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Instrumented GIMP To Identify Usability Flaws 416

Posted by kdawson
from the phoning-home-in-a-good-cause dept.
Mike writes "New users of the GIMP often become frustrated at the application's unwieldy user interface. Now Prof. Michael Terry and a group of researchers at the University of Waterloo have created ingimp, a modified version of the GIMP that collects real-time usability data in order to help the GIMP developers find and fix its usability problems. Terry recently gave a lecture about ingimp and the data it collects. During each session, ingimp records events such as document creation, window manipulation, and tool use. A log of these events is sent to the ingimp server for analysis. The project hopes to answer questions such as 'What is the typical monitor resolution of a GIMP user?' and 'Is the GIMP used primarily for photo editing or drawing?'"
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Instrumented GIMP To Identify Usability Flaws

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  • It's not that bad (Score:3, Interesting)

    by saibot834 (1061528) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @03:38PM (#19817059) Homepage
    At the beginning it is hard - just like many programs. But my experience is, that you get used to it pretty fast.
  • Representative? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by McDutchie (151611) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @03:40PM (#19817091) Homepage
    I already see one potential problem with this approach, and that is that it collects usability statistics from ingimp users, not GIMP users. How would it be guaranteed that the two groups are statistically equivalent?

    (No, I have not RTFA yet.)
  • Re:representative ? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by NumaNuma (905254) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @03:40PM (#19817093)
    This poses interesting questions. Those who are integrated enough to be willing to engage in the ingimp project are very likely to have differing behaviors or preferences. Additionally, one of the chief complaints people tend to have about usability is the inability to do something. By looking at the behavior of actions rather than desired actions, those actions which are easy to do in the current iteration will be seen as more desired, rather than simply more accessible. Meanwhile, those actions which are difficult to preform due to actual problems with the interface will be more likely to be overlooked.
  • Re:representative ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jeevesbond (1066726) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @03:51PM (#19817241) Homepage

    I like the idea, but will the folks who use ingimp be at all representative of the user population at large? ... Especially of the user population that would complain about accessibility / usability.

    My wife does Web design for University of Waterloo and she's always moaning about the usability of the GIMP. I too am more into design than development these days, so that makes two people who're--more or less--ideal for the task.

    Not to mention we have both customised our GIMP's to look and behave more like Photoshop (the missus was fiddling with the keyboard-shortcuts for ages). It seems this data should be collected in this project, as I doubt we're the only ones who've changed everything to our tastes, the developers should finally realise what people want in an image editor.

    On a related, by tangential, note: GIMP's new core (GEGL [gegl.org]) seems to be nearing completion, with that comes all the things people have been clamouring for. Such as non-destructable layer effects, CMYK etc. If they fix the usability and shift to GEGL as the core of GIMP it might finally become the Photoshop killer we've all been waiting for! Failing that Krita [gegl.org] is coming along very well as an image editor, it lacks a few features, but is far more usable than the GIMP.

    Overall, I don't think anyone should be saying: 'year of the Linux desktop!' just yet. But this is definitely a step in the right direction. :)

  • by FooBarWidget (556006) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @03:59PM (#19817323)
    Is GIMP still being developed? This is a serious question.

    I've been a big GIMP fan for years. Years ago, I was excited about the 2.0 release of GIMP. It brought many new features and the UI got a serious revamp. But now it has been several years, and it seems that GIMP development has slowed down. They're still releasing newer versions with bug fixes, but no new features. For example: I recently bought a Wacom tablet, and while GIMP has Wacom support, I miss some of the things that Photoshop has, such as support for variable brush width based on tablet pressure. The long-awaited GEGL, which was introduced years ago and will supposedly add CMYK and 16-bit support, is still not ready, and to my knowledge is still pre-alpha. (Not that I need CMYK and 16-bit, but at least that silence all the complainers.)

    A year or two ago I also read an article about someone wanting to sponsor GIMP development. But that effort went nowhere, as his request was eventually ignored.

    What is going on? Is GIMP still being actively developed? Are the GIMP developers still interested in adding new features?
  • by Unoti (731964) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @04:03PM (#19817381) Journal
    Yes, there seriously is. The big areas where I love Photoshop and hate Gimp revolve around layer properties, layer blending, transparent backgrounds, and grouping and copying layers.
  • by Michael_gr (1066324) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @04:11PM (#19817457)
    The problems with the gimp are mind numbingly easy for any semi-talented UI designer to spot and fix.
    The problem is the development team: there's not enough of it, and there's no leadership strong enough within them to commit to a roadmap. If they only decided to stop coding for a while, decide what their end goals are (this is not a question users should be answering), plan the next few versions in advance and then actively look for new developers to implement whatever they decide on, things would look different.
  • by Dekortage (697532) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @04:14PM (#19817501) Homepage

    From the presentation slides, it seems like 200 people have installed it (netting "over 100,000 commands" in the log files). Obviously more will do so in response to the Slashdot article (and appropriate web pollination)... but aren't these self-selected geeks already? How are you going to get non-geeks to install this instead of the regular GIMP (assuming you convinc them to take a look at it)?

    Furthermore, how does this help determine what GIMP isn't doing properly? I mean, if you have various tools at your disposal, and GIMP sucks at doing X, then you might do half your work in GIMP and the other half in another app. So all the usability problems around X won't show up in the logs -- almost a kind of self-denial.

    I use Photoshop on a nearly daily basis. Last time I tried GIMP it was not ready for professional print design, to be sure, and only probably good enough for desktop publishing or Web graphics. How about Pantone or CMYK support? Non-destructive layer effects? Variable-sized brushes? Actually useful text formatting?

  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @04:20PM (#19817585) Journal
    Then there was the time IBM instrumented a mainframe to determine what instructions were heavily used so they could focus their optimize-the-microcode effort on them.

    They found one particular instruction that accounted for some exceedingly large fraction of the execution time. So they went to work on the microcode and doubled its speed. Then they deployed the new microcode and measured the application performance, expecting to see a big improvement.

    It didn't change a bit.

    After a little more research they discovered they'd optimized the idle task's wait loop.

    = = = =

    Collecting data can be useful. But making good decisions based on it requires wisdom and insight.
  • Keep it simple. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MaWeiTao (908546) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @04:27PM (#19817675)
    The biggest problem I have with GIMP is it's interface. It's clear the application was designed by programmers and not designers. I feel like they've tried to cram too much onto the screen and they suffer from a similar problem I was with Microsoft applications. They try to offer too many ways to do things and get too technical with details. I don't need 10 different sliders for customizing a brush. If I want a custom brush I should be able to just create the graphic as I would anything else then just drag it into a custom brush box and be done with it.

    Photoshop is getting progressively more bloated but I still find it more fluid than anything else. I'm not constantly hindered by the application.

    The solution isn't to do more coding. The data they gather may result in solutions that only complicate the issue. What they should do is sit down with a small team of designers. Include people with experience in photo-editing, website layouts and interface design. Ideally, find people that have little to no experience with GIMP. Work with this team to develop an interface. And most importantly, keep things simple.

    Inevitably, most applications end up being overly complex because of some overwhelming desire to cram in every last feature the developer can dream up. There also seems to be little planning. Build a set of guidelines and adhere to them. And one last thing, be sure that all essential function can be activated via the keyboard. When I'm doing time-consuming production I don't want to hunt around for small icons, or be constantly switching between the mouse and keyboard.
  • by FooBarWidget (556006) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @04:42PM (#19817855)
    Would it really solve your frustrations if each and every open source app have names like these?
    - Linux Image Studio
    - EasyMail Professional
    - Open Vector Drawer
    - Web Navigator
    - Open Developer Environment
    - TextEdit Pro
  • Expert in usability (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Chris Shannon (897827) <chris.shannon@gmail.com> on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @04:53PM (#19818003) Homepage
    I watched the video, and the only thing that stuck in my mind, is that I think you're not qualified to study usability if you have to Alt-Tab through a bunch of firefox instances because you haven't discovered tabs yet.
  • Re:representative ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rei (128717) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:09PM (#19818173) Homepage
    As someone who began using GIMP before using Photoshop, I find Photoshop's interface to be awkward and GIMP's to be natural.

    Given that a significant majority of people who use GIMP probably used Photoshop first, I wonder what percentage of "moaning about the usability of the GIMP" comes from simple acclimation to a different way of doing things? I'd be interested in seeing the results of introducing one group of people who haven't done any digital graphics work before to Photoshop, another group to GIMP, and seeing how long it takes them to feel comfortable and learn the ropes. Then, you'd have them switch tools and see how well they adapt.

    As it stands, I think we're seeing a lot of selection bias.
  • by fyngyrz (762201) * on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:31PM (#19818485) Homepage Journal
    Would you care to point out what you feel its actual technical, rather than aesthetic, shortcomings are so I can familiarize myself better with its limits?

    Gimp is often called to task as compared to Photoshop for:

    • Being 8 bit only
    • No CMYK editing
    • No layer styles
    • UI - things are in different places, use different keystrokes
    • Antialiasing quality problems (there's even a post here today about that)
    • Platform (no current OSX native version, though there may be a X version somewhere)
    • The old X/Mac version has some issues with which window is active that are inconvenient

    Aside from those issues — which frankly don't mean much to non-pro users with the exception of anti-aliasing (they should really fix that) and layer styles (very, very convenient) — Gimp is extraordinarily capable and certainly worth the time to learn. Personally, I have occasion to use Photoshop, Gimp, PSP, and some others most workdays; I don't have any trouble at all with functionality being over here in one program and it being over there in another. But I'm not your average user; graphics are my thing on every level from programming to amusement to my job. Frankly, the people who cry "I'm a professional" and are manifestly unable to learn a new UI... I have a lot of trouble taking them seriously. I listen to them because that's my job, and I craft solutions to problems as they describe them (such as giving them a UI that acts like the UI they are used to), but I have not found any need for those solutions myself.

  • Re:Scary (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Soulfry (12966) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:24PM (#19819185) Homepage
    Qualitative methods like the ones you suggest -- observations, interviews, ethnographic methods, contextual design -- are some of the best methods out there to uncover the data you suggest should be collected. In fact, my HCI class focuses exclusively on these methods. They're cheap, they're fast, and you got a lot of data very quickly.

    ingimp doesn't intend to supplant these techniques. In fact, it would be a mistake for people to assume it could or should. And the GIMP project already has a good group of people who are using the very techniques you propose (see http://gui.gimp.org/ [gimp.org] ).

    However, GIMP is a very general purpose application and there are limited resources to improve it. How should future development efforts be prioritized? Are most users experts or novices? Do they use it to color correct images, crop and resize them, or are they doing more sophisticated things like graphic design over hours of use? What are common workflows? Are they the same workflows we assume people are doing, or are they completely counter to our expectations?

    Quantifying broad usage is not something that can be done by qualitative methods alone, but it can help to focus future development efforts if you can better characterize your user base, how they're using the software, and how many people are using it in various ways. With this data, you can optimize for the minority or the majority -- at least you know who you are optimizing for.

    One of the benefits of this data is that longitudinal patterns of usage can be discovered that wouldn't come out in laboratory based usability studies. For example, if a new feature is added, these stats can help you determine whether people are adopting and using the new features as expected. Longitudinal data is rare -- we're building a longitudinal data store right now unlike any other in the open source community.

    One of the challenges that is glossed over is that creating a sustainable usability infrastructure is no trivial task. We're collecting data in a very unobtrusive way that requires very little effort on the part of the user, and that data has a fairly high degree of ecological validity -- people are using the software in their own environments, not in an artifical usability lab. Again, while not a replacement for qualitative methods, the data we collect do help answer other questions valuable to guiding development efforts in a resource-constrained environment. Other ideas on creating a self-sustaining usability infrastructure, which does not overly burden the developers or users, are certainly welcome.

    On a final note, there are benefits to this data beyond usability itself. For example, we've found that people use the most frequently used command stats to discover features/commands/plug-ins they weren't previously familiar with, and which they find valuable. The data set is a bit richer than it at first seems.

    Michael Terry
  • Re:representative ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by eternalnyte (765741) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @07:23PM (#19819717)
    I really can't be the only one that absolutely loves GIMP's UI.. can I? Everyone that seems to have a problem with it is always saying the same thing.. "It should look like Photoshop", "It should feel like Photoshop", heck "It should be Photoshop". Personally I hate applications with one big monolithic window.. they always tend to then have encosed sub-windows that you cannot pull out of the main window, this drives me crazy when using a multi-monitor display. GIMP is a godsend for allowing me the flexibility to place all my tool dialogs on one monitor, in the locations I prefer (and it remembers them between sessions!), then have a maximized editor window on another (which saves sooo much "zoom in" "zoom out" time due to the more efficient real-estate usage).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @08:33PM (#19820267)

    Greedy little bastard, aren't you. "Aw, you only gave me plain chocolate ice cream. I wanted the kind with chocolate chips!"

    Naive little fool, aren't you? "It's free, it must be perfect, and if it's not, other people can fix it up to make it what they want!"

    Self centered, too. I do Job X, therefore every tool that can be used for Job X is "meant" to be used by me.

    Self-centered? As part of the group a product is aimed at, the tool is meant to be used by him. That's the joy of marketing, product design, and statistical analysis.

    Grow up. A lot of us need software that is cheap and fixable. A lot of us need software that can be installed without preparation anywhere there is a good Internet connection.

    The rest of us need software that is usable. The fact is that most people think GIMP has a crap interface. Getting all loud and stroppy like a slighted child is no way to defend your favourite tool.

    Then start improving it, you fool. Free software is what you make it.

    Show us the patches.

    And here we have it, folks: the key weak point of OSS. Perhaps, more accurately, the key failing point of the OSS fanboys.

    Not everyone has the appropriate training. Of those that do, not everyone can spare the time to fix it. Assuming an interface designer puts the effort into fixing it up and submitting it, what do you suppose the GIMP developers will do with those patches? Rumour mill has it that they've told interface designers to piss off, in the past.

    Here's the bit where you say "well, they can just fork it and make their own version, and if it's truly better, it'll take off."

    Not everyone can manage a project.

    So, keep your naive fanboy attitude in check, move out of your parent's basement, and into the real world. It's not all roses out here.
  • Re:representative ? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by eternalnyte (765741) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @09:10PM (#19820563)

    Maybe this is just my view, as I've been a pretty heavy GIMP user and a pretty light Photoshop user.. but to me Photoshop is also a lot of little sub-windows, just encased in a larger window that you can't take them out of. I can't stand hitting maximize on the image I'm working on in Photoshop just to see half of my image is now behind said boxes. With GIMP this is left up to the Window Manager which can be configured (for most of them, anyway) to maximize without overlapping the sub-windows of the same program (such as the tools window). My point is that, from my perspective, GIMP gives me more flexibility to setup my environment the way I want it, even on a single monitor display, though it may take a bit of time dinking around with it and actually using it before you find out exactly how it would work best for you. That's the same with any application, however.

    Multi-window applications have been around for quite some time in the UNIX world.. XEphem & GRASS come to mind. In the telco world there are several more commercial applications using this paradigm still today (even on Windows) such as Spirent's React or Anritsu's Tapestry. In other words, this isn't an entirely new idea, and GTK has been designed to flexible enough to allow for many, many types of applications to be built. GTK has grown from a widget set only for GIMP to be (dare I say?) the most used toolkit for UI development on Linux, so it gives developers the option to create applications however they desire and doesn't *force* anyone to any particular UI strategy.

    GIMP meshes pretty well with other GTK apps in my opinion, the GNOME window manager is excellent at placing windows for apps like GIMP (whereas on Windows, it really is horrible), consistent theming, window style, widget look and feel, etc..

    Who knows.. but judging from your language you are obviously pretty upset about the way GIMP has been managed.. just maybe one day it'll push you to fork it and work towards realizing your vision of the future. just make sure you remember you're comments when I post derogatory comments about *your* UI.

  • Show us the patches.

    And here we have it, folks: the key weak point of OSS. Perhaps, more accurately, the key failing point of the OSS fanboys.

    EXACTLY! :)

    Fanboys fail to understand that there is something in the world called CUSTOMERS, unable to program, unable to send patches, but with specific needs. Fanboys like software made "by programmers, for programmers". Or actually "by programmers, for themselves and screw everyone else, if you don't like MY software, fork it or fork you!".

    In the link I mentioned about "a better pile of poo" we see that this kind of software, by programmers for programmers, was made in the early stages of software developers. Today, software is made by teams of developers, artists and user interface experts (aka "interaction dudes").

    You know what's interesting? That fanboyism is usually greater in linux circles. Windows developers are used, accustomed to nice, friendly user interfaces - and although most of the time they make crappy software with awful programming techniques in Visual Basic, sometimes they excel and make wonderful user interfaces. (Now mix nice user interfaces with an MVC approach and woo hoo! )

    I tend to think that Linux programmers are so used to hack and slash code, that they forgot what it feels like to have a nice UI, with keyboard,mouse shortcuts, context help, cut-copy-paste, etc etc. Most of the Linux open source software I've tried have a crappy interface. This is why I prefer Irfanview, Pixia and Virtualdub to the GIMP or AVIDemux respectively. By the way, I tried Jahshaka once. What an awful UI.

    Update: This is just in. A friend of mine just told me: "gimp is a bunch of garbage. I downloaded it and the gui is adobe photoshop chewed up and sneezed at the monitor". Your honor, I rest my case :)
  • What i find funny (Score:2, Interesting)

    by EachLennyAPenny (731871) on Wednesday July 11, 2007 @08:19AM (#19823941) Homepage
    Open any book about usability. On the first pages you'd come across the axiom to avoid creating a menu structure which is more than two levels deep. Gimp's menu structure on the other hand is deeply nested. There are so many basic usability problems which could be easily corrected without using any special software.

All this wheeling and dealing around, why, it isn't for money, it's for fun. Money's just the way we keep score. -- Henry Tyroon

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