How much better would a website look with a legion of designers around the world giving their input? How perfect could a logo be if it had felt the gentle touch of 100 top class designers doing it for the pure passion?
It sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? Well it is, for the moment, but there’s no reason why designers can’t learn to love working together. They just need to take some lessons from the software development community, according to Adobe designer Garth Braithwaite.
In an impassioned 40-minute talk, he charted the path of open source software development, from the early 80s. That’s when Richard Stallman left MIT to lay the foundations of open source software. Linus Torvalds built on his impressive early contribution to make Linux and that system has been tweaked time and again by developers around the world.
Torvalds put the whole concept into words when he said: “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.”
Perfect planning isn’t always the answer
Eric Raymond followed up with a landmark paper comparing traditional proprietary software with the open source community, called: “The Cathedral and the Bazaar.”
He reasoned that the cathedral, the planned software created by companies, wasn’t nearly as effective as the bazaar, the open source version, when it came to bug fixing and evolving to handle problems on the fly. But why do people contribute? What draws them to open source development like eager moths to a flame?
MIT wanted to find out. Its researchers reasoned personal advancement and job opportunities were the only reasons for pouring time and effort into a project that would never pay. They were wrong.
Developers do it for the love
A survey revealed that creativity and the personal challenge of working on these passion projects are the driving forces for many contributors. They want to contribute to something bigger than their daily grind, but mainly they just want to make something amazing. Developers do it because it feels good.
So why hasn’t this mentality crossed over into design?
When it comes down to it, designers and developers are both problem solvers. The tools are different and so are the tasks, but designers are essentially visual developers.
Are designers just slow to accept a challenge?
We know that open source works, so is it just a case of the design community being slow to pick up the baton? Yes, quite possibly.
Using an open source mindset, sharing the successes and the failures, could help all designers develop new skills and learn at a faster rate. It would make everybody better.
So what would open source design look like?
It would involve sharing the processes. That means the rejected files, the blind alleys and the half-finished work. It also means pointing to the inspiration, even where you ripped ideas from.
Open source design means using platforms like Dribbble, billed as the show and tell for designers, or a blog to show work in progress. It means giving your work away mid-flow, asking other designers for their input and letting them run with your half-finished creations. Even if you go in a different direction, you get to see what others would have done.
Lose the shame of a half-finished design
Designers are notoriously precious about sharing work before it’s finished, which is a big obstacle to open source design. For this concept to work, the community will need to share source files. They might even need to learn coding to put their files on Github.
This personal development, though, is one of the driving forces behind open source software. It can work for design, too.
The other main obstacle is the lack of desire to tackle projects for fun. Designers are overworked and simply don’t want to spend their evenings on projects that won’t put food on the table. There is no simple answer to that, apart from giving them the chance and seeing who takes it on.
Learn to work as a team
Not every designer likes to work with a team, either. Design by committee is an old joke in the industry. But then a committee of designers is a different thing and with a vast number of people working on one project, the way it morphs and takes on a life of its own might be its own reward.
Open source design, then, can work. All it takes is the commitment to collaborate, a network of designers that can work together and the hunger for the extra work. Software developers have proved the concept, but the designers are the ones that can make it look awesome.
Then, just think, if the product designers followed suit. That would be a game changer.