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Designing Warehouse - An Overview

This is the first in a series of posts exploring the redesign of Warehouse - the replacement codebase for the Python Packaging Index (PyPI).

For the last six months, I have been working with the Python Packaging Authority (PyPA) to design Warehouse - the new codebase that will soon replace the Python Packaging Index (PyPI).

This article is an attempt to explore our objectives and challenges, provide an overview of our activities so far, and engage the wider Python community to help us move forward.

Our Goals

When Donald (our lead developer) and I first talked about the project, he had some very clear objectives for the redesign:

  • To update the visual identity
  • To make packages more discoverable; and
  • To look after both kinds of users, namely, users and package maintainers

To this list, I added a two of my own objectives:

First; to give the project the same level of professionalism as a commercial project of the same scale.

Second; to ensure that the user experience reflect the Python community that I know - a community that is welcoming, helpful and inclusive.

What We’ve Done

So now you see our goals, let’s take a look at the solution we’ve come up with so far.

Making the UI Welcoming

Python is used by many community and educational organisations to introduce newcomers to programming. By extension, PyPI might be the first package manager that some of our users have ever seen. This is a big responsibility, but also an opportunity to make a small part of the learning journey easier.

In designing the user interface, I tried to make no assumptions about prior knowledge. Don’t know what pip is? That’s ok - we’ll link you to the appropriate help section. Not sure what to do with an MD5 hash? No worries - there’s a help popover for that.

The colours, fonts, text sizes and spacing were also designed to be large, friendly and accessible (we’ll talk more about accessibility later) - all in an attempt to make new coders comfortable with the tool at hand.

Now - you might be thinking - “but most PyPI users are not beginners, so why design for them?” The answer is simple: a site designed for beginners can be used by everyone; a site designed for experts may alienate and confuse beginners. Of course, getting this right is a challenge, so we’ll be usability testing the design to find a balance that works for users of all experience levels.

Helping Users Overcome Obstacles

To ensure that all of our users are getting the most out of PyPI, it’s not enough just to design an interface - I needed to look at the whole user experience. This meant thinking about an individual’s experience moving through the site, and asking myself:

  • Where could our users be getting ‘stuck’?
  • How can I help them on their way?

Not only did this mode of thinking influence a lot of my interface design decisions, it also led me to explore the documentation resources that are currently available.

Currently, the Python Packaging User Guide is the authoritative resource on Python packaging. Unfortunately, it is not linked to from PyPI itself; and while the content is of very high quality, the tutorials are written through the lens of a more experienced Pythonista. I wanted something with a much lower threshold… something that would really hold the user’s hand when they got stuck.

In October I put out a call for help writing two new tutorials to help beginners; one for users who have never installed a package, and one for users who want to upload their first package to PyPI. My hope was that I’d attract a couple of technical writers to the project, but after an incredible response from the Python community (and consulting with Marcus and the PyPA team) we’ve settled on something more ambitious: to edit the current packaging guide to include new tutorials, while improving and extending the documentation in general.

Our goal is to complete this work by early 2016 to coincide with the launch of the new Warehouse codebase. This will facilitate extensive linking between the two resources, and dramatically improve the overall user experience.

Ensuring the Site Is Inclusive

The final piece of the puzzle is ensuring that the site is usable and accessible for all of our community members, whether they are using a phone, screen reader or an old, unpopular browser.

This has resulted in a number of technical decisions; the first (and most obvious) is that the design supports a range of devices via responsive media queries. We’re also going to (at least in the short term) continue support for Internet Explorer 8 9, as we have a number of users, primarily in China, still using this browser. See this issue for more information.

On the accessibility side, the project has already benefited from one audit from Xavier Dutreilh and we are looking forward to another before the site launches. Planned improvements include the addition of ARIA roles to the HTML, a ‘skip to content’ link, as well as better labeling of form fields for screen readers.

Lastly, Donald is introducing both localisation and internationalisation to the codebase. Currently PyPI is very US centric - supporting US English and US formats only. We’re very excited to be updating the user experience to better support Python users from all over the world, and will be calling for volunteers in early 2016 to assist us in this activity.

How You Can Help

So what’s next? And importantly - how can you help?

Contributing Code

We have a huge amount of work to complete before launching Warehouse, and would love to see some new faces working on the project. If you have skills in Python, HTML, SCSS, or JavaScript, then please check out the open issues on the issue tracker. Thanks to Donald’s hard work, the project itself is easy to set up and extensively documented. If you’ve never contributed to an open-source project before, or are new to web development, we’d love to accept your first pull request! We have labelled a number of issues on the issue tracker as ‘easy’ - start here!

Participating in Usability Testing

As already mentioned, I am planning on running a number of usability testing sessions. The objectives of these sessions is to ask:

  • Are the design decisions really helping new learners?
  • Have I got the balance right for more experienced Pythonistas?
  • Is it clear what each page does?
  • Can users find help when they need it?

Since making a call for volunteers, over 150 Pythonistas have come forward to participate. From these, I will ask a variety of users to participate in the tests - the objective being to test with users from different backgrounds and with different levels of Python experience. If you think that you have a new perspective to bring to this process, please volunteer here.

Helping Rewrite PyPUG

I’m very excited to report that the work on rewriting the Python Packaging User Guide has already begun, with Daniel Beck leading a team of volunteer writers. If you’d like to get involved in this project, please start by visiting this ticket on the issue tracker - Daniel and the team would be excited for your contribution!

Providing Feedback

Finally, we’re planning on installing a widget on the site to gather community feedback. Perhaps there is something small that is bothering you, but it doesn’t justify opening an issue on the issue tracker. Perhaps there is something big, but you don’t like issue trackers, or find them difficult or intimidating to use. Perhaps you just want to put an opinion forward. In all of these cases, please use our widget - we can only better serve the community if we hear from the community!

Wrapping Up

Warehouse is an exciting, interesting and challenging project to work on, and I’m very pleased to have been able to make a large impact on such an important project for the Python community.

There is still lots to do and many challenges ahead, but I am confident that the final site will deliver significant improvements to the user experience for Python users across the globe.

Stay tuned for my next article which will explore the new design in more depth.

31st December, 2015

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I am available for new design and development work via Kabu Creative. To discuss a particular project, please contact me at n.harris [at] kabucreative.com.

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