The open source development community is a wonderful place where multiple eyes and brains work on the same project to fix bugs, report and solve issues, and generally make software better for everyone. It’s really popular among developers to contribute to the projects they use and the open source community in general.

Increasingly, more and more resources are becoming open sourced, including books, demos and tutorials. Education is increasingly accesible, and thus, the overall code standard of the web improves. It’s a huge win. But the next step will be adding designers into this mix.

Developers + Designers = Winners

I’ve gone to a lot of hackathons in my time and find that the teams which incorporate both developers and designers really tend to stand out. They produce products that are not only technically unique, but also have much more user-friendly interfaces and product flows. When designers get involved, they bring in a new perspective with new priroties. It’s pretty clear that developers and designers both have different strengths and weaknesses, so why not combine the strengths?

Right now, the open source world isn’t very designer-friendly.

Barriers to Designers

Even reading this project’s contribution guidelines, that’s so many things! Most designers don’t even have a Github account. The same goes for the IRC (Internet Relay Chat). There is a community about open source design on there according to this document, but in order to participate, you’d have to first know what the IRC is, and know how to access it. Github and the IRC could seem like an intimidating communities for designers. Even just working in terminal used to intimidate me when I was first learning web development.

The first step to solving a problem is admitting we have a problem.

Lets look at the process for contributing to this project, which we must keep in mind, is aimed at reaching out to designers.

  1. Stumble upon this page
  2. Open the link to Github
  3. Have a Github account
  4. Know about Github Contribution workflow
  5. Fork the Repo
  6. Open terminal
  7. Know that one needs to install dependancies
  8. Know how to install dependancies
  9. Know about how Jekyll works
  10. Run Jekyll server
  11. Write in markdown or with HTML tags
  12. Know about the config file and how to add authors
  13. Add changes
  14. Commit Changes
  15. Submit pull request

A lot of assumptions are made here! And that’s just for submitting a post. It’s really important to realize that there are a lot of in-between steps which may seem like second nature to developers, but could be barriers for designers. And frustration turns people away. So how can we get more designers, and not just front end developer/designers, involved in the conversation to begin with?

Education is Key

Educating designers is definitely the first step into getting a more well-rounded open source community. I gave a talk at SassConf last month about building communities, which also touched on education. A few tips I gave are as follows:

  1. Never say “this is easy.” “Easy” is a subjective term that will close people off from asking further questions to avoid sounding inferior.
  2. Don’t make any assumptions of previous knowledge. Asking if someone is familiar with a term will make them feel empowered if they are, and not make them feel bad if they don’t.
  3. Show examples. Whenever possible, send examples of work instead of just sending links to documentation.

I love the message of this website. Getting designers to work more “in the open” is the first step to getting them to work on open source projects. Now, there are defintely more barriers out there than just intimidation, but lets get started where we can. Fork this project to help contribute and make it more digestible for designers to participate in this conversation! Your thoughts are very welcome.