The blog has been fairly quiet for the past few weeks, and with good reason! I’ve been in “mole mode,” working on a few WordPress plugins with the hope of getting them accepted into Core for the 3.8 release schedule to launch in early December. I’m happy to report that all three plugins have been accepted!
Widgets Area Chooser (WAC)
This plugin started as a suggestion from Matt. He mentioned in a Skype chat that the “simplest thing we could do” would be to provide a list of sidebars to choose from when clicking on an available widget. This was one of the first plugins I’ve ever built, and having a super simple scope made it doable. The old drag and drop method of adding widgets is still there, but the WAC makes it easier to add widgets when you have a lot of sidebars, on mobile and touch screen devices, and for users who find it difficult to use a mouse.
Theme Experience (THX)
Matías Ventura first proposed the THX project when development began on WordPress 3.7. The goal was to make the experience of installing and browsing themes better. We started by talking to users and developers; We ran a survey and setup a few tests on usertesting.com. With some basic feedback in hand, we explored a bunch of designs. After a few weeks we had a solid direction for what we wanted to do:
- Make browsing and installing themes incredibly fast.
- Put big theme previews front and center.
- Make it work across every screen size.
With some help from Sheri Bigelow, we ran some more user tests to see how our vision held up with real people, and started iterating quickly. After a few more weeks, we began thinking about what we wanted in – and could realistically have ready for – inclusion in WordPress 3.8. We decided to focus our remaining time on the browsing experience, leaving the install portion of the project for a future release.
MP6 (No clue what it stands for…)
The MP6 team has been doing awesome things for months, and is the poster child for the new “feature as plugins” development philosophy that WordPress.org now uses. My involvement comes at the very tail end of the project. Joen Asmusen mentioned my name when the team was discussing their plan to tackle the widgets screen. Since I was (and still am) leading the team that is focused on rethinking widgets, Joen suggested that I may have some ideas. I offered to spend some time coming up with some rough concepts. A few days later I sent Joen some code that resembles what you see in core today. I was asked to join the team and was given commit access to continue working on the widgets component. I felt honored and extremely lucky to work with some of the best designers and developers in the WordPress community.
This coming week marks the end of active development on 3.8, with a planned code freeze and beta release on Wednesday. Until then, I’m working on cleaning up code, bug fixes, and some last-minute enhancements and polish. I’m excited about the release of 3.8, and the future of WordPress in general!
Hell has frozen over: I’ve got an Android device. The primary motivation for getting it is to test out Automattic’s applications, websites, and services. So far, my early impressions are really positive. But there have been plenty of hiccups along the way. For example, it took me a good two minutes to figure out how to turn the thing on. I swear, that power button is hidden on purpose. It’s too far down from the top of the device, and wraps too far behind the curvature of the side. Once I finally figured out how to turn it on, and setup my Wi-Fi password and Google account, I started to play. That didn’t last long however; About two minutes into using the tablet it prompted me to install an update. So I tapped yes and watched it restart a handful of times, wondering if I was ever going to be able to use it. When the update finished, I was surprised to find that I had to reenter my Wi-Fi info and Google credentials.
Its still really early, I’d like to just provide some high-level thoughts in a few of the things I miss from iOS. I’ll be spending a lot of time with the device over the coming weeks to get intimately familiar with android. I think it’s important as a UI designer to become familiar with as many different devices and operating systems as I can.
High level thoughts:
- Swype, a fancy way of “typing” by drawing lines between the letters in the word is by far the fastest and most accurate way of typing.
- Speech to text is a close second, and puts Siri to shame.
- The regular touch to type experience is actually kinda terrible when compared to the iPad.
- Selecting text is far superior to iOS’s gimmicky loupe zoom tool.
- The screen is very nice, and while not as nice as the iPad’s retina display, is a very close second.
- It’s only been a few hours, so it’s hard to judge the Android OS, but my early impressions are favorable. However, stability in this short time has proven to be less than ideal; is been less than 24 hours and this thing has crashed half-a-dozen times
- The back button thing mystifies me. Sometimes it takes me back a level in the current app; Sometimes it takes me back to a different app; Sometimes it takes me to the home screen. Is there a method to this madness?
- Home screen widgets can be really cool (inbox and keep are great), but most of them are useless, gimmicky, and terribly designed. Even the well designed ones seem to suffer from a lack of update; stale info makes them useless. And why are the Twitter and Facebook widgets so small?
- The notification tray is nice to use, but visually stands out from the rest of the interface. Same goes for the controls panel.
- I wish I could launch more from the”swipe up on the home icon” trick. I’m not sure Google Now will ever be useful for someone who rarely leaves their house, like me.
- Having the home screen button be a touch screen icon directly under the keyboard is a recipe for disaster. While typing, I’ve hit the home button a number of times, taking me out of whatever I was doing.
- Navigating inside and between apps is confusing. Sometimes the navigation controls are at the top, and sometimes you have to use the global controls at the bottom – often within the same app. For example, the Play store let’s you tap screenshots to view them at full size, but the only way to exit the full screen view is to tap the mysterious back button. Yet elsewhere in the app there is a back button at the top left of the screen. Another example is swipe gestures; Sometimes swiping left and right changes the view, and sometimes it opens a sidebar. Confusing. I’ve never felt confused with navigation in iOS 7.
Things I miss from iOS:
- Taping the top of the screen to scroll to the top.
- The (new in iOS 7) global back swipe gesture.
- All of the multi finger gestures for switching between apps and the home screen.
- The physical home button.
- A power connector that can’t be plugged in wrong.
- Better lock screen pass code options. (Why do I have to tap a button after typing my pass code?)
- The App Store. The Google Play store is really terrible.
I ran another in-person user test last week, this time going over the tabbed widget prototype and the new widget customizer prototype. Check out the video below:
Another day, another late-night concept video. This time I’m back on widgets. The tabbed prototype I’ve been working on is really taking shape and feeling nice. But, its biggest strength is also its biggest weakness: You can only see one sidebar at a time.
I’ve been toying with the idea of an “all sidebars” view since I started working on the project, and today the inspiration for a possible UI struck me: Mission Control in OS X. Check out the video to see the concept in action:
Spent a little time hooking up some ideas for ways to view and compare items from your WordPress media library. Check out the video. Would you find this useful?
Far from perfect, this slider lets you change the size of the thumbnails in the media library. See a bunch of smaller images at once, or zoom in and see bigger images.
I’ve been playing with some interactions and styles for the Media Library, with the goal of making it easier to browse and manage your media in WordPress. Check out the video and tell me what you think.
Last night, I create a user test for the recently updated widgets prototype. About 30 minutes later, I had this super awesome video of a real person using the prototype and talking about his thoughts and experience: (beware the loud cough at the beginning)
This one went very well. And it seems that the idea of dragging widgets into sidebars is engrained in existing users. I’ve even caught myself doing it a few times, and I built the prototype specifically to avoid that interaction. It makes sense, as dragging widgets into place has existed in WordPress for over 3 years.