autumnus: A purple monochrome portrait of Zoe from Dreamfall, with drawn stars in background and "the Dreamer" written on bottom. (Default)
disclaimer 1: I am a former staffer who took a break from the org, who might return back or not in future.
disclainer 2:  Since I am no longer a volunteer, there is no way on earth my opinions can reflect official opinions of AD&T of OTW or anyone really but myself. :) Just so that we are clear.

Criticism and AD&T

Posts I have seen in reaction to the new AO3 skins criticism falls neatly into 2 categories:
  1. defensive posts (we do the work, take it or leave it. ouch)
  2. despair. (oh noes)
Anger of this level usually happens when people realize that they are easily ignored when they talk calmly. Defensiveness is problematic. You can cross your arms. Insult your users. Completely miss an opportunity to learn. People in front of you are not dumb. Some of them are also programmers. Some of them are UI designers. Some of them are plain people you are making the software FOR. 10 people are yelling. Maybe your decision or preference is not universal. It is important to remember as a programmer, designer, policy maker, etc that just because you did the work doesn't mean that you are authority on the subject. 

Also it is normal to feel hurt, like you are being attacked or like you will never recover from a harsh criticism. Believe it or not most people do not yell simply because they want to hurt you or make you feel bad. They weren't heard so they are speaking at a higher volume so that you know something is wrong, so that it can be fixed. It is an important skill to listen to criticism, even harsh one.

Also, apologizing is great. However, apologizing and feeling bad until the people calm down, then going back to same old ways is not. Don't fall into the trap! Make the changes today, not after the next higher priority task.

Design and testing process

This type of wank was coming at AO3 for a long while now. I know several people including me tried to warn. This is basically the type of problem you eventually run into when you let your coders hog designing, you treat user feedback and Q&A team like an afterthought, and treat documentation and API like an unnecessary overhead. (and yes. I know, this IS common in a lot of programming projects)

Design is fun to do. It is not even that coders can't design. Quite the opposite, but mixing up production with the designing process turns features into one (wo)man shows. Design-coding-testing process for big features or updates should happen in short cycles and in a team: not in one volunteer's head. Regardless of how amazing vision of one person is, it is still one person. They'll have a blind spot. Design mistakes will be noticed only after tons of hours of coding: a waste of effort. Plus lack of a clear process simply puts a lot of work in one person's shoulders when coding can be done collaboratively. Also brainstorming techniques can be both applied to design processes and in helping organizing user input from support. It will help preventing one person's vision type of designs from coming back and biting development team at backside.

Growing documentation as the design and coding process goes will allow seeing mistakes beforehand, and allow the designing as a team to occur. It will also allow a new person to pick off from where the previous person left off if necessary or to review or update a code or design several months later without reinventing the wheel. Documents also make it possible for testers to do their job, to notice if something is a coding bug or design bug and re-assign a problem back to the correct place in the cycle. It will also tell them what needs testing. When we say docs there are two things actually. One is specs: how is a feature supposed to look from the point of view of an user, how it is supposed to behave. The other is the internal API. The API doesn't have to be in super detail but it needs to be enough so that people can collaborate without writing incompatible code, or so that when another coder comes back to the same feature 3 months later, they know what they are working with and pinpoint the problem.

Third thing. Testers job isn't to find bugs in code so that coders don't waste time to test it themselves Their job is to catch things coders missed after testing thoroughly and writing their own tests. Otherwise you waste effort that could be used to actually find trickier, more subtle problems to find obvious mistakes that are easy to catch. Coders doing their own testing shouldn't be a nice gesture, but required. All coders should have some idea of how to test their own code. Also, if a tester says: "hey this behavior is unclear", it is called design bug and should be redirected to the design stage of the cycle to fix. The answer should NOT be "but no, it is a feature!". :D

ETA: Skud has also post on AO3 development process and why it is not healthy from an open source project management perspective.

AO3 skins what went wrong and what didn't.

Lim being the only one making the skins? Yes, bad idea. (I personally think her web design aesthetic is bad, she doesn't know that much about accessibility but this is not a new thing. Last design was hers too). Something like website design of a site like this shouldn't have been given into a monopoly of anyone, let alone someone with maybe not the best skill set for it.

However there is one thing I know Lim does know well and it is CSS. The code she wrote is an amazing contribution to the AO3 in the long run. Basically archive is fully skinnable now (or at least a lot more than before). If the development team uses it right, this can even allow new people to make skins that will be alternative to public skins or even future default skin without having to learn the whole coding structure of the site. It can also allow say the development team to roll out a new layout they created as a public skin first and to get feedback. This type of modularity is useful and is exactly what we need in AO3. So kudos to that. I personally think that one time break of current skins is an acceptable cost under the circumstances.


autumnus: A purple monochrome portrait of Zoe from Dreamfall, with drawn stars in background and "the Dreamer" written on bottom. (Default)

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