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KubeCon Recap – A Designer’s Perspective

Dan Romlein

By Dan Romlein

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First, a confession: a significant portion of content shared by speakers at last week’s KubeCon / CloudNativeCon conference in Seattle went right over my head.

But…I think that’s OK.

It’s OK because exploring advanced Kubernetes topics was not my primary reason for being at KubeCon. I was there instead to:

  • Share about the work I’ve been doing along with the rest of the team on Dashboard, the official UI for Kubernetes.
  • Meet Kubernetes users in person and chat with them about what problems they face day-to-day and how Dashboard might solve those, and finally…
  • Collaborate with Google designers and leverage their experience with Cloud Platform UX in the context of Dashboard.

Happy to report that all these goals were met with fantastic success 💯

Sharing:

On day one of the two-day sold-out conference, Dashboard team lead Piotr Bryk and I took the stage in the pre-lunch slot and gave our talk Visualizing Kubernetes: The Power of Dashboard to a standing-room-only crowd. Demo went off without a hitch, Piotr was a champ and let me make fun of him with our mock app slides, and all feedback we’ve gotten from viewers has been positive. Since Dashboard 1.0 was released at the start of this year, the project’s gained both users and contributors, and is now seeing material increases in momentum. Our talk was about taking a step back from this headway to discuss why Dashboard matters and with that established delve into latest features and what we plan to work on next.

Listening:

Being ‘on the ground’ at KubeCon and listening to users’ challenges in person was an ineffably richer and more efficient way to internalize these challenges than the GitHub threads and conference calls we rely on most of the time. As Rakesh Malhotra, SVP of Products and Engineering at Apprenda, mentioned in his KubeCon interview with John Furrier, Kubernetes is about transforming businesses – people aren’t using Kubernetes for the sake of using Kubernetes. For me to contribute effective design solutions around Kubernetes in service of those transformations, I need to have a deep understanding of how it is being used in production. Piotr and I held two ‘office hours’ sessions and there listened to what Kubernetes users told us was most important to them. Fundamentally, all this listening was about establishing empathy as a product design team. Empathy forms the foundation of the design thinking process, and I see KubeCon as a pivotal moment in establishing that individual and collective empathy for effective user-centered design. This then shapes our product roadmap and ensures it’s aligned with user needs.

Making:

In several ‘UI Jam’ sessions throughout the week held at Google’s Fremont Campus, myself, Piotr, and members of the Google Cloud Platform UX team came together to collaborate around the biggest challenges facing Dashboard. Even with all the tech around distributed team workflows, it’s so critically valuable to get product people co-located; the caliber and efficiency of our meetings at Google reminded me of that.

We started off discussing how we might optimize our approach for the next big features on the horizon. Now that the core team building Dashboard has gotten into a bit of a rhythm of designing and implementing new features, this was a chance for us to step back and assess our process. One change we identified as worthwhile is formalizing our expected design artifacts. Artifacts are anything produced related to the design process that’s not the actual final designs – e.g. product requirement document (PRD), sketches, or InVision mockups. Having these documented will ensure contributors involved in a given design task have a framework to work with and know what’s expected of them.

One specific GitHub issue we brainstormed around is showing more detailed information for a Pod. We chose this specific issue because it taps into the crux of Dashboard: how do we display objects in an orderly and meaningful way when Kubernetes is largely a flat structure (rather than a hierarchy)? While looking at the Pod page and objects displayed there we had a collective ‘Ah ha’ realization most eloquently put by UX Manager Christina Storm: “The most meaningful attribute we have to expose in a Kubernetes UI is objects’ relationship to each other.” From this starting point, we explored how we might standardize relationships through visual cues – showing a parent-child vs. sibling relationship as different styles, for example.

SIG UI will refine and shape this and other fledgeling ideas generated in our sessions over the next few months. UX Manager Ron Norman is stepping up to oversee Google Cloud Platform’s contributions, and the two of us met to discuss next steps for the team, including a design sprint as well as a card-sorting exercise to help clarify those aforementioned relationships. Stay tuned as we take action and document our progress!

All Up:

Kubernetes deals with sophisticated, interwoven systems, and KubeCon Seattle predictably leveled up my knowledge of these, but the real learning value of the conference was gaining an appreciation for the Kubernetes gestalt – the software and the people who build it. If I had to sum up the Kubernetes community in a word, it would be authentic. The men and women I talked with seemed genuinely excited about being there and committed to building the best product they possibly can. It was an honor to take part in that process through speaking on what the Dashboard team has been up to, hearing what problems Kubernetes users are facing, and brainstorming with team members on solutions to those problems.

As the Dashboard project picks up speed, now is a great time to get involved and voice your thoughts about where we’re headed! Check out SIG UI, which has all the info about where and when we meet, or take our Dashboard user survey.

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Dan Romlein
Dan Romlein

Dan Romlein is a User Experience Designer on Apprenda’s product team and is responsible for visual aspects ranging from page layouts to brand consistency. Originally from a fine art background, he discovered UX delightfully marries his interests in creativity, communication, and psychology—all while giving him room to exercise his fierce curiosity. You can follow him on Twitter @danielromlein.

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