Designing contributions

I get to work on the team at Automattic that contributes back full time to the wider WordPress.org community. In the WordPress community we get to not just design in pixels, but also design the experience of contributing to the project.

Design isn’t just colours and shapes

I sometimes think that designing actual contributions in a community is the ultimate experience design. Most designers at some point find its no longer just a clinical process, it now involves humans, how they work together and the inevitable complications. It becomes less about your contribution at this point, it becomes about the team, the community.

This is a tale of designing contributions for the community summit and contribution day at WordCamp Europe. Its not just my story though, as with any community tale its a story involving a lot of characters. This is about what I learnt being part of this story.

Community Summit? WordCamp Europe?

You may be asking what a Community Summit is. The summit is a semi-regular even that sees representatives from across the entire WordPress community gather. WordCamp Europe is a large conference focused on WordPress, that was held in Paris along with the summit. As part of this there was a contribution day, where people can give back to the project.

The lessons

I learnt a lot from the past few weeks. I wanted to take time to share just a few of those in this post.

If you give someone a place at the table they became engaged.

The summit has seen a renewed focus in the design team. Before the event we discussed topics and took those to the summit to focus on. We had not really had a chance before to have so many, varied designers at the summit – this was exciting.

Ownership means involvement

By giving ownership to tasks, we have seen people who before were quiet, speak up. Projects that have been a solo voice, have others join to create a chorus, its great to see.

Create spaces to be the best humans

The initial schedule for the summit didn’t really allow space for people to be the best they can. It is important to plan so that there is space for people, not just at an intense summit. We added breaks to the schedule and even a constant quiet room.

Options lead to participation

The approach to contribution day also focused on the theme of creating space too. We had workshops, group tasks and also enabled others to lead those. Just like people are different we need to give different ways for them to participate.

The power of information

A simple change was made from the summit, to have individual updates each week. This then leads to a group team update. The engagement from this single change was incredible to see. Its now easy to see whose active and take a temperature over time of design contributions.

Documentation matters

We are only as good as our resources are easy to discover and use. A major issue we as a team need to work on is our documentation. This also was something we did at the summit, those involved made a guide for the next team. Passing it on through documentation and leaving a trial is key to understanding and enabling.

Say no, offer to someone else and support their success

Its easy as someone that contributes full time to take on all the tasks. I don’t have a time machine though, even my time and capacity is limited. Aside from limitations, when you say no, when you pass it onto someone, that enables them. Its incredible to see.

In a project like WordPress there is always something to do, holding tasks isn’t healthy for anyone. Giving encouragement, allowing for ownership, that is the way to get long lasting, engaged contributors. Supporting someone to success also is a rewarding task in itself, you don’t need to be the constant star.

A contributors journey mapped

As a group during the summit we looked at a contributors journey, its worth sharing the image we created from this.

It shows the problems, but also where ownership took place. By seeing the journey, future changes can be focused and this will form the next chapter in the design teams contribution story.

Tidying our house before having guests

A lot of the recent work done and continuing to be done, sets the scene to reach beyond existing contributors. To reach beyond people that even know about WordPress. Being a designer in open source isn’t easy – a whole other article lies in that – and we can set a template, begin to show how actually it can work and show how you can create a space for designers to thrive.

A never-ending story?

Designing contributions doesn’t ever end, its a constant iterative process. The past few months have moved on the design team a lot. Personally, it has given me a lot of things to think about and I’ve learnt a lot.

Designing isn’t just about the visible, the invisible is important to design, to create the experiences. My job title at Automattic is ‘experience designer’, this rings more and more true to me after these past weeks. Its a gift to be able to design contributions, to help in a small way craft the experience of being part of the WordPress community. As I turn the page of this WordPress book, its with excitement I begin the next chapter.

Want to know more and get involved?

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