💭 Difficulties of design in open source

An additional complication is this debate is that “design in open source” might be actually describing three different things:

  • Design using Free SW tools
  • Design Free SW systems and applications
  • Design in the open, as part of a community

An ideal project would enjoy all three. However, it might be interesting to think about situations where one or two of these characteristics are missing, and what does and does not qualify as “design in open source” in those cases.


Howdy guys, I’m new to the community. Just wanted to chime in.

I think the reasons listed by ya’ll in general are very good. I want to really back up two points though.

I’m a designer who has been learning how to code. In the past year I dove into switching all my personal cloud services over to self hosted FOSS alternatives like Nextcloud (Howdy Jan! I believe we’ve talked on github a few times about the Nextcloud mobile app :smile: ) In getting more involved in these communities I consistently found that when I logged a story saying “Hey this thing could be better, respectfully here’s my thoughts” the response was usually “It’s fine the way it is”.

I think there may in fact be no easy solution to this problem, but I think this might point to a solution nonetheless.

I am a designer learning to code. I only do web stuff though. Web is a field of development which has a fairly integrated history between dev and design though, as a web designer and web developer were often the same person back in the day.

Just as I am a designer learning to code many developers are learning design. The gap between web stack and native has shortened with the advent of technologies like Electron and React Native etc. The advent of Design Systems and the focus on componentization of UI in frameworks like Vue/React has also lead to growth in design skills in the web development community.

I think in some ways the only way this will be solved is through some convergence of the two. This is one reason why as a designer one of my focuses in discussing development and design with other designers is encouraging a higher level of technical development knowledge. On the other hand when I am in open source circles I try to advocate for good design not just in presentation of the “product” but in improving the experience of using code itself.

An example of this latter “improving the experience of code itself” is through the dotfiles community: https://dotfiles.github.io/

Dotfiles are configuration files for unix apps. It starts with something as simple as writing some easy aliases for your bash command line interface to make things easier to do. THAT IS UX! That UX via kaizen process.

Related to web based technologies you can see this same instinct playing out in how vscode

and hyper

have evolved rapidly in their design space largely due to the relative ease of writing extensions or plugins with only basic web stack knowledge.

And speaking of hyper above which is a command line interface app that is built using web stack technologies and runs on windows, linux, and Mac: UX isn’t limited to just graphics, it also is a part of text too. In the command line there have been several rather well designed command line interfaces developed in the last couple of years such as:


or zsh.
(zsh is actually much older but there’s been an explosion in it’s use lately due to things like “oh-my-zsh” project. )

Now all these things are examples of improvement in design in code presentation, therefore text, so I still think there is some gap in translating the gains of the developer focused design to open source design as a whole.

But at least in one way it has made the user experience of learning to code a lot easier for me!

I think it’s also worth considering the ways in which innovations in CLI UX design is itself also comparable to the ideas that have been floating around in the world of “conversational UI”.

I think these distinctions here is a really smart addition.

On the subject of using free SW tools, I think the reason you don’t see a lot of use by designers is not simply because design schools teach Adobe or because they aren’t introduced to the ideas of FOSS (though this is true).

The reason is… because most FOSS design tools suck.

I have a Windows laptop and a Linux home server. I only ever have a mac when my company buys me one.

I have desperately been looking for a Sketch alternative. I have Adobe XD on my windows machine but it’s… not the best, and I’d really like something that was open source.

There is however no active development projects to solve this use case.

And the mainline graphics software packages for open source are… largely pretty bad. Gimp and Inkscape are about 20 years out of date in a lot of their UI and functionality. Krita is honestly the only open source project really doing anything impressive right now I think.

And I think that’s a damn shame. And this is itself probably a hard problem itself too. Graphics software isn’t easy to make. It requires more powerful hardware (gpu drivers have been an issue for linux until very recently and the FOSS OS community is primarily focused on making as compact and minimalist implementations of their desktop environments rather than powerful ones).

You could get the design community to use FOSS design tools if someone would actually make them.

The only alternatives I know of are:



Hasn’t updated in over 2 years and honestly looks kinda ugly.


This actually looks promising but it’s online only from what I can tell which I’m not a fan of. That means that even if it’s open source to actually use it completely independently you have to self host which is a lot to ask a freelance designer to learn to do.

Also I found this on a list of open source projects but I don’t think it’s actually open source.

Gravit Designer


No longer open source. Also it’s a bit broader in scope than Sketch.


This actually looks cool but I think it’s really more like something like Webflow or Framer X which utilizes existing code components, which greatly limits the usefulness of this for designers.


Probably the closest thing to an actual Sketch competitor but it doesn’t look like it’s had a meaningful update in at least half a year or more. All the checkins I see on the github page look like they’re basically formatting or build process updates.

So this problem is ripe for solving!

It’s just, who will solve it? IDK.

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