Is community-based participatory design viable?

By now you’ve probably heard that Mitch Kapor, one of the founders of the EFF (among many other great things) has started the Open Source Applications Foundation which is working on what basically amounts to an open source (and free as in freedom?) version of Outlook that works without a back-end server. (This is more exciting than it sounds.)

In a recent post to his blog, Mitch writes, “On the other hand, decisions must be made, and voting, even if it is non-binding, isn’t the way to go.” and then later asks, “How do we create a user experience which is sufficiently familiar to provide a smooth transition for new users yet is sufficiently different to support major new capabilities?”

It’s good to see that Mitch understands that design by committee doesn’t work. Unfortunately, right now, it seems the OSA Foundation will adopt the status-quo for open-source projects: software design by programmers for programmers.

I for one, will appeal to Mitch to adopt a model that includes user advocates, namely trained experience design professionals and specifically, interaction designers.

I encourage you, as readers of brad lauster (dot com) and members of the experience design community (probably) to do what you can to help the OSA Foundation make this a successful project, not just for the programmers working on it, but for everyone.

It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out.