Wikimedia User experience programs: a systematic approach

Over the years, the design of MediaWiki has been solely driven by software developers. This has caused an unfortunate technology-based approach of the front-end and the features (implemented or missing), relying mostly on the implementation model. The consequence is that the interface & features are too far from the users’ mental model. The Wikipedia and Multimedia Usability projects have tried to address the most pressing concerns resulting from this hiatus between the software and the users’ expectations.

During the past few weeks, I have been thinking about a more structured way to manage software and product development within the Wikimedia community. The result is a list of ideas and recommendations I have compiled and submitted to the relevant staff members at the Wikimedia Foundation. I am also publishing them here in order to allow for a wider feedback. This article is the second of a series dedicated to this topic.

Disclaimer: The content of this article reflects only my personal opinion and is not an official plan or communication of the Wikimedia Foundation.

Over the years, the design of MediaWiki has been solely driven by software developers. This has caused an unfortunate technology-based approach of the front-end and the features (implemented or missing), relying mostly on the implementation model. The consequence is that the interface & features are too far from the users' mental model. The Wikipedia and Multimedia Usability projects have tried to address the most pressing concerns resulting from this hiatus between the software and the users' expectations.

For all these reasons, I am really happy to see the Wikimedia Foundation investing further in User Experience (UX). However, I see little added value in having an UX department separate from the main development cycle. There are at least two reasons to keep them as one.

UX should be a systematic approach

A more systematic approach is necessary in order to improve the usability of Wikimedia projects perennially; good, usable design needs to happen before the actual implementation of any feature, in the early stages of the product (or component) development. Otherwise, we will always be running after the train, and never catch it. A separate entity made sense when these UX programs had a specific scope and time frame, but it was because they were tied to specific grants. In a more permanent setup, I see no reason to separate UX programs from the "regular" development processes; targeted actions can be carried out by specific projects inside the development team, rather than by a separate team altogether.

Everything is UX

More generally, all the activities of our Technology department are about User experience; everything we do is UX. Software development aims to fix bugs, develop new features, improve others, and remove hindrances. The sole goal of all of these activities is to improve the user experience by making the software better and closer to users' needs. Even Operations are about UX: the goal of the Operations team is to make sure the information can be accessed reliably and reasonably fast by an audience as large as possible; in short, the point of Operations is to ensure we actually provide a user experience.

As a consequence, I recommend to make UX a systematic part of the product or component development cycle, not a separate parallel entity.

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