Taking open source design to the real world


The last monthly OSD meet saw multiple conversations about the politcs of open source design – the trials and tribulations of working solely with devs, the cultural shift needed to integrate design into the open source ecosystem, and more. What also came up is how this topic floats around frequently in the monthly meets and forum – and it can be so much more! We were interested in the different ways we can take these discussions forward into the real world. One idea was working groups or reading groups where we understand the landscape of how things are now and take concrete steps to improve.

What do you all think? Would anyone be interested in such a working group or is this already a thing? Do you have any more ideas about driving change?

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I’d love to join in any discussion of this. I’m working on a talk at FOSSBack (in 2 weeks) on this very topic. It’s turning out to be a rather complex topic (nothing rarely is easy is it?) My thesis is that UX is one of many things a project needs to consider (e.g. unit tests, internationalization, accessibility, tech debt, bugs, etc) and it’s only natural for small teams in particular to be a bit overwhelmed as UX feels like “another thing on the pile”.

If there is one thing I’ve learned clearly is that open source projects are not easy to maintain. So coming up with chipper simple little 'why don’t you just" suggestions are likely NOT to win many hearts and minds.

My approach has been to find teams that ARE doing UX well and focus on them (e.g. PenPot, Audacity, etc) and say “Look! These folks are doing it! Let’s celebrate them and discuss how they did it”. Turn this into a celebration of success and not a shaming match.

What I keep coming back to, I understand some may disagree with this, but planning seems to be the core principle I come back to over and over. It’s teams that do some type of planning that do better UX. What is that? By planning the central team agrees on what needs to be done and the overall culture is better coordinated. This makes a critical shift from the “team pull” approach instead of a much less effective “Designer push” model. Teams that don’t plan put the responsibility on the solo UX contributor to do all the work and that’s just exhausting for them, it’s no surprise that UX designers just give up.

This is all very fluid, they are just “prototypes” of ideas and I’m happy to “user test” them and revise them with any type of feedback from you all. I’m just trying to figure it out in the open.


Thanks for following up on this, @nim

I think during the monthly call there was some discussion about what’s already known and available about design in FOSS.

@victoria-bondarchuk kept a couple of GitHub repos with some resources that may be of interest:

There’s also this


If anything you want to access is behind a paywall, ping me: I can help with that :slight_smile:

There’s also a couple of things that come to mind:

  1. We need to accept that we are late to the party. As a community, UX design has been practising with its back to the FOSS movement for decades. We were so busy chasing the money and trying to reach the C-Suite (I was there: I saw it happening!) that we completely missed the fact that a whole chunk of the software that truly matters is built and maintained through different processes and based on different principles. Our bad! FOSS has been outrageously successful without us. They don’t need us! Why would they? It is UX design that needs FOSS, in order to maintain its influence and not become crippled as a community of practice. UX designers need to accept that FOSS is not our party, so we need to knock on the door gently and humbly ask to get invited. Glad that we are finally arriving to the conclusion that designer push is unlikely to work. It is an arrogant approach that we should discard as a matter of course anyway. I think the priority for designers interested in getting into FOSS should be to observe carefully, listen intently, and learn about their new context before even thinking of doing anything.

  2. We need to be ready to rethink and challenge every single aspect of the UX practice. As a community, I find that we have become inflexible and are a little too attached to our ways of doing things. We need to be ready to radically transform our techniques and methods in order to make them suitable to new environments, rather than simply try to impose our current ways. I believe there is no best way of doing design: the best way to do design is the way that suits your project. We need to internalise this. We need to be flexible, adaptable and willing to experiment with new approaches.

  3. We need to realise that the FOSS communities that are already doing design well are the ones with corporate support. They do design well because there are professional designers in them who get paid to do their job. Focusing on these communities is a legitimate position, of course, but it disregards the reality of a very substantial portion of all FOSS projects, where there are no resources to engage professional designers. How to effectively incorporate design in those circumstances is the real challenge. It may look like an intractable problem, but hey: aren’t designers supposed to be problem solvers? I thought designers liked wicked problems. I certainly do in any case, and that’s why I am still here :slight_smile:

Sorry if this all sounds a bit grumpy or challenging. But UX design is my community of practice, and I do get a bit frustrated with them at times. As a community, I find UX designers have become a bit too comfortable and settled in our ways. Time to rattle the cage a little bit :wink:


I agree! This is indeed a wicked problem and there have been unfortunately many people with arrogant attitudes on this topic. I too want to rattle that cage as well :wink:

I’ve been spending this last month talking to many people at the intersection of FOSS and UX, asking questions, and seeing what others are saying on this topic. I wasn’t pushing for solutions but just listening to their problems and what they wanted to do. It’s clear there are a wide range of FOSS projects, so much so that there a 'one size fits all" solution is simply impossible. But it is clear that UX is a challenge for many and there is clearly eagerness to discuss it more.

Are there any plans for there to be a monthly workshop?

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That is a fascinating topic. I would love to participate in a workshop or group discussion about it.

I’m happy to organize something however I’m an opensourcedesign noob. Is there a preferred way to host a meeting? Are there preferred times? I’m willing to set it up.

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Just thoughts, in coding culture exists hackhathons(oriented for process), but in design culture i usually only see contests, maybe even oriented to commercial result not for fun(research).
I mean for example, very obvious I know, I with happy will participate to OpenSourceDesign “designathons”)
It can be oriented to teams, and with requirement to be open source, also who interested in it can watch how processes can be building.

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I would join to listen in @scottjenson if you organize something. I’m also an ‘opensourcedesign’ n00b so have no advice on the correct way to organize something.

Awesome, there appears enough interest that I think we should move forward. I’m California time but the people in this discussion are in India, London and Europe so it’ll be a challenge to find a convenient time. I’d suggest 7am California time which is 8pm India and 2pm London time. If that time slot works, the next step is to pick a date. Here is a Doodle link for next week. I hope we’ll get everyone to find a common date.


p.s. If there are better tools to use, please let me know

It’s so nice to see so much interest around this topic! Thank you for taking the initiative @scottjenson :slight_smile: I unfortunately will not be able to make it as I will be on vacation next week, but if there are meeting notes I will definitely take a look at it and share my thoughts in the next OSD monthly meet or the forum.

Is there a preferred way to host a meeting? Are there preferred times?

We can use the Open Source Design Jitsi room which we use for the monthly meetings as well. If you are taking notes you can do so in this document that I drafted up right alongside the notes from the monthly meet (of course feel free to use any other tool/medium as well).

Are there any plans for there to be a monthly workshop?

If we are meeting regularly to discuss this topic, it could be, for eg. 1 or 2 weeks before the monthly OSD meet so that we can share a summary of the ideas and progress with a possibly larger audience there. This idea of publishing a Doodle for the week before the OSD meet and finding a time that works for everyone sounds great to me.

p.s. If there are better tools to use, please let me know

Definitely not biased here, but Nextcloud has a great community developed scheduling tool called Nextcloud Polls :wink:

But you started this topic! I’d hate to meet without you. What would be another time that works for you?

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Any time the week after next works! I am based in Berlin now so we don’t have to worry about an Indian time zone either :slight_smile: since the monthly call is at 19:00 CET on Wednesday (April 5th) we could just discuss this as a separate topic after the call? This way more folks can just hang around after the call if they would want to take part.

If that doesn’t work, any other time in European evenings work for me too :slight_smile:

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I happen to be travelling that day myself. Would the following day Thursday 6 April at 19:00CET work for you?

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Sounds good to me! Is everyone else okay with Thursday 6th April 19:00 CET? :slight_smile:

I’m in if that’s ok. Carol and I work together and are already doing some good progress on this and we’ve also noticed exactly what you mentioned. So I’d love be on board!

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Thursday 6th April is holidays for me, I could try to attend but not sure if it will be possible.

We seem to have a date time (I’d love to have @carol.portugal join as well but I worry it’s impossible to find a time we can all make) I also hope @dburka can make this time as well.

Here is what we have so far
Meeting Room: Jitsi Link suggested by @nim
Working Title: “OpenSource culture and UX”
Date/Time: 2023-04-06T17:00:00Z (this is supposed to be 19:00CET)

Please reply with any corrections

My FOSSBack 2023 talk “Plan Like Einstein” is now live on Youtube (27 min) if you want to hear how I’ve framed the problem
@belenbarrospena also has 3 interesting links in their previous comment


Pencilled it into my calendar. Will try to make it.


I will join as well. After reading some things around and talking to developers I think a misunderstanding of FOSS philosophy is taking place. I am very interested in the topic. There are a lot of books and articles about it, looking forward to discuss them with you!

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Excellent! So excited this is coming together.