Episode 45

Eriol Fox, Katie Wilson and Meag Doherty on the USER project. Usable Software Ecosystem Research for Science and Research OSS

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About this Episode


Eriol Fox | Katie Wilson | Meag Doherty

Show Notes

Welcome to Sustain Open Source Design! In this second part of a series of podcasts about the user work, Eriol is joined by Katie Wilson and Meag Doherty to discuss their project, Superbloom, which delves into design and usability in scientific and research open source software. Today, they shed light into the ideal user type of open source software tools, the focus on software maintainability in design, and how software complexity plays into its perceived value in decision-making, and how it may impact the progress of open science. They also discuss the necessity of usability in decision-making, and how it may impact the progress of open science, and they highlight their experiences at various events and initiatives that underscore the importance of continuing conversations around these topics. Hit download now to hear more!

[00:01:14] Katie Wilson, a Design Researcher at Superbloom and Meag Doherty, the Deputy Chief User Experience Officer at the All of Us Research Program, introduce themselves and we’ll hear what their relationship is to the project.

[00:04:17] Eriol introduces the topic of end users and discusses the discovery that most open source software tools, including those in scientific and research domains, seem to have an ideal user type with particular skills and capabilities.

[00:07:05] Katie continues the conversation, mentioning that when asked about design, many open source software projects focus on making the software as maintainable and contributable as possible, thus often perceiving the users as fellow programmers or contributors.

[00:09:25] Eriol shares one last thought on the usability chapter and comments on how complexity in scientific and research open source software could be viewed as a safety aspect that validates their relevance in the field.

[00:11:30] Meag segues to the potential impact of these findings. She emphasizes that usability is not an afterthought but central to the decision-making process, and poor usability could hinder the progress of open science.

[00:12:59] Katie addresses UX best practices in the context of scientific software, suggesting that the tool’s complexity might dictate its user experience.

[00:14:52] Eriol talks about accessibility. They explain that designers view accessibility from a different perspective that scientists or researchers in the open source software space. However, for non-designers, accessibility is understood, as broadening the tool’s application and potential discovery of science and research.

[00:19:21] The conversation shifts to Meag talking about incentives, particularly within university settings and academic groups. She stresses the importance of understanding incentives and looking for windows of opportunity to implement usability improvements.

[00:20:13] Eriol describes some work done by their colleagues, who created a series of informative zines distilling complex research findings into six-page summaries.

[00:22:50] Katie discusses an ecosystem map they developed to visualize interconnected projects, institutions, and contributors within the scientific and research open-source software space.

[00:24:15] Meag talks about a trip to an open source science retreat in Germany where the focus was on the usability of software used by research software engineers daily. She also mentions more of their work was shared at the Software Sustainability Institute’s Collaboration Workshop and at JupyterCon 2023 in Paris.

[00:27:24] Eriol affirms the importance of welcoming new people into the space to sustain and improve usability design, highlighting the need to include people from the peripheries of science, research, and open source.


  • [00:29:21] Eriol’s spotlight is a project funded by the Vermont Complex Systems that was a series of weekly designer diary studies that designers did over 10 weeks that they coordinated at Superbloom.
  • [00:30:25] Meag’s spotlight is The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy that has taken big steps to do listening sessions.
  • [00:31:08] Katie’s spotlight is the project, AutSPACEs, a platform where autistic people can report their experiences on sensory processing differences in everyday life.