Canonical Voices

Posts tagged with 'user experience'

Tingting Zhao

In past years, we have had many Ubuntu users getting involved in helping with our user research. Now we feel it’s time to form a user research network, which we’re calling: UbuntuVoice.

So,  if you want to:

  • be the voice of over 20 million Ubuntu users. You will have the opportunities to take part in a variety of Ubuntu user research with different products, and help shape the Ubuntu experience. You choose the ones that you are interested in.

  • stay up to date with Ubuntu. Get periodic updates (every two months) via email, such as what designers are working on, how feedback is used, and how users behave when interacting with technology.

  • get a little something extra. Some of our research will come with an incentive, or in the form of a ‘Ubuntu goody’ lucky draw, and some research will be voluntary.

…then join us today by clicking here

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at:


Update: Thank you very much for everyone’s support for the UbuntuVoice! We reached our target number of participants in just a day! Since we are a small team, we can’t have more participants at the moment. However, do keep your eyes on the design blog for updates.

Ubuntu user research team

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Tingting Zhao

Previously, Charline Poirier provided an excellent post about how to recruit representative participants for usability testing. To continue the story, we are going to talk about the next stage: developing effective task sets, which is a crucial part of a test protocol.

We conduct usability testing iteratively and throughout the product life cycle. The testing interface could range from being as simple as paper images, to clickable prototypes, to a fully working system.

In order to assess the usability of an interface, we ask users to carry out a number of tasks using the interface. We use tasks that resemble those that users would perform in a real life context, so that the data we collect is accurate. In other words, the user behaviour we observed is representative, and the problems we found are those that users would be likely to encounter.


Design testing tasks – ‘a piece of cake’?


When I first learnt about usability testing, I thought: ‘It’s simple: you just need to write some tasks and ask people to solve them, and done!’ But after conducting my first ever usability testing, I realised this was not the case.  I had so many questions: I wasn’t sure where to start or what tasks should be used, and there were numerous details that needed to be thought through. You need to carefully craft the tasks.

Now, having conducted hundreds of usability testings, I would like to share my experience with you about how to design effective tasks. There are three main stages involved:

  • Decide on the tasks

  • Formulate the tasks

  • Be tactful in presenting the order of the tasks


Stage 1: Decide on the tasks

Before you sit down to compose a set of tasks, you are likely to go through the following stages:

  • Clearly establish the goal of the testing: specifically what are the main features/areas that require feedback. When we conduct testing, we always have a face to face meeting with the design team to understand their focus and needs.

  • ‘Walkthrough’ with the design team: If testing an early prototype that has not been fully implemented, it’s important to go through the prototype with the designers so that you are aware of how it works, what is working and what is broken.

  • Inspection : go through the test interface at least three times. The first time to get an idea of the general flow and interaction of the interface; the second time to ‘put on the user’s hat’, and examine the interface by thinking about what users would do, and pay attention to any possible difficulties they may experience. This is the stage where you could start to write down some of the potential tasks you could use, which cover the features you need to assess, and the predicted problematic areas; and the third time, you should focus on developing tasks when you are going through the interface again. This gives you the opportunity to evaluate the tasks you identified, and add or remove tasks. By the end, you will have a number of potential task banks to work on.

Dumas and Fox (2008, p1131) provide a very good summary of the kind of tasks that are likely to be involved in usability testing. It is in line with those that we used in our testing sessions in most contexts. These include:

  • tasks that are important, such as frequently performed tasks or tasks that relate to important functions;

  • tasks where evaluators predict users will have difficulties;

  • tasks that enable a more thorough examination of the system, such as those that can only be accomplished by navigating to the bottom of the system hierarchy, or tasks that have multi-links or shortcuts;

  • tasks that influence business goals;

  • tasks that examine the re-designed areas;

  • tasks that relate to newly-added features.

For this step, you don’t need to worry about how to phrase the task descriptions, but make sure all areas that you need to investigate are covered by your tasks.

Stage 2: Formulate the tasks

How well the tasks are formulated determines the reliability and the validity of the usability testing and the usefulness of the data. It’s crucial to get this right. You should consider:

  • The formats of tasks to be used
  • The articulation of the tasks

The formats of tasks

The tasks could be categorised into two main formats:

  • Direct tasks or Scenario tasks

  • Open-ended or Closed task

You need to decide what should be used, and when.

Scenario task or Direct task

A scenario task is presented as a mini user story: often it has the character, the context and the necessary details for achieving the goal. For example, to test the browser and bottom menu on the phone:

You are holding a dinner party this Saturday. You want to find a chicken curry recipe from the BBC food site.

A direct task is purely instructional. For instance, to use the above example:

Find a chicken curry recipe from the BBC food site.

Among these two types, we often use the scenario tasks in the testing. This is because it emulates real-world context that participants can easily relate to, and consequently they are more likely to behave in a natural way. This helps to mitigate the artificiality of user testing to a great extent.  The closer they are related to the reality, the more reliable the test results can be (eg. Rubin, 1994; Dumas and Fox, 2008). In addition, some research (eg. Shi, 2010) shows that the scenario tasks work more effectively with Asian participants.

Interesting research: for Indian participants, Apala Lahiri Chavan’s research (Schaffer, 2002) shows that using a ‘Bollywood’ style task would elicit more useful feedback. For example:

Your innocent and young sister is going to get married this Saturday, and you just get a news the prospective groom is already married! So you want to book a flight ticket as soon as possible to find your sister and save her.

The researchers found that Indian participants feel reluctant to make criticisms to the unfamiliar facilitator, but once they phrased the task in a film-like story, the participants became more talkative and open.

Closed task or Open-ended task

 A closed task is specific to what the participants need to do. This type of task has one correct answer, and therefore allows us to measure if participants solved or failed a task. It is the most commonly used format. For example, to test the telephony on the phone:

 You want to text your landlord to say you will give her the rent tomorrow. Her number is: 7921233290.

An open-ended task contains minimum information and less specific direction as to what you want a participant to do. It gives users more freedom to explore the system. This is particularly useful if you want to find out about what areas users would spontaneously interact with, or which ones matter most to them.

For example, in our testing, designers wanted to understand what information was important for users to get to know about Ubuntu. In this case, an open-ended task would be appropriate. I used the task:

 You heard your friends mention something called ‘Ubuntu’. You are interested in it and want to find out more about what Ubuntu is and what it can offer you?

There are three main limitations  of using open-ended tasks:

  • Since participants have control over the task, features that require user feedback might be missed; or vise versa, they may spend too much time on something that is not the focus of the testing. The remedy would be to prepare for a number of closed-tasks, so if certain features are not covered by the participants, these could be used.

  • Some participants may experience uncertainty as to where to look and when they have accomplished the task. Others may be more interested in getting the test done, and therefore do not put in as much effort as what they would in reality.

  • You cannot assign task success rates to open-ended tasks, as there is no correct answer, so it is not suitable if a performance comparison is needed.

The articulation of the tasks

  • Avoid task cues that would lead users to the answers. Make sure the tasks do not contain task solving related actions or terms that are used on the system. For example, in the Juju testing we wanted to know if participants understood the ‘browse’ link for browsing all the charms. We asked participants to find out the types of charms that are available instead of saying ‘you want to browse the charms’.

  • Be realistic and avoid ambiguity. The tasks should be those that would be carried out in the real context, and the descriptions should be unambiguous.

  • Ensure an appropriate level of details. It should contain just enough information so that participants understand what they are supposed to do, but not too much that they are restricted from exploring naturally in their own way. The description of context should not be too lengthy, otherwise participants may lose their focus or forget about it. When closed tasks are used, make sure they are specific enough, so it is clear to the participants as to when they would accomplish their goals. For example, compare the description of ‘You want to show your friends a picture’ to ‘You want to show your friends a picture of a cow’ – which one is better? For the former, the goal is more vague and participants would be likely to click on the first image or a random picture, and assume the task is done. As a result, we might miss usability problems. For the latter,  the task communicates the requirements more effectively: it would be accomplished once they found the picture of a cow. Furthermore, it also provides us with more opportunities to assess the navigation and interaction further, as participants need to navigate among the pictures to find the relevant one.


Stage 3: Be tactful in presenting the order of the tasks

In general, the tasks are designed to be independent from each other for two reasons: to grant flexibility in terms of changing the orders of the tasks for different participants; and to allow participants to continue to the next task, even if they failed the previous one.

However, in some contexts, we use dependent tasks (proceeding on to one task depends on whether or not participants solved another task successfully ) on purpose, for instance:

  • When there is a logistic flow involved and the stages of procedures must be followed. To use a very simple example, in order to test account ‘log in’ and ‘out’, we need a task for ‘log in’ first, and then a task for ‘log out’.

  • When testing ‘revisiting’/’back’ navigation (eg. if participants could navigate back to a specific location they visited before) and multitasking concepts (eg. if participants know to use the multitasking facility). For example, when testing the tablet, I had the tasks as follows:

You want to write down a shopping list for all the ingredients you need for this recipe using an app

Here, the participants will need to find the note app and enter ingredients.

Then I had several tasks that were not related to the task above, for example:

 You remember that you will have an important meeting with John this coming Thursday at 10:00 in your office. You want to put it on your calendar before you forget.

Then I instructed participants:

You want to continue with your shopping list by adding kitchen roll on it.

 This requests the participants to go back to the note app that they opened earlier, from which we could find out if they knew to use the right edge swipe to get to the running apps – in other words, whether or not they understood the multitasking feature.

Now you will have your first version of tasks, and on completion, you should always try the tasks out by using the interface to check that they all make sense.


Summing up

We use tasks to discover the usability and user experience of an interface. The task quality determines how useful and accurate your testing results would be. It requires time to hone your skills in writing tasks.  Let me sum up some of the main points:

  • Define the goal(s) of the testing;

  • Familiarise yourself with the test interface and go through this interface at least 3 times;

  • Use the appropriate task formats and avoid any inclusion of task-solving cues;

  • Ensure the description is realistic, is at the right level of detail, and avoids ambiguity;

  • Consider the ordering of the tasks, and whether or not you need to use dependent tasks;

  • Pilot the task set with yourself.

What happens next, after you have the list of tasks ready for the  the usability testing? It doesn’t end here.

If time allows, we always pilot the tasks with someone to make sure they are understandable, and that the orders of the tasks work. There are always changes you could make to improve the task sets.

In addition, you will realise that once you are in the actual testing,  no matter how perfect the task sets are,  you will need to react instantly and make adjustments in response to the dynamics of the testing environment: we cannot predict what participants will do. It is therefore important to know how to manipulate the task sets in the real testing condition. We will discuss this in the next post.


Dumas, J.S. & Loring, B.A. (2008). Moderating Usability Tests: Principles and Practices for Interacting. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.

Rubin, J. (1994). Handbook of Usability Testing: How to Plan, Design and Conduct Effective Tests. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Schaffer, E. (2002) Bollywood technique,

Shi, Q. (2010). An Empirical Study of Thinking Aloud Usability Testing from a Cultural Perspective. PhD thesis. Denmark: University of Copenhagen.



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Lina Pio

Over the past few weeks we’ve been exploring visual directions for the calendar app. It’s a pretty exciting opportunity to create something fresh and at the same time useful. In this post I’ll take you through some of the directions we’re looking at right now and where we hope to eventually go. At this stage the designs are still under consideration.

Year view

This view offers a lot of challenges particularly given the large amount of information that can be compacted into such a small space. The challenge was to provide something that could inform the user quickly and usefully without overloading the screen with information. Each month is clickable. Individual dates, however, will need to be selected from the month view.

01_year copy

Month view

As with year view, it’s a tough call to keep the month view looking and feeling smooth and simple. Because of this, we decided to use the month view to provide the user with an overview of the dates in that month, from which they could select a date only. Instead of filling in the events inside the month view, the user can see the events at a glance inside the week view. We explored two different ways of laying out the month view visually.
02_month copy    02_month2 copy

Week view

In this view we experimented with the visual layout in terms of how much screen space the chrome took up and how you could visually represent different calendar events using coloured blocks vs coloured dots.

03_week1 copy 04_week2 copy 04_week3 copy 04_week4 copy 04_week5 copy



Day view

With day view, as with Week view, we tried looking at reducing the chrome around the day box to give more space to what the user most needs to see – the events during that day.

05_day1 copy 06_day2 copy


Event view tends to be a different interface type than the others. Where with the other views a user’s prime activity is to navigate through information, the event is the goal in itself, providing a list of information. Because of this, a white background may be a better solution to presenting large amounts of text, making it easier on the eye. One thing that is still in design at the moment is the ability to select the date and time when creating a new event.

07_new_event1 copy 08_new_event2 copy 09_new_event3 copy 10_event_detail copy 10_event_detail2

We hope you enjoyed going through our visuals and thought process. Watch this space next time for more visuals on date and time picker to go along with event view.



Here’s a video to show how the interactions and transitions will eventually function.

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Katie Taylor

Edges are special to us. We use them for finding apps, tools and system services, so using the edges will be second nature to Ubuntu phone users. By using the launcher, how to launch your favourite app will become ingrained in your muscle memory of the left edge.

The design vision behind Ubuntu for phones includes the use of fast and natural interactions, so taking that to the welcome screen means that if your phone is locked, you can still access the launcher, system services and the right edge. If you have a pin set up, you only need to enter your pin when accessing private data, in the Gallery app or the Dash for example.



If you’ve flashed your phone recently, you will be able to activate the lock screen for the phone using a temporary hack (love it!). You’ll notice that the blur has not yet been implemented, but will be added later. Thanks to Michael Zanetti for originally posting instructions to the Ubuntu Phone mailing list. Here they are:

To enable the pin lock, log into the phone and create a file /home/phablet/.unity8-greeter-demo, with the content: password=pin

If you want to see the password unlock screen instead, put this into the file:  password=keyboard
For now, the pin is hardcoded to “1234″ and the password is “password”. Note that this functionality can (and will) disappear at any time as we bring all the bits and pieces together. This is a temporary, simple way to enable the visual part of the lock screen for us all to have a play with.

Let us know what you think on the Ubuntu Phone mailing list and the IRC channel.

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Calum Pringle

It’s been a while since our last update to the app design guides so I thought it was about time I shared the latest additions to this growing resource.

Screen sizes

A brief intro to the framework we use for designing for a scalable OS - the grid unit. With a link directly to a more detailed explanation on

Read about designing for multiple screen sizes.


We’ve started to collect frequently asked questions. This section could be improved if it was a little more ‘live’ so we’ll have a think about that.

Read our most frequently asked questions.

Combo button

When you are receiving a phone call, it is possible to decline the call (of course), or alternatively you can decline and reply with a message. To accommodate this and similar use cases we have designed the combo button. Use the combo button to display secondary variations of the primary action.

See our new combo button.

Option selector

While designing System Settings we have come across many situations where there is a need to select from a list of mutually exclusive options. Use the option selector when you need to select an option from a list.

See our new option selector building block.


Our slider has gone through a little makeover too.

Take a look here.

Remember, this site is a work in progress, so we will continue to iterate on the content and design. As usual you can find us on the Ubuntu Phone mailing list and the IRC channel.

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Lina Pio

One of the key challenges with designing calendar applications is the number of ways you can display your time, whether it’s by year, month, week or day. After a lot of good old fashioned hard work, we refactored navigation by making the tab header the key to switching between views. Although the direction I’ll take you through in this article is strong and clean, it’s still a work in progress, and as such, can still change. The images are small in this article, to get a closer look at all of them collected together, download the PDF here.

The latest designs in this article show you how we’ve aimed to solve:

  • Navigation between different calendar views
  • Gestures to help quick navigation
  • Editing events
  • Creating events
  • How this will potentially look and feel


Different views

There are 5 different view templates inside the calendar app we are focusing on. They are:

  • Year
  • Month
  • Week
  • Day
  • Event


Navigating between different views using title header bar

You can move through the different views by tapping on the title header bar to toggle the view mode options. Just like our patterns, this title is scrollable – so that you can scroll through the view modes which don’t fit the width of the screen. Also like our pattern, swiping to the left or right moves along to the next or previous unit (year/month/week/day/event) in its category. For reference, take a look at Calum’s excellent post on this.

To get a better idea, click here to see a video of the prototype which formed the base of this navigation model and allowed us to test it out, comparing and contrasting it against other design directions. It was enough to give us a feel for the potential final build.


Navigating between views using spread and pinch gestures

To aid fast navigation for pro users and to also add an element of fun, we’ve decided to enable zooming in and out between views using finger spreading and pinch gestures similar to zooming in and out in a map app.

 Spreading fingers gesture: This zooms in to the next view; the next view offering more detail, close up.

     E.g. A user spreads when on the year view. This opens up the month view. Spreading on the month view opens up the week view, and so on.

Pinching fingers gesture: This zooms out, to a less detailed view – the previous view in the view hierarchy.

     E.g. A user pinches on month view, the system responds by taking the user to the year view.


An event

An event has several detail fields. In order of appearance they are:

  • Event name
  • Time
  • Description
  • Location
  • Guests
  • This happens (how many times does this event happen in the series? Or is it a one time event?)
  • Remind me
  • Timezone


Editing an event

A bottom edge swipe on an event page brings up the toolbar with the edit button.

[NOTE: toolbar menu options within the calendar and across the whole system have not been finalised, this image of the toolbar is a placeholder to give an idea of how to edit]

The edit mode shows the boxes around the fields allowing the user to type and change the event details. The toolbar in edit mode is always present. It shows cancel and save options.


Creating an event

A bottom edge swipe on year, month, week and day views brings up the toolbar with the option ‘New’ to create a new event. Pressing this brings up a similar template to the ‘Edit’ mode, the only difference being the blank forms.



The visuals in the image below are an exploration of how this can potentially look and feel. This is still very much still in progress, but gives a strong hint of what’s to come.



I hope you like our thoughts and directions on this, and that this article gives a stronger idea of what the final app will look and behave like.

Watch this space for my upcoming articles focusing on: an in depth look at events – (including guest contacts, location views, time and date pickers etc) calendar synching with external accounts, calendar settings, and calendar mode inside the indicators.

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Martin Keary

This is a presentation of our ‘Paper’ Motion theme for Ubuntu Mobile.

The theme is informed by the ‘paper’ graphic style of the mobile OS and we have sought to accentuate it wherever possible. Rather than using more overt effects like page curling and folding, we have hinted at the theme by using multiple layers, ‘stacking’ and suggestive effects. Multiple layers of sliding paper can be observed in the animation of the switch button, stacking can be seen occurring on the icons in the launcher and an example of a suggestive page-turning effect can be seen during the ‘App Stacking’ example.

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Tingting Zhao

Understanding user behaviour through user research is an integral part of our design process. In the last website testing, some insights surfaced about user behaviour, which could help to shape a great user experience for our website. We share the three mains ones here. They have been much discussed in the UX, and the findings from the testing reinforced their importance.

Who were the participants?

12 participants took part in this research. They belonged to two different groups:

  • Ubuntu novices: those who have limited computer knowledge and had not heard of or used Ubuntu before. 8 participants were from this group. They were professionally recruited and of mixed genders.
  • Ubuntu users: those who use Ubuntu OS on a daily basis. They were from our Ubuntu users database pool and were recruited via emails.

What were the three main types of user behaviour found?

The Power of Images

“I go straight to the pictures before I go to the words. You look at pictures and they give you a flavour of what it is all about.”(P3)

” I use images to decide on a product. I tend to work very visually. Sometimes it is not easy to understand the jargon, and it is much easier to see what it is like. ” (P6)

“I’m just looking at the picture to see how much learning is required.” (P10)

In the testing process, we observed that participants appeared to rely on images heavily to help them form an opinion about Ubuntu. They used images in multiple ways throughout their interaction process, including:

  • To understand what the interface is about or make sense of an unfamiliar concept/feature
  • To decide whether or not it looks easy to use
  • To compare it with what they are currently using, and to see how much learning it may require

Images are therefore a powerful communication medium for us to build a positive brand with our users.

Take away:

It is important that images are relevant to their context and offer the best presentation of the product. We should use images to reflect the user friendliness and uniqueness of Ubuntu.

The Journey of Persuasion

“When I first came to your site, you need to tell me why I want to use this. This is paramount.” (P2)

“ It (the site) needs to highlight what I don’t know. Why I should use it, and with examples.” (P5)

When participants first landed on the homepage, they expressed their need to be informed about what Ubuntu does, who it is for, and why they should use it. They wanted to be convinced from the very start.

During the exploration process, when they were looking at Ubuntu pages, participants were attentive to the apparent benefits Ubuntu could offer to satisfy their personal needs. They relied on concrete examples and statistical figures to establish and enhance their understanding and trust. They also enjoyed browsing through different quotations from our users.

Take away:
The persuasion process should start from the moment users land on our homepage, until leaving the site. The key proposition messages should be specific, apparent and repeated throughout the user journey.

Make Use of Opportune Moments

“It says free upgrade for life, that’s good. Built in security, that’s good. Thousands of apps, that’s good too. I want to click on these to find out more.” (P3)

Our website has many good design features that grabbed participants’ attention straight away, for instance, the image tiles for ‘Reasons to love Ubuntu’ and the use of bullet points to outline essential information about Ubuntu’s main features. When participants encounter such design features or content that they found interesting, they often wanted to click an icon or topic to explore it further. They were disappointed or even frustrated if these were not clickable.

Take away:
We should make use of these opportune moments to keep users engaged and informed by providing efficient and desirable navigational paths to lead them to more detailed and relevant information.

What’s next ?

The web team has been carrying out changes in response to the user testing results. The aforementioned user behaviour findings will feed into the next web design cycle to help with the design decisions. This will help users to get even more out of their visits to

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Christina Li

A few weeks ago we introduced key screens for our core utility app designs, and we’ve been sketching key journeys ever since to unpack these concepts further.

We use key screens to communicate the overall, high level concept of an app, outlining key journeys is a design technique that gives us a feel for how users can accomplish a typical task when using the app.

Key screens

The main purpose of the calculator app is to enable calculations for simple day to day tasks; “rituals”; such as splitting the bill at a restaurant or working out your budget for groceries.

There were a lot of questions about the visual design of our concepts so far, so this week we thought we’d try sharing our key journeys in a different style of wireframe. Here is a closer look at the calculator app.

Enter a new calculation

There has been some interesting discussion on the mailing list about how to handle the order of operations (or ‘operation precedence’). The driver for this simple view is to support basic calculations. The order of operations will be handled as it normally is – with multiplication and division first, followed by addition and subtraction, without brackets ( ).

E.g., 1 + 2 x 4, will be read as 2 multiplied by 4, add 1, equals 9.


  • A ‘0’ is displayed on start to indicate no calculation
  • User enters ‘1’, a different colour (e.g., orange) is used to indicate the last input
  • User enters ‘+’ and ‘2’, operators are displayed after a number input
  • User enters ‘equals’ on the calculator numpad, and a dash separator line appears with the calculated answer and a line to indicate this calculation could be pulled up to create a new one.

Start a new calculation

We have also been brainstorming ways to create a new calculation. Our concept was originally inspired by the idea of a receipt tape, which we wanted to follow closely, and an idea that came through the mailing list was that of ‘ripping-off’ a calculation by pulling up; creating a new one (awesome idea, Bruno Girin, thanks!).

  • User pulls up to create a new calculation, geo-location, date and time of the calculation will be added to the top of the calculation automatically (e.g., ‘@Tesco, 06/03/13, 10am)
  • The previous calculation has moved to the top, remaining only as a visual hint.

View a calculation

  • The calculations are seen as a continuous list, user can scroll up and down the list freely
  • As user starts to scroll down to view previous calculations, the calculator numpad transitions out. The numpad transitions back into view when user scrolls up and reaches a threshold of the last calculation
  • An interesting note is that the QWERTY keyboard could appear at any time by tapping to edit labels. (This will be explained in the ‘Adding a label’ journey; keep reading).

Delete a calculation

  • To clear a calculation user swipes side way and a label (e.g, ‘clear’) transitions in
  • If the cleared calculation is at the bottom of the list, a ‘0’ is displayed. If the cleared calculation is followed by another calculation, then that calculation will be displayed.

Add a label

We have included the ability to add titles and labels to the calculations to help us when we’re splitting bills or doing our grocery calculations!


  • As mentioned above, geo-location, date and time of a calculation will be added automatically when a new calculation is created
  • User taps to the left of a calculation to start creating and editing labels!

Numpad layout

Also, there’s been a lot of discussion about the layout of the numpad! Based on our key journeys, here’s what we’re thinking to cover daily use scenarios:

As usual, sign up to the Ubuntu Phone mailing list and the IRC channel to discuss more.

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Calum Pringle

We’ve been making great progress from both design and development on our four core utilities for Ubuntu on phones so, while we are iterating these concepts, we thought this was a good time to share more of the inspiration behind the apps designs. This helps us keep our goals in sight, not only on the design side but throughout development.

A day in the life

It’s morning. An alarm sounds. I turn over. I look at the clock. It’s going to be a busy day. I get out of bed.

I shower. I finish showering. I wonder what I should wear. I wonder what I will I do at the weekend. I check the weather.

It’s lunch time. We go to a restaurant. We pay. We work out the bill.

It’s evening. I check my todo list. I check my calendar. I’ve got a date. I send a message.

It’s night. I check the weather. I check my calendar. I check the time.

(Photo credits: heredfordcat, roberstinnett, Jacob Bijani and  Phoenix Dark-Knight)

Sound familiar?

Without something to support these daily routines we think we’d be lost entirely, and we don’t think we’re alone in that!

The opportunity

The opportunity with the Clock, Weather, Calculator and Calendar apps on the Ubuntu phone is to create a consistent experience which impacts the daily lives of our users. A suite of apps that are used as part of a daily ritual; sophisticated, consistent and content focussed.

Let’s call them Ubuntu’s rituals

An alarm sounds. I turn over. I look at the clock.

The Clock app

  • The same clock face for every feature; adjust with easy gestures.
  • Something to delight; it’s the first thing you see in the morning and the last thing you see at night.

I wonder what I should wear.

The Weather app

  • Check the weather today and yesterday, tomorrow and the weekend.
  • Make it contextual; do I need my umbrella? (terribly British example!)

We work out the bill.

The Calculator app

  • Tear off the strip of calculations and jot down your notes.
  • It’s all about the task; this app helps you work out your budgets and bills, not the definition of Pi!

I check my todo list. I check my calendar.

The Calendar app

  • Organise your life your way by month, week or daily diary.
  • Again, it’s about the task and the context; use the calendar app as a todo list, a diary, a planner, a journal, a life log; and the calendar will behave how you need it to.

What does this mean?

When we design and build an app, we always have a key story in mind. Whenever we think “oh it’d be really cool if…” we remind ourselves of this story; therefore it helps us to produce an app that is simple, streamlined and delightful to use.

“Ubuntu rituals” inspired the concept of these four apps and we will use this to guide us through further iterations of both design and development.

So where can I see this?

Follow our development progress on Google+ as well as the usual places; the Ubuntu Phone mailing list and IRC channel.

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Amritpal Singh Bhachu

Back to Lecturing for the day

In my last post, I spoke about my transition from academia to industry. One thing that I felt I would miss were the opportunities to speak to students, and watch their progression throughout the year. So when I was asked to go back to the University to give a talk, I jumped at the chance.

So I prepared what I was going to talk about and set off to the School of Computing at the University of Dundee to meet these talented students. My first job was to help assess their group pressure projects which they had been tasked with the week before. The theme was educational games. Over the next 2 hours, I sat and was amazed by what the groups had produced in such a short period of time.

The Winning Group with their Ubuntu prizes

Several things frustrated me however.

Each group had 3 minutes to present their game and explain what they did. But they all focussed on showing gameplay and illustrated some of the code that they used. A number of groups stood up and highlighted that they felt their game wasn’t very good because they didn’t have strong coders in their team. When I asked them questions about the processes that they had been through before coding, they all showed evidence of brainstorming, wireframing and design. My biggest issue however was that most of the groups started coding before they considered who the user would be, and therefore, they considered a user to meet the code, rather than producing the code for a specific user.

So this lead me to change what I wanted to talk to them about, and I did an interactive session with the 80 odd students to develop a user profile for the remit they had been given. We looked at who the user group was, what were the characteristics of this user, where would they want to play the game, why they would want to play the game and how they would play the game. We brainstormed on a whiteboard and agreed on which attributes to keep, and which to remove. This was all done in half and hour. The students really took on board the importance of considering the user, and how quickly it could be done for the projects that they would be presented with going forward in their education.

It was the most enjoyable lecture that I had ever taken, and I look forward to doing it again soon.

On another note, later that evening I made my triumphant return to the land of stand up comedy. I was invited back to do Bright Club Dundee having performed last year. It was great fun to do, even though I don’t think I’ll be looking at a change in career anytime soon! Below is a photo of the performers….you can quite clearly see the fear in our eyes!

Bright Club Dundee Performers

If you want to see my set (which contains strong language and little humour) then follow this link.


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