Motivations for a designer to get involved in an open source project

I am part of Silex Labs non profit organization, and one of our mission is to bridge the gap between designers and developers.

An important question is how to motivate designers to get involved in FOSS (free and open source software).

As a developer I can say that I am really happy to be part of the FOSS movement because:

  • I use technologies which I could not use in a commercial product because innovative technologies are not mainstream yet, and open source projects have poor communication so they do not attract decision makers
  • I meet talented developers, I make new connections, new oportunities and I choose with whom I collaborate
  • when I do job interviews, I have great things to show, many experiences
  • when I am hired to contribute to free software – which happens because I was a contributor in the first place, I develop programs on which I will be able to keep working after I leave the company

And also, it’s cool to be part of this revolution of the software industry 🙂

My question is, what motivates a designer to be part of an open source project?


The short answer is: there unfortunately usually aren’t many motivations. It’s a problem (some suggestions on how to help get designers involved below).

If you look at open source projects, it’s often very clear that no designers are heavily involved and that design elements are created by developers who have basic design skills: even for open-source design tools like Inkscape and GIMP where the products themselves could actually benefit designers.

However, there are exceptions. There are three types I can think of that do manage to motivate some designers:

  1. Things like WordPress that come with some form of marketplace where
    design elements like skins and themes can be sold
  2. Things like Drupal where there isn’t so much a marketplace as a demand for designers who have specific skills associated with that product
  3. Things like the small army of people making SVG graphics for Wikipedia who are motivated by it being a specific cause they
    and have an easy route to getting involved

How to get more involvement from designers?

Keep in mind that the only one of your motivations that will be true for designers is more work to show – and this is easy to get. Designers will rarely meet talented designers through open source work – even in those exceptional cases like the world of WordPress themes where there’s some motivation and a few designers involved.

Even more important is making sure there are no obstacles to any designers you do manage to motivate from actually getting involved:

  • How will they actually contribute? Regular designers aren’t going to spend hours figuring out how GitHub works then hours more figuring out how the hell to make it a useful version control system for graphics. Links to documentation won’t be enough here… If you haven’t built something that works, they won’t come.
  • How is the work allocated? Open source works by dividing a big job between many people. It’s great for debugging, but in design, that becomes design by committee and the final product can easily become an inconsistent mess that no individual who contributed to it will want in their portfolio, regardless of the abilities of each contributor. Clear style guidelines make a really big difference, as does a good community that has figured out how to do online critiques that a) work and b) don’t deter members.
  • Would the existing community even accommodate them? There are a few times I’ve seen projects I support suffering through poor UI design and thought “I could help here”, then I’ve taken one look at the kinds of inane debate in the community – which often amounts to “I don’t care what’s good UI practice or what the users say, I’m a big developer in this community and I like it done like X” – and I’ve thought life is too short. It’s like the very worst parts of the day job, minus the money. If a community isn’t prepared to delegate UI decisions to the appropriate specialists, it’ll never retain those specialists.

Then, when there’s room for a motivated designer or two, you need to figure out an actual motivation:

  1. If you can’t pay them yourself, can you have them paid by third parties somehow, like the WordPress example?
  2. Will they gain familiarity and credibility with designing for something widespread that might give them an advantage in interviews and pitches, like the Drupal example?
  3. Is there something about the project you can use to make people want to contribute, like the Wikipedia example? You’ll need to go to town on community engagement if you rely on this.

Source : Link , Question Author : lexa , Answer Author : user56reinstatemonica8

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