from open source to symbian

3 November 2009, 19:42

Last week I was in London, at the symbian foundation and SEE2009. The reason for that is that I am a complete schizo. Well OK, not really. Let me explain: there are these two major—but completely separate—themes in my career as an interaction architect.

First one is mobile. For more than twelve years I have been working on fundamental and application interaction design for mobiles. There are more than half a billion mobiles around with software that I designed.

These days at m+mi works, I am fortunate to be lead interaction architect on some of the more interesting mobile projects, solving their fundamental challenges; I enjoy mentoring a next generation of mobile interaction designers for our clients; and I provide deep analysis of mobile usability test results, showing cause and solutions.

the other peter…

The second theme is open source. Since 2005 I am involved in the open‐usability scene in Berlin. You can read all about my involvement with openPrinting and GIMP on this blog. However, there is no mobile in my open source work and no open source in my mobile work. That’s the schizo split. It was because of GIMP that I ended up in London.

When Scott Weiss, UI technology manager at the symbian foundation, adopted our UI brainstorm to start the symbian UI brainstorm, I got in touch with him. A good talk resulted in an invitation to do a presentation during a symbian foundation UI workshop and to take part in a panel at SEE2009. Both with the aim of sharing my experience in working with open source projects with key players in the mobile industry.

fast forward

The condensed version is that commercial and open source work are 90% the same. Which means that everything learned in commercial projects can be used in open source. And vice versa, new methods I developed for open source projects get used in my commercial work.

The 10% difference is openness —surprise!

This openness creates an interesting dynamic where users are literally using today what was programmed yesterday. And that for serious work. This allows for experimental modes of interaction design and creates unique opportunities for usability testing.

However, as I have explained before: without usability or interaction design experts on the project, the very direct contact and feedback between users and developers in open source only leads to awful usability.


Working on open source is not just a hobby of mine. It is a strategic activity for m+mi works. By working openly and publishing about it in this blog, we have a fighting chance of making understandable what interaction architecture is. And making clear that it is missing in most development processes today.

You will notice that this blog does not talk about all that mobile work that we do. All of it is under NDA. Which is logical—in a closed source way—because yes: interaction architecture is highly strategic. It fully determines what a product or piece of software is, for its users.

feels like yesterday

As part of my presentation, I recounted how my involvement with GIMP started; talked about methods like the scenario weekend; gave examples of ideal cooperation based on infectious enthusiasm; and of course told the story of the making of the brainstorm.

At the SEE2009 panel, form, audience and the venue were different, but above condensed version was woven into the narrative of the panel. Both the workshop and SEE2009 turned out to be good opportunities to meet interesting people. I thank Scott for inviting me to be part of it.

More related musings in a couple of days.

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