Developer Area/Dev Team Ideas/Usability Sprint '09/Meeting 20090416

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This meeting took place by Skype, at 2009/04/16 10:30AM NZST.

Agenda

We now have a list of some of the biggest conceptual barriers - are there more? Do we suspect there are more? Is there anything we can do to find out more?
Begin discussions about how we can fix these big issues

Attendees

Nigel McNie, Richard Mansfield, Ray Merrill, Myles Carrick

Notes

Nigel summarised where we had made it to yesterday in finding the main conceptual issues users had with Mahara currently. These were:

  • Confusion around "My Stuff" vs. Views of My Stuff.
  • Inability to work out what stuff belongs to users - the split between My Profile and My Portfolio seemed to cause confusion (why is Resume stuff under My Profile?). This points to navigation issues.
  • Workflow issues - what are people supposed to do when in Mahara? Myles floated the idea of a "create stuff" -> "make web pages" -> "publish web pages" workflow as a simple example.

The question of what people are supposed to do when in Mahara lead into discussions about Mahara's homepage for logged in users. Currently it's just a blob of text set by the site administrator, which is not helpful - in fact it's positively boring. The homepage is not centred around the user and gives them nothing to do.

The idea of the homepage being a View was brought up. Ray pointed out that you have to be careful to take context into account - for example, it would make more sense for new users to get a welcome splash-screen and the ability to take tutorials through the system. Existing users, who already had a basic grasp of the system, could be shown a more "dashboard" style of homepage (still with the option of viewing the tutorials again). This dashboard should be "actionable", giving users a way to set about performing the tasks that they would have come to the system to perform. It would make sense to surface notifications there, for example. There should be different blocks on the page based on role - tutors or admins may want to see different things and perform different actions.

Task-based stuff is currently lacking. The example brought up was to do with groups. Often when creating a group, people will first create it, then seek to add users to it. Or maybe they will find a user, and then decide to directly add them to a group. The former process is painful currently - there is no way to mass-add users. This is an oft-requested feature of Mahara. (editor's note: the other main task-based example is creating a view - the process is quite simplistic as it stands).

Nigel asked if we all thought we had enough feedback so far to press ahead with working out what to do about it, and it was generally agreed that we did.

Talk drifted to theming. Ray raised the point that the current theme is hard to re-theme. Nigel informed everyone about the changes that were being made in this area - our graphic designer has been re-doing the themes so that there's a really minimal one to start from, and the current default theme will be re-parented from that one. The HTML in general is also being cleaned up, which should help everyone who is making a theme. Myles pointed out that we should get information out to the community about what is going to change so we can ge feedback. We need to be clear about what will break at upgrade time, and where possible, provide a BC option. A lot of this talk was focused around changes to the navigation - it's generally agreed that it will change, but people's themes will probably depend on the old structure of navigation, and we don't want to bust everyone's themes.

After that segue, Nigel asked what we could do now to address some of these problems. He suggested fostering some discussion/sketches to see if we could find solutions, but Ray pointed out that given LeaderTracker already has come up with (potential) solutions to these issues, we could simply borrow those ideas as a starting point. This was generally seen as a good idea.

The menus were looked at first. Everyone liked the way they structured all items into "My Stuff", "Colleagues & Groups" and "Sharing My Information", though their exact implementation would probably need to change to fit with broader Mahara goals like it working without javascript. Nigel asked about adding more levels of flyouts to the menus in order to facilitate quick navigation, which Ray said had worked on previous project he'd been involved in but tend to fail if you have more than one level of flyout. He advocated an improved, task-focused homepage as a way to provide quick navigation.

We discussed how we could begin on the work. A suggested first step was to put together a theme/layout incorporating the new navigation. There was also discussion of tweaking the language pack. It was generally agreed that "web page" was a good replacement for "View".

Myles brought up an issue alluded to yesterday, where between wall comments, blog comments, artefact comments, forum posts and view feedback, there's several rather different ways of entering "comments" on entities in the system. Apparently Moodle is unifying a lot of this. Talk drifted to forums, which Ray claimed had obvious usability issues. Although there was some dissent about this, Myles suggested that they would be easier to understand if a default forum was placed in a group, to give everyone a starting point. This was seen as a good idea.

Wrapping up, it was decided the next step would be to get a list of usability issues into the wiki, ordered by priority, which we could then use when making plans to solve them. It was suggested that we should treat this as an ongoing item, rather than try to fix everything in this sprint, which would help raise general awareness in the community about usability as well as not hold us up for ages while we try fixing everything. Nigel is still keen to have us target some particular screens for work in this sprint, and Ray mentioned that he may have to focus on the View screens as part of his project sometime soon.

At that point, the meeting was ended.