It turns out we've not been really effective in communicating what's going on in the User Experience Hackfest that's going on right now in Cambridge. It's kind of good and bad at the same time: bad, because it's important to keep everybody in the loop; good, because it means we've been quite good on focusing on work :-) So here's a short summary of things, and hopefully more will come (especially a few mockups/whiteboard pictures that people are working on right now).

First, a big thanks to everybody involved -- artists, designers, hackers: we have some good range of skills represented here. Also a big thanks to the companies involved, who accepted to let their people come and actually even pay for the travel and accomodation. We have people from Canonical, Imendio, Intel, Novell (who is also hosting the hackfest) and Red Hat here, which is quite awesome. That's quite an investment from those companies, and it's really cool to see them step up like that. Novell has also sponsored a dinner for all participants on Tuesday; it was funny to have a seafood-lovers table and a vegetarian+others table ;-)

On Monday, we started by discussing the current status of GNOME, where we're good at, where we're lacking, etc. We then started focusing on a few topics. Those topics turned out to be well adopted and that's mostly what we worked for most of the week; more details on them in a few sentences. On Tuesday, we had some great presentations from Dave Richards and OLPC people, and both were quite helpful in different ways: getting closer to our users, and thinking out of the box. They definitely had an impact on what we did afterwards.

So, since Wednesday, we're working on the three topics that emerged during the first day: desktop shell, access to documents, and adding effects/animation to the desktop experience. I won't detail everything here, but I think we've ended up with some good stuff:

  • effects/animation: this focused on adding the tiny touch that makes a difference for the user. This is actually quite useful to make things more understandable and intuitive for the user. People had some nice ideas there, some simple, sand sme less simple...
  • access to documents: broad topic here, and I wasn't there for most of the discussions. I think many people liked the OLPC journal (hrm, can't find a good link for that with screenshots), and there's some kind of will to at least hide the hierarchical directory structure. A time-based view of the documents, some tag-based search and various other approaches were discussed, I believe. As was adding more context to documents (at least according to the whiteboard I'm looking at right now ;-)) -- the typical example being this document was attached to a mail from Jane received on Tuesday. I didn't look at the mockups, but it all sounds good to me, and I hope that having some of the right people talking together here will help make this all happen.
  • desktop shell: this has been the topic I've been following. We started out by thinking about window management, workspaces, applets, sidebar and notifications. Many things :-) And we now have some good mockup which is quite different from what exists and also quite familiar -- probably because it makes a lot of sense (to me, at least). Some highlights are: making workspaces actually useful and discoverable for all users, fixing the way we find and launch applications, having a central piece of the shell in the form of a panel which makes it easy to access what's important, etc. It's quite hard to explain all that without the mockups, but we're re-doing them so they are in a publishable state ;-)

I guess it's quite hard to get a good feeling of all this right now, but once the wiki page will be a bit more filled, things should get clearer. We still have a few hours ahead of us, but I already feel like it was a good and productive week, with great results. And I'm getting really excited about what we'll do in the next 1-2 years!