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This week the Mozilla Foundation designers gathered in Toronto to both broaden and deepen the realm of possibilities for a new Webmaker tool. We are only little more than halfway through the week and have made exciting strides forward.

Monday

We brainstormed ideas around “webby”-ness. We wrote our brief – what was the problem we were trying to solve? We surveyed the landscape of existing ideas including the progress Luke has made on the Tiles prototype, the current Webmaker app, and the gamut of MakerFox ideas. We had several strong brainstorming sessions that tried to break out of our existing ideas. And finally, we spent a good chunk of time surveying a list of 100 benchmark sites and apps.

Tuesday

We narrowed the playing field to two strong prototypes. This took some courage and determination — it’s hard not to fall into the trap of just going with what was had. I was pretty boneheaded about wanting to see one additional concept, and by the end of the day we made great progress toward what a second prototype would look like.

Wednesday

We gathered in the morning to discuss our plan of action, wrote a to-do list, then in pairs divided and conquered the main interactions we would need for a user test later in the day. Then we worked our asses off. After lunch the six of us gathered in a sweltering room to finish our paper prototypes, write testing scripts, and continue to quickly refine and interate to prepare for the tests. Each prototype had 4 participants (big thanks to Adam, Lucy, Andrew, & Becky!), one user tester and a note-taker.

Thursday (tomorrow)

We will review the user testing results and decide whether or not we want to continue with both prototypes or if there was a clear winner. We will finally begin to talk about aesthetics and interactions as they relate to our brand and user interface/s. We will likely break into two groups – one to continue hacking on the prototype, and another to start documenting and implementing the brand attributes.

Friday

We plan to rock demos with all our hard work from the week.

So what are the big ideas?

#1

Imagine you have a project that can have both micro and macro views. The basic building block is a tile. You can connect tiles, combine them to form larger tiles, link tiles or content within the tiles, even use specific tiles to house code that affects all the other tiles. This could work to build projects made of many small pieces – recipes in a recipe book, words in a poem, pages in a website, stops on a travel plan, decision points in a choose-your-own-adventure – the list goes on and on. The process of adding tiles and quickly making with them in either a macro or micro view is super fun and oddly satisfying.

#2

Imagine you could record your process of building something and play it back in a video or animation. In this timeline of an artifact’s history, you can note where you added images, text, code (or easier-to-add elements like ‘stickers’). You can capture when collaborators joined or left your project. And the part that appeals most to me – you get to see a creation come alive from its very barest bones to a rich and layered final piece. Making is no longer magic; the process is a part of the artifact.

Both

In both prototypes, you could potentially link to or embed other projects into your own. You could decide what happens when your project ends – perhaps it connects automatically to someone else’s project. You could of course take parts or all of what you see to help build your own creation.

What I like about both ideas is that they seem to successfully navigate the chasm from giving creation on the web an extremely low bar as well as a high ceiling – makes could be as simple or as complex as the imagination dictates. The social and collaborative potential for each prototype is also huge, and it’s true that because both ideas have big and small views, they share many of the same possibilities for simplicity and complexity (and probably constraints as well).

What happens next?

Throughout the rest of the week, we will continue to guage and attempt to answer:

  • Is the making experience fun and compelling?
  • Does the making experience teach meaningful, webby skills?
  • Are the premise and possibilities easily understood & accessible? (can users grok what this is for?)

I’m excited to see what the team comes up with. So grateful to have an amazing group of colleagues around me this week. Go team go!