Filling the Open Source Usability Testing Gap
Could open source software benefit from more usability testing? It sure seems so, and usability labs are heavily emphasized at big proprietary software companies, especially Microsoft. In fact, early interface standards in Windows applications, such as common menu options, were largely driven by the experiences of usability testers. Here are some open source projects that are setting a good example when it comes to usability.
OStatic is based on the Drupal content management system (CMS). If you're unfamiliar with it, here is an interview that covers Drupal's unique strengths. One of the reasons that Drupal is favored by many people in need of a CMS is the standardized approach to user interface design that project leaders adhere to. Many of the ongoing user interface and design enhancements in Drupal are driven by the Drupal Usability Group, which has over 450 members.
If you look through the posts online at the Drupal Usability Group, you'll find an active community of folks policing everything from Drupal's installation routine to "those little annoying UI things." The Drupal Usability Group also reaches out to university researchers to extend Drupal's usability testing. This post discusses Drupal usability testing done at the University of Minnesota and the University of Baltimore.
Red Hat and Novell also stand out for focusing on usability testing, and community input on user interface design. Here is an extensive set of interface guidelines from Red Hat Magazine.
Some open source projects can benefit much more than others from doing usability research properly. GNOME, for example, stands or falls with many users based on how friendly the interface it provides is. Keeping it friendly is part of the GNOME Usability Project, which publishes its own Human Interface Guidelines.
There are a lot of other examples of open source projects that put proper focus on usability, but there are also too many examples of projects where the issue is ignored altogether. Starting an active usability group, publishing interface guidelines online, and reaching out to researchers at external labs such as university labs are all good ideas to start with.