[Tails-testers] Category-based applications menu / Activitie…

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Author: intrigeri
To: Tails list for early testers
Old-Topics: Re: [Tails-testers] Opinion about Tails 4.0beta1
Subject: [Tails-testers] Category-based applications menu / Activities overview [Was: Opinion about Tails 4.0beta1]

> intrigeri:
>> One issue GNOME folks are aware of wrt. the Overview is that it's hard
>> to discover for first-time users; I guess it's one of the primary
>> reasons why we still have an Applications menu. I seem to remember
>> that there's an extension floating around that displays it on login by
>> default, developed by folks who wanted to improves things here.
>> IIRC some GNOME-based distro that's strong on design/UX work enables
>> this by default. If there's interest, I could look this up
>> more precisely.

> I think that the biggest problem with the Activities Overview is even
> more about learning how to get there than about knowing that it exist:
> it only has a pretty weak signifier on the desktop.


I'll drop some thoughts of mine and we'll see if I've understood what
you mean, and if we're on the same page:

1. Most users won't guess that sending the mouse cursor quickly to the
top-left corner will trigger something (i.e. opening the Overview).
So if we dropped the applications menu extension, for first-time
users, we could not count on this gesture and would instead have to
rely on the "Activities" button. Then, eventually, while sending
their mouse cursor to the top left corner in order to click the
"Activities" button, one will discover some day that clicking is
not needed, but that's just a bonus.

2. Neither the "Applications" button nor the "Activities" one are
displayed in a way that makes it obvious they are buttons in the
first place. But that does not mean they're equally good: it's
quite possible that more users will relate to the "Applications"
wording as "oh, that's where I should click to start the app
I want", compared to the vaguer "Activities" wording.

We don't know how this would apply to Tails users in a context when
we display desktop icons (see #3); but we have some data that
suggests that the "Activities" wording works well enough in the
absence of desktop icons (see #4).

3. Displaying a bunch of rather large and colorful icons on the
desktop tends to make the "Applications" and "Activities" buttons
(in contrast) less visible, less discoverable, and less obviously
clickable: these icons suggest the desktop is based on a specific
design paradigm, while the GNOME Shell top bar is uses another one.

Dropping the desktop icons in favour of an always visible dock,
that would include our Favorites and current desktop launchers, as
Ubuntu did, would:

    - provide another way, displayed constantly, to reach the list of
      apps: that dock displays, in the bottom-left corner of the
      screen, the same 3×3 dots button that's at the bottom of the
      left-side dock in the Overview. I don't know how much this
      improves discoverability;

    - probably make Favorite apps much easier to discover and start:
      even if the user does not easily discover any way to list all
      installed apps, at least they have direct access to the most
      common ones.

4. In a "pure" GNOME desktop with, the situation is quite different.
The only displayed UI elements when one opens a session are the top
bar ones, that is:

    - some status indicators in the top-right corner

    - the clock in the center of the top bar

    - the "Activities" button in the top-left corner

The 2 first items are quite obviously not where one would look for
applications, so in practice, even if the "Activities" button is
not a strong signifier, users end up finding and using it
(according to usability tests I've conducted¹ with 6 people, most
of them not familiar with GNOME initially).

My hypothesis to explain this observation is that even in the
absence of a strong signifier, the "choosing by elimination"
process works well when you are given 3 choices and 2 of them are
quite obviously not right. I would bet it does not work if you're
given 6+ choices, some of them much more visible than the
"right" one.

[1] https://people.debian.org/~intrigeri/blog/posts/GNOME_and_Debian_usability_testing_201705/

So my current conclusions are:

- The (relative) strength/weakness of the signifier for accessing the
Overview is a function of its styling, wording, and perhaps even
more importantly: of what other UI elements we display by default.

- I would not propose that we merely disable the applications menu
extension in Tails: if we changed this, and only this, then likely
we would make it even harder to find out which apps are available
and how to start them.

- There are two potentially valid options that would allow us to
replace the applications menu with the Overview, abandoning the
"apps sorted in categories/sub-folders" concept that most other
operating systems have dropped already, with a pretty low risk of
regressing regarding the discoverability of the list of apps.

In both cases, it's probably doable to also rename the "Activities"
button to "Applications", if we think it would help.

That is, the "learning how to get there" problem seems practically
tractable :)