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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?

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What kind of Open Source Project? What kind of involvement? Are you talking about providing free graphic design to a project? Are you talking about writing a graphic design software? I'm voting to close at the moment because I don't find it clear what you're asking. If you could edit it, then I'll remove my close vote. –  Ryan Aug 12 at 18:30

5 Answers 5

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 support 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.
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Very interesting thank you! Are you a designer? Are you involved in an open source project? –  lexa Sep 23 '13 at 15:30
    
Are you a designer? Yes, Are you involved in an open source project? Sort of, I work on Drupal quite a lot and I support open source. But I almost never provide designs for open source projects: I'd like to, but it's just too much hassle for the reasons described above. Despite being 80% designer and 20% coder I've provided like 800% more code bug fixes to open sources projects than I have images or designs. –  user568458 Sep 23 '13 at 15:35
    
Excellent answer. –  Yisela Sep 23 '13 at 21:24
1  
+1, worth noting: Github now supports PSD versioning. github.com/blog/1845-psd-viewing-diffing –  Brian Aug 12 at 18:33

Purely opinion...

Open Source is for hobbyist or "moonlighting" designers primarily. Not exclusively, but primarily.

If a designer has a 9 to 5 job where they can depends upon a paycheck and life's necessities, then they tend to spend their spare time doing the things they want to do which may or may not always be what their employer pays them to do. If they find an open source project they like, it's not a big deal for them to focus on that just to feed their creative beast. This is very common I think. If a designer is unfulfilled at work, they seek other ways to feel creative and fulfilled.

However, if a designer is a freelancer, and putting food on the table requires them to work full days on their own paid projects, assuming they have enough work to keep them busy, then are less likely to "donate" the time to a free or open source project. After all if that time could be spent making money, why would the designer work for free? Now, there are times when freelance work is slow, but when your well-being depends upon it, you are marketing yourself rather than working on projects just for fun.

This is generalizing and purely opinion.

In any case, the only driving motivation to take part in any open source or free project is a desire to use the project, or to learn something new in my experience. No one is going to donate hours of their time to work on something if they don't see immediate reward in some way, and I don't mean exclusively financial rewards. If I use a pre-built Open Source package and I hate the way it looks, but I love the package, I may very well donate time to improving the appearance. If for no other reason, so I can feel better about looking at it.

You mention networking and portfolio pieces. Either of those could very easily be acquired without devoting hours to open source.

I personally see little value in working for free on anything anymore. I'd much rather spend the time making certain I have a house payment next month. And if I am going to work for free, I'd rather help the homeless or volunteer at the Salvation Army or the local Boys Club. Those types of volunteer positions are much more rewarding in the grand scheme of things.

In short, I don't think you can motivate people to participate in open source projects. You can make it known someone is needed and hope there's an interest in the project itself, but much like any volunteer position, it's up to the person donating to be motivated to do so.

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First of all: All answers to this question are excellent.

My 'case' is slightly different. I'm not specifically involved with an open-source community (yet!), but I guess you could say I 'volunteer' my time to accessibility projects. I don't normally add those designs to my professional portfolio, and the motivation to do them is honestly... because I enjoy working on new things without the pressures of clients, and because it feels right.

And I wanted to share a slightly different scenario, one not specifically focused on open source either but something in between political activism + the creative commons movement in South America, and a particular case I was fortunate enough to experience. Maybe it can be of interest.

After the 2001 economical and political crisis in Argentina, people started organizing themselves in groups (of neighbors, of students, of workers). Designers and artists (both professionals and amateurs) played an important role in this, as they got in charge of magazines, leaflets and websites. Their motivation was primarily political, I guess, but along came the Creative Commons movement and you started seeing those CC symbols in everything they created.

I completely agree with the reasons user568458 and Scott mention, but I also think there is another one, and I think is different from volunteering. It's activism.

Anyway, I find it kind of ironic in a great way that we are talking about why designers don't get involved in open-source projects, and yet we are all part of a community-driven site. I think there's an answer right there :)

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  • Be involved in evolution of new software
  • Explain to the Dev why you need a special plug-in or workflow
  • Better communication to Dev make better software
  • Be a part of evolution of software industry and share knowledge
  • better Design and UX for open-source project,so try to make it more attractive for the common user
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I think a lot of programmers don't really value designers and the design process. Making a GUI more usable, better looking and user-friendly is often considered as dumbing it down and painting it pretty. In my opinion, thats the reason a lot of designer don't care to contribute to open source software.

So, good motivations would be:

  • Creative freedom to explore new trends that a client would shut down
  • To have a say in how the GUI should work and look like in the end and not just "painting pixels"
  • Work you can use in your portfolio
  • Experience you can put on a resumee
  • Credit
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