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by Tony Chang

All opinions on this site are my own and do not represent those of my employer.

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usability, power, and senior project

Aug 25, 2005, 02:57am EDT



I had an interesting discussion with Eugene yesterday about some of the reasons why usability practitioners aren’t involved in open source projects. The main motivating factors for devlopers are also true for usability practitioners (to scratch one’s own itch and reputation), but there’s a problem with knowing how to get involved. For developers, there are clear paths to take like using sourceforge to create a new project or submitting a patch to an existing project. We need a light weight method for usability practitioners to provide feedback to an existing project like a source code patch.

It also seems like there’s a significant problem with how power is balanced between a usability practitioner and an open source developer. In most open source projects, the person in control is the software developer. That is, regardless of the feedback provided by a usability practitioner, the ultimate decision on whether or not to incorporate the feedback is up to the developer. In industry settings, the power between the two is more balanced; perhaps it’s enforced by a product manager. As most open source projects don’t have a product manager, it is up to the developer to want to share the decision making power with a usability analyst in hopes of having a better application in the end.

The other random thought I had was that colleges with senior project classes in software engineering should try to have one student interested in usability in each project group. If we believe usability is part of the design process, why aren’t we teaching this to college students?

DC at Aug 25, 2005, 11:39am EDT

I think this is just one of those slow changes. I see evidence of growing education in this area and I’m okay with the slow pace that it takes. Of course we all know that nothing changes overnight and I firmly believe that taking small steps will achieve as much in the long term - if not more (because it is more likely to be successful) than making drastic changes. CS professors are still coming around to understand the importance of usability - but the people that graduate with me are going to have a much higher opinion of that than the last generation.

On the other hand, I might just be deluding myself with false optimism or something.

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