Given that RSECon is one of the preeminent gatherings of research software engineers (RSEs) and allies in the UK, I assumed this would be THE place to find people who, like me, are not engineers but provide essential strategy and design directions for research software. I wanted to meet RSE leaders responsible for the user experience of research software and find out what barriers they face and their goals.
And finally, I wanted to probe into a question: if RSEs are a growing discipline —where is its natural partner— the Research Software Designer (RSD)? (SSI Fellow Ginestra Ferraro is the only RSD I’ve met!)
Suppose I find a critical mass of people working on improving the user experience of research software (RSDs or under another name). Would there be interest and need to develop a Community of Practice?
Lesson learned: Human-centred design is alive and well (but not always named as such)
To my delight, there were several sessions focused on collecting and leveraging user feedback to improve research software. A non-exhaustive list of these sessions:
Design and usability work in research software is under-studied and likely under-reported for various reasons. This survey on open source scientific and research software projects is part of an effort to understand more about how teams consider their users in the development process. Please click the link to learn more and respond to the compensated, 20-minute survey.
And what can we learn from the existing efforts of Ginestra, Matt, Christopher, and others?
RSEs want to get started on centering end users but are unsure how to start. Ginestra’s Integration Toolkit will establish the handoffs and workflow between the RSEs and designers. While I and others at the Alan Turing Institute are brainstorming what a Getting Started with HCD guide might look like when you don’t have a designer and want to get started yourself.
Success stories of RSE teams building research software people want and can use are hard to find. A search for “human-centred design” AND “research software” returns very little (though there’s a great post on this topic from the SSI blog). With this post and the following posts about my Fellowship, I will continue to share bits of the impact of doing work this way.
Human-centred design works best when embedded, not as an afterthought. Metaworlds is an excellent case study for what happens when centering accessible documentation can transform a user base.