’s available for free from www.presspauseplay.com just download, grab a cup of tea and enjoy. I had jelly babies too but don’t eat too many, you’ll be sick.

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Iain Farrell

Some of you may have already seen our new 11.10 video. For those who haven’t, we’ll catch you once you’ve enjoyed it :)

Made in Ubuntu using only open source tools – indeed only an open source font! – I’ve made the source assets available so readers of the blog and beyond can make their own versions to promote Ubuntu. Here’s what you’ll need to do to get started.

1. Download the assets files from my Ubuntu One share by clicking this link.

2. While that’s downloading you can also install Pitivi, the video editor I used, which is easily found in the software centre.

3. Uncompress the zip file and take a look at the contents.

The Assets folder contains, as the name suggests, all the video and PNG files I used to create my video. The what’s new .xptv file is the file that Pitivi uses to pull all the assets together and make the video and the template.xcf file is the GIMP file I used as a template for the text slides that appear in between the video clips.

4. Open the What’s new 11.10v2.xptv file and you’ll have to tell Pitivi where all the assets have gone. Just point it to the Assets folder and it’ll do the rest reconstructing the video.

At this point you have two choices. You can either reuse my video assets and just translate the text panels that come up in between the videos or, if you’re feeling really daring, you can use mine like a storyboard and re-record the videos.

Translating the text panels is the simplest route, simply open the template in Gimp and then save copies as PNG files with the same names as I’ve given them. Once you hit render Pitivi will pull in the new PNGs and, boom, you’ve got a video with translated text panels. Simple!

Recording your own videos is a little more time consuming. The way I did it was using a command line tool called recordmydesktop, available again in the software centre, which I found was pretty straightforward to use. It allowed me to specify what area of the screen to record from and could be launched either in the terminal or, when I didn’t want the terminal in the launcher, using ALT-F2 and then killing the process once I’d recorded the features I wanted to share.

The only other things I did while recording was make sure that any time you’re showing the clock it’s set to 11.10 and that the wifi and volume are always at maximum and bluetooth is always on.

We’d really like to translate this into as many languages as possible and Paolo, long time Ubuntu supporter in Italy has kicked us off with Italian translation of the video and we’d love for you guys to try translating it into your own languages, maybe even go and record your own videos. Paolo’s video is below, thanks again chap, we’re hoping you’ll inspire others!

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Iain Farrell

Every day just about everyone at Canonical gets email by the bucket load. Even someone like me who’s only peripherally involved in desktop development and files his own bugs through the release cycle can get get hundreds of emails from Launchpad every day. So it made our day to get a letter like this from Neil in Monroeville.

In his letter Neil says he’s been using Ubuntu since 8.10, praises Unity and also files a bug he’s experiencing with the launcher in 11.04!

Letter from America by Neil W. Kitzmiller

 

Neil, you don’t give us an email address but if you read this I’ve triaged your bug, marked it as confirmed and will be sending you a CD in the post which I hope will fix your problem :) Drop us an email if you can!

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Paul Sladen

To join the Ubuntu Monospace beta and give feedback, apply to the ubuntu-typeface-interest team on Launchpad and follow the PPA instructions after being accepted.

Timeline


Hardly a day has gone by in the last six-months without the design team being asking when the Ubuntu Mono monospace is going to be available. Like all of the work on the Ubuntu Font Family, the monospace has been working its way through the phased testing process, gradually being made available to more users, as issues are improved and developed. It’s now at the state where it’s ready to share with the early-access beta team. Depending on how many issues are found it can then proceed to being released via font.ubuntu.com and then finally into a future version of the Ubuntu operating system.

Development on the Ubuntu Mono started back in August/September 2010 with Amélie Bonet at Dalton Maag taking the lead. The Ubuntu Mono consists of four fonts: regular, bold, italic and bold-italic. The full set are true monospace fonts, each character being exactly 0.5em wide and 1.0em high, regardless of the weight. Just like a typewriter there are 12 characters per inch at 12 point. On a typewriter or line-printer, creating “bold” is a matter of printing over the top, building up the ink but keeping the same spacing. The Ubuntu Mono Bold follows this principle.


What took so long?

Making a font takes a really long time, for Ubuntu Mono it has also been necessary to re-learn and re-discover much of a lost-art behind monospace font design; hopefully the experiences from the development (recorded in the bug tracker and design blog) will help others working on monospace development in the future.

In a variable-width font, the letters ‘m’ and ‘w’ are much wider than the letters ‘i’ or ‘l’ leading to two problems. The wider characters must be squeezed to fit, and the narrow characters bulked-out to fill the space. Out of all of these, the Latin ‘i’ and ‘m’ have taken the most time, with many experiments run over several months to try and discern a solution (a compromise is going to be necessary somewhere).


To serif or not to serif?

  • Ubuntu Regular (proportional) on the top line, notice the ‘m’ and ‘@’, both much wider than the versions below. In a proportionally-spaced font the designer has a wide array of options in terms of setting the advance-width of a character, or optimising the kerning by setting customised spacing for certain pairs of letters next to each other (‘AV’, ‘Te’)
  • Ubuntu Mono Regular (fixed-width) in the middle, making characters work is not just a case of squeezing harder! One needs to find a designed alternative: the ‘m’ has a raised middle stem helping to keep the sensation of lightness and space, and for the at-sign (‘@’) the surrounding circle does half a revolution less, leaving the ‘a’ at the top instead of the bottom.
  • Ubuntu Mono Italic (fixed-width) at the bottom, is not just a slanted version of the monospace. The ‘a’ becomes single-storey matching the proportional italic and the letters ‘a’ ‘d’ ‘u’ gain tails in Latin. In Cyrillic Kursive (italic) the character forms often change completely.

The main Latin-based characters that vary are "j1flirt". In the end the ‘r’ was finalised without needing a serif, but the other glyphs have been provided with serifs of some form in order to “fill out” the whole of the cell in which they sit: the numeral ’1′ has a slab serif across the bottom, and for ‘f’ and ‘t’ the cross-bar goes the full width across instead of just the right-hand side. The commas and quotes also gain “typewriter” serif tails.


For more details (along with experimental the PDF diagrams) see bug #677134 (“Style: Mono: discern shape of serifs for i l t “). (Please try to have used the font by testing for one week in your normal use to help filter out knee-jerk reactions).

Where we are now

We need to test the readability of the font, particular the Cyrillic and Greek which have had less testing. We also need to test the technical aspects of the monospace font in as many terminals as possible, including the line-spacing. For this, a set of box-drawing and solid-fill characters have been included in the UbuntuBeta Mono. If working correctly when these are tiled side-by-side each should exactly touch, leaving no overlap and no gap.

This exact 2:1 ratio between height and width means that it can hopefully also be used as an 8×16 bitmap console font. Perhaps in a future version of Ubuntu you’ll be able to see Ubuntu Mono right from the moment the bootloader or CD menu appears! In order to do that, the fonts are being “hinted” to force optimised bitmap forms without “drop-outs” or gaps that appear from the fitting of the complex curve onto a low-resolution grid of pixels. As of this week Jason Campbell at Dalton Maag has handed over his hinted versions of Ubuntu Mono to Vincent Connare for tweaking. The most recent update from Vincent earlier today was “I am reviewing the Monospaced now!”, so hopefully that will reassure everyone that things are a-happening in the background!

Finally, remember that the Ubuntu Font Family is about quality, it’s better that we all get a high-quality monospace font in the long-run than to rush something out of the door too soon. Good things are worth waiting for!

Thank you to a commenter in a previous blog post for inspiring the title.

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Iain Farrell

This week we got a fun update from our traveling team member Ivanka! While passing through Dawson City in northern Canada Ivanka and Nick met Chalsie Warren and she recognised the Ubuntu stickers on their bike! This got me wondering whether we can track down the most extreme users starting with the most northerly Ubuntu user.

Do you know that person?

Are you that person?

Get in touch and let’s fill up this map! :D

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Iain Farrell

The real life dashboard on our wall in the office

Every 6 months the Ubuntu journey starts anew. Those of us entering yet another cycle assume that this all makes sense to the outside world but I like to post up dates on the wall in the office and write a blog post to give those new to the project, and some not so new, a handy reminder of the major milestones in each cycle.

Each release that we create has a cycle with certain key milestones in it. These milestones are broadly agreed before the previous release is even out the door and are almost always an exact copy of what came in the previous release. The schedule for our next release 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot can be found by following this handy link to the Ubuntu wiki.

Anyone wanting to contribute to Ubuntu needs to be aware of these dates, designers and developers alike, as dates like the feature and UI freezes are your deadlines for getting new goodness into the release. Miss this deadline and you’ve missed the October release. Like a train the Ubuntu release rolls out of town whether you’re on it or not, however, unlike those dreadful windows trains there’s another one along real soon – in another 6 months in fact! :)

For more information on the time based approach to projects head over to the wiki pages on the subject and hit us up in the comments if you have any questions!

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Charline Poirier

First and last impressions of Unity were that it was quite user-friendly, and pleasing in its design and ease of learning. The majority of participants left the session with very positive feelings and were looking forward to Unity’s release so they could download it. In short, participants in this testing session were considerably more positive about Unity than participants who tested the previous version in October.

This improvement, no doubt, is due to the significant changes we have made since the last testing, often in response to problems uncovered during that testing. Many of the serious issues discovered then have been resolved. Most significant, as it stands now, there are no longer any “show-stoppers”.

However, there are still a few interactions that were at odds with the product’s general ease of use.

Some important points to keep in mind

First, it appears that those of our participants who were Mac users seemed to have had more facility with the Unity interface than Windows users, especially those using anything previous to Windows 7. Generally, Windows users tended to rely on right click, and they sought menus from which they could find and launch applications as well as move and delete. They did not immediately take advantage of Unity’s visual assets. Accordingly, Windows users will need to be encouraged to manipulate icons and to develop a more physical relationship with Unity than the more text-heavy relationship they have with Windows.

Second, Unity’s concept of ‘Home’ (Nautilus file manager) is different for that of our users, even Mac users, and they did not immediately understand it. They had a tendency to go to the ‘Home’ icon, not only to find information about their computer, but for any programme or application they were looking for. Essentially, many navigated from one application to another using ‘Home’. For example, almost every participant first looked into ‘Home’ to find computer settings and to change their wallpaper.

Third, most participants were not able to figure out how to reveal the Launcher from the upper left corner. They immediately devised work-arounds, like closing windows or moving a window away from the left edge of the screen. They expected to be able to reveal the Launcher by approaching any point along the left side with their pointer. As the Launcher is one of the most important features of Unity, it should be either always visible or at least very easy to bring out.

Fourth, the Dash is hard to discover. The icon is too small and understated compared to the icons in the Launcher. By its size and placement, it is easily associated with the window management buttons. Participants who discovered the Dash found it very useful, but were more inclined to use Files and Applications Lenses at the bottom of the Launcher. This was, I’m convinced, partly due to the fact that there were no data, pictures, music or documents on the computer that they would want to access through the Dash at the time of the testing, whereas the Applications Lens, in early use, is more adapted to general exploration. The Dash needs to be more visible — it needs to be accorded its rightful place as a major feature of the interface.

Notwithstanding these small problems, it is fair to say that this test showed that we have made significant progress since the October testing.

Some Major Issues that Have Been Resolved since October

Visibility of icons at the bottom of the Launcher

During the April testing, participants experienced difficulty seeing the bottom of the Launcher when it was accordioned and then, when the Launcher expanded, it hid the bottom icons.  At the time of the testing, it was very difficult to reveal these bottom icons even by scrolling down. Recent updates have resolved this problem by making the Launcher automatically scroll down when users move the pointer down along it.  This way, the icons that were previously hidden are effortlessly revealed.

A related issue that has also been resolved is that, during testing, participants wanted to make the Launcher visible by touching any part of the left side border – whereas, in fact, the only way to reveal the Launcher was by reaching with the pointer to the upper left corner. With the updated version, users can now reveal the Launcher from any point on the left side of the screen.

Changing the order of icons in Launcher

During the October testing, when the interaction to move an icon in the Launcher was to select it and bring it outside of the Launcher before giving it a new position, many participants failed to do it.  The new interaction supports users’ natural way of moving an icon:  participants were able to move icons in the Launcher by selecting them and moving them vertically up and down.  It should also be noticed that the feedback provided when users select an icon they intend to move helps them understand that they have initiated an action.  Knowing that the icon has effectively been selected afforded them more freedom to move the icon around and to find a way to make it work.

Adding icons to the Launcher

Participants were able, even during the October testing, to drag and drop the icon of an application from the Applications Lens into the Launcher.  However, their first attempt, especially for Windows users, was to right click on the icon they intended to move and expect to be offered an option to attach to the Launcher in a drop down menu; and second, to look at the top of the Launcher for a ‘Launcher  menu’.

Identifying running applications

Most participants were able to see immediately which applications were running by means of the white arrows beside the icon in the Launcher.  However, they were not sure if they had made the right inference.  In short, although participants were unsure about the meaning of the white arrows and bars, they were able to figure them out which indicates that this is a feature easy to learn.

Changing the wallpaper

Most participants easily changed the wallpaper by right clicking on the desktop.

Deleting a document

Most participants easily deleted a document.

Detailed Summary of Benchmarking – Comparison of the October and April Test Results

The points above are the highlights of the findings. Let us now examine individually the differences in performance as revealed in the testing of last October and the one just completed in April.

Performance

October report:  “The level of performance in this regard significantly impaired the flow of use and the user experience.”
April testing:  Unity was quick and responsive.
Outcome:  This is fixed.

Multi-tasking: Having many items opened and accessing them

October report: “Thus, while working on a task, participants expected that Unity would provide them with a representation or visibility of what was available to them and how to easily access what they needed at any given point.”
April testing: No problems were observed with overlapping open applications and documents. Participants could easily move individual windows and reveal items placed underneath.
Outcome:  This is fixed.

General navigation

October report: “Overall, participants found the navigation to be cumbersome.”
April testing: Participants used Nautilus to find applications and documents as well as system settings. This is not, however, the most efficient way to do this.
The Files and Applications Lenses icons need to be more prominent in the Launcher.  However, participants found it easy to go from one document or window to another and to make them all visible to them.
Outcome:  In a recent update, the icon ‘Home’ (Nautilus) has been renamed ‘File Manager’ and the icon has been modified to downplay the home relationship.  This should help users recognise its role and lead them to look for an alternative place for system settings and other programmes and applications.

Minimising a window

October report:  “When participants minimised a document, the document seemed to have disappeared when they expected it to be shown at the bottom of the screen.”

April testing:  A few participants still expected to see a trace of their minimised document at the bottom of their screen.
Outcome:  Since the usability sessions this interaction has been updated to show the window minimised into its Launcher icon even when the Launcher is hidden.  This should help users to locate their minimised documents and windows.

Awareness of running applications

October report:  “Participants did not always see the white arrows that indicate a programme is running or documents are opened. Consequently, they were not aware of what was available to them.”
April testing:  Almost all our participants were able to tell which applications were running by looking at the white arrows. However, some were not sure at first and needed to ‘try it out’.  So they opened and closed windows and applications to check on the behaviour of the icon in the Launcher.
Outcome:  The white arrows seem to be working well once they have been discovered.  Although they are not obvious, users can figure them out.  This is easily learnable.

Displaying documents side by side

October report:  “No participant could find a way to resize his/her openoffice documents in such a way that they could be placed side by side while working on both at the same time.”
April testing:  Except for one, all participants were able to display two documents side by side. However,  as noted above, they were not able to discover the semi-maximised state.
Outcome:  The original problem is fixed.  In the new design of Unity, participants have a way to display their documents side by side and to work on them simultaneously.  The semi-maximised state is not readily discoverable.  Unfortunately, users are not yet taking full advantage of what Unity offers.

Overview of computer

October report:  “Many participants wished they could have an overview of what resides in various parts of their computer, as is facilitated by Windows’ ‘my computer’.”
April Testing:  This is still a problem. Participants in the April sessions were still looking for a place where they could do systems setting and have an overview of their computer.
Outcome:  None of the participants discovered the ‘system settings’ option in the top right indicators menu. Users need an icon either in the Launcher or in the indicator area, or a folder in Nautilus.

  • Bug #764744 (“Add system setting icon to Launcher”)

Delete a document

October report: “Participants could not delete existing documents from their files and folders. “
April testing:  Everyone was able to delete a document that was no longer wanted.
Outcome:  This is fixed. One remaining problem is that many participants cannot see the Rubbish Bin at the bottom of the Launcher.  They used other ways to delete, like pressing the delete key.

  • Bug #764751 (“Launcher – when Launcher contained folded icons, partcipants weren’t able to find the rubbish bin”)

Copy and paste

October report: “Copy and paste from one document to another didn’t always work for participants.”
April testing:  Everyone was able to copy and paste from one document to another.
Outcome:  This is fixed.

Lack of feedback

October report: “Unity is often slow, and as a result participants tended to be confused about what was going on.”
April testing:  Overall, and as noted earlier, the performance of Unity was much better and the system responded more readily to users’ commands. Some issues remain with feedback, however, for example, with the Rubbish Bin.  Participants wanted to be alerted, either with sound or a message that their document had been moved to the Bin.
Outcome:  Confirmative feedback is necessary whenever users complete an action, like deleting a file.

  • Bug #750311 (“Launcher – When a item is deleted by dragging to Trash, the trash should pulse once before the Launcher disappears”)

Nautilus search

October report: “When searching, participants didn’t know what the field and scope were that were covered by the search engine they were using.”
April testing
: Many participants searched for applications successfully. However, there are still problems with search. Participants made inappropriate searches, for instance in Nautilus, searching for Sudoku (search that pertained to Applications Lens) and they did not get the results they expected.
Outcome:  This is partially fixed.  Some issues with search are related to participants’ understanding of the structure of Unity. There should be some guidance hinting at the limitation of the search and thus, the kind of results that can be expected from the various search boxes in the various parts of Unity.

Adding an icon to Launcher

October report:  “Many participants were not able to add a short-cut of an application to the Launcher.”
April testing:  Most participants were able, this time, to add an icon to the Launcher. Windows users, however, had more difficulties than the others did; they tended to look for options in various menus or right clicking on the icon.
Outcome:  This is partially fixed.  The interaction is quite intuitive but, some users (particularly those using earlier versions of Windows) will require more guidance.

Reordering icons in Launcher

October report: “Most participants failed to reorganise the order of icons in the Launcher.“
April testing:  A few participants experienced some difficulty reordering icons in the Launcher because they did not have sufficient feedback to understand when the icon had actually been selected so that they could proceed vertically.  Consequently, they tried to move the icon too quickly after clicking on it and the icon did not respond.
Outcome:  This has been fixed in the latest update by providing feedback on selection – the interaction shows the icon as if it was detached from the Launcher – and by allowing users to move the icons vertically within the Launcher.

Finding the Dash

October report:  “The majority of participants who found the Dash found it by accident. They were not sure what it was, and didn’t know how they had gotten there if they accidentally had.”
April testing:  Participants still cannot readily find the Dash.
Outcome:  The Dash needs to be made more visible and promoted as a major feature of Unity, on a par at least with the icons of the Launcher.

  • Bug #764771 (“The BFB is visually lost and his position does not communicate its importance”)

Ubuntu Software Centre

The same features of the Software Centre were not tested this time because everyone agrees on its need for redesign and its existing usability problems. Nevertheless, some issues emerged in the course of testing other interactions.
April testing:  The Software Centre is still not recognized and, during testing, was mistaken for ‘systems control’.
Outcome:  The Software Centre needs to have a different look and feel and general presentation. Needs redesign.

Changing the wallpaper

October report:  “Many participants did not succeed in changing their wallpaper because the default screen of appearance was open in full screen by default.”
April testing
:  Almost all participants were able to change the wallpaper by right clicking on the desktop. Furthermore, one participant who was able to find ‘appearance’ had no problem changing the wallpaper because now, the screen opens in a way to provide visibility of the background.  The October usability problem was thus, fixed.  However, a new problem emerged.

In the April test, the target feature was, in fact, the ease of use of the Applications Lens by means of changing the wallpaper. Most participants were not able to change the wallpaper by finding ‘Appearance’ in the Applications Lens.  They were looking for ‘system settings’ to do that operation.
Outcome: The initial problem with the appearance screen covering up the immediate change of wallpaper and so, hiding the change from users, has been resolved.  Now, by default, the appearance screen does not open full screen.  In the April test, however, users could not find their ’system settings’, where they expected to make these changes.  Furthermore,  many participants did not think of system settings as an application and, thus, were not confident to find it in the Applications Lens.  Unity needs to provide obvious access to ‘system setting’ and make a distinction in the Application Lens between applications and other programmes.

Visibility of Files and Folders and Applications Lenses and  Rubbish Bin

October report:  “Participants thought that the grey icons at the bottom of the Launcher were inactive.”
April testing: These icons still have issues of visibility, especially when they are folded at the bottom. For example, most participants did not find the Rubbish Bin.  Another usability problem that arose from interacting with the Launcher is that some participants found it difficult to interact with the bottom part of the Launcher.  They found that it was ‘a long way to go’ to the Rubbish Bin or the Lenses when the Launcher was populated with many icons.
Outcome:  These icons still need more visibility. Changing the colour, and perhaps even changing their position in the Launcher, might help.

  • Bug #764751 (“Launcher – when Launcher contained folded icons, partcipants weren’t able to find the rubbish bin”)

Some Usability Issues that Have Arisen from Some of Our New Design

Top Menu Bar

The top menu bar is actually a new design.  There was some confusion about the role of the top menu bar: Participants wondered if it pertained to ‘the computer’ or to the application they had open at the time. When participants had many windows opened, they did not understand that the bar corresponded to the selected window.

System Settings

During testing, I encouraged participants to change their wallpaper in another way than by right clicking on the desktop to see if they could find ‘appearance’ in the Applications Lens.  Finding system settings programmes in the Applications Lens is not intuitive. Most participants did not succeed in changing the wallpaper by going into the Applications Lens. They were looking for a ’system settings’ icon in the Launcher or somewhere in the ‘Home’ at the top of the Launcher.  Those who went into the Applications Lens, did not expect to see ‘system settings’ in that area because they did not think of system settings as applications and accordingly they did not explore.  No one discovered the ‘system settings’ option in the drop down menu under the ‘turn off’ icon in the indicators menu bar.

Notification of message

This is also a new feature since the October testing.  The majority of participants did not see the notification that they had received a message. The change in colour of the icon was not noticed.  However, some noticed the change in the icon in the Launcher, in this case the Xchat, and they induced, by looking at the number that appeared on the icon, that they had received a message.  However, when the Launcher is invisible, participants were not aware that they had a message.

This said, a couple of participants saw the notification and the change in colour of the envelop in the notification area.  They had a strong positive impression of the feature.  It seems that in this case, it might be a question of making the change in the notification area more prominent.

Semi-maximised state

Again, semi-maximised state is another new feature.  Semi-maximised state is not readily discoverable. Only one participant discovered it. This participant was a Windows 7 user and said that there is the same feature in Windows 7. Two other participants interpreted the blue preview shadow as signalling that they were about to make a mistake or to do something not allowed by the system. The preview shadow was interpreted as a warning.  Users need both guidance and reassurance here.

We are doing better with the user’s experience and our users are closer to adoption

Overall, participants left with a strong positive impression of Unity after having tried it for 60 minutes.  Some of their closing comments:

“I like the layout and the screen (…) I want to customise it myself quite easily. It would be good to have a tutorial. (…) I like minimise and the fact that you can move things around. I like the casual font, aesthetically, it looks nice and it is easy to use. Nothing is really difficult. The important things are there and easy to use. It is nice.” [P1]
“The reason it was annoying today is because it is a new package. I like the design and layout. Design is important to me. It is quite clear. (…) “I would like more time to play around with it. It’s Ubuntu, I haven’t used it. This is new, the way I learn is by playing with it. (..) It’s good to use something that is a bit more independent. I like the idea that we can do things rather than being locked down in something more siloed like Windows or Mac. I would like to get it.” [P2]
“I prefer this set up to the start menu. I like the icons. We are a generation to see things with icons. I think there is a lot of significant gesture, like saving documents and I would not have any problem doing these activities. I really like the dragging format. I like to be able to order what I want. I think it is much easier than Windows. With Windows you have to go down menus. (…) I don’t think it’s complicated but it would take some time [to get use to it]. I’ve been working it out in an hour. It’s very user friendly. Even within the hour, I’ve learned a lot about how to do different things.” [P3]
“I really quite like it. I think it’s intuitive with the exception of the favourites, making an application a favourite. I would not be baffled to use it without a manual. I like the look of the desktop. It is modern. It looks like a Mac more than Windows. It’s quick.” [P5]
[About the Software Centre] “I didn’t anticipate to have access that easily to new apps. Also, I like the rating on the side. It’s quite helpful, I can see what I can trust. That’s quite nice.” [P5]
“It’s OK. Quite intuitive but I was going from what I know from Windows. I use the right click a lot, it’s nice to have it on the side. Generally this looks pretty good. It’s a bit more intuitive, for me, though, the right click is vital. It always brings up a good menu.” [P9]
“I think it’s very pretty, very pleasing as it were.” [P11]
“It’s quick and responsive. It’s very responsive, different from what I use, it would take a day or two to get acquainted. I wouldn’t be discouraged. I would rather spend time than pay money.” [P12]

In the summary of their experience post usability testing, participants also highlighted their main difficulties. It is meaningful that, at the end of the session, the following first came to mind:

“I don’t like the dragging in Launcher up and down. I mean I didn’t realise at first this is what I needed to do. It’s difficult to get to the Bin. It’s not easy to get to the top from the Bin, it is hard to drag things down a long way. I don’t like the dropping down.” [P1]
“My frustrations: I would like to know how to change the settings, I expect a button to change wallpaper clicking on a button right at the top. (…) The menu at the top bugged me.” [P2]
“I didn’t like when I have things minimised. There are many things I can’t do without maximising the screen.” [P3]
“It is hard to delete a file in this way. (…) You don’t find the menu bar and you don’t know what’s open.” [P4]
“I don’t know how to make the Launcher visible [when a window is opened]. I’m struggling a bit. This window [Dash] has a tendency to disappear.” [P5]
“I hated the Files and Folders, I didn’t know what it would do when I click on it, if it will open or just let me select it. I wasn’t able to select a document.” [P8]
[About the wallpaper] “I couldn’t find it. I wouldn’t have thought of it as an application for some reason.” [P10]
“I suppose my main thing is what I expected to have in terms of applications and control panel. I couldn’t find it. If I could have found this at the beginning life would have been a lot simple. I feel like I feel with Apple, I feel a bit stupid because I can’t do the things I normally do with my PC. I like things in words a lot, I like the drop down menu. This is interesting because this is generally shown with an icon.” [P11]
“I’m frustrated that I can’t find something like ‘my computer’. I want to find information about ‘my computer’ and what the hardware is, the driver versions, and I want to know if there are updates on Explorer. Here you need to go into ‘control panel’ to see if there are any updates. I still can’t figure it out.” [P12]

You  can also download a PDF of the full report by clicking on this link.

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Paul Sladen

We always knew Google Maps was good! Canonical and Ubuntu are a global organisation and there’s always somebody awake somewhere. Today that somebody was Jono Bacon, staying up late on the west coast of the United States. Before anyone in the UK was even awake there was a tweet saying that the Google satellites had spotted the early arrival of a yellow Narwhal in the River Thames just outside the London Millbank Tower Canonical offices. Google Maps did indeed prove its accuracy; when we looked out of the window from the 27th floor down towards Lambeth Bridge there was a visitor:

Narwhale Visiting Lambeth Bridge.  As seen from Canonical UK Ltd offices, 27th Floor Millbank Tower, London on 2011-04-01

Narwhal visiting Lambeth Bridge, seen from the Canonical Offices.

In Ubuntu we like to publicly test everything, yesterday the hundreds of people working on Ubuntu released Ubuntu 11.04 Beta 1. Canonical’s head of PR has informed us that just like the release, the Narwhal visit has been carefully orchestrated as part of the press activities for the final Ubuntu 11.04 release later in April. This 1st visit is a “beta” run to recheck whale head-room clearances under the bridges at low-tide.

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