Canonical Voices

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Inayaili de León Persson

This post is part of the series ‘Making ubuntu.com responsive‘.

The rules document we drafted proved a useful and good guide for those few development days, and a proof of concept was created and presented to the rest of the team.

When we all sat down to review the result, a few things were clear:

  • Even though lots (and lots) of tweaks and design thinking were needed, our desktop style guide did not look bad at all in small screens — the result was promising
  • The main places where things looked broken were custom hero and background images
  • Some one-off overriding styles applied in some pages did not play well in small screens, as they might have been added in absolute sizes (like pixels) or weren’t flowing as they should
  • Some pages that were long on the desktop quickly became very long at small screen sizes

First responsive prototypeFirst ubuntu.com responsive prototype.

Since this was a ‘quick and dirty’ test of some common-sense responsive rules, a lot had not been done in the code that would eventually have to be done, such as:

  • Refactoring the original Sass files to be mobile-first
  • Cleaning up the existing Sass files as much as possible: as websites grow, the need for custom, one-off exceptions increases, so we needed to set aside some time to rationalise some of these sneaky overrides

However, the exercise showed us that our existing framework was indeed flexible enough to be converted to be responsive, but it also showed us that we still had a lot of work to do!

Read the next post in this series: “Making ubuntu.com responsive: pilot projects”

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Inayaili de León Persson

This post is part of the series ‘Making ubuntu.com responsive‘.

Making www.ubuntu.com responsive has been an ongoing goal of ours for a while, and we’ve been discussing and preparing for it for over a year. However, the rest of the world doesn’t wait, and the work doesn’t stop coming in!

We knew that a couple of other projects, namely Ubuntu Resources and the new Canonical site, were going to have to be completed before the main site, and that they would have to follow mobile-first and responsive philosophies, which posed a few questions:

  • How were we going to manage three consecutive projects trying to find solutions for similar problems?
  • Which project was going to influence which? If we did something new on a new project, how was that going to affect ubuntu.com in the future?
  • In the case of canonical.com, the site structure was much simpler than ubuntu.com: how would solutions developed for such a case apply to something more complex?
  • Ubuntu Resources had a start date before the responsive ubuntu.com project, but a completion deadline after it: how would this impact the responsive solutions we were going to try to come up with?

These and other questions seemed to us tricky to solve at the time. However, we had time and resourcing constraints, and deadlines that we just had to work with.

In the end, the work that we did (and are still doing) on the two other sites helped and influenced the work that we’d be doing on ubuntu.com.

Ubuntu Resources

We launched the alpha version of Ubuntu Resources in November last year. This was our first look into creating a mobile-first website. We’ve recently released the beta version, which is still focused on improving the small screen experience. Right now, we are working on the medium screen size layouts of the site, which should be going live very soon.

Even though work on this project started before work on responsive ubuntu.com, we knew the deadline for completion of its final stages (adapted to large screen sizes) was likely to be after the first release of the retrofitted ubuntu.com.

Ubuntu Resources beta homepageUbuntu Resources homepage.

These are some of the lessons we’ve learnt whilst working on this project:

  • To save space at the top of the screen and allow for more content to be visible, the global navigation (which links to other sites within the Ubuntu universe) could be relegated to the bottom of the screen, in small screens. To keep its visibility, we added a link from the site’s main navigation
  • Simply decreasing the typographic scale that we were using in our style guide wasn’t enough for small screens. We had to slightly reduce the largest sizes and increase the smallest ones to improve readability
  • Space is at a premium in small screens, so we massively reduced row and box padding and margins between elements
  • We’ve reused the grid from the Ubuntu phone, which divides the portrait phone screen in 40 square grid units (horizontally) and where spaces between elements are usually counted as one or more grid units. Since the objective was to have a more condensed version of margins and padding across the small screen version of the site, using this grid allowed for more flexibility, with much smaller spaces between elements, without having to create a new grid — reuse and recycle!
  • It was important to keep the strong Ubuntu brand at the top of the screen, even on small screens, and to keep the navigation as straightforward to use as possible. This meant keeping the Ubuntu orange navigation background and a clear Ubuntu logo (when at first we tried a simplified version of the logo without the Ubuntu wordmark, user feedback revealed landing on the site was confusing, as they didn’t recognise the simplified logo or why the word “resources” was in the navigation)

Phone gridThe phone grid.

Ubuntu Resources navigation before
Ubuntu Resources navigation afterBefore (top) and after (bottom) Ubuntu Resources navigation: with and without the full Ubuntu logo.

Canonical.com

Early this year we launched the new and improved canonical.com, which is mobile-first and responsive.

While we were working on canonical.com, work on Ubuntu Resources was paused, which meant we could borrow some of the learnings from Resources but we’d need to find solutions to other problems we hadn’t yet addressed, such as scaling from small to medium and large screen sizes and defining those breakpoints.

From this project, we took away:

  • The medium screen size font sizes, again slightly adjusted for readability
  • Improved spacing between elements and padding on medium sized screens, which can be larger than in smaller screens, but slightly tighter than large screens
  • The use of the new folded paper background, developed for the phone designs
  • The use of flat colour blocks (mainly white and dark aubergine) to divide content, as opposed to divider lines
  • The use of SVG images for interface elements and icons, and a PNG fallback for non-supporting browsers
  • Patterns for reflowing images next to text in small screens: in most instances, when the image is to the left of the text, it can be moved above it in smaller screens; if the image is to the right of the text, it can be moved below it in smaller screens
  • An accordion pattern for small screens and tabs for larger screens

Margins in small, medium and large screensFrom left to right: comparison between margins and padding in small, medium and large screens.

Folded paper backgroundThe new folded paper background.

Small and large tabsTabs in small screens (left) and large screens (right).

Once canonical.com was launched, it was time to get back onto making ubuntu.com responsive. We felt that testing out ideas and strategies in smaller responsive projects before going full speed on our largest site was a positive experience, and would advise teams in similar scenarios to try and follow a similar strategy if the prospect of starting with your most popular site seems daunting or is simply impractical.

Read the next post in this series: “Making ubuntu.com responsive: lessons learned”

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Inayaili de León Persson

This post is part of the series ‘Making ubuntu.com responsive‘.

The front end framework that powers www.ubuntu.com represents the visual evolution of the site over the past few years: designs have become cleaner, lighter and more open. It was designed without responsiveness in mind, but it has proven flexible, robust and great for our needs: user experience designers can quickly create wireframes for new and updated pages based on existing patterns and developers can create new pages that look good with little input from designers.

Web style guideWeb style guide front page.

Even though the framework uses a fixed-width container to wrap the content, the containers within it were built to percentages, which means that if that surrounding container were to be removed, the site would become fluid.

Ubuntu.com with no wrapperOne page of the current site without a wrapping container.

We didn’t want to lose the work that has been put into this style guide. After a long discussion, we agreed that even though we were going to convert the CSS powering the site into mobile-first — so the media queries would be added for larger screen sizes instead of the other way around —, we were going to keep the desktop version as it was initially defined in the style guide.

This is likely a restriction that many other teams share: where there is a will and need to make an existing site responsive, but no budget and/or resources to start from scratch.

We decided that it would be a good idea if our developers, Anthony, Graham, and Karl, could sit in a room for a few days and create a ‘quick and dirty’ prototype of what our current site, using the current styles, would look like in a responsive world.

The main goals of this exercise were:

  1. To see how disastrous, or indeed how well, the style guide would play when a handful of responsive guidelines were applied
  2. To give the developers a better understanding of the effort required and issues involved in converting the existing stylesheets into a mobile-first, responsive format

We created a Google doc, structured in the same way as our style guide, where we laid out some rules that would get the developers started on the prototype.

The document started with the more broad and general rules:

  • Try to create breakpoints that fit our content, instead of just random device-specific sizes
  • Try to keep breakpoints to a minimum, with fluid designs in between each breakpoint

We then laid out some scaffolding (layout and grid) rules:

  • Content that is divided in half or thirds should convert into single column when it becomes too narrow
  • If the content is divided into quarters, there might be a step in the middle (halfs)
  • In rows that include an image to the left or right of the text, the image should move above or below the text, respectively
  • Hero images might need to be looked at individually rather than a single rule for all
  • Experiment reducing padding inside rows and boxes incrementally as the screen size decreases
  • Remove column dividers at smaller screen sizes

We then moved on to forms rules:

  • Our forms are already quite vertical, at this stage, make sure we are using correct HTML5 input types

And tables rules:

And finally JavaScript rules:

  • No forcing of equal-height boxes
  • Make tabbed content into expanding/collapsing accordion widgets

Many of our styles didn’t need changing at this stage and this was all written down in the doc too.

We also knew that, at this point, we couldn’t look into trickier problems such as the navigation, the typographic scale or how our multiple footers would play in a small screen, so we decided to leave this for later.

Multiple navigation levels in ubuntu.com
Multiple footers on ubuntu.com

Navigation and multiple footers were too complex an issue to be solved at this early stage.

Now it was time for the developers, with this doc in hand, to take a first go at making www.ubuntu.com responsive!

Read the next post in this series: “Making ubuntu.com responsive: making the rules a reality”

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Inayaili de León Persson

Making ubuntu.com responsive: intro (1)

We’ve known for a while it was time to convert our main site, www.ubuntu.com, into a responsive site, and we’re now nearing the end of the project!

The main www.ubuntu.com site receives millions of visitors every month and it holds information on the variety of Ubuntu products and services, allowing people to download Ubuntu, get in touch with Canonical or find support.

In an ideal scenario, if you were going to convert a non-responsive site into a responsive one, you would start from scratch and do everything right and perfectly from the beginning. But what would be the fun in that?

In reality, starting from scratch on a site the size of ubuntu.com is just not practical or easily achievable. We evolve, grow and iterate the site constantly for releases, upgrades, launches and design updates. It is a living, breathing site, and we can’t really afford to stop, and start again. We realise other teams will also be faced with this reality, so we want to share the journey we have taken and some lessons we learned along the way.

In this series of posts, we’ll document the process we’re following in making that transition. We hope to give others an insight into what’s going on behind the scenes, the obstacles we’re facing, the solutions we’ve tried, the questions we have, and basically the nitty gritty of a real world responsive retrofitting project.

We will be covering:

  1. Intro (this post!)
  2. Setting the rules
  3. Making the rules a reality
  4. Pilot projects
  5. Lessons learned
  6. Scoping the work
  7. Approach to content
  8. Making our grid responsive
  9. Adapting our navigation to small screens
  10. Dealing with responsive images
  11. Updating font sizes and readability
  12. Ensuring performance
  13. JavaScript considerations
  14. Testing on multiple devices

I’ll update the list above with links to new posts as we go along. We’d love to hear your thoughts, questions and solutions you’ve tried in your own projects, and how we can make this series more useful: leave your comments below, and we hope you enjoy the posts!

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Tom Macfarlane

Last month at Mobile World Congress Ubuntu’s presence was stronger than ever. Our third year at MWC and we made some significant design changes to our stand.

In such a large exhibition space, strong branding is key. We designed five large banners – made from fabric and stretched across metal frames – that were suspended above the stand. Each banner was then individually illuminated by a series of spotlights creating maximum impact and high level brand presence, while still maintaining the stands open and welcoming feel.

MWC_blog_1

The back walls and a new hanging aisle banner all featured the folded paper background with large graphics showcasing app and scope designs from the phone and tablet. We also dedicated one wall to the Ubuntu Carrier Advisory Group (CAG).

MWC_blog_visual

Continuing our clean and precise design approach we used the Ubuntu shape (the squircle) to create bespoke pods, reception desk and demo unit – with warm white LED down lighting around the top and base and lightboxes to illuminate the Circle of Friends on the reception desk.

CAN MWC Reception Desk RevA.vwx

Integrating elements from our phone and tablet design across print and 3D environments builds a strong brand/design coherence in everything we do. We’re very happy with the new stand design and feedback from MWC has been very positive.

http://news.softpedia.com/news/Ubuntu-s-Booth-at-MWC-2014-Looks-Spectacular-428834.shtml

MWC_blog_2

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Michal Izydorczyk

Ubuntu 14.04 LTS wallpaper

Hey

For the last couple of weeks we’ve been working on the new Ubuntu Wallpaper. It is never easy trust me. The most difficult part was to work out the connection between the old wallpapers and the new look and feel – Suru. The wallpaper has become an integral part of the ubuntu brand, the strong colours and gradated flow are powerful important elements. We realised this when looking from a distance at someone laptop it really does shout UBUNTU.

We spent some time looking at our brand guidelines as well as previous wallpaper thinking how to connect the old with the new and how to make the transition smooth. I did start with simple shapes and treated them as a separate sheets of paper. After a while we moved away from that idea simply because Suru is about simplicity and minimalism.
When we got the composition right we started to play with colours, we tried all our Ubuntu complimentary colours but we were not entirely happy. Don’t get me wrong ;) they did look nice but it didn’t feel like a next step from our last wallpaper…

wallpaper_blog_post

And here some examples of the things I was exploring…

wallpaper_blog_post

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Daniel Oliver

Loving the bottom edge

The bottom edge is the most pleasurable edge to use. Grab a phone, any phone, and slide your thumb up over the bottom edge, then back. Go on, do it a few times. Feel good? Yeah, our extensive research suggests this feels pretty amazing to pretty much everyone.

Hmmm…. Feels good!

That’s why we’ve given the bottom edge to you, the developer, for your app. It’s the best one and we thought you could make the best use of it. If you want to create a truly “Ubuntu!” experience for your app you’ll want to invest in thoughtful but also creative interpretations of this edge in your app.

In fact, getting THIS ONE THING perfect is the most important thing you do when you bring your app to Ubuntu. Pretty much everything else is just… you know, obvious. But creating a bottom edge experience that is exactly perfect for your app and consistent with our values is where the magic happens.

Be perfect, be yourself, be exciting

There is no one answer for “the bottom edge”. There are definitely some values we can apply to judge if it’s a GREAT bottom edge, and there are several patterns that you’ll see, but you should start with a blank canvas and set yourself the goal of making your bottom edge experience YOURS.

Just to get the creative juices flowing, here are three great examples:

Think phases. Go beyond “one thing” in the gesture

The bottom edge swipe very naturally lends itself to what we call a “ranged gesture”. This is a gesture where going further does more. In other words, a great bottom edge will often be more than a simple transition. For example, you are unlikely to be great if you just reveal a toolbar, or pause a movie. You’ve got the opportunity to take several (well, two, at most three) logical “steps” on the way from the bottom edge up to the full stretch of the thumb.

Progression

 

 

When we design ranged gestures, though, we have to do a couple of things right to make them feel slick.

1. Make them connect smoothly

If your bottom edge gesture is going to have two phases, make sure that you pick two things which are related, so that the second one feels like a natural extension of the first.

A good example is the way we use the left edge: a little bit of left edge shows your *favourite* apps, a lot shows you ALL the apps. Seeing “all the apps” is a natural place to go if seeing your favourite apps wasn’t enough… it’s “more apps”. That makes a really good ranged gesture.

If the second phase was totaly unrelated to the first, it would feel jarring. Don’t do that!

Some examples of great ranged gestures:

  1. In a movie player, start with the player controls, then go further to reveal the chapter selection, and maybe even further to pop out of the movie to show other movies available on the device.

  2. In a map, use the bottom edge to zoom out. This is very sexy because the further you go the further you zoom, and zooming back is very naturally a tap where you want to zoom in.

  3. In a calendar, use the bottom edge to go from day to week to month to year view, like zooming out in time.

  4. In a turn-based game, use the bottom edge to pause the game and present game options.

  5. Go radial – present a radial menu of 5 top actions. Make it fade in beautifully so people want to use the bottom edge just to see those things show up. Make it fast so you just have to slide to one of them and release to invoke the action. Slick. Fast. Yum.

2. Be reversible. Let people change their mind easily.

Your user might not have intended to invoke the bottom edge, so it should always be possible for them to change their mind before they let go and slide back down, at which point their app is unchanged, they haven’t switched mode or done anything that they have to undo. Sliding back down is like saying “Oops, not down this corridor!” and you should respect that perfectly.

So, don’t pause or commit to any change until the finger is lifted off the screen – make sure that someone can unwind the use of the edge just by changing direction.

Actually… I don’t need to create a new note

3. Make it visually sexy

This is a FANTASTIC opportunity to show off some really beautiful visual design and motion graphics skills. A really beautiful set of transitions or effects will make people say “ooooh!”. If you get this really right, you’ll see people showing their friends that experience. “Check this out!”. “Ooooooh”. “Do it again!”. “Aaaaah.”, “Can I try?”…. that’s what you want to get when you show it to friends and family before you reveal it to the world.

Trust us, there are a million options for you, but to make it really work well will take a lot of thought and testing…. but it’s definitely worth it! Remember the “desktop cube” and how much fun it was to show people that? Now imagine getting the same reaction to your bottom edge… that’s what you’re shooting for.

The very best bottom edge experience will have movement associated with every tiny move of your finger. It will feel “on rails”, as you move your finger up it feels like you are totally in control of the scene that is unfolding, all the way up to the point where the final phase of your experience “clicks” into place, the final commit.

4. Hint, reveal, commit

We have a pattern we call “hint, reveal, commit”. For any substantial change that a gesture might drive, we want first to hint that it will happen, then we want a stretch of the gesture which reveals the first part of the change without actually making it happen, and finally we want a “click” which is the commit.

hint reveal commit A good example is the launcher. First, we show a shadow. If you just tap at the edge, all you see is that shadow, briefly. That’s the hint. There is “something on the edge”. If you slide a little bit from the edge, you start to see the launcher and the app dims slightly. That’s the reveal, it tells you what’s coming, but still lets you change your mind. And finally, before the launcher is fully revealed, there is a point at which it “clicks” into place. That’s the commit. Letting go of the screen after the commit, you KNOW you will have the launcher.

left edgeHint. Reveal. Commit.

Now, here’s the fun part. With a ranged gesture, you want to think about hint, reveal, commit for EACH PHASE of the gesture. It’s OK for the commit of one phase to immediately give you a hint of the next – you are, after all, in mid-gesture. In fact, that’s what we usually do ourselves, we show the second phase hint at the same time as the first phase commit.

The reveal is usually the place where  you want to make it feel like the user is in total control: have something that tracks the movement of the finger up the screen; it could be fading something in, or moving something in response to that movement. The important thing is that every tiny movement of the finger should reveal more, or less, until the commit.

Prioritise. Really, PRIORITISE

You have one bottom edge. Only one. It’s the sexiest thing for a user to do. They can even do it without looking where they are pressing – it’s an instinctive thing, pure muscle memory.

So you should think carefully about what’s REALLY IMPORTANT and CENTRAL in your app. Maybe there is something that the user will do all the time and you want to make it easy for them to do it fast, no hunting and pecking for buttons. Maybe there’s a natural “zoom out” expression in your app (those are usually good if you can make them beautifully visual). There is only one first phase to your bottom edge, it’s the first thing people will try – make it great, choose wisely!

quick draw

Provide a visual cue

Having a magical bottom edge that nobody discovers is no fun at all!

We can’t guarantee that every app will use the bottom edge. Some apps will be so straightforward that a bottom edge experience would be superfluous – just for show. And we don’t want that.

So users can’t be CERTAIN there is a bottom edge worth trying. That’s risky, because if they try  it a few times and get no result, they’ll stop trying it for apps which DO have a great bottom edge. So, you want to provide some sort of cue that it’s worth their while to give it a go.

Sometimes you can provide that cue as part of a transition into the app. You could show the stuff that’s in there, and animate it away into the edge after a few seconds during the app launch, so people know its there. That might be enough.

You might also want to leave a visual cue on the screen all the time. If you do, though, keep it REALLY small. Just a hint, just a clue, just a taste. For example, you might have a teeny little tab with a (+) on it if that edge holds the magic for adding something. Or you might have a teeny tab with the word “London” on it, if the bottom edge will reveal more cities, starting with London. Or just a highlighted line might do the trick.

visual hint

Be creative on the cue. Make it fit with the story you are telling. There are a million possibilities and only one is best for your particular design. Have fun, but don’t forget the cue!

Common patterns

Yes, if you’re stuck for inspiration, there are a few common patterns you might want to consider. We put this LAST because we really think you want to be inspired by the essence of YOUR APP, not just following a pattern that works elsewhere, in case you miss a chance to invent something really great for yourself and for others.

Zooming out

Many apps have the idea of an “outer” layer, or levels. Maps are an obvious case, calendars also have the idea of a “wider view” (days, weeks, months, years). But the concept of “taking a step back from the coal face” is very common. For example, in a word processor, you might step back to switch between files. In a browser, you might step back to switch between tabs. In a game, you might step back to change settings or invite a friend to play. In Evernote, stepping back from the current note might show you other notes in the same album, or other albums altogether.

By scaling down the content (objects, time, space) we offer a quicker way to navigate across large amounts of content. Step back, go HERE is a great way to get around.

zoom out

Toggle

If your app has two, and only two, main faces, then the bottom edge is a fast, controlled way to switch between them. You can do a nice cross-fade, or a page-over effect that makes the user feel in control.

2 faces

Controls

If your app has a set of controls – for example, a music player – then the bottom edge might be a great way to bring those smoothly onto the screen.

A great idea is to think carefully about the various controls, and have a ranged gesture which reveals steadily more. For example, first just play, pause, back and forward, then things like chapter selection which provide a broader view of the content.

Quick draw

Your app may have a particular thing that you want people to be able to do instantly, with nothing but a reflex reaction. For example, a note-taking app might use the bottom edge as a quick-draw “new note” facility.

quick draw

Make it great!

This is bottom edge is something unique to Ubuntu – we’ve given it to you because it really is the prime edge from a user perspective, and the app has all the user’s attention. It’s worth taking time to think carefully, try a range of options, test them on your friends, and craft it beautifully.

 

 

 

 

 

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Inayaili de León Persson

Ubuntu Resources — beta!

Today we’ve released a new version of Ubuntu Resources with some new functionality and design improvements, and we’ve now moved from alpha to beta!

Feedback

We asked visitors to the site to give us their feedback based on their visits on their mobile devices, and we received lots of useful comments since we launched the alpha version of the site in November.

Several of the comments focused on the same themes, which became our areas of focus for this release, such as:

1. Understanding which site you are visiting

Because of the way we were using the Circle of Friends roundel without the “ubuntu” wordmark next to the word “resources”, many people didn’t understand that was the name of the site. In this iteration, we went back to using the standard brand extension, reducing the overall size of the logo and making that more clearly the title of the site and homepage link.

Navigation before and afterNavigation before (left) and after (right).

New landing pages

2. Understanding the variety of content that the site has to offer

Some people thought they had landed on the “Ubuntu Blog”, because of the way the homepage and other topic pages were laid out.

We’ve designed landing pages that are more curated and show the most recent and featured content with the option to see all archived content related to that topic near the bottom of the screen.

3. Learn more about the topics presented (cloud, server, etc.)

A common mistake when designing for brands you’re familiar with is to think other people will have the same understanding of it as you do.

Some people that we showed the site to and that were not too familiar with Ubuntu or Canonical did not understand exactly what we meant by “Server” or “Ubuntu on phones”, for example. Links to learn more about these topics used to be at the bottom of screens, so we moved that content to the top of the topic landing pages for easier access if you’re new to the subject.

Topic introsNew introductions to the topics.

Learnings from Canonical.com

With the launch of the new Canonical website in January, we changed the way some of our small screen patterns work:

  • We’ve updated the font sizes, so they are now slightly larger
  • We’ve updated the background of the pages
  • We’ve change the way content is divided, reducing the number of lines and using different blocks of colour instead

These were fed back into Ubuntu Resources so that we can keep our patterns as consistent as possible across sites.

In terms of the less visible updates, we’ve also:

  • Improved the pre-populated messages when content is shared
  • Tweaked the style of the tags which can be used to navigate the site
  • Fixed some bugs in the rendering of SVG icons

Next steps

In the next iteration of the site, we will be focusing mainly on layout improvements for medium sized screens (think tablets), as at the moment the site is still only displaying the small screen style sheet regardless of screen size.

We’ve already started to improve the search functionality, so that it’s possible to filter search results, but visitors should only be seeing these changes in the next release, in a few weeks.

Once we’ve built the site to scale up to large screen sizes smoothly, and have integrated all the top-priority functionality, the plan is for it to replace the current Insights website.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, head to Ubuntu Resources and feel free to send us your comments via the feedback link in the site’s footer.

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Vesa Rautiainen

In January when the winter weather was at its worst in London we packed our laptops, designs and prototypes and headed to Cape Town, South Africa for Client Platform Sprint. This design sprint was a mid cycle checkpoint and the target was to get some important 14.04 designs, including Dash and Right edge swipe, reviewed and finalized.

It was an intense week with lots of review sessions and a tight schedule. But after the day’s work was done we tried to make most of our time in this astonishing place. The trip wouldn’t have been complete without visiting those vineyards, white-sand beaches and of course THE Table Mountain.

All in all it was a great work week in the sun with some bits of free time activities. Easily beats a regular week at the office. Some pictures from the trip:

Right Edge designRight Edge design

Trying to nail the DashTrying to nail the Dash

Camps Bay

Camps Bay

Table Mountain

Table MountainCape Town

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Bejan Alizadeh

Sheets transition

We’ve recently been exploring how the share transitions should work when you’re previewing a photo in gallery mode. Our main goal is that there is a consistent transition for sharing photos across the phone.

This is the latest iteration of the explorations we’ve been doing, and, as such, these transitions are still work in progress, but certainly worth sharing.

Step by step


Video: Sharing a photo in photo gallery mode

The first transition happens when you select “Share” from the toolbar. This takes you to a ‘content picker’ mode where you can select where you’d like to share your photo (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

The intention is that the ‘content picker’ transition is similar to the ‘page stack’ one — which takes you deeper into the app — but because you’re going into a ‘content picker’ mode the transition needs to be slightly different. That difference is the direction: instead of going from right to left it goes bottom to top.

Once you’ve selected how to share your photo, the screen splits slightly below where you’ve tapped (in the example, below Facebook), and there is a subtle transparency fade so that the transition is less jarring.

In the next step, the transition takes you to an embedded Facebook share page, where you can write a description about the photo you’re posting. Once you select the description box, the OSK keyboard comes from the bottom to top, something that is always consistent across the phone.

When you click “Post”, a similar transition to the selecting share transition, but reversed, takes you back to the photo.

Your feedback

As I’ve mentioned before, this is still work in progress, but we’re really interested in hearing your thoughts — let us know what you think in the comments.

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Inayaili de León Persson

New year, new website: the new canonical.com

We’ve been talking about it for a while and we are now happy to reveal Canonical’s brand new website.

The brief

We thought that it was more than appropriate that, in the year that Canonical commemorates its 10th anniversary, our website got some love, so that’s exactly what we set out to do.

Canonical on devicesThe homepage of the new canonical.com on various devices

The main goal of this redesign was to create a website that clearly communicates what Canonical is and does. To present our services, describe our role in the creation of Ubuntu and to give users an understanding of the principles behind Canonical as a company.

The journey

We set out to distill the Canonical site into its most essential components. This required a huge amount of editing as the site had grown over time. This was not a straightforward task, but there were a few things that we knew would get us very close to that goal:

  • Clearly define canonical.com’s audiences and make sure the new site’s content was created with them in mind
  • Move the content that dates easily (events, news, etc.) from the site to a searchable repository
  • Move all detailed product and service information to www.ubuntu.com to make it more easy to find

We started preparing to move a lot of the content that previously lived on the site a few months ago when we started the Ubuntu Resources project — a place for content such as news, events, press releases, white papers and case studies.

Ubuntu Resources (currently in ‘alpha’) is also our first responsive site, and a lot of the lessons we have been learning from it, code- and design-wise, have been applied to the new canonical.com, like the small screen site navigation and the global Ubuntu sites navigation.

Carla has published a very interesting post on how she used stakeholder interviews to define the website’s key journeys and audiences. This research was instrumental in keeping the content of the site focused and the information architecture as simple as possible.

Before moving onto a digital format, we did a lot of collaborative sketching, churning out ideas on how we could illustrate each page’s message.

Sketching ideasGenerating ideas: some of our sketches

Even though we were working towards a fairly tight deadline, we went through several content, design and code iterations, with copywriters, designers and developers working closely together and improving as much as possible until we were happy with the results.

Canonical status boardOur ever-changing analog status board — sometimes only sticky notes will do!

The visual design borrowed most of the underlying patterns from www.ubuntu.com, such as the grid and font sizes. Ubuntu’s website has been evolving into a more ‘open’ design and the new Canonical website takes that idea even further by removing the main content container and increasing spacing between elements.

We also brought in new patterns, influenced by the design work that is being done on the phone and tablet, like the grid used in small screens, the Ubuntu shape (the squircle) and the folded paper background.

Phone patterns on canonical.comUsing the squircle and the folded paper background on the new canonical.com

The result

We’re very happy with the result, and we think it achieves the goals we set out to accomplish. Now that the site is launched though, it’s up to everyone who visits it to let us know how we did: do let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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Bejan Alizadeh

Messaging interaction

We’ve currently been working on user interaction for sending and deleting multiple SMSs and we thought it would be nice to show you where we’re going with it.

Here are some of things that we’ve had to consider when making these interactions user friendly:

  • making sure the transitions fit within our paper metaphor — for example, when you select a message thread we wanted it to feel like it’s taking you deeper into the app
  • just like with the visual assets, transitions also need to be consistent — for example, whenever you’re diving deeper into any app the transition should be similar
  • making room for scrolling and seeing more messages without the keypad taking too much space
  • making sure it’s clear when a message is pending
  • initial exploration into how to navigate back within an app


Video: Sending messages


Video: Deleting messages

As with many of the current interactions, these are work in progress — we’ll be keeping you updated with any further developments.

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Carla Berkers

I’d like to share my experience working on the project that has been my main focus over the past months: the redesign of canonical.com.

Research methods

As I started talking to people in the design department I quickly discovered we have a lot of information about our site visitors. My colleagues helped me access Google Analytics data and findings from previous user testing sessions. There was also a research-based set of personas, that helped me to put together an initial overview of user needs and tasks.

I was curious to try to validate these user needs and test them against Canonical’s current business requirements. In order to find out more about the company goals I prepared a stakeholder interview script and started putting together a list of people to talk to. I initially planned to limit the number of interviewees to about six to eight stakeholders, as too many opinions could potentially slow down the project and complicate the requirements.

Getting to know the company

I started with eight people to talk to, but with each interview I found out about other people that I should add to my list. At the same time, many of the interviewees warned me that every person I would talk to would have different ideas about the site requirements. By the end of the first round of interviews, ending up with too many stakeholders turned out to be the most commonly mentioned risk to endanger the project finishing on time.

I had very diverse conversations about different aspects of the site with a range of people. From strategic insights from our CEO Jane, to brand guidelines and requirements from our Head of Design Marcus and ideas around recruitment from our HR business partner Alice — each conversation brought unique requirements to light.

After I spoke to about fifteen people I summarised the key points from each stakeholder on post it notes and put them all up on a wall in one of the meeting rooms in the office. As I took out the duplicates and restructured the remaining notes, I began to see a familiar pattern.

Conclusions

When I finished grouping the different audiences, I ended up with five groups of users: enterprise customers, (potential) partners, job seekers, media (a varied group that includes press, tech analysts and bloggers), open source advocates and the more generic tech enthusiasts that want to know more about the company backing Ubuntu.

As these groups aligned very well with the persona’s and other pieces of research that I had found, I felt comfortable continuing my process by moving on to the user needs and site goals that will help build a good site structure and generate useful content for each group of users.

I found that talking to many experts from within the company helped me quickly understand the full range of requirements, saving me time rather than making my job more complicated. Furthermore I was happy to get a chance to get to know people from different parts of the company so soon after I got started.

In order to keep the project moving forward, we appointed one key stakeholder to sign off each step of the process, but I’m looking forward to showing the end results to the broader group to see if I managed to meet all their expectations. We will also conduct user-testing to ensure the site answers our core audiences questions and allows them to complete their tasks.

I hope to share more about this project in the months to come.

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matthieu-james

The new Ubuntu icons

During last month’s vUDS we showcased the latest design explorations for the new Ubuntu icon theme. Here is a summary of what we presented.

Our objectives

This project’s main goal is to create a single modern, high-resolution icon theme for desktop and touch devices that can adapt to various screen densities and reinforces the Ubuntu user experience. We want our icons to express our values and convey Ubuntu’s personality in a unique way.

We already had mobile icons for the applications and symbols, but, because they evolved over time without strong guidelines, did not form a consistent set. On the desktop, even though the style is clean and consistent, the icons looked dated and needed to be replaced too.

Previous desktop icons
Previous mobile and monochromatic iconsThe previous version of desktop, mobile and monochromatic icons

New icons

We’ve been working on this on-going project for the past year. We’ve done extensive research on the subject with a focus on learning how best to classify the icons; and we’ve gone through several design iterations and explorations.

So here is the latest iteration of the new icon set. As I’ve mentioned, these are all still subject to change as we’re constantly improving and refining the designs.

Latest application iconsLatest application icons

Latest symbol iconsLatest symbolic icons

Icons in contextIcons in context — one of the latest design explorations of the dash

Next steps

The goals for 14.04 are to provide a new icon theme for mobile and tablet, and to provide guidelines with templates to help people to design consistent icons for their apps. We’d like to eventually implement the new set on the desktop too.

We’ve had lots of good feedback so far, and we’d like to get even more, so please let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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Christina Li

App Design Clinic #6

We have been running the app design clinic every two weeks to answer any questions from community designers and developers on the apps they are working on!

For this session we talked about the community submitted convergence designs for file manager and clock app (thanks everyone!) as well as answering some questions from our Canonical engineers submitted apps, such as:
- If your app has two equal actions- how do you provide entry points?
- What if I want to show more content, but page stack is not appropriate?
- Where should ‘About’ & ‘Settings’ go? (Not in the tabs, please)

If you missed it, or want to watch it again, here it is:

Please send your questions and screenshots to
design@canonical.com by 1pm UTC on a Tuesdays to be included in the following Wednesday clinic.

Watch this space for our next App Design Clinic time.

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Christina Li

On 19-21 November we had our vUDS where we got to discuss and share with the community some of the design work we’ve been doing recently.

Our topics ranged from our design blog to convergence designs to Juju GUI cloud to icon designs!

If you missed any of our sessions, don’t worry. They are all below for you to check them out!

Design Blog

Love our blog? How can we make it better? What topics would you like to see?

Responsive Design

Hear about our thoughts on converging our patterns, components and designs from phone to tablet to desktop.

App Design Clinic

Every two weeks, we gather to talk about app designs and patterns. If you are developing an app or have any questions on apps, let us know!

Designing a responsive website and web guide

We talked about the process of designing a responsive website and shared the current web style guide we have been using for the main Ubuntu.com site.

Research on Windows and Android usability

Juju GUI design evolution

User research has informed the way Juju GUI has changed over the last year. Here is the evolution of Juju GUI.

Designing icons for Ubutnu

We have been designing icons for Ubuntu Phone and Tablet and Desktop. Check them out!

Let us know what you think, or suggestions on what you want to see next from the Design team at the next vUDS!

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matthieu-james

Juju ice-cream icon design

Who doesn’t like ice-cream? Here in the design team we sure do! In the last few weeks we’ve been preparing a special Juju demo for the OpenStack Summit in Hong Kong and we’ve created some very ‘tasty’ icons for it. We thought it would be nice to show you how those icons were created, so here’s a little insight on the design process.

The brief

We wanted to replace the normal Juju icons for something a little bit more special in order to explain to people that visited the Ubuntu stand what kind of things Juju can do. We decided to use the idea of an ice-cream with toppings and sauce which you can build in the same way that you can build services in Juju.

The best part of this demo is that people would actually get the ice-cream they had ‘built’ in Juju in real life!

JujuThe Juju interface, with its default icons

Finding good concepts

The first thing I needed to do was to find good concepts to present ice-creams and toppings in an icon format. Toppings were going to be especially tricky, as they can be very small and therefore hard to make out at small sizes.

I initially sketched and designed some ideas that were using a kind of flat look. This worked well for the ice-cream, but not so much for the toppings — I soon noticed they had to be semi-realistic to be recognisable.

Initial flat sketches
Initial version of the Juju ice-cream iconsInitial sketches and designs following a flat and more simplified look

At a second stage, I added perspective to the icons; it was important that the icons kept the same perspective for consistency.

Sketches with added perspectiveAnother set of sketches with added perspective

The shape of the sauce bottles was also something that needed a bit of trial and error. The initial design looked too much like a ketchup bottle, so we’ve decided to try a different approach.

Before and after sauce bottle shapeBefore and after shape of the sauce

For the backgrounds, I chose to use vibrant colours for the ice-cream icons, to contrast with the ice-creams’ monochrome palette, but paler colours for the toppings, as these are already quite colourful.

The amount of detail added to the icons is just enough for what we needed to show and for them to be recognised. I’ve also added larger pieces to the side of the toppings, to make them easier to be identified.

Juju Oreo toppingThe Oreo topping icon, with a side of Oreos

Working out the detail

The Oreo pieces were created from a single biscuit, which I cut into 9 different parts and then distributed in different layers — I guess in a similar way to what happens in real life.

9 Oreo piecesThe 9 pieces used to create the icon

The clone tool in Inkscape came in handy: repeating the same small set of different pieces made the final SVG file much lighter, and also Inkscape faster.

The whole process took 4 days from brief to final icons, which is quite a tight deadline, but it was a really fun project to work on.

Final icon setThe final icon set

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Inayaili de León Persson

The new Ubuntu Resources

Today we’ve launched the alpha version of our latest project: the Ubuntu Resources website.

This is our first responsive project that follows the mobile-first methodology and we’re very excited to share this with everyone!

As you’ll be able to see, we’re not quite done with it yet, but we wanted to share what we’ve created so far, so we can get feedback and keep improving the design and expanding the features.

Ubuntu Resources on a phoneThe new Ubuntu Resources on an Ubuntu-powered phone

A little bit of background

This project grew from the need to separate content like case studies, news, press releases and events, from the core of the Canonical and Ubuntu sites — and it will eventually replace much of what currently is at insights.ubuntu.com. As the site is designed for reading and engaging with longer pieces of content, we thought it would be the ideal place to explore mobile-first and responsive approaches. And we plan to use what we’?ve learned from it to make www.ubuntu.com and our Web Style Guide responsive.

Scaling things down

We started the research phase taking a holistic view of the project, trying to understand what types of content and users we wanted to target. We realised that with limited time and resources we would have to divide the project into different releases, so that we could make sure each aspect of the site was given the attention it deserved.

The first and current release of the site — alpha — focuses solely on small screens. The main goal is that all the content is accessible and the visual style and features will be progressing and being added as we go.

WireframesInitial wireframes across a variety of screen sizes

Reusing existing styles

One of the challenges in this project was deciding how we were going to integrate the existing Web Style Guide, which we’ve been using internally for a while now and will be made public on design.ubuntu.com soon.

Ubuntu Web Style GuideSneak peek of our Web Style Guide

We decided to use a minimal version of the style guide that kept the Ubuntu Resources’ style coherent with www.ubuntu.com and that we could improve on.

You’ll also notice small details that align with our phone design, like the grid, navigation selection and icons, and we’ll be adding even more in the upcoming releases.

What’s coming

Apart from working on the larger screen versions of the site, some of the things we will be looking into for the next iterations are:

  • the ability to subscribe to different types of content
  • more curated topic landing pages
  • content filtering and sorting
  • cleaner URLs
  • the way we handle PDFs and other file formats
  • more content like a press section

Go and have a look at the site and let us know your thoughts. We want to know what you like and what you think can be improved, or any other comments you might have — we’ve included a handy link to the feedback form at the bottom of every page. Enjoy!

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Christina Li

November Brown Bag lunch

Some of us in the Design team have been gathering on a monthly basis to have lunch together and share things we find interesting to us.

Today, I’d like to share with you the Brown Bag lunch we had this week.

Vesa shared with us his interest in photography and showed us some of the shots he took over time.

9690256316_8c4040a4bb_bWestminster at night by Vesa (flickr)

I came across an inspiring research done by Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art in London. The research focused on facilitating older people using mobile phones, rather than designing a simpler phone for them to use.

And, our challenge of the month was to build the tallest paper tower! Each team had 20 pieces of paper and 6 minutes, with 2 rules:

1. You can only use paper to build your tower
2.You can tear or fold the pieces of paper.

Well, I’m happy to report that Rachel, Vesa and Olga proudly won this challenge with their paper tower!

photo (2)

How would you build your tower in 6 minutes?

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Tingting Zhao

In the previous post, we talked about how to design effective user testing tasks to evaluate the usability of an interface. This post continues with this topic by highlighting a number of key strategies that you may need to use when conducting a formative user testing, whose main aim is to identify usability problems and propose design solutions, rather than compare quantitative metrics (summative testing), eg. task completion time and mouse clicks. It is unlikely that the prepared task script could be strictly applied without any changes, since the testing situation tends to be dynamic and often unpredictable. To get useful data, you need to be able to manipulate your task script with flexibilities, while also maintaining consistency.

Changing task orders during testing

Normally, to avoid order effect, the issuing of the tasks should be randomised for each participant. Order effect refers to the effect in which the tasks are presented, which can affect the results, specifically: users may perform better in later tasks as their familiarity with the interface increases; or users may perform worse as they become more fatigued. However, as discussed in the previous post, the tasks are often contextual and dependent on each other, so you need to carefully consider which tasks could be shuffled. For example, it is a good practice to mark on the script to indicate dependent tasks, so that you know these tasks should not be reordered and separated from each other. In other words, the dependent tasks must always be moved together. It is worth noting that the randomisation of task orders may not always be possible for a testing, for example, when the tasks are procedurally related, such as a testing focusing on payment flow.

Sometimes you may need to change the task orders by considering their levels of difficulty. This is useful in the following two scenarios: when you notice a participant appears to be slightly nervous before the testing has started, provide a simple first task to put him/her at ease; or when you observe a participant has failed to solve several tasks in a row, provide one or two easy tasks to reduce the frustration and stress, and boost confidence.

Another type of changing task order is made in response to users’ solicited goals that are associated with a coming task. For example, in one phone testing, after a participant checked the battery level, s/he spontaneously expressed a desire to know if there was a way to switch off some running apps to save battery. In this case, we jumped to the task of closing running apps, rather than waiting until later. This makes the testing feel more natural.

Remove tasks during testing

There are typically two situations that require you to skip tasks:

  • Time restriction

  • Questions being answered with previous tasks

Time restriction: user testing normally has a time limit. Participants are paid for certain lengths of time. Ideally, all the tasks should be carried out by all the participants. However, sometimes they take longer to solve tasks. Or you may discover areas that require more time for investigation. In this case, not all the tasks could be performed by a participant within the given time. Subsequently, you need to be able to quickly decide which tasks should be abandoned for this specific participant. There are two ways to approach this:

  • Omit tasks that are less important: it is always useful to prioritise the tasks in terms of their importance – what are the most important areas that have key questions that need to be answered and require feedback; what could be left for the next testing, if not covered this time?

  • Omit tasks that have already received abundant feedback: skip the tasks from which you have already gathered rich and useful information from other participants.

Questions were answered with previous tasks: Sometimes questions associated with a specific task would be answered while a participant was attempting to solve the previous task – in this case, you could skip this task.

In one of our phone testings, we asked a participant to send a text to a non-contact (a plumber). During the task-solving process, s/he decided to save the number to the contact book first and then send a text. In this case, we skipped the task of ‘saving a number to contact book’.

However sometimes you should not skip a task, even if it might seem repetitive. For example, if you want to test the learnability and memorability of a feature, having the participant perform the same task (with slightly different descriptions) for the second time (after a certain time duration) could afford useful insights.

Add tasks during testing

There are three contexts in which you could consider adding tasks:

  • Where the user formulates new goals

  • Re-examinations

  • Giving the user a second chance

The added task must be relevant to the aim of the testing, and should only be included if the testing time permits.

User formulates new goals: you could add tasks based on user-formulated goals in the task solving process.

For example, in one phone testing, one participant wondered if s/he could customise the tiles on the Windows phone’s home screen. We made this an added task for her/him. Adding tasks based on user articulated new goals follows their thought process and make the testing more natural. It also provides opportunities for us to discover new information.

Re-examinations: sometimes the users may succeed in a task accidently, without knowing how s/he did it. In this case, the same task (with a slightly changed description) could be added to re-assess the usability.

For example, in one phone testing, we had one task: “You want to call you sister Lisa to say thank you for the phone”. One participant experienced great difficulties in performing this task, and only completed it after a long time and by accident. In this case, we added another task to re-evaluate the ease of making a phone call:

“Your call is cut off while you are talking to your sister, so now you want to call her again.”

Similarly in the Gallery app testing, where participants managed to add a picture into a selected album accidently, we asked them to add another picture into a different album.

Re-examination allows us to judge accurately the impact of a problem, as well as to understand the learnability of interface – the extent to which users could detect and learn interaction patterns (even by accident), and apply the rules later.

Giving the user a second chance: in the majority of the user testing, participants used the evaluated interface for the first time. It could be very demanding for them to solve the tasks successfully in their first attempt. However, as the testing progresses, participants might discover more things, such as features and interaction patterns (although possibly by accident). Consequently, their knowledge of the interface may increase. In this case, you could give them another chance to solve the task that they failed earlier in the tests. Again, this helps you to test the learnability of the interface, as well as assess the impact of a problem.

For example, in a tablet testing, one participant could not find the music scope earlier in the testing, but later s/he accidentally discovered the video scope. To test if s/he now understood the concept of dash scopes, we asked the participant to find the music scope again after several other tasks.

Change task descriptions (slightly) during testing

Information gathered from pre-testing brief interview and participants’ testing verbal data could often be used to modify the task description slightly to make the task more realistic to the users. This also gives the user the impression that you are an active listener and interested in their comments, which helps to build a rapport with them. The change should be minor and limited to the details of the scenario (not the aim of the task). It is important that the change does not compromise the consistency with other participants’ task descriptions.

For example, in a tablet testing, where we needed to evaluate the discoverability of the HUD in the context of photo editing, we had this task: “You want to do some advanced editing by adjusting the colour of the picture.” One participant commented that s/he often changed pictures to ‘black and white’ effect. In response to this, we changed the task to “You mentioned that you often change a picture to black and white, and now you want to change this picture to ‘black and white’”. The task change here does not change the aim of the task, nor the requirements for solving the task (in this case, the access to the HUD), but it becomes more relatable to the participant.

Another example is from a phone testing. We changed the task of “you want to go to Twitter” to “you want to go to Facebook” after learning the participant uses Facebook but not Twitter. If we continued to request this participant to find Twitter, it would make the testing become artificial, which would result in invalid data. The aim of the task is to evaluate the ease of navigation in finding an app, therefore changing Twitter to Facebook does not change the nature of the task.

Conclusions

This post outlines a number of main strategies you could use to modify your task script to deal with typical situations that may occur in a formative user testing. To sum up:

Changing tasks orders: randomise tasks for each participant if possible, and move the dependent tasks as a whole; consider the difficulties of the task and issue an easy task to start with if you feel participant is nervous, or provide an easy task if participants failed several tasks in a row. Allow them to perform a later task if they verbalise it as a goal/strategy for solving the current task.

Remove tasks: if time is running out with a particular participant, omit certain tasks. This could be tasks with low priorities; tasks that already have enough feedback from other participants; or tasks the participant has already covered while attempting a previous task.

Add tasks: if time permits, allow users to perform a new task if it is a user initiated goal and is relevant to the testing; repeat a task (with slightly different wording and at an appropriate time) if the user succeeds in a task accidently, or has failed this task earlier, or if the aim is to test the learnability of the system.

Change task description: slightly amend the details of the task scenario (not the aim of the task) based on users’ verbal data to make it more relatable and realistic to the user. This will improve the reliability of the data.

If you have other ways to maneuver the tasks during the testing session, or have situations you are unsure about, feel free to share your experience and thoughts.

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