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gillux gillux June 16, 2019 June 16, 2019 at 3:00:50 PM UTC link Permalink

I believe our website is quite hard to understand and very confusing for new users. I believe that the lack of usability in Tatoeba is a major problem because if we don’t do anything about it:

1) our community will keep being "small" because most news members won’t stick around, except the most motivated/tech-savvy of them.
2) our community will lack diversity and openness because it will keep being centered around power-users

I think some of the reasons Tatoeba lacks usability include:

1) we never had any UX designer to help us out
2) we didn’t cared that much
3) when we actually cared, we designed by committee, which is very wrong (look up "ux design by committee" on a search engine if want to know why, e.g. )

In order to tentatively address this problem, I’ve performed a first usability test on Tatoeba. If you’re not familiar with usability tests, you can read the introduction of this article

With the permission of the tested user, I am publishing a raw report of the test on the wiki:

By publishing this report, my intention is NOT to ask for solutions to the problems shown by the test, because this would be doing design by committee again. Instead, my intention is to:

1) "prove" how terrible our usability level is, if anyone still had doubts
2) bring the topic of usability that I’ve seldom seen on the Wall
3) encourage you to do more usability tests (it’s fun!) and send them to, or publish them on the wiki if the user is okay with that
4) discuss about ways to avoid design by committee and improve our designing process for existing and future things

Some further reading I’d like to share (French)

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shekitten shekitten June 16, 2019 June 16, 2019 at 3:11:13 PM UTC link Permalink

This is damning, and explains why it's hard to get new users even by trying to promote the site, especially in languages with very small numbers of speakers or mostly-older speaker communities.

You seem to be an expert on UX design? I'm not a developer, but we ought to defer to whoever is knowledgable in this area. User experience and accessibility should be the most important things for any site, especially one like this.

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gillux gillux June 16, 2019 June 16, 2019 at 3:26:12 PM UTC link Permalink

Thank you shekitten, I appreciate your compassion!

I’m no UX design expert. I’m a developer and I contribute code on Tatoeba. I just happen to become more and more aware of UX problems these days.

Aiji Aiji June 16, 2019 June 16, 2019 at 11:40:17 PM UTC link Permalink

That is a good thing to start thinking about UX feedback :) Good job

About 4), A/B testing may help assess the (un)usefulness of some parts of the website. In particular, it might give hints on how the homepage could be more useful.

TRANG TRANG June 18, 2019 June 18, 2019 at 12:43:40 AM UTC link Permalink

Thank you (again) gillux, for performing this usability test. I remember we had one initiative to test the usability of Tatoeba:, but it was not as complete as the one you did here.

I too, would like to encourage everyone to perform these tests with people around them. If we can gather a set of tests performed on a fairly diverse group, it would be a goldmine of information. And having this kind of info might attract some UX designers to help us out!

It's very clear that we do not have the skills to design awesome UI's, but we can do things that will make talented UX designers help us. And I believe that collecting usability tests is one of those things.

I actually tried once, to post a blue announcement saying that we need help in UI/UX design. And I got barely any response. Just one person responded if I remember, but they never actually got involved. It could be because it's hard to find a designer who would work for free. But I think it's also because we had nothing to show that they would be working in a healthy and engaging environment.

If anything, having those usability tests would show that we're not asking for a free ride. That we did our homework and that in general, we will be collaborative in doing whatever it takes to help them give us the best help they can.

I had never heard of the term "design by committee" before, but it certainly was one of our flaws. I think I identified this several years ago and the solution I found and started to implement was to focus on solving problems. This is why the guidelines for submitting issues have a paragraph that says "Focus on describing the problem".

Many features in Tatoeba were implemented on the basis of "I want this" or "it would be nice if". I can see now that this is the common trap that everyone who tries to develop an app/website for the first time falls into. I, myself, added features in Tatoeba just because I wanted them. Then when more people started to use Tatoeba, I added features because they wanted such features. And Tatoeba evolved in this dynamic. The focus was about fulfilling people's wishes, rather than trying to solve problems. For several years it never occurred to me that it's all about solving problems.

Then the engineer side of me kicked in, and I realized that trying to fulfill people's wishes is, in fact, trying to solve problems. But it's not an efficient way because you're not accessing the source information. Users will make feature requests because there is a problem, but they will express it by translating the problem into a solution, then translate their idea of a solution into words, then submit these words to us. When we decide to implement a feature request, we're actually (often subconsciously) first translating back their solution into the problem, and then we assess if the problem is indeed relevant for us, and then we assess if their solution is acceptable.

But we all know how things get lost in translations...

So that's my perspective on avoiding to design by committee: we have to focus on solving problems. Whenever someone asks to change something or to add something, we have to understand what's the problem. Then we have to ask ourselves if it's a problem that is relevant to Tatoeba. If it is, then we can start thinking about solutions. And the best solutions are solutions that don't bring back a problem we solved before and don't introduce new problems (not easy to find).

Along the way, we have to ask ourselves some of those existential questions, like what is our purpose, what is our mission, what do we value the most? While we probably all have a vague idea of the answers, this vague idea will not always be enough to help us decide and justify what problem to solve and what problem not to solve. We need to really think deeply about it.

All of this isn't going to magically transform Tatoeba into a beautifully usable tool, but at least it sets us in the right direction. From there, we "just" have to hope that we can find a great designer, or that a great designer finds us, or that one of us becomes a great designer.

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gillux gillux June 18, 2019 June 18, 2019 at 6:10:29 AM UTC link Permalink

I think we can be a bit more proactive in finding UX designers. The French link I mentioned suggests contacting or meeting students or teachers of UX design to ask them if they want to make a project on Tatoeba, be it now or in the future, as part of their studies or on their free time. Students often have to complete some kind of project, which is never actually used. So it could be a good opportunity for them to work on something real, yet without the fear of making us loose money if they fail or anything like that.

I am not really in a situation where I can easily approach students or teachers, but I know that many of our contributors are language teachers or students, so maybe it could be easier for them if they work in a university or knows somebody who knows somebody…? In the meantime, I agree that gathering more data through user tests could be very useful.

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TRANG TRANG June 18, 2019 June 18, 2019 at 9:34:18 PM UTC link Permalink

I had skipped reading the French article but it was a very good read too (thanks for the reminder about it). While I'm not a designer, a lot of things in there echoed to me. It gave me a boost of confidence that we really can provide a nice playground for aspiring designers.

I'm unfortunately not in a situation where I can approach students/teachers either, but I can tell you it did cross my mind, a few years ago, to start a degree in UX design. It came from a discussion with my colleagues at work (I had just moved to Austria), and one of them was still in the middle of his Master's degree. We were talking about how, in Austria, you could study full time for a year (or maybe even two?) while still being an employee and getting paid (not 100% of your salary, but still). And in general, it's not too difficult to arrange things with your employer to study while working at the same time.

I definitely cannot make that happen now, but I can start thinking about it more seriously.

I also remember I looked for meetups about UX design and I remember finding a group in this Meetup app, that had a "designer breakfast". I don't know if there is still such a group, but I never went in the end because the usual "I don't have time" excuse and also because I'm really not a morning person :s

But yes, we can be more proactive, that's for sure. I hope this discussion inspires other members to take initiatives :)