Introducing myself as the new and only content designer in the Design Team, I dived head first into the world of developers, designers and Ubuntu Community members to better understand how open source works, and the passion behind making Ubuntu great. This post features highlights from the sprint and an interview with UX designers Olga and Giorgio from the Design Team.

After being grilled by Customs at the airport, the Design Team finally arrived at Tyson’s Corner where 200 or so other developers, designers and community members gathered at the bar – a welcoming sight after an 8 hour flight. This was my first time to America, my first ever sprint and the first time I’d ever tried a chilli-dog. Despite wearing most of my chilli-dog, America was pretty cool, and the sprint proved to be very satisfying and I learned a lot.

One the highlights for me was talking to some of the Ubuntu Community guys. As most people in Canonical and the community work remotely, you rarely ever get to see their whole body in real life, as opposed to just seeing their head on a Google Hangout. I especially found it interesting to see how designers and developers worked together, given their different mind sets and processes.

From left to right: Riccardo, Andrew, Filippo and Victor.

Community members: Riccardo, Andrew, Filippo and Victor (from left to right)

The main ballroom.

The main Ballroom

Design Team dinner. From the left: TingTing, Andrew, John, Giorgio, Marcus, Olga, James, Florian, Bejan and Jouni.

Design Team dinner – TingTing, Andrew, John, Giorgio, Marcus, Olga, James, Florian, Bejan and Jouni (From the left)

Design Team chat

I caught up with Olga and Giorgio to share their thoughts and experiences from the sprint:

So how did the Sprint go for you guys?

Olga: “It was very busy and productive in terms of having face time with development, which was the main reason we went, as we don’t get to see them that often.

For myself personally, I have a better understanding of things in terms of what the issues are and what is needed, and also what can or cannot be done in certain ways. I was very pleased with the whole sprint. There was a lot of running around between meetings, where I tried to use the the time in-between to catch-up with people. On the other hand as well, Development made the approach to the Design Team in terms of guidance, opinions and a general catch-up/chat, which was great!

Steph: “I agree, I found it especially productive in terms of getting the right people in the same room and working face-to-face, as it was a lot more productive than sharing a document or talking on IRC.”

Giorgio: “Working remotely with the engineers works well for certain tasks, but the Design Team sometimes needs to achieve a higher bandwidth through other means of communication, so these sprints every 3 months are incredibly useful.

What a Sprint allows us to do is to put a face to the name and start to understand each other’s needs, expectations and problems, as stuff gets lost in translation.

I agree with Olga, this Sprint was a massive opportunity to shift to much higher level of collaboration with the engineers.

What was your best moment?

Giorgio: “My best moment was when the engineers perception towards the efforts of the Design Team changed. My goal is to better this collaboration process with each Sprint.”

Did anything come up that you didn’t expect?

Giorgio: “Gaming was an underground topic that came up during the Sprint. There was a nice workshop on Wednesday on it, which was really interesting.”

Steph: “Andrew a Community Developer I interviewed actually made two games one evening during the Sprint!”

Olga: “They love what they do, they’re very passionate and care deeply.”

Do you feel as a whole the Design Team gave off a good vibe?

Giorgio: “We got a good vibe but it’s still a working progress, as we need to raise our game and become even better. This has been a long process as the design of the Platform and Apps wasn’t simply done overnight. However, now we are in a mature stage of the process where we can afford to engage with Community more. We are all in this journey together.

Canonical has a very strong engineering nature, as it was founded by engineers and driven by them, and it is has evolved because of this. As a result, over the last few years the design culture is beginning to complement that. Now they expect steer from the Design Team on a number of things, for example: Responsive design and convergence.

The Sprint was good, as we finally got more of a perception on what other parties expect from you. It’s like a relationship, you suddenly have a moment of clarity and enlightenment, where you start to see that you actually need to do that, and that will make the relationship better.”

Olga: The other parties and the Development Team started to understand that initiated communication is not just the responsibility of the Design Team, but it’s an engagement we all need to be involved in.”

In all it was a very productive week, as everyone worked hard to push for the first release of the BQ phone; together with some positive feedback and shout-outs for the Design Team :)

Unicorn hard at work.

(Unicorn hard at work)

We got some downtime, of course…

It would have been rude not to see what the capital had to offer. So on the weekend before the sprint we checked out some of Washington’s iconic bars…I mean sceneries.

The Washington Monument.

(The Washington Monument)

We saw most of the important parliamentary buildings like the White House, Washington Monument and Lincoln’s Statue. Seeing them in the flesh was spectacular. However, I half expected a UFO to appear over the Monument like in ‘Independence Day’, and for Abraham Lincoln to suddenly get up off his chair like in the movie ‘Night at the Museum’ – unfortunately none of that happened.

The White House.

(The White House)

The city embodies an array of thriving ethnic pockets that represented African, Asian and Latin American cultures. D.C. isn’t as buzzing as London, but it definitely has a lot of character and charm you can find fun in. Me and a few colleagues checked out GeorgeTown, which is has an array of bustling jazz bars where you can enjoy a bit of sax over your three course pasta meal…

...And all the jazz.

(Twins Jazz Club)

On the Sunday before the sprint a couple of us decided to leave the hustle and bustle of the city and venture to the beautiful Great Falls Park, which was only 10-15 minutes from the hotel. The park was located in the Northern Fairfax County along the banks of the Potomac River, which is an integral part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Its creeks and rapids made for some great selfie opportunities…

Great Falls Park.

(Great Falls Park)