From the start, one of Gemba’s design goals was to make it simple for designers to push assets to a Git repository. Gemba actively shields users from its internal workings, so that you can deliver assets with a minimal UI. However, I learned from beta testers and usage metrics that Gemba’s simplicity made it harder for new users to get started.

The Post Office and Leaps of Faith

Victorian letter box

Victorian letter box.

Adapted from Sarah Smith, licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

Using Gemba is as simple as dropping assets into a window and pressing the Deliver button. Dead simple – and perfect, once you have learned to use and trust Gemba.

Indeed, it’s exactly how the Post Office works: you put your stuff into an envelope, then drop it in a mailbox. The Post Office takes care of delivering it to the correct address.

But Gemba is not the Post Office.

Gemba has not been around for centuries, gaining trust by proving its effectiveness over and over again. Moreover, people have a reassuring mental model of how the Post Office gets the envelope to the recipient.

In contrast, Gemba expected new users to take this huge leap of faith that it will actually do what you expect with your assets and the repository. What I hadn’t realized: Hiding all complexity under the surface made it hard for users (1) to understand what was going on, and (2) to trust that Gemba will work as expected.

Exposing the Seams

In a wonderfully thoughtful essay, Timo Arnall explores the virtues of “seamful” interfaces that don’t hide but expose how its parts work together. Quoting Dieter Rams’ famous dictum that well-designed products are understandable, he advocates transparent1. user interfaces that explain the way they work through “legible microinteractions”.

So while simplicity is still the goal, I have started to carefully expose more of what is happening under the hood through contextual feedback. Gemba now tells you where dropped assets are put; it keeps you informed what it’s currently doing; and the upcoming version will be more transparent with how .gemba configuration files are handled. Crucially, listing the dropped assets alongside all existing assets makes the app less of a black box.

tl;dr

Simplicity and transparency are a trade-off, and I have learned that simple is not automatically better.

I’d love to hear your thoughts at @GembaApp!

  1. Confusingly, there are two opposing meanings to the word “transparency” in our industry. Generally, transparency denotes a “see-through” quality, as in a watch that reveals its inner mechanics behind the revolving hands. In computing, though, transparent is often used to mean “invisible”, e.g. Dropbox transparently syncs files between devices. I use the word in its traditional sense.