(flawed?) Design Process for LibreOffice Mascot


(Sam Muirhead) #1

Note: I have not been involved in the LO design project, and I’m not part of the LO community other than as a user. These are just the initial thoughts of an outside observer.


I just read the blog posts about picking a mascot for LibreOffice, and completed the survey:

I was really surprised and quite disappointed to see the process that was being used. I mean, maybe this whole mascot thing isn’t meant to be taken very seriously, it might just a fun community project for people to express themselves. But to me it’s frustrating to see one of the biggest open source projects reinforcing the idea that an open source design process has to be some amateurish combination of design-by-committee, crowdsourcing and majority voting.

Some of my concerns:

The case for needing a mascot doesn’t seem particularly clear to me, or at least, it wasnt presented clearly in either blog post. Yes, KDE has Konqi, and so on. Personally I find Krita’s Kiki really problematic, but that’s a discussion for another day. But what do those mascots do for those projects and their users? How will the new mascot be used by LibreOffice?

The survey itself had far too many options, and personally I felt that the overall quality was very low. I gave all but two mascots the thumbs down - and I felt that those remaining two were still pretty mediocre - but I was just hoping that my vote could help to avert complete disaster.

There doesn’t seem to be a way to give feedback in order to iterate and improve the designs, an absolutely necessary part of the design process (or did this already happen on another forum?)

It also seems like the board is somewhat trapped by the process - will the mascot go into production as is, are these more like first drafts which can be refined & improved for the final election process?

Maybe the LO team is happy with everything as-is, but I’m sure that with input from other designers, this decision-making process could be improved.

I know that some members of the LO design team are active here, so I would like to suggest that maybe @htietze (or somebody else) might like to get some feedback and suggestions from the the OSD community either here on the forum, or by running a brief session on this topic at the Summit in a couple of weeks, sharing what worked/didn’t work etc?


Prototype: Community Design Template
(Heiko Tietze) #2

You are right, things are not running smoothly. The idea was to involve the community and to get as many proposals as possible. After that, a sanity check was planned to filter out those images violating the principles of TDF. Because of the large number of submission it was decided to not check every item but do a preselection. That has positive effect on the survey, if you think there are too many options (not my opinion). The voting phase was intended as filter for less-perfect submissions. And in the final election only the best submission will be presented for selection.

You criticize the quality of submissions. Of course such a community effort cannot be compared with professional work; nevertheless some of the proposals are made by experts and are well suited for being a mascot/icon. Actually that was never perfectly clear, and both would work as an alternative for the current TDF branding. We could have been more clear on this, and the post-hoc exclusion criterion would have been better defined in advance.

Doing design work by community might not work at all, as you request iterations that won’t be possible. But in my opinion it is not the time to iterate. I trust in the crowd and as you down-voted many submissions most others likely do the same with your concerns too. Alternatively we could (and have done partly) a design by committee with only a few people deciding on what a good design is. Maybe that’s the only way, but I hope it’s not.


(Sam Muirhead) #3

Hi @htietze, thanks for your response!

I do criticize the quality of the submissions if they are meant to be finished mascots. As general ideas, I agree that some show promise, but in terms of having both A) a great concept and B) an excellent execution of that concept… personally, I’m not convinced yet.

If the process was to gather these community-developed designs as first drafts or suggestions, and then use the feedback and discussion as the basis for further refinement (whether by the original creator, dedicated designers, or a combination), then I would see this as an important early phase in the design process, and I would judge the designs quite differently.

I guess my question is "when is the time to iterate?"
As I said, I haven’t been involved so I’m just going from the information in the blog posts - maybe there has already been some iteration, or maybe that is planned - if so, great!
I was just concerned because no iteration phase is mentioned in the posts, so it sounded like “these are the designs, there will be two rounds of voting, but one of them will be the new mascot”.
I’m from New Zealand, so I’m somewhat traumatized by that kind of design process after the complete disaster around our national flag: news article, web comic.

I strongly disagree that these are the only two options - I think that as the OSD community we should work together to improve the community design process.
I don’t mean this post to be overly critical of you or LO, I think you do fantastic work - but in terms of open source design, we all have a long way to go in developing and applying some kind of best practice for community design. It’s a matter of finding the right process which includes and values the contributions of a community, and produces a high-quality end result which serves the desired purpose, and that the community is proud of. I simply think that the particular execution of the LO mascot design was not the ideal process, and I would love to work with you and others here to work out what can be done better in the future. So it would be great to discuss this at the summit!


(evalica) #4

I have no problem with the quality of submissions. In communities ideas can come from everywhere and some professional designer might see patterns and get insights on what the community members would like to see as mascots / logos / etc.

After the “collecting” phase it’s the duty of the community managers or the people responsible of that project (committers, etc.) to approve the community vote. I’ve seen times when there were not enough entries or the results were not high quality, but that doesn’t mean that the outcome needs to be applied no matter what.

I like these competitions. They make a community stronger, they are fun, creative. You might get results or you might not. Besides of all the publicity / marketing, you might actually get results from “designers” :slight_smile: that get frustrated that the submissions are not good enough and might propose themselves something better. Not much to lose IMO.


(Heiko Tietze) #5

I’m somewhat traumatized by that kind of design process after the complete disaster around our national flag: news article1, web comic1…
I don’t mean this post to be overly critical of you or LO…

I’m glad where this discussion is heading. Another argument: As primary an interaction designer I focus on consistency and simplicity for new user interfaces. Unfortunately my view is seldom accepted completely - functionality (and coding effort) rules everything. That makes the product less perfect in my POV, but of course I could be wrong. And the advantage of community-based work is that not only one person is in charge and can be replaced easily.

OSD as an expert committee could be something in between the full open source democracy and the benevolent dictatorship, sure. But I don’t see this working as OSD actually is rather organizing work and brings people together. If we got hired to design the NZ flag, we may have carefully looked for metaphors, designed a few proposals, and conducted one or two iterations. But I’m not sure if we are more creative (10k ideas!) and the result has a better quality in the end. Nor if the kiwis are more happy with the outcome. (For instance, in the branding request filed a view month before I haven’t got working designs, only one idea.)

I like these competitions. They make a community stronger, they are fun, creative.

Exactly, that is always the intention.


(Sam Muirhead) #6

I agree with your points, but I still think that we can do better - if you ‘don’t get results’, what then? maybe the community is strengthened, but does all that expended design effort go anywhere, or is it just wasted? in my mind the problem is the likelihood of both strengthening a community and producing good design. One or the other might happen with this process, but it’s kind of down to luck.

Instead, what if there were clearly stated detailed goals and design constraints, and systems where feedback is provided, and iteration is expected, to ensure that each idea has the potential to be developed into its best possible expression.

If an open source project is going to put in the effort to run a community design process, it would be nice if the chances for success (on both fronts) were higher.

I don’t see OSD’s role as ‘an expert committee’ either - Though if we were to be called upon whenever a design decision had to be made, I think we would need some kind of a Bat Signal :slight_smile:

Rather I see this group as useful in terms of producing resources or tools which open source projects can use to understand how best to approach community design. When I say ‘producing resources’, that may mean published as Open Source Design, or as individuals/groups simply drawing upon discussions and ideas within OSD - either way, giving people tools and parameters to be able to make better decisions.

That way, if a community is considering a community design project, then the design-conscious/design-interested within that community can point to easily digestable information and examples of successful community design projects, which will help them make their case to the rest of their project, and perhaps even overcome this:

Unfortunately my view is seldom accepted completely - functionality (and coding effort) rules everything.

Another far-off but practical goal (requiring a lot more effort) would be creating some kind of Community Design software which allows for SVG version control, feedback and iteration - that glorious, mythical open source github for designers… :wink:


(Sam Muirhead) #7

also I should mention that the NZ flag process was not a complete failure - it did add the Laser Kiwi to our rich cultural heritage, for which future generations will be eternally grateful.


(Jdittrich) #8

I think this is a very good point. I assume many activities working towards something are actually more about the process by which cohesion in the group/community is created.