Funding, getting paid, and designing for FLOSS

I came across this article, and while it’s about a music magazine and the music industry, I think there’s a lot of overlap with some of the mindsets of FLOSS and where it intersects with funding and corporate funding.

Some highlights:

“It doesn’t really matter what you say or what you sing, but how you conduct your business and what your motivation for doing it is”

But specifically these conversations about where money comes from, and what it means as far as exploitation and working for free:

It is naïve to argue that we all must uphold some kind of myth of punk purity, for a life truly free of capital. In the same way I must participate in paid labor outside of my work on the magazine my colleagues who write about punk bands for corporately-funded publications also have bills to pay.

Of course, one should never work for free for a corporation, but applying the same logic to a collectivist project like a fanzine feels like a remarkably short-sighted approach — one that supposes that nothing has value unless it is monetized, that we should be paid for everything we do, that the relationship between boss and worker is omnipresent as a condition of living in the modern world.

Just because you aren’t being paid to do something doesn’t mean you are being exploited; exploitation is necessarily the act of siphoning value from the worker for the benefit of the boss.

I think a lot of people contribute to open source projects for more than the simple reason of things being open source. There’s more to it than that the source code is public. For a lot of people open source contributions are what they do in their free time. It’s how they contribute to culture. It’s an attempt at building something in collaboration with people from all over the world, without a financial incentive or motive.

I wonder what the relationship is with design here. Designers have struggled hard to be recognized as a real profession, so when you come to open source suddenly you’re giving away your work for free. This is something that OSD has to overcome if we want to make open source more appealing to designers working within the capitalist framework that is silicon valley.

So I’ve got some questions:

  1. What do you think of my quick analysis? Am I missing something? Have elaborations?
  2. What can we do to highlight the cultural and importance of non-monetized labor? Is that even a path that we want to go down?
  3. How do you have this conversation without immediately turning people off from what is seemingly “political”?
  4. Why do you contribute to open source? If you weren’t being paid to do so, would you still?

Investing in the Underground : Open Space

… Of course, one should never work for free for a corporation …

I disagree. If that’s never done, then a corporation might be slow to learn the values of freedom and flexibility.

… exploitation is necessarily the act of siphoning value from the worker for the benefit of the boss. …

Maybe true in an undground context of the article, not necessarily true in other contexts under or above ground.

Exploitation can be multiway (not a siphon), and mutually beneficial.

Underexploitation, exploitation, overexploitation – it’s literally somewhere in the middle but there is, often, a negative connotation – consider

The conversation

3. How do you have this conversation without immediately turning people off from what is seemingly “political”?

Where the word political can be associated with extremism:

  • simply recognise the extremism
  • neither assume, nor imply, that extremism is bad
  • attempt to understand the reasons for an extremist viewpoint, but don’t allow the essence of the conversation to become lost within meta-discussions of understandings.

A Book Apart, Design Is a Job

I sped through the chapter on getting clients. for a few highlights.

… the concepts will be useful to anyone. …

– much of what’s in the article can be great advice for people whose jobs do not (or do not obviously) involve design.

The Client Screener might be food for thought whilst drafting outputs from How to handle critique and feedback for a design ticket.

I love this:

you are evaluating the potential client as much as they are evaluating you …

An interesting thought, particularly considering that “programming” is thought of as real and it is not such a strange thing to opensource one’s programming work.

Another factor we should not forget is that designer may often be seen as similar to artists (and I met many designers who liked that), so some of paying-for-art culture may have came in from there to (like: “It is self expression”, “Only for high-brow-culture”, “No value as a tool”…)

One could compare that work to other, well recognized voluntary work. One could clean ones neighborhood or give tutoring lessons but one could also improve the “digital neighborhood” or create digital tutoring lessons.
At least in Europe, societies or clubs which do voluntary work are known, too. It may sound stale, but that is something that many people can relate to.

The framing as something known and liked may avoid this.

I did before I was payed, so, yes.

Experience of self efficacy, I assume.

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Thanks for the thoughts both!

The article is talking specifically about exploitation of labour, rather than the general word “exploitation”. This isn’t an “underground” context, but rather a philosophical and economic mode of thought that is very relevant to our time and day, and very important to a conversation about who does work for free and on what. Especially when corporations do end up benefitting from (exploiting) that free labor (through freely available tools that are better because they were developed in the open). A marxist analysis of open source contributions probably already exists elsewhere, and isn’t really the point of this discussion, but just thought I’d elaborate on that exploitation bit.

^ but that kind of mumbo jumbo can easily turn people off. So you need to be able to have that conversation, but then provide a trimmed down version for newcomers to our site.

Exactly! Apple has pushed design, and SV has embraced it, but often it’s still a hard to convince open source developers that design is a necessary part of software development. Part of that legitimatization then pushes back against the idea of free work.

“Want to help build freedom for our digital future?”


I just saw that the CC book came out. From the intro:

“Regardless of legal status, they all have
a social mission. Their primary reason for being
is to make the world a better place, not to
profit. Money is a means to a social end, not
the end itself" - Paul Stacey


Creative Commons’ focus is on building a
vibrant, usable commons, powered by collaboration
and gratitude. Enabling communities
of collaboration is at the heart of our strategy.

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Yes – or even more simple: We are a group of people who do [rather concrete things](Link/images with examples) because we think that [how that stuff helps].

Why? »Freedom for digital future« is great, but I suppose that is rather abstract, and it can indeed mean many things. I assume that »creating learning materials« (to reuse the example) will indeed help to »archive a better future« or so, but I suppose that kids »enjoy learning and do well in school« is easier to understand and will motivate not-yet-group-members more to actually do something.

Such an approach and framing can also help to reach the abstract goal step by step (“Small Wins”, Weick, pdf)

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Please, what’s SV?

( offers no clue.)

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From the context I’m thinking Silicon Valley. @simonv3?


Silicon Valley makes sense. Thanks. (I have very strong opinions about Apple design directions, and the ways in which some of those directions were followed by other developers. When a suitable topic arises I’ll offer some background.)

Yeah, sorry, Silicon Valley is right!

Please make a topic! I like hearing strong opinions about design.

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Very interesting reflection on the article, thank you for sharing @simonv3.

I don’t see difference between a non-code and code contributions, if I contribute design to a project I still have to play by the cultural code of the community. If engineers work in there free time, so should everyone else contributing to the project (if they want to be part of the culture). For me making FOSS more appealing for non-code contributors is the matter of making open source more accessible and welcoming for everyone.

I think this is very much a path to go. The importance of non-monetized labor comes from importance of open source in general. Open source gives a solution to the ancient problem of corrupt authority. Any product that isn’t open source isn’t credible (especially when it comes to security). Therefore participating and doing non-monetized work means taking responsibility and building open and secure products for public good.

as @simonv3 asked “Want to help build freedom for our digital future?” - a great reason for me to be a part of an open source. And I don’t want to be paid for that, I just want to choose the right project I want to be part of and I believe in.


I guess this topic revolves around the intrinsic vs. extrinsic rewards. People that contribute to Open Source don’t necessarily receive money, but their names are properly recognized, people are thankful for the things you help them with, in general you are rewarded with gratitude and happiness :slight_smile: t-shirts, stickers and badges :slight_smile:


I would wear a “Will work for intrinsic rewards” t-shirt.


That reminds me,


– via … (I chose Liberapay for recurrent donations to Matrix; Matrix also receives via Patreon and bitcoin … and so on).