Is there still a need for better collaboration tools?

Hello, I’m a student and junior designer that came across Open Source Design during my research for a design thesis. I read an article, “Open source design needs better collaboration tools” and was deeply interested in the subject. I noticed though that this was written in 2017, and now I wonder - is there still a need for better collaboration tools between developers and designers for OSS? Is the design/development process still mostly fragmented? What has changed since? I want to open this discussion to any active developers and designers and hear your thoughts. This is all very new to me, and I would love to learn more about collaboration in general. Let’s talk :slightly_smiling_face:

Yes, I think the problems still exist. Commercial tools improved a lot in the meantime, though they might not fit every workflow; The open source ecoysystem got penpot, an open figma-like webservice.

I’ve developed some design operation processes that I think could be replicated in an open source context to drive design work. I have been developing in this in the context of my day job so I don’t have anything to release in regards to that.

If Penpot can do something with more robust version control than the current state of figma, something better and freer than Abstract (paid Sketch plugin) or Kactus (open source version control plugin but it only works with Sketch files which are closed source), I could see something really powerful develop between UI-kit tooling, design tokens, gitlab CI/CD and gitlab ticket structure etc. All open source etc.

The github desops process I developed would easily translate over to gitlab. It’s funny but these processes have less to do with design per se as they do with models of governance for a design system.


TL;DR: hooking in version control to governance (in the way that code reviews and pull requests work for devs) would go a long way to pushing this stuff forward IMO.

That can be done with the desop processes but projects like Loomio are worth considering in this interaction space for their innovation .

Thanks for replying, I really appreciate the input!

I have been wondering how this would work. Do you think there could be a platform that functions similar to Loomio, Microsoft Teams, Slack, etc. but be oriented for design? I could see it being very beneficial to have project files all in one place, but integrated with popular existing tools.

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I’m hesitant to advocate for another platform. In that I think that tends to push tools towards monolithic.

Kactus is an existing project that can be used to version control Sketch Files.

I think if penpot were to implement a platform to handle their version control etc that would needlessly couple functionality to a single platform. Instead I would want them to build their tool in such a way that files can be neutrally version controlled, whether that’s through git and github or whatever.

You bring up a good point and have given me a lot to think about. Thank you!

I think that besides Figma, it would be great if there were good FOSS alternatives to Miro and Mural. As for design-oriented collaboration platform that go beyond the shared canvas to include other design tools and processes, I think the future looks bright (esp. on the FOSS side of things). There’s a lot of research in the area of decentralized (federated, peer-to-peer) collaboration with offline support and sync (e.g. in the field of CRDT’s). Many low-level components and libraries are being built that will allow great applications to be built on top of them.

PS. In follow-up to my Fediverse advocacy post just now: Penpot is on the fediverse too:

We definitely need FLOSS alternative to Miro/Mural/Figjam and I do think PenPot team is the most likely ones to take this on eventually.

I however, still stand by my very own ethos that open source design contributions are still valid and important even if they themselves are created on non-floss software. We’ll get towards a floss tool ecosystem eventually :slight_smile: small steps are still steps :smiley:


Part of my thesis is creating a proof of concept for a related project. I’ve been considering how an open source plugin could help alleviate these issues. I’m not sure how it’d work yet, but I’d try to make it available across most platforms (I’m not a developer). At first I was thinking of a system where designers and developers work together side-by-side literally, but @jcklpe brought up a good point about it potentially being monolithic if it was its own platform. A plugin seems like the best solution as of right now, and like you’ve mentioned, it’d still be contributing even if it was designed for non-floss software (though it’d be great if it could extend to Penpot).

I spoke to a few other people outside of this forum about the issue, all who have familiarity working with developers as designers; it seems that from their experience, designers and developers still work mostly separate. I think in a lot of ways this makes sense, but you could argue it’s archaic. Getting the two to work together in the same file seems like the ultimate goal.

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Oh yeah of course. The idea of open source design tools is fun though just because it would be nice to have an alternative to the near monopoly we have going on now. Or maybe I’m just feeling that way because my job requires me to use xd :rofl:

Also this is kinda like miro: BigBlueButton Features | Built For Teachers | BigBlueButton

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On the subject of collaboration tools and version control, recently saw this project for Figma that leverages Github: Creating design systems with Figma Tokens