What does 'talent' mean when contributing to open source as a designer?

Hi everyone,

I had an interesting conversation on the slack at the North America open source summit last week. I was talking about open-source design, just chatting and spreading the word when I had a conversation with an OSS maintainer who talked about ‘the lack of designers’ and ‘the need for designers’ in OSS but then dropped the word ‘talented’ in the conversation (as well as time/dedication).

So OSS contributions need some kind of time commitment and it’s typically longer for designers by the nature of what we do and the amount of us doing this kind of contribution, but ‘talent’ I found a complicated word.

So what does everyone think about the term ‘talented’ in regards to an open-source designer/design contribution?

I have thoughts but keen to hear others!


I am intrigued as I do not have an idea what a perceived lack of “talented” designers refers to. Assuming that much open source software has few input of designers and thus the improvements are design wise not hard to define, I guess it would not need a particularly talented person.

I, like you, find the word… complicated. It focuses on an assumed essential (rather than acquired) trait of a person. Aside of that it can mean anything.

I guess a “good” (or talented) designer in open source (culture) might be one that does code themselves.


Reading from the given context I assume “talented” means “high quality”. I guess many Free Software projects have lots of experience with design contributions coming from people without an extensive background of design education.

It would be similar to designers talking about “talented” coders being needed, when they use software that constantly crashes or has poor performance.

I think “talent” is a loaded word in general though, as was pointed out: most skills are aquired, not received by birth.

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Thanks for the thoughts folks, I agree it’s one of those terms which has meaning inside the persons brain who is saying it. My understanding and definition of ‘talent’ will likely differ completely to another persons.

Though I do understand and find complicated this ‘design contributions coming from people without an extensive background of design education.’ which I completly agree with and OSS is sort of, ‘sold’ as a place to grow/develop your skills as well as offering well-honed skills.

I’m stuck on a thought recently about ‘longer service design mentors’ needed across OSS projects in order to support those graduate, student, job-changer, ‘hobbyist designer’ etc. contribute ‘high quality’

anyways! thanks for the conversation :smiley:

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My interpretation of the word ‘talented’ is more in the area of ‘desirability’ (again such a complicated word) and ‘compatibility’.

There is this movement that says that everyone is a designer and as long as you build something new, you’ve designed it.

The issues I’ve seen a lot of OS devs faced is that, with this conviction (that everyone is a designer), a lot of devs tried to design themselves their project logo, the UI, icons, images, photos, etc. And while some were successful, other devs found out that the work they did was perceived by others as ‘ugly’, ‘not usable’, ‘too technical’, ‘dry’, ‘not sell-able’, ‘not commercial’, ‘unfriendly’, etc.

In my experience (which is a designer with a computer science background), although I am a technical person, I’ve gained over time more respect on the design proposal I’ve made, because the work that I did was ‘desirable’ by other users, got positive feedback, got votes to be added to a certain roadmap.

Sometimes, even if you put a lot of work, you might not get that ‘desirable’ effect from others, and some will call this as ‘talent’.

Just a note about my point above: ‘desirability’ changes over time, especially in design. There are several design trends and movements, like skeuomorphism, flat design, even the gradients era, etc. Also people have different taste. Also some designer might be ahead of their time :slight_smile: and their work might not be ‘desirable’ until some years after.

Unfortunately, ‘taste’, ‘art’, ‘design’, etc. have subjective connotations and the most important thing IMO is compatibility with the OS community you want to contribute to. A lot of young designers are attracted to the popularity of an OS project and really want to contribute something there, but not understanding the target; not being able to empathize with users outside of yourself OR not being able to separate self-expression from professional work based on requirements, might make collaboration with some OS communities harder. That’s why experienced or senior designers can be more successful with communities, and sometimes people think that a young designer just had ‘luck’ or ‘taste’ or ‘talent’, and that is the reason of a successful contribution.

UX is such a diverse domain and contains so many subfields. Research, Usability Testing, Analytics sometimes are easier to apply to the OS projects, since they are more data driven, so much easier to understand, defend and promote among developers.
When reaching the Interface Design, Graphic Design, Branding, Marketing areas, than the domain gets some ‘mysticism sprinkle’ and people start to talk about ‘taste’ and ‘talent’.
OS communities needs help in all UX areas, and either the designers or the community members sometimes are not willing to invest the time or the energy to overcome the communication or compatibility barriers, so they expect ‘luck’ or a ‘talented designer’.

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THIS! :clap: It’s so important!