The Meedan Blog Archive

Open design collaboration through "feature tags"

A couple months ago, as Meedan took on a new partnership with Cambridge Interfaith Programme, we decided to be as transparent as possible with all of our design research, by putting it on Flickr and organizing with "feature tags." We’re just getting started but we can already tell that we really like working this way.

It's a bit like taking your ideas out of a private conference room, and putting them on display at a nearby coffeeshop — you get a lot more ideas, and have a much easier time building relationships with people around your work. The feature tag is an intuitive way to unite our specification across numerous public platforms.

Flickr is a great site for talking about photos, and organizing photos into sets — it also happens to work great for managing sets of wireframes, interface specifications, concept maps, and design research. You can create your own account, make Meedan a friend, and add your own thoughts to our latest sketches and designs.

We see it as a social extension of our existing Agile methods (or perhaps more accurately "Agile-ish" — as you can see we have some heavily customized workflows).

For example, if we see a website that uses a particularly great form of signup, one of our designers (or developers, or managers, hooray!) can take a screenshot of the image, and quickly send it into our account at using the Flickr uploadr. We can organize all of these screenshots with tags and Flickr "sets," making it easy to browse our Flickr stream and get a great sense of what we are working on this week.

Behind the scenes, each of these features is linked to a feature tag in Pivotal Tracker, our tool of choice for managing our backlog of user stories. You can check it out, this feature roadmap is public too.

The goal is to gather more useful and inspiring design research around all of our projects. We have found that by putting our design and research work into a highly visible format is making it easier to learn from our experiences — and even making it easier for others to take directly from our work. On a number of occasions already, having our visual thinking ready in a public forum has been really efficient — and it is just more fun.

All of our work is published through Flickr under a Creative Commons license, setting the stage for our broader Open Source initiative for 2010.

If you check out our Flickr site you will see ...

  1. Concept sketches: we want to document the roughest ideas, so that they might provide a useful scaffold for informed conversation, and to memorialize concepts raised during meetings or phone calls.

  1. Wireframes: if you really want to see a feature-level breakdown of what we are working on, check them out!

  1. Screenshots of other sites. (Note that these retain the copyright of the original author.) For example, imagine that you stumble upon the configuration panel — what a nice example of unobtrusive user interface power! Typically this would, at most, go down in a designer's notebook. But we can use a public screenshot to provide context for the type of control we want to have in an onoing design project — and now we have a point around which a conversation can start, a high-visibility point of design clarification for our team.

  1. Conceptual explanations of how we are architecting the site. This image, for example, shows an overview of the site, indicating which features are supporting core interactions, and which features are core — the ones that the site is there to serve in the first place. This is the third version of the IA, just one of many in an iterative process.

The plan is to release a number of modules via, each of which has a release tag corresponding to the releases in Pivotal Tracker and the Flickr sets. Stay tuned for more explanation of how we're working and how it's going — or just check out the Flickr stream and see for yourself. We're looking forward to your comments on this wide range of design research.

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2010-08-20 22:05:49 -0700
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