UI Design and Risk-Reward Behaviour

Mark Shuttleworth responded to criticism over the changes to the new Lucid window themes with allusion to the fact that new and neat things are coming that justify the change.

Sometimes it’s worthwhile to step outside the envelope and try something new. But always remember that humans respond to risk-reward behavior. If you are going to force them to do something new or risky, there needs to be a reward equal to the risk otherwise the user wont adapt.

In the case of the latest design changes, the reward was promised after the fact, but not given. Thus, it is a massive design fail. Yes there were opinions provided and these can be ignored because of meritocracy rules. But good UI design needs to be based on fact. And the facts were not there to justify the change. This was pointed out. And hopefully completely understood.

The Silence of the Blogosphere

I’ve noticed a disturbing development in Ubuntu. I’ve complained about the design changes instigated by the Ayatana UX team, particularly the recent change to place the windows controls on the left. But something more troubling is afoot. A thread on ubuntuforums is showing a 76% preference for the old control location. Given this significant percentage, you would expect some level of outcry on the Ubuntu Planet, the official blog aggregator for Ubuntu members. Until today, not a peep. Scott Ritchie, a heavily involved member fired the first volley. This is a little Orwellian. I’m getting really concerned about the UniqueVision(TM) of Ubuntu if they foster an environment that people don’t feel like that can speak their mind on what is a commercially driven community project. Mark Shuttleworth has stated that this is his vision and his baby, but Ubuntu would be nothing more that his idle hobby without community support. I’m wondering if this is related to free speech in the UK vs. the USA?

Ubuntu: The natives are restless

Well, it hit the fan finally. The unrest concerning the UI changes in Ubuntu are starting to steam roll. The thread at ubuntu forums is growing. A particularly volatile bug has been filed on launchpad, sufficiently uncivil that the the great maker Mark Shuttleworth himself had to chime in.

From the best I can determine, there was considerable discussion within the Ayatana group over the different button placements in other OS’s and whcih was superior. The problem was that they weren’t trying to overcome any particular issue. It appears to be a change just to set Ubuntu apart visually.

Gather round developers. Let this be a teachable moment. When you create a closed group of designers and remove voices that don’t agree with your UniqueVision(TM) you get this type of result. Dissent is important in all walks of life. It is in the chaos of adversarial debate where the best ideas are forged.

Ubuntu: Linux for Boneheads

Those of you that follow the development of Ubuntu Lucid Lynx might be caught by surprise regarding some of the new design decisions being made by Canonical. Their Ayatana project was created to revitalize the Ubuntu desktop by trying to resolve usability issues. While a lot of the approaches have shown merit, some have been downright stupid.

I’ve been particularly critical of the decision concerning the removal of functionality in libnotify. The Ayatana group decided that allowing interactive notifications was against their master plan, guaranteeing a thousand solutions to the problem and forcing new paradigms on the user. Their decision to use pop downs for the update manager simultaneously annoys the advanced user while opening serious security holes for the noob.

But these pale in comparison their latest faux pas. They have decided in their infinite wisdom to change the control layout for the windows in the gnome desktop. That’s right, they have moved the close, minimize and maximize to the left side of the window just like the mac. Little mind was apparently paid to the disruption of the existing users. Even less paid to the users that have to work in two desktops, the other 90% likely to be in Windows. And none whatsoever to individuals thinking about transitioning, again most likely from Windows.

I have great respect for the work done by Canonical. They have added stability to the chaos of open source. But it’s apparent that they are starting to believe there own press releases. These changes smack of a group that thinks it’s visionary, but in reality isn’t sufficiently open to listen to reason. This current design choice will kill any possibly of poaching market share from Microsoft while annoying current users. I’ve spent considerable time championing their cause, but it is obvious to me that they are going a different direction. I think it’s time to look at the competition.