More like a web application and less like a website

Automattic, the company behind WordPress, released a report today which summarises their recent project to test the usability of WordPress. It’s an interesting read if you use WordPress, but also if you’re interested in software development and usability testing. What’s most interesting for me, is how a large and successful open source project can co-ordinate a major redesign of an application, tested by thousands of enthusiasts for use by millions of general users.

While discussions about the design of an open source application can be had at any time on support forums, in this case, the formal change process began in May, through focused third-party usability testing, where 12 volunteers were carefully selected (and paid $75 in credits!). There was then a presentation at the San Francisco WordCamp in August, where wider feedback was elicited. A survey was announced in early September and a further survey, calling for 5000 participants was announced in late September. An annoucement was made at the beginning of October, where feedback was invited on a series of ‘wireframe’ mockups of the new design. Following feedback, the re-design was formally announced in mid-October and later this month designers were asked to submit their portfolio if they were interested in being recruited to design new icons (the following week!). Throughout this process, the development code, updated nightly, could be downloaded, installed and the application reviewed, too. Several mailing lists are used for open discussion, notably the ‘hackers’ and ‘testers’ lists.

The outcome of this incredibly rapid and completely transparent consultation, testing, feedback and design process has made it into the next release of WordPress (v2.7), due for release on November 10th. At just seven months from start to finish, it’s an excellent example of public collaboration between developers, designers and users, largely co-ordinated by one Automattic employee.

Here’s the testing report (PDF)

Here are the wireframes (PDF)

Here’s the presentation they gave in August, which covers the usability testing process.

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