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Activities - Allowing the user to focus on a specific task

User avatar ivan
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@alake

Lets start with that I like here (I tend to skip this usually, and then it looks like I don't like anything :) )

The new UI mock-up looks *really* sleek, and the additional information as well. And some almost made me yell at you, but after a while they grew on me. In a nutshell, it is inspiring me to work on the boring stuff like the configuration dialogue. :)

The questions I have regarding the mock-up are:

- (Q1) What is the time and date about? Creation date? Is it important to the user and why?
- (Q2) Documents and applications - currently open documents and applications? Not sure whether we could do it properly at the moment, we can do how many windows an activity contains. (the documents one would be misleading since we don't support applications like LibreOffice at the moment, and we do not differentiate between actual documents and contacts, other files etc)
- (Q3) Configuration actually opening a normal configuration window (I've been thinking about doing this for some time now)

Now the problems I see with it:

- (P1) It is missing the activity icon, and has an activity description which does not exist (it used to exist in the API a long time ago, but everybody agreed back then that it is not needed);
- (P2) It is missing the stopped activities (easily fixable);
- (P3) We need this to work without the hovering (everything should be reachable on touch-enabled computers without the mouse - that is why the current one shows the control icons faded out, but still visible);
- (P4) I'd argue that 'copy' (if we manage to implement it like we had in P4) should be in the new activity creation dialogue, and not here (we used to have a menu for 'create activity' that showed 'duplicate current', and a few more items - I'm not proposing a menu again, but ...). Or I just do not see it as an overly important use-case for it to be shown whenever the activity is hovered;
- (P5) I don't want to add the complete privacy controls for each activity. Not that it would be hard to do, I just think it is an overkill. What would be the use-case for "I want my contacts to be tracked but not my applications"?

Now, some general comments:

- (C1) IMO, the 'Resources' tab should not show what will be turned to 'usage statistics - previously used stuff', but rather to favourites - favourite applications, favourite contacts, and favourite documents - it will be ok to show them updated later, which I think is a big plus. It will never be able to show everything that you can link to an activity (for example, task categories from TODOs and such), but I think that these three things are enough to demonstrate the point of it all (skipping websites, since we don't have chrome nor firefox integration :) ).
- (C2) The thing that I was against at first is opening this dialogue on activity creation since there are users who create overly many activities, and 'friction' is not something that is welcoming in that case, but after some thought, I realized that this will not slow down the activity creation - it can still be click -> enter the name -> icon -> press enter - as it is now.
- (C3) The icon. I like the connection of focus and the gunsight, but I don't like the idea of showing something like that to represent activities. Some people might have bad memories connected with it, you know. We might pass unnoticed with something like the target logo https://abullseyeview.s3.amazonaws.com/ ... llseye.jpg - it is generic enough to be 'just some circles' like the current icon is.


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User avatar alake
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ivan wrote:@alake

Lets start with that I like here (I tend to skip this usually, and then it looks like I don't like anything :) )

The new UI mock-up looks *really* sleek, and the additional information as well. And some almost made me yell at you, but after a while they grew on me. In a nutshell, it is inspiring me to work on the boring stuff like the configuration dialogue. :)


Thanks for not yelling Ivan. :-) Seriously though, I totally know how awesome a UI designer you are so I fully expected a scorching critique. I really do appreciate the carefully considered and detailed feedback you have provided.

- (Q1) What is the time and date about? Creation date? Is it important to the user and why?

I went back and forth on labeling that so it would be clearer. :-) Anyway, the date and time are meant to indicate the last time the activity was in use (or some meaningful event occurred). It seemed relevant to help the user decide to delete an activity (scenario 3). It might also be helpful in some of the scenarios hook described in using activities. e.g. "It's been way too long since I last worked on triaging bugs'
- (Q2) Documents and applications - currently open documents and applications? Not sure whether we could do it properly at the moment, we can do how many windows an activity contains. (the documents one would be misleading since we don't support applications like LibreOffice at the moment, and we do not differentiate between actual documents and contacts, other files etc)

Yeah, it would be great if it were possible to accomplish this perfectly, but I totally understand the limitation. I'm specifically trying to avoid the exposing "# windows" semantic since while it might be what the technical implementation uses, I think it can conceptually conflate activities with window grouping mechanisms like virtual desktops. Maybe as you suggest below, maybe it could just reflect favorites documents, contacts and/or applications.
- (Q3) Configuration actually opening a normal configuration window (I've been thinking about doing this for some time now)

Not sure if there's a question here, but yes. Configuration/settings button would open the same settings dialog that I propose be opened when a new activity is created (except of course with the settings for the selected activity). :-)

- (P1) It is missing the activity icon, and has an activity description which does not exist (it used to exist in the API a long time ago, but everybody agreed back then that it is not needed);

There are so many things on the desktop with an icon and a name that I thought it would be worth providing an opportunity to present something a little more meaningful to the concept of focusing on a specific task. I elected to skip the icon, since I think the wallpaper is more evident and ambient during use of the activity, and thus a visual more likely to be associated with the task. As for the description, again, just an optional opportunity to provide a little more insight into what the activity is about. The user might even be able to, for example, update the description as they leave the activity after working on a specific subtask; maybe just to say, hey I was last "Working on the Red Apple Grocery account" in the Quarterly Accounting activity.
- (P2) It is missing the stopped activities (easily fixable);

yup. I just missed that one, sorry. Easily fixable as you say (probably with an implementation similar to today's). :-)

- (P3) We need this to work without the hovering (everything should be reachable on touch-enabled computers without the mouse - that is why the current one shows the control icons faded out, but still visible);

hmm, maybe we can come up with some improved design solutions for touch devices. Ideally it would be nice to not limit the interaction possibilities for pointer devices to accomodate touch-enabled devices. While the faded-out icons function, I'm a little wary of faded-out controls that are not disabled. :-)

- (P4) I'd argue that 'copy' (if we manage to implement it like we had in P4) should be in the new activity creation dialogue, and not here (we used to have a menu for 'create activity' that showed 'duplicate current', and a few more items - I'm not proposing a menu again, but ...). Or I just do not see it as an overly important use-case for it to be shown whenever the activity is hovered;

That would be a better solution I think. At least the user has the full context of the current activity available to decide whether or not to copy it to the new activity.
- (P5) I don't want to add the complete privacy controls for each activity. Not that it would be hard to do, I just think it is an overkill. What would be the use-case for "I want my contacts to be tracked but not my applications"?

Sounds totally fair to me. I offered those privacy options up mostly because privacy is one area where there is almost always some credible use-case more fine-grained control. But that doesn't mean we have to accommodate every credible use-case. So would just a simple track/do-not-track + clear-history be ok?
- (C1) IMO, the 'Resources' tab should not show what will be turned to 'usage statistics - previously used stuff', but rather to favourites - favourite applications, favourite contacts, and favourite documents - it will be ok to show them updated later, which I think is a big plus. It will never be able to show everything that you can link to an activity (for example, task categories from TODOs and such), but I think that these three things are enough to demonstrate the point of it all (skipping websites, since we don't have chrome nor firefox integration :) ).

While I wasn't expecting for it to show everything that can be linked to an activity, a designer can hope can't he? :-) Just kidding. Yeah, favorites sound good. I do have one question though. Would it be possible to have an option (enabled by default) to open the favorite documents the first time the activity is opened? That way the user would be greeted the first time with an activity ready to focus on that task.
- (C2) The thing that I was against at first is opening this dialogue on activity creation since there are users who create overly many activities, and 'friction' is not something that is welcoming in that case, but after some thought, I realized that this will not slow down the activity creation - it can still be click -> enter the name -> icon -> press enter - as it is now.

Yay! I was most nervous about proposing this particular change but I thought it was worth a shot. So, I tried really hard to preserve the number of steps for minimal activity creation. :-)
- (C3) The icon. I like the connection of focus and the gunsight, but I don't like the idea of showing something like that to represent activities. Some people might have bad memories connected with it, you know. We might pass unnoticed with something like the target logo https://abullseyeview.s3.amazonaws.com/ ... llseye.jpg - it is generic enough to be 'just some circles' like the current icon is.

Yup, totally agree. I just wanted to surface a discussion about a visual metaphor that might be a little closer the the vision of activities. We'll keep working on it. :-)

I'll work on making some of those updates you suggested. Thanks again for your patience and I can't wait to see what the final solutions look like in the end!
ripper17
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alake wrote:There are so many things on the desktop with an icon and a name that I thought it would be worth providing an opportunity to present something a little more meaningful to the concept of focusing on a specific task. I elected to skip the icon, since I think the wallpaper is more evident and ambient during use of the activity, and thus a visual more likely to be associated with the task.

There will always be a number of people who will not choose different wallpapers for different activities, but the same people might also not set a different icon for each activity. So while I wouldn't depend on "different wallpapers" for distinguishing between activities, I think it's absolutely OK to not have a specific item, as long as we have a title and a description (which, of course, might be left empty as well by some people).

alake wrote:
ivan wrote:- (P3) We need this to work without the hovering (everything should be reachable on touch-enabled computers without the mouse - that is why the current one shows the control icons faded out, but still visible);

hmm, maybe we can come up with some improved design solutions for touch devices. Ideally it would be nice to not limit the interaction possibilities for pointer devices to accomodate touch-enabled devices. While the faded-out icons function, I'm a little wary of faded-out controls that are not disabled. :-)

What about long-press on touch? I think it's a quite established usage pattern on touch that you will get some kind of context menu if you long-press something. Alternatively there could be a "hamburger" menu-button in one of the corners (top-right?) on touch devices (not sure if this can be detected automatically?)

alake wrote:
ivan wrote:- (P5) I don't want to add the complete privacy controls for each activity. Not that it would be hard to do, I just think it is an overkill. What would be the use-case for "I want my contacts to be tracked but not my applications"?

Sounds totally fair to me. I offered those privacy options up mostly because privacy is one area where there is almost always some credible use-case more fine-grained control. But that doesn't mean we have to accommodate every credible use-case. So would just a simple track/do-not-track + clear-history be ok?
[/quote]
What about "simple by default, powerful when needed"? :-) Basically, I think it's simple enough to have one checkbox "Private activity" (or something like that) that would enable all privacy features. The privacy settings can also be expanded ("Details"), where all settings available are provided. The "Private activity"-Checkbox could than be a tri-state checkbox, if a user decides to check only some of the detail-privacy-settings.


openSUSE 13.2 x64, Platform Version 4.14.X, Kubuntu 14.04 (LTS), Platform Version 4.13.X
User avatar ivan
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alake wrote:Anyway, the date and time are meant to indicate the last time the activity was in use

Ok. I agree it might be useful. But I don't think it is obvious. Is there a short version of the sentence 'Used x days ago'?

I'm specifically trying to avoid the exposing "# windows"

+1 Understood.

Not sure if there's a question here, but yes.

There was, I just removed it and forgot it :)

There are so many things on the desktop with an icon and a name that
I thought it would be worth providing an opportunity to present something

I don't think the wallpaper is sufficient for two reasons:
  • this switcher is just one way, just one way of dealing with a raspberry killer... there are a few other, more lightweight switchers that do not have the space to show the wallpaper, and there are places like KWin menu and similar that list activities, where a wallpaper can not fit.
  • some people tend to switch wallpapers quite often, or to use the same one for all activities.

update the description as they leave the activity after working on a specific subtask

This is evil :) At first, I thought it was ingenious idea to use the description for that. But then I realized that the description does not exist. I'm not sure that we should introduce something with the only use-case of it being misused, that is, used as something else. I'd rather have a proper todo/reminder thing integrated with activities than this.

maybe we can come up with some improved design solutions for touch

It would be nice. I started thinking about these things since I got a touch-enabled laptop. It is sometimes quite tedious to have to switch to the touchpad in order to achieve something.

just a simple track/do-not-track + clear-history be ok

+1

open the favorite documents the first time the activity is opened

That might be problematic. Easy to implement, but that might have an undesired effect of people trying to keep favourites as minimal as possible. And, if the documents get opened automatically, why not applications, contacts etc.

For me, the point in favourites is to be able to open them quickly. This point is moot if they open automatically.

The idea of something opening when the activity starts is ok (had quite a few requests to make per-activity .kde/share/Autostart back in Plasma 4 days), but I don't think this is that.

Yay! I was most nervous about proposing this particular change but I thought it was

:)

ripper17 wrote:What about long-press on touch? I think it's a quite established usage pattern on

That is the common "last resort". Just like the context menus on the desktop are. But, yes, if we don't think of something else, it would be acceptable.[/quote]

What about "simple by default, powerful when needed"? :-) Basically, I think it's simple
enough to have one checkbox "Private activity" (or something like that) that

"when needed" being the key point here. I don't think that fine-grained control over this is needed. And it can even be counter-productive when security and privacy are concerned - it is easier to make mistakes if you need to keep track of what you've set to be tracked and what not.

I sometimes make mistakes even with whole web browser windows of what link I open in which (I have separate session for stuff I log into, for social networks and mail, and for other sites... and a couple more).


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User avatar alake
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ivan wrote:Is there a short version of the sentence 'Used x days ago'?

Yup that'd be much better. :-)

I
I don't think the wallpaper is sufficient for two reasons:
  • this switcher is just one way, just one way of dealing with a raspberry killer... there are a few other, more lightweight switchers that do not have the space to show the wallpaper, and there are places like KWin menu and similar that list activities, where a wallpaper can not fit.
  • some people tend to switch wallpapers quite often, or to use the same one for all activities.

Sounds reasonable. I'll add controls for icon selection to the first tab of the activity settings dialog.

update the description as they leave the activity after working on a specific subtask

This is evil :) At first, I thought it was ingenious idea to use the description for that. But then I realized that the description does not exist. I'm not sure that we should introduce something with the only use-case of it being misused, that is, used as something else. I'd rather have a proper todo/reminder thing integrated with activities than this.

Teh EVIL!!!! I think I might be proud. xD
Although... I'm not sure I'd characterize using a description field to describe more specifically what is happening in the activity as "misuse". :-) Rather, I'd offer that it supports decision-making in the basic activity switching or creation scenarios.

I suppose the question is, which is the greater hurdle to satisfying the relatively simple use-case of remembering with a bit more specificity what is happening in the activity: adding an optional description field to the core Activity feature set OR waiting for todo/reminder applications to integrate Activities and for the user to adopt one of those applications? For me it would seem adding an optional description field is the lesser hurdle. I'd also suggest that the consequences of actually misusing such a text field are minimal - it's a text field whose contents are passively displayed. I totally agree though that if the user needs actual todo/reminder functionality, we should properly meet them there with finely crafted and Activity-integrated applications.

For me, the point in favourites is to be able to open them quickly. This point is moot if they open automatically.

Sorry, I did a poor job of explaining Ivan. I was suggesting opening the activity's favorite documents the very first time an activity is opened after its creation. Optionally. The intent was to offer an opportunity to avoid just an empty desktop that very first time (especially if the user went through the effort of specify favorite documents during activity creation. Subsequent to that first time, I'd expect the activity to restore its last state, not open favorite documents (or anything else). I didn't suggest contacts because, well, I couldn't think of a scenario where the user wants to look at contact information on the very first startup. No biggie if it's not possible or preferable. Just an idea. :-)

I'll try to get the updated mockups out in the next few days. :-)
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Needs polishing, but...

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arucard
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The new switcher looks really nice. I like the use of icons. However, since the icons have to be set by the user for each activity, I think there's a risk of users keeping the default and ending up with many activities having the same icon. I think this can be avoided by making sure the default selected icon for each new activity is always different. Or, if possible, we could automatically generate something like an Identicon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Identicon) for a default icon. The icon can always be set to something else by the user of course.

I also have some concerns about the wallpaper as differentiating item. Personally, I like to keep the same wallpaper so all my activities would have the same wallpaper as well. This would make them quite similar in this switcher (except for the icons now). I thought that instead of using wallpapers here, we could use something like a snapshot of the last active screen of that activity. This would allow the activity switcher to show exactly what the user would have last seen when they left the activity so it should be quite recognizable. The user can also just minimize the windows so only the wallpaper is shown or maybe use a setting to prefer only showing the wallpaper (which might be useful for privacy reasons or just personal preference).

I think this will allow the user to easily distinguish the different activities with minimal effort (on the user's part). Even if they just clone an activity and provide no extra information (not even a name), they will still have a different icon and they will be able to see what it looked like when they last left it.
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arucard wrote:have to be set by the user for each activity, I think there's a risk of users keeping the

The current default icon (you can see it in the screenshot above in the Main activity) is quite inconspicuous, so I don't think it will be a problem. Now, the icon is a bit problematic since it looks like ... but I hope we'll replace it soon with something more unique, but not more intrusive.

Or, if possible, we could automatically generate something like an Identicon

We used to have that in Plasma 4.x. And people were quite confused. :)

Image

Personally, I liked identicons (and spent quite some time to make a library that supports nice, themable, svg-based identicons), but they made more problems than they solved.

Identicons are quite useful in, for example, blog comments section, or in forums - because you connect colours and shapes with people, and it is easier to follow who said what. Here, we do not have that benefit.

Now, I'm open to more convincing on this topic, but I'd need something substantial.

wallpapers here, we could use something like a snapshot of the last active screen of that activity

This was also one of the things considered back in the day. Window thumbnails (even more scaled-down than regular window thumbnails) tend to give even less information than wallpapers (if you are not graphics designer, and the window thumbnail is actually an image you are working on).

I'd dare to say that there are only a few things that are visually distinct in small thumbnails like those - familiar website headers and konsole.


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User avatar andreas_k
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Hi Ivan,

about the preview Heiko and me are looking for an consistent look and feel in the sidebar (http://user-prompt.com/look-and-feel-of ... -sidebars/). That doesn't matter that you have to change anything. The thing was that we say overlay icons like config, delete on top right and on bottom the description. if you want to save space in height, you can move the description into the preview.

About the preview. you have right find the right icon isn't that easy cause activities are to different. I'm thinking that previews would be the best way but as you wrote it isn't that easy to put in an small image previews of e.g. 5 applications. but there are different task switchers in kwin so for example the application icon and the window name on all open applications or only the application icons would be a nice preview on top of the wallpaper. So maybe you can choose something similar to the task switcher feature. cause the task switcher have the same requirements than you. the user should get an overview what's up on the desktop. maybe you can use the code from there. Description on bottom of the task switcher preview and delete and configure on top right with hover.

cheers
Andreas
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@andreas_k

While I appreciate the idea you proposed (especially since it looks like the current activity switcher ;) ), I think it is problematic to unify things that are as diverse as these. Basic visual unification, yes, total unification, not plausable (IMO).

The issues I see with the proposal (if you want to discuss this further, please, lets open another thread):
- Limits the information to title and description; icon and preview
- Requires the information to contain all the things above (which is a no-go for plasmoids, was discussed a few times before)
- Would look bad if the previews were not of the same width/height ratio (window switcher)

For the activity switcher, this is problematic - as explained by alake, the additional info lines of the 'last used' and 'documents apps stuff' are important. If the title and the description would go to the bottom, and these went to the top, it would be counter-intuitive - we are all used to have the titles above the text, and here, the name is the title.


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User avatar andreas_k
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Ok the topic is activities. What I was thinking is something like that

left side: as it is now with the application icons
right side: application icons say how many applications are open so to reduce the double information only the application icons last used as description and the delete and config emblem (sorry we don't have an config emblem now, but you can get one)
User avatar ivan
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The stats are not about the open windows. See alake's explanation above.

I don't think that the added visual noise of all the application icons is warranted by their usefulness. We tend to browse the web in all activities, chat, check e-mail etc. It is not a real differentiator.


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arucard
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I assume the stats are about favorites then. I couldn't really find any clear explanation on this in earlier posts. If this is the case, I'm not really sure why a user would need to know how many documents and applications are in their favorites in each activity. I'm also not really sure why they wouldn't, so I'm mostly just curious about the reasoning behind this.

I did like the application icons used by adreas_k. It actually felt like it had less visual noise, not more. I do agree that it is likely that there will be many applications used in almost all activities, but I'm not sure if they will all show up as favorites as well. It does seem like the most used applications would be of interest to the user, but it seems to me like it's more interesting to know which applications are the most used and not how many.

To avoid too much overlap in applications as well as showing too many application icons on the activity in the switcher, we could show the application icons for the 1, 2 or 3 most used applications (should be decided how many is most useful). This should correspond to the applications where the user spends most of their time and effort in each activity. This could also be done for documents, showing the mime-type icon (or something similar) for the 1, 2 or 3 most used documents as well. The stats for "most used" should be collected in the activity and should focus on what the user puts their time and effort into. This might differ from the regular favorites, because it might need to exclude applications that are minimized a lot, hidden in the system tray, running in the background, etc. I don't know if this is already done.

If it is really useful to show how many favorite applications there are, you could also just show 1 application icon, the most used one, with a smaller number overlaid on it that shows how the number of favorite applications (like the "new mail" or "new messages" count on application icons on phones). Even if you don't show the most used application, but just a default application icon, this might be a better way of showing those stats. Alternatively, the most used application could even be used as activity icon.

I think this way you can show clearly how the activities are different from one another. The user can easily see what they spent their time and effort on in the activity. It might still be possible to have different activities showing the same most used applications/documents, e.g. 2 different activities for research on 2 different things where the most used application is the browser in both. This is where the user does actually need to provide a clear title to differentiate, but I don't think this is a use-case that can be solved by the activity switcher. There's only so much information you can show.
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> I assume the stats are about favorites then. I couldn't really find any clear explanation
> I did like the application icons used by adreas_k. It actually felt like it had less visual

The point of it all is to show that the activities are not (only) about applications.

If we only show, say, icons of the applications that are currently running in an activity, what makes them different to virtual desktops?

If we show the favourite applications' icons, it creates two problems - "why are the icons shown when I'm not running these applications?", "why are applications more important than my documents?".

I agree that the number of documents, applications, contacts that are linked to an activity is not important. The point is that it sends a message about what activities are.

If you have a better idea of how to communicate this message, please don't be shy to say it. :)


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User avatar hook
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I’m stuck in an aeroport right now, so perfect time to add my two cents ;)

I *really* like how this is progressing.

I agree that the user doesn’t need to know how many programs and documents are in an activity, but as pointed out, it is a very good way to subtly indicate that the activities are about grouping programs and documents etc.

As for the windows thumbnails or icons, I think that would add too much clutter.

Regarding having a(n optional) description string for an activity – I actually like that idea, not as much for (mis)using it for task management/note taking, but exactly as what the name says: to a) force myself to define that activity and later b) to remind myself what it is about.


It's time to prod some serious buttock! ;)

 
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