Design should be open for all.

Designers want to tackle big societal problems and contribute to Open Source Software (OSS), but the current developer centred framework for creating OSS makes this appear unattainable. As a result, Open Design (OD) attempts, using Ushahidi’s Open Source crisis communication tool, TenFour as a case study, to create and deliver accessible processes to enable designers to collaborate and contribute to OSS on a global scale.

What is Open Design?

Open Source tools whose core purpose is to make the world a better place are mostly built with little or no contribution from professional designers, leading to poor User Experience, unappealing interfaces, and little or no thoughts towards ethical design concerns. When we think “Open Source”, we immediately think “developers”. We don’t necessarily consider other people, such as designers, who are contributing to creating useful and usable software.

Designers want to tackle big societal problems and improve the human condition. Designers want to contribute to OSS but don’t know what they can do to contribute and how to do it. Designers are starting to pay more attention to design ethics and designing for social good. To reframe the conversation to include design ethics, usability, and aesthetics of OSS and to address these issues, Open Source Design (OSD) is emerging as an area of discussion. OSD involves co-creation, in which the outcome is designed by the community, rather than one entity, such as a private company. OSD, which is based on publicly shared design information and thinking, can result in a framework for developing projects that might be beyond the resource of any single company or country, leading to better products and services.

The aim of Open Design is to contribute to and create useful, easy to use, ethical products that have a social impact by using a collaborative multidisciplinary approach that engages designers from all over the world. 

What do we need to enable OSD?

So far, organisations that exemplify open source design including Mozilla,, and have successfully implemented workflows that suited a single project that may or may not have been an explicitly ‘for good’ project. Other organizations or individuals might have wanted to implement something similar, but lacked proper documentation or applicability to modern design tooling. Open Design sets out to enable OSD at scale, for everyone, and what we believe is required for success is:

  • a defined process that enables designers to participate in the product design process from definition to implementation
  • a means of distilling design research to make it available and usable for others
  •  properly defined methods of managing design artefacts
  • a collaborative process for defining outcomes, including proper reuse of parts of said outcome in other projects as well as for reviews and approvals
  • a reliable technical infrastructure that allows all of the above happen globally

Added, inclusion and involvement in the process of developing Open Source Software are among the toughest challenges of the design profession, especially for designers interested in ethical design. There seem to be considerable roadblocks between core developer teams in OSS and designers, thus making the process of designer contributing appear unattainable. Some of these barriers include difficult taxonomy and complex developer-focused software.

By creating intentional systems such as our inclusive and open methodology and focus on OSS projects that do good in the world, wherein designers can contribute to the development of OSS, Open Design also ensures that we’re not building products for ourselves, instead, we’re building for “users”. Open Design allows participants who are motivated to help solve problems while developing their own skills, expertise and knowledge by gaining new experiences. 

Principles for Open Design

  • Open Design (OD) embraces human-centred design and a multidisciplinary framework
  • OD amplifies attitudes, methods, tools that are geared towards collaboration instead of competition, as well as a learning-based approach
  • OD encourages inclusion, low participation thresholds, and peer governance (free and communal validation of quality) thereby avoiding contributor burnout and design by committee (such as groupthink and hive mind) which are risks commonly associated with open source creation.
  • OD espouses transparency, accountability, and flexibility

Open Design‘s aims

In order to address the issues and barriers to designer contributions in OSS, we are enabling Open Design. 

The goal of this project is to create and deliver accessible processes and systems to organise distributed remote, collaborative design at a global scale, thereby enabling design contributions to OSS. This includes an optimized replicable workflow that can be supplemented through light-weight integrations with software tools when necessary.  In view of the goals of ethical design and designing for social good, the framework is especially aimed at contributing to social enterprises and humanitarian organisations.

The framework will focus on a mix of sharing how the product is designed (designing in the open) and creating resources such as icon sets, themes, design systems, illustrations, and toolkits (as in the work of that other people can use, but will lean more on a collaborative, multidisciplinary, open approach, using collective co-design to tackle wicked problems, such as crisis communication, that are hard to generally empathise with. The output of this project will go beyond UI deliverables to include other aspects of Design such as UX research, product insights, accessibility and usability.

Next Steps

Using Ushahidi’s OSS tool, TenFour, as a case study, over a 12 month period, we will attempt to create this framework to help designers contribute to Open Source Software. The project will start by using Adobe XD build-out and publish an open design system with all of the design artefacts, guidelines, and documentation necessary to contribute to TenFour as an open-source designer. There will also be workshops and Design Jams at conferences in order to introduce Open Design methodology to global design leaders in various countries and generate thought leadership content on how the tools and methods of open-source design might address today’s most pressing problems. The learnings from the workshops will be used to iterate and improve on the Open Design method.

The expected outcomes of the project are categorized into Product and Knowledge Sharing. On the Product end, there will be active contributions to TenFour where designers can become familiar with contributing to an OSS tech for good project. In addition, there will be an opportunity to suggest a framework for how designers can contribute to OSS based on the TenFour approach using Adobe XD.

On the Knowledge Sharing hand, the research and development process, including learnings and insights from the process will be carefully documented and shared in various accessible formats including reports, a website, and design conferences around the world. We will be sharing thought leadership pieces, best practices for designing in the open, and the challenges faced by both the core team and other community members. We hope to further conversations on building tools that integrate Adobe XD further into the ecosystem of tools for OSS and the tech for good community.

– The Open Design Team

Project Partners

The project is the result of a collaboration among Adobe, Designit (a Wipro company), and Ushahidi. Read about the previous two Design Jam’s that inspired this project here on Adobe’s blog, here on Designit’s blog and here on Ushahidi’s blog.

Adobe is a multinational computer software company focused on the creation of multimedia and creativity software products, as well as digital marketing software. The Open Design Project has been supported by the Adobe fund for design.

Designit is an international strategic design firm working with ambitious brands to create high-impact products, services, systems and spaces that people love.

Ushahidi is a non-profit tech organisation aimed at helping marginalized people raise their voice and get the support they need. Ushahidi builds technology to solve global humanitarian and international development problems, and increase the speed and effectiveness of emergency response.

Notable Open Source Design projects

Simple, a health tracking and reporting app for healthcare workers and patients., Through OpenIDEO, people worldwide come together to build on each other’s skills and ideas for good.

Redhat, ChRIS project, enabling doctors to make use of leading-edge, yet frustratingly esoteric, software to improve patient care is an example of the larger challenge of UX in open source.

Mozilla, An Open Design process that builds from our open source beliefs. A guided and gated design process in four phases: Ideation, Concepting, Refinement and Guidance.

We would like to hear from designers around the world.

What do you think about open design? Have you tried to be involved in an OSS project? What challenges did you experience? What was easy for you?

Want to learn more about the project, and Open Design?

You can check out our GitHub repository of beginner issues on Open Design.

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