Encouraging designer contributions to OSS.

How project owners and managers can encourage designer contributions to OSS

As an ongoing part of the Open Design project,  Ushahidi is conducting interviews with Open Design leaders in various industries all over the world. The aim is to learn from their experiences, including the barriers and challenges they faced and possible solutions, as well as what they think or have found that can make designers successfully contribute to the creation of Open Source Software. We also wanted to know about what they found to be easy and how they think those successes can be replicated. Here’s the results so far:

Project Owners have an important role to play in Open Design/Open Source design as they are the two-way advocate for OSS to design and design to OSS. In addition, they are the recognised ‘experts’ in the OSS purpose.

Open source software is not perceived as friendly for people who are not developers. To encourage contributions from other skill sets, OSS project owners could follow the example of projects such as Drupal, a popular open source software that saw gaps in their user experience, and realised they had to improve much like a commercial organisation would: by opening up their discussions to ‘non-technical’ people.

Another challenge that designers who want to contribute to OSS face is finding a project that is ready for design contributions. The projects/products need to be able to describe the design issues they need resolved well enough that designers can easily contribute when they find it. This is why people and organisations who start open design projects have to provide documentation on how people can contribute to the project. For example, Simple.org publishes issues that are useful in helping designers identify how they can contribute. All user stories, research and so on is easily available for people to see/read with flow diagrams for products. The requests should be clear and time bound, and the additional work  to create and maintain documentation has to be factored in.

OSS project owners should consider the different types of people (including UX Researcher, UI Designer, Graphics Designer, Motion Designer, Service Designer, Interaction Designer, and Brand Designer) who might want to contribute to their project, as well as the different resources and amount of time they’re willing or able to give. Some might be willing to contribute only one skill, such as conducting UX audits, while others might be willing to contribute across multiple competencies. Some designers might want to work on short term issues with a fixed timeline (such as logo design), while others might be more interested in issues that require research and investigation and are not time bound. Investigative designers can raise previously unseen design challenges and possible solutions. 

OSS project owners need to understand that designers can view an OSS project from a new (design) perspective, and this usually comes from a place of respect and genuine care, subject matter expertise and the desire to improve an OSS project/product. This new perspective is not an exercise in Design ‘ego’, and can be valuable in providing the users of the Software with a better experience.

The tools and software used in the creation of OSS often constrain design contributions. As such, project managers should be open to including easily accessible software in their toolbox. To reduce barriers such as cost and access, project owners should encourage the use of tools  

  • that are easily available
  • that can be used across a variety of operating systems including mobile devices
  • that do not require high-end hardware
  • that do not rely on highest speed internet connections and operate offline 
  • that are free to use without limitations to collaborative features 

Using tools like this will facilitate and encourage wider contributions, and from less privileged demographics such as people with low to no income, people in countries with low to no internet connectivity, refugees, people that do not own their own computers and might be sharing devices, as well as people with impairments, parents and caregivers

Examples of these tools are: GIMP, Canva, Inkscape, and Adobe XD

Project owners should consider a design ‘friendly’ engagement strategy. This includes creating an environment that emphasizes collaboration and encourages people to come together and share different ideas.  It is also important to consider how to keep designers coming back. Sustained and dedicated engagement can be tough without offline communities to support and create social glue. Project owners can also create and encourage digital connections to keep contributors engaged. They can find support and partnerships with government agencies or the corporate social responsibility arms of corporations to get resources they need, especially if the organisation has a stake in the project.

In addition, when it comes to the creation of open source software, everyone is simultaneously a teacher and a student in a certain aspect. The quality of the learning experience should be supported.

Another way to keep designers and other contributors engaged is for OSS project owners or managers to work around the giving credit challenge by integrating mutual credit schemes in platforms like Dribbble, Github, and Behance, or using a method similar to Stackoverflow’s reputation badges.

In summary

There can be a lot of barriers to designer contributions to Open Source Software including a lack of awareness of how to do so, and lack of engagement. Project owners can encourage contributions by being clear about what kind of help they need from designers, adopting easily accessible and widely accepted tools, and communicating and facilitating how OSS creators value design effort .

How are you engaging designers and encouraging design contributions?

As an OSS project owner, what challenges do you face in getting design contributions to your project?

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