Question: What's one thing that could be better for newcomers about the Public Lab website?

warren is asking a question about ui
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by warren | November 14, 2017 21:39 | #15189

I often hear from people about something they wish were better on, and we love hearing about both ideas for better design choices and even about problems folks have had -- it's the first step in solving these problems and making progress on them.

Especially if you're a newcomer to Public Lab, tell us one specific thing you'd like to see improved on the site, whether it's a cleaner design on a page, a new way to organize the dashboard, or anything else.

One of the challenges we face is that everyone has a different opinion of how the site should work, because of course everyone uses it differently. So don't be surprised or discouraged if you see people suggesting something different than you. We should work to make the site useful for everybody, and need to hear different voices to do that!

Thanks for helping to improve the website!


The dashboard feed is a mix of research notes, comments, questions, and events. The display can be limited to a subset of these using a dropdown menu, but the default that new visitors see is the whole mix. The information content there is usually diluted, and the feed looks busy and confusing. To put your best foot forward, I would make the default just research notes. They are usually about a real activity that somebody has done and they usually have nice lead images, so they represent the most active and creative things the community is doing and they look good in the feed.

This will hide the other things (questions, comments, events), so finding and navigating to them has to be made easier. Currently, it takes four mouse clicks to switch from notes to questions using the obscure dropdown menu. It is easy to reduce that to one click by making a tabbed menu bar at the top of the feed with five tabs:

Research notes....-....Comments....-....Questions....-....Events....-....Other

These can be obvious enough that everyone will immediately know that they can see other things by clicking there.

  1. Research notes. These do not include questions or events. They also do not include research notes generated from Spectral Workbench or MapKnitter because those never have any effort put into them and are not interesting to anybody.
  2. Comments. These should include comments on questions as well as research notes (only comments on research notes are currently included).
  3. Questions. Currently the thumbnail for each question does not indicate if any answers have been posted unless an answer has been accepted. That should change. Also, comments can be posted on a question or on an answer, and both types should be included in the count of comments in the thumbnail (I don’t know if it is now or not).
  4. Events. This should include announcements of events, updates about upcoming events, and reports from in-session and completed events. These are currently mixed in with research notes, but deserve their own category.
  5. Other. The lazy research notes from SpectralWorkbench and MapKnitter can go here, or those can be discontinued. Newsletters can go here, unless they want their own tab. The “Other” tab could lead to a page with several sub sections or the tab could operate a dropdown menu with “Newsletters,” “Announcements,” and “Other stuff we don’t want anywhere else.” Or newsletters, announcements, and other non-research notes could be mixed chronologically as they are now.

A possible result of highlighting the legitimate research notes as the creative, project-based heart of Public Lab activity is that new visitors will see at a glance the types of things people are working on and how they report their progress. Many might be encouraged to strive to get their own work in that feed.


@gretchengehrke -- this looks like it's related to your github issue for dashboard organizing: -- what do you think?

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I really liked the suggestion that was made at the Barnraising to put the agile learning quotes front and center on the website. "Whoever comes is the right people," "Whenever it starts is the right time," etc -- I think it does a lot to very quickly create a welcoming atmosphere and frame how people engage with Public Lab as a community in a positive way.

Obviously with some modification for context

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Either a newletter that you can sign up for when enrolling on the site, or if that already exists, a clearer way to know that it is available :)

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One thing I've found confusing when looking at the events page ( is figuring out where different events are happening. It would be great if the calendar list included the respective cities, so you don't have to click on each one to find out.

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For “getting started” notes for tools/kits label them with similar name like Riffle 101 or Riffle: Getting Started.

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Thinking about the newsletter comment above from @MDizzia and the in-progress longterm segue off of GoogleGroups, perhaps upon signup to the website we could:

  • subscribe people to the newsletter (which is currently delivered through Campaign Monitor)
  • subscribe people to the blog (a tag on the website, which could have supporting text on the email about subscribing to other topics of interest and managing current subscriptions)
  • enroll people in a custom onboarding email series weekly-for-six-weeks (like The Engine Room offers: "You are receiving this email because you opted in to receive The Engine Room's research digest series on our report "The Ties that Bind" on digital security. You will receive only seven emails from us and we will only use your email address for this series (unless you sign up for our general mailing list)."
  • something about our consistent event schedule of open calls, open hours, and barnraisings.

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See @niklasjordan's design for what a new poster sees once submitting their first content into the moderation queue:

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