SXSW 2011: How Not to Design Like a Developer

Chrissie Brodigan (@tenaciouscb)
Engagement Lead

She found it difficult to contribute design into an open source project. Most free software projects fail, usually around 90-95% of these. It’s not a lot different than what happens in our day-to-day job. For a project to be successful it needs to attract users and developers. Intricate systems usually are the number one cause for failed systems.

Open source software is free, flexible, customizable, full of great features, and they’re able to make you feel “warm fuzzies.” Open source gets really awesome once you get in there and become involved.

Double D: Developer/designer conundrum. Those awkward conversations between developers and designers. Designers and Developers are willful, independent, idealistic, prideful people… We love our work! Sure, we can argue that Developers and Designers are cosmetically different in style, dress, attitude, etc., however in the end of the day we all love Pandas (yeah, the cute little animal). Hehe.

Documentation matters rather it be developer, user, or design documentation. They’re all different types of documentation, as they’re not the same thing.

Confidence matters since your project’s presentation builds confidence.

The most important thing here is “dissolving demotivation.” One of the big things is how do we get Designers to contribute to the Open Source community? The reality is you cannot. You cannot ever give great designers what they want. The best thing if you do find a great designer is to hide them from everyone, and shelter them. Designers take a lot of pride and credit in what they do, but being told not to use your name is scary. Developers see logical problems, but they use those problems as excuses to bypass design. The excuses are usually pretty compelling and convincing. When you have developers who are putting themselves out there, admitting they’re chaotic, no one will want to work with them.

Bad Habits

  1. Workarounds: developers think and engineer in workarounds for speed. Designers design to avoid workarounds.
  2. Going Rogue: developers misinterpret design logic and make a decision work the way they think it should/might work. Designers don’t provide design documentation to any a developer’s “why” and instead makes it work the way they think it should work.
  3. Being Trendy: Designers design for trends vs. designing for maintenance and iteration. Developers write code for the future. Designers will never say, “man, I’d love to see where this design is going to go in the future in the next version.” This is bad.
  4. Source Code: developers practice version control and code review. Designers don’t treat their output assets as source code or practice team-friendly version control. As a designer if you make a pseudo-version control and keep versions of your design as you create it, then it’s easy to roll back, see what’s already been done, or learn what hasn’t worked before. This is what developers do to produce really good code, and this should be in design too. Work with your designers to teach them how they can treat their design source code in version-control.

Solutions for Designers

  • Open Source design can work, and work very well! The best place to start is to open an IRC channel for your project. use #project_namedesign.
  • Design graphic lite: don’t rely on graphics. Because of HTML and new browser web-fonts we have the ability to rely more on that, and less on the graphics.
  • Design practice design-specific version control. There are very few software solutions for this at the moment. Promote design-specific bug tracking.
  • Make micro opportunities by starting small, don’t use your own name, and you’ll still have small success somewhere.
  • Design and documentation for localization. Your project can be designed locally, but still be shared globally.
  • Refactor together: apply user leanings and amend hastily written code.
  • Include “forkability” as a part of the project’s design ethos. Designers think that what they make wont be used by others, and when they are they consider that intellectual theft.

There are a few projects that are helping Designers play nice in the Open Source World

A good way to get people involved and excited is to design design contests. Mozilla’s Firefox logo actually came from a community-drive design challenge.

Free software projects include software innovation for designers. For designers lettering.js does down to the letter control of your web fonts. Another good place is

Good design is a powerful (non-markety way to spread the word about your project without feeling like you’re selling your soul.

So, where are the Open Source designers? This is definitely a problem, because they’re not at free software-centric conferences and never on the IRC. They are definitely here at SXSW.

Thank you: @estellwyle, @lxt, @mozcreative, @paulirish, @nateabele of lithium, @scottmac of facebook (PHP developer).

“Go hacktivate designers!”

Posted in SXSW 2011.

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