How a usability student found his way to KDE – and why there are so few of us
When I read Jens Reuterberg’s blog post about his impression of the relationship between KDE and designers of all sorts, it reminded me of how I first got in touch with KDE and what we could learn from that experience.
It all happened back in 2008. I was a psychology student interested in usability and a happy Ubuntu (and thus Gnome2) user at the time. Most of my fellow students were not all that interested in computers – let alone Free Software. However, there was one girl – punk-like looks, living in an alternative community, had worked as a sysadmin before starting to study psychology – the prototypical “Free Software chick”. She wasn’t really into usability, but we often talked about Free Software. One day she told me that she had read a news article on a tech website (Heise or Golem, not sure anymore) about a program where students could do usability projects in Free Software in the summer, called Season of Usability. It was organized by OpenUsability, an organization with the aim to bring usability experts into the FOSS world. Sadly, Season of Usability was discontinued in 2010 and by now OpenUsability is pretty much dead as an organization, though members like Björn Balazs, Peter Sikking or Celeste Lyn Paul are still – more or less, Björn definitely more – active in FOSS. I was really excited about the opportunity to combine two of my passions – usability and FOSS! I applied and got accepted for the “KDE4 Human Interface Guidelines” project, mentored by Celeste Lyn Paul and Ellen Reitmayr. Together with another student, we worked on the KDE4 HIG and UI design patterns over the summer. It was really fun. After the project concluded, I asked Celeste whether there was more I could do. She pointed me to a UI review of KPackageKit she was doing together with Björn, so that’s where I met him.
After that, I was hooked and have been contributing to KDE (sporadically at first, then more and more regularly) since then.
So let’s recap which factors had to converge to make this happen: I was a student interested both in usability and FOSS (the only one of that kind in my department). However, even with these interests, I was not regularly reading any typical IT websites (I was more into usability/UX/design-related websites, like most people interested in this topic), so I learned about Season of Usability only because of my fellow student who was into FOSS too and did read IT-related websites. I was lucky enough to be a student when the second to last Season of Usability happened. And I was selected for the KDE SoU project (I had also applied for other projects, so I might as well have ended up somewhere else).
This illustrates one of the big problems we have when it comes to getting new people from fields other then software development to join us: KDE just isn’t visible outside our core audience, which is Free Software and IT enthusiasts. Our promo team does amazing work, but they mostly reach technology-related press. Linux Magazine, Ars Technica, ZDNet, Muktware, Heise, we’re very very visible in all of those. They pick up our release announcements, they even pick up things we didn’t want them to pick up (Martin Gräßlin has a story or two to tell about that, right? 😉 ). But you won’t reach many designers or usability people there. They read completely different sites and blogs, even if they do use some of our software (e.g. Krita). They may use our software, they may even love it, but they might not even realize that they can actively contribute to it! When I read interviews with Krita users on their news site, the question “Have you worked for or contributed to any FOSS project?” is always some form of “No”. And it’s not because they’re lazy assholes. These interviews are usually with people who give their work to the Krita foundation to sell in their shop, so they do want to give something back, they just don’t know how (other than by donating their art to sell or donating money)! And we have to change that, if we ever want to grow our team to more than a handful of people.
This is what we aim to do now, thanks to the push that comes from Jens’ fresh new look into our situation and his ambitious ideas!