Dana Fridman is a design guru. Her contributions to UX at Logz.io are unmatched, and her input on upcoming updates to our app’s UI will be an achievement. But her portfolio is getting more than just Logz.io projects right now. As part of her work here, she is also making her mark on Jaeger. You see, Dana is the major design contributor to the open source Jaeger project.
Open source contributions tend to be backend-focused and the domain of developers. But projects like distributed tracing apps need to put on a good face, too. That means essential input from open source design.
“The platform is built by backend developers, so I think you need to add in thinking like a UX designer or product manager,” says Dana Fridman, Logz.io’s Product Designer.
That’s especially true as the amount of data climbs. Prometheus for metrics and Elasticsearch for logs are mainly data stores. Their most popular visualization tools are Grafana and Kibana, respectively. There is no equivalent to them when it comes to Jaeger.
“As the depth got greater, it no longer felt holistic enough. It just became more and more information to process on the screen.”
“There are definitely a lot of opportunities for changing the hierarchy of data and the way people interact with the platform.”
There is a reason for that – tracing is the newer of the three. Well, newest on most teams’ radars. As of now, the most prolific visualization in tracing UIs is the Gantt chart, something that resembles a swimlane visual. There is also the new Jaeger system architecture visual that looks like a scatter-point. But that could change in the future.
“I’m now working on an APM monitoring screen. It’s a whole new level of looking at spans and traces. It really gives a bird’s eye view of your system’s health.”
“It’s the ‘not knowing’ that’s scary.”
There is an Open Design movement (for software and hardware) that goes hand-in-hand with, but with a little less name recognition than, the Free & Open Source movement in general.
As soon as she got the assignment, Dana was all-in. That didn’t keep her from having a little bit of apprehension. After all, how do you navigate something other designers aren’t working on?
“It’s the ‘not knowing’ that’s scary,” she says. Will she contribute something that hurts the project or slows it down? Might she accidentally break something? “Will I be able to deal with the technical side of it and understand it enough to give meaningful improvements?”
The chance to branch out was aureate, though. It was an opportunity “you wouldn’t get in other places.”
“You’re really working on several [projects] at a time.”
Her description made me think of it as a sort of quantum effect: able to guide and prompt multiple organizations, apps, or ventures at exactly the same time with the same stroke of a key or addition of a layer.
Put less esoterically, once the software’s community accepts your contributions, they’ll filter out to any and all person, firm, or corp deploying it.
On the flip side was the fear of contributing something insignificant. But Dana’s first received piece of advice told her she wouldn’t have to worry about that at all.
“You don’t have to move mountains or redesign the whole system. A small change can make a huge contribution.”
Open Source Design Nets Immediate Feedback
“Usually, the response rate is very, very low. It’s difficult to catch someone who really uses the product that also has the incentive to really give real feedback.”
That’s the big leg-up in a community setting – getting committers’ takes on your work in short order.
“But with Jaeger, the huge community, this is a gold mine. You can put in your hypotheses and gain instant feedback.”
There’s also, usually, a different mindset at play.
“I really enjoy working with developers because a lot of the time when you show them your work, they give feedback you didn’t think about.”
“It really broadens your perspective.”
Diamond in the Rough
As said, designers are fewer and farther between than devs in the OSS world. That isn’t to say they don’t have a place. On the contrary, there’s a shortage. In fact, Dana sees it as a privilege.
“It’s an opportunity that not a lot of designers get to enjoy. I don’t know any other designer personally, from Israel at least, that is working in open source while on their full-time job.”
Even if you can find the time to contribute open source UI or UX design even if it’s not linked to your dayjob, there is plenty of incentive to donate some spare time.
“Just as developers have interests participating in open source, I think designers should be interested in this as well,” Dana says. “The more products we’re exposed to, the more types of users, etc.; the more we learn and expand our horizons.”
Final Pitch: Ride the Learning Curve
But I had to ask her for a final pitch. Say one of the designers or UX writers or related professionals reading this isn’t entirely sure they want to stroll through GitHub looking for something to help out with. What would she say?
“What would I say to other designers? There could be a message here. Don’t be afraid to jump into topics that seem complicated to you; there is a learning curve in anything, but if you have people to help you and intro to the platform and can show you in real time how to use the product, you will gain your own insights.”