Pretending to “Design” and A Few Questions

Two parts to this, not nearly as tied together as I’d like, but heck, it’s been a month. First it’s pretend time, then a few things to ponder.

Okay, pretend time. Let’s pretend that you and I are designing a new Linux-based distro. So being good designers means that we’re going to immediately try to hone in on a definition of audience and goal (right?).

Let’s skip through the twenty coffee-laden, late night IRC meetings and pretend that we decided that the target audience of our distribution consists of 22-32 year old female stay-at-home moms who use laptop and desktop computers. The goal for our distribution is to provide an engaging, stable, virus-free platform which is exceptionally good at social networking and creative endeavours such as writing, photography and video editing for our target audience. (Whether that audience and goal are focused enough or well-defined enough is another matter entirely – and if you don’t think it is, let’s hear your ideas).

At this point, no matter how much fun it might be, we fight the urge to simply run off and design a pink logo for our new distro.

Now, you may not know me. But you’ll have to simply take my word on it that I am not in fact female and nowhere near the 22-32 year old age bracket. So while I could in fact design this mythical OS myself, I would have no idea whether the design was progressing toward its goal. I would need to either get a broad cross section of the target audience working for me, or perhaps more practically, seriously research the hell out of it.

In most parts of Libre Culture land I venture to say we don’t do either very well for our creative endeavours. I know that I personally don’t (at least not nearly enough – though by reading, learning and writing about it I’m trying to change that.).

Perhaps even more telling is the fact that as a 42 year old male, for me to say things like “I think this distro rocks!” or “I think this distro sucks!” really means a heck of a lot less than I might think or hope it does.

So let’s bring this back around to our Free Software community. Can we pay attention to the standard design practice of knowing audience and goal? After we choose an audience can we stop pretending that “we” are the audience and research the hell out of the actual audience?

Second, and perhaps more powerfully, a few questions.

It’s great that so much Libre Software was built by people “Scratching Their Own Itch”. It has been the driving force in building such a large army of so many smart and generous people developing so much great software.

What worries me is this: Can we rally groups of these smart people to design for an audience they are not a part of? Can we get Free Software culture to really scratch someone else’s itch? If not, are we destined to results that ultimately cater, even subconsciously to the traits and desires of the developers themselves?

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