Welcome to our Open Source Design community and thanks for posting this topic. This is a big topic.
Alot of us contribute to open source software - both “for pleasure and public good” (i.e. not for profit), and as a day job (i.e. for profit, and hopefully for pleasure and public good ).
I’m going to tag a few people and hopefully they’ll have some time to add comments. @jan @belenbarrospena @jdittrich @Erioldoesdesign @evalica @htietze (and others).
For me the challenges of incorporating design into open source include the following -
- often (but not exclusively) the code contributor has a limited view (I guess based on experience) of what a UX designer does/can do. Design is often seen solely at the visual/graphic level, as opposed to being part of the process of designing how the software actually works.
- the designer does not have the knowledge/experience (based on many reasons - not having the time to spend on it, the interest) of the software to make user experience improvements. They only “scratch the surface” - often at the visual/graphic level. This often “validates” the code contributor’s limited view of design.
(I will say I am biased - my interest and experience is in user research, and interaction design. I know what I know about about visual/graphic design due to the number of years I’ve “used technology”. Don’t get me wrong - they are also important layers of “design”).
The way to overcome these limitations can involve:
- to spend time with the project.
UX Design without research is ot UX Design. The Designer should do their user research with the community. Take part it in. Use the software. Get familiar with it. Only then will they really understand it and the community.
- be humble.
In open source communities, no-one cares about you being “a UX Designer”. It takes time to gain their trust, and their respect. For me it reminds me a lot of a particular industry where I did a lot of UX work.
In the past users often had “the technology people” coming telling them the next piece of software will fix all their issues. They normally went away, they never heard from them again until the new software was delivered. It was often rubbish because they never listened to them. Did their user research.
Open Source software communities are a lot like that. But they can be more rowdy and colourful. As a designer you need to earn their trust. The reasons for the “sub-optimal” user experience are many, and complicated. Saying “FOSS projects don’t care about design” is mostly untrue. It’s more nuanced and complicated.
Talking about the initial barriers to entry - this is a big issue also and one that does not have a simple answer in my view.
If we talk about the commercial UX world, designers are given time (never too much of course!) to do their desk research, to learn about the domain they are working in.
Often UX designers in open source don’t take that time. Why? I’m not fully sure but I have my guesses (How hard can it be?/I’m a UX Designer, they’ll obviously listen to me/This won’t be too hard/Amongst others.)
My personal contributions to open source software (unless it is a paid for engagement, i.e. a job) is to contribute to software I am familiar with - I use, understand the domain, or is realtively easy to understand.
Also, the power dynamics in open source software projects are historically stacked towards those who contribute code - design, documentation often don’t get elevated to the lofty heights of maintainer/Benevolent Dictator.
There is no onus on the maintainers to accept design recommendations - “commit code or go away”. Thankfully this is changing. Slowly. But it is changing.
There’s alot more to talk on this topic. I hope that’s a helpful start.
About the FSF call for sessions - would you be willing to send a pull request for our website so we can advertise the CFP on our website? You can see previous events here: opensourcedesign.github.io/_events at master · opensourcedesign/opensourcedesign.github.io · GitHub