The Evolution of Technology in the Context of Software Development & Design Process: Take-away from PatternFly Conference

[This post was originally published on Red Hat Developers, the community to learn, code, and share faster. To read the original post, click here.]

Last Sunday, I returned home, India, after attending a series of collaborative sessions in Raleigh, NC, with many designers and developers across Red Hat and the open-source community, at the UX Summit and the PatternFly Conference. The whole experience was inspiring, informative and at the same time thought provoking with many takeaways, out of which the most interesting for me was that cumulatively all the inspiring talks from the speakers of the conference were implicitly hinting towards a clue. How our attempt to solve the existing technical solutions also impact the existing work process and thereby demand a rethink on the process blocks we use.

Being part of the Red Hat UX Design team, it is always an exploration and giving value to the core principle of “being open” to the “Design” — this is something similar to how the “openness” is seen as the integral value of the “Development”.

“We approach user experience design in the same way we develop our products. It’s all about being open.”   – Jim Whitehurst, CEO & President, Red Hat

So, what’s so special about the design being open? Is it something different from how we design in a traditional enterprise organization? It’s natural to have such questions when we face the open paradigm of the design challenges — I had similar questions. One thing to note here is that designing for open-source has its own challenges that require a re-look at the existing design processes and frameworks especially in the software development scenarios that have been evolving over last two decades. With the focus to bring the user-centric focus to the existing sets of Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) — these were mostly about advocating Human Factors in the perspective through which we have been used to see SDLC.

But as day-by-day major enterprises are going open-source to bring more and more collaboration with the community to develop the software, the open-source movement itself is getting mature by gradual evolution through different seasonings in the context of the growth of technology and the changing market needs that are driving shaping the SDLCs. For example with the rise of startups in last few years, the adoption of MVP-driven Lean Development models instead of traditional SDLCs has increased indicating the evolving dynamics of adoption of such processes.

In the traditional enterprise, the design process is more or less influenced by standard UX approaches that have evolved over the last couple of decades. Taking into account the SDLC defined towards the end goal of the organization in context to the user experience related benchmarks. Many take different components/tools and methodologies from the Design Thinking and other similar HCI process models, and align them into the SDLC, be it agile, waterfall or hybrid, and try to achieve the user-centered software development (UCSD) from an engineering point of view.

There are sects of organizations, who take into account the user needs related benchmark and make the existing SDLC components to align to that — be it through User-Centered Design (UCD) approach blended with a part of Iterative, Agile or Lean SDLC models or simply following a ready made Lean UX model. While everyone is attempting to solve the UX equation to come up with the best possible framework that works great in advocating user needs, the question is still unsolved — what UX approach works best in a diversified collaborative open-source culture?

In the very first PatternFly conference held on 8th of this month, in his keynote, Michael Tiemann, VP of Open-source Affairs at Red Hat, referred to continuous evolution in the software development domain in context to design. His expressed views, which resonated more with the belief that the sustainable design solution can evolve from an organic design process, where reusability can play an important role.

(Michael Tiemann, Vice President of Open Source Affairs at Red Hat, delivering the keynote at the very first PatternFly Conference at Red Hat Annex, Raleigh on 8th June 2017)

The PatternFly community project supported by Red Hat is an attempt in such a direction that promotes “design commonality and improved user experience”. Dana’s blog post, Are “Web Components” in the future for PatternFly?, is an interesting read in this context from a technical angle where he addresses the thoughts on building a UI framework when there are so many choices and so many strong feelings about the different choices? While every organization is still trying to find the solutions for challenges related to UI development for a better experience such as – how to structure and organize CSS code for reusability in the ever-growing complex world of UI framework choices like Bootstrap, Angular & React etc. It’s also important not to forget that with each adoption of UI framework the impact on how we implement experiences to our products is also evolving, thereby making an impact to the process blocks that run the design, and development testing phases of SDLC.

This leads us to the hypothesis that with the evolution of newer technology adoptions, we are bringing the change catalysts to our development process, which can influence how we conceptualize and deliver the best experience for any product we are building. Along with it, as SDLCs are now getting re-shaped due to needs like, “faster time to market” and to bring out more sustainable solutions for the business needs, so is the associated stages of “Design”, “Development” and “Testing”. These are also getting more mature through the focus on Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Delivery (CD); thereby bringing a sea of change to the way software was planned, designed, developed, and tested traditionally. To this model when we add the “Open” aspect that demands the need to improve the process dynamics in order to ensure the end-to-end software delivery is sustainable in coming times. Red Hat’s recent open initiative to announce OpenShift.io is an attempt that tries to address all these aspects, at least it is a “start” where we start re-thinking openly about the solution that we thought we already have.

Openshift.io as an end-to-end development platform tries to address multiple areas or the process blocks like Planning, Analysis, and Creation, that tries to answer one question – what is the best way to deliver a software product in the most effective, seamless and consistent way in a diversified work-culture with value and best experience possible. It would be interesting to see how this platform evolves in coming times with the support and collaborative effort from the open source community to address these process related change catalysts that are getting their way into the work practices due to an ever growing complexity of technology change.

In the forthcoming posts, I will be exploring this context with respect to existing UX models and methodologies try to reflect thoughts on “UX in the Open “. Stay tuned.

Don’t get Confused: UCD vs UCSD

In my last posts I discussed about Usability Design and User-Centered Design (UCD) and User-Centered Systems Design (UCSD). But many confuse between these two.  So in the following I am trying to differentiate these two:

UCD vs UCSD

UCD is differs from the UCSD in the following areas:

  1. Goal: The goal of UCSD is more on the process than the user so as to make the final product/system more usable. UCD rather focuses more on “users” of the product and not the design process. More focus is spent on understanding the user and their need.
  2. Process vs. Techniques Set: UCSD is about system development where as UCD is mostly a set of tecniques and process sets to be used with in UCSD 
  3. Perception: The DNA of UCSD is about changing the mindset of the professionals in the development process so that the designing aspect of usability can be put into practice freely and with higher priority. The UCD process is not about the changing perception about the priority of the design in the whole process.
  4. Broadness: UCSD covers the whole process that includes the areas which are even not part of “designing” whereas UCD can be seen as a subset of UCSD focusing of the “design process sets”.

UCD Models and Process

There 3 different models that support UCD in varying degrees and follow the ISO standard Human-Centred Design for interactive systems:

  1. Cooperative Design: This involves designers and users on an equal footing.
  2. Participatory Design (PD): Inspired by Cooperative Design, focusing on the participation of users
  3. Contextual Design:  “Customer-Centered Design” in the actual context, including some ideas from Participatory Design.

All these UCD models involve more or less a set of activities grouped into the following steps  mentioned below:

  1. Planning: in this stage the UCD process is planned and if needed customized. It involves  understanding the business needs and setting up the goals and objectives of the UX activities.  Also forming  the right team for the UX needs and if needed hiring specialties fall into this step.
  2. User data collection and analysis: This step involves data collection through different applicable methodologies such as user interviews, developing personas, conducting scenarios , user-cases and user stories analysis, setting up measurable goals.
  3. Designing and Prototyping : This involves activities like card sorting, conducting IA, wire framing and developing prototyping.
  4. Content writing: this  involves content refinement and writing for web and similar activities.
  5. Usability testing: This involves is a set of activities  of conducting tests and heuristic evaluations and reporting to allow refinement to the product. However Usability Testing can have its set of steps involving similar activities such as planning , Team forming, testing , review and data analysis and reporting.

All these are similar to most of the steps that fall under Usability Design as UCD can be seen as a subset of process with in Usability Design.

So many processes: What is where?

After going through multi relation models in all these processes and sub process discussed in this post and the previously discussed posts,  it might be little confusing to visual all the overlapping and dependable process sets. So here is a simple representation diagram that roughly shows the overlapping relations:

processes-relation

UI2MVC for AS3: Saving Efforts in the Begining Stages of the Project Development

Everyone knows that developing a PureMVC application in AS3 requires a good amount of effort in the begining weeks. Same was my experience in some of my applications I had developed in past for different clients, who wanted the perfect pureMVC structure to be implemented and that too with in limited budget and time.  It was a pian for the team to deliver the project in PureMVC if the budget is crushed. So I was working on a small tool kit that actually helps reduce the efforts for the team in the beginning stage of the project that implement that use the PureMVC framework for AS3.

Actually any project implementing pureMVC in AS3 in Flash , approxmiately 15% – 30% of total development effort is spent in writing the UI level Views,  Notifications, Commands, Mediators and Proxies . In the begining weeks the initial effort is spent in preparing the basic work flow based on the business flow defined in the requirement docs. Once the basic flow is ready , the rest of the effort goes to implementing the business logic to the base framework prepared.  Another point is very intresting to note — the more you split your application into smaller loosely coupled modules/logical units, the more flexible your application becomes, but at the same time it requires adding more .AS files representing more splitted code lines of logical units, commands, notifications and views etc. But client is never happy with the flexibility implemented, nor with the requests to add more to budget for more lines of codes …rather wants the application to be unendingly flexible as well as modular without allowing any additional effort hours. And a typical out put can look something like this as in the following image in the first weeks of development with the basic flow ready.

 Now how if this can be done with in a day or two instead of spending one or two weeks? Well that’s what UI2MVC is all about. Currently it takes UI level inputs, lable names, file names in the form of a specific formatted  XML (I call it UIXML) and out puts the basic flow of  pureMVC ready application that can be compiled without any graphical views. Though the tool is in very primitive stage, I have successfully used to deliver two projects where roughly 2-3 weeks of time is saved in each project. I am now trying to create a GUI version of it so that it will be more userfriendly and can fasten the workflow. Also currently this is meant for certain types of applications development with AS3 PureMVC, such as it is limited to single common navigation controller. Note: this also currently does not support Flex/Flash Builder projects.