Day One of the FontForge Book Sprint

by mollysharp1

Today is the first proper day of the Book Sprint. (Monday was an “unconference,” led by Allen Gunn of Aspiration. For more about this particular unconference, scroll to the bottom of today’s post.) This morning we began with Adam Hyde’s introduction to the Book Sprint process, and then we broke into our groups. There are 3 different documentation teams, so this is actually 3 concurrent sprints. I am working with the FontForge group, because they had the smallest team and could therefore maybe use the most help.

Each team’s first assignment was to come up with a target audience, title, subtitle, and TOC. Starting by defining the target audience makes a lot of sense and can actually be deceptively complicated or even controversial, depending on the project. For team FontForge, at first it seemed like there were several fundamentally opposing views, but through the magic of good facilitation, everyone ended up on the same page in a way that felt natural. We came up with a working title and subtitle, although we might change them over the course of the sprint.

Next came the exercise of coming up with the draft TOC. The first step for this involved everyone taking a pack of post-its and jotting down a topic they thought the book should cover. We could write topics on as many post-its as we liked. Then we put them all up on a wall and started coming up with categories for organizing the topics, including a category for topics we chose NOT to cover in the book. Eventually this wall of semi-organized post-its turned itself into the draft TOC. We didn’t always pull topics verbatim into the TOC from the post-its, but the structuring exercise felt like a necessary first step to organizing our thoughts and making sure we wouldn’t leave anything important out of the book.

Now a little about the FontForge team. It’s an interesting international group. Vernon Adams is from the UK and now lives in Southern CA. Ben Martin is Australian, Nate Willis lives in West Texas, Jason Pagura lives in Cupertino, and Eben Sorkin in Boston. They’re all interested (passionate?) in typography and all seem pretty technical. There is a wide range of personalities involved (across the tech-geek continuum, anyway) and it’s fascinating to watch the dynamics. Everyone on the team has been gracious about letting me—a stranger who never used FontForge—join their team. Currently I’m working on the glossary, and it sounds like I’ll play a stronger role tomorrow when more is written and I can do more reading and reviewing. I’ll also be testing some of the how-to writing, to make sure they didn’t skip any steps that may be obvious to someone very experienced in FontForge, but less obvious to a new user.

I will say that now that we’re actively writing, things are getting to be really fun. I don’t know if people will still think it’s fun at 9pm tonight or tomorrow night or Thursday for that matter, but it’s pretty exciting to actually dig into the writing. I am really looking forward to making a solid contribution.

More tomorrow…

A bit about Monday’s unconference

It was facilitated by Allen Gunn (Gunner) of Aspiration. Gunner got the group thinking of the issues most relevant to everyone’s documentation situations, and helped us prioritize and distill them into topics we could break out into workgroups to discuss. I think the topics were useful ones to cover, we had some good brainstorming sessions. (A few of the topics I remember: how to maintain documentation after the sprint and keep it “living” using the tools; how to develop documentation communities; whether documentation can play a more upstream role in the development process; whether multimedia can play an effective role in certain types of documentation.) Not all the questions that arose in the groups were actually answered from these sessions, but I think it was a good focusing exercise and helped everyone get to know each other and get ready to work together.

Although the unconference topics were centered on looking for solutions to these kinds of issues within the free software community (which definitely has a separate set of challenges from the industries I’m used to), these breakout sessions were really useful to me. They definitely got me thinking about the documentation I “own” for Safari, the ways I’ve been less than successful with making it useful to its users, keeping it “alive” and up to date, and building collaboration. I’ve learned (or at least clarified my thinking on) quite a few potential ways to improve it that I’m looking forward to discussing with my team next week.