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Ask HN: Why do open source projects attract more coders than designers?
14 points by ben-gy on April 8, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 13 comments

Can you give examples? Are you talking about open-source projects that appeal to both coders and designers, yet are coder dominated? Or are you asking why there are more open-source coding projects versus designers? And what do you mean by "attract"? Do you mean in terms of popularity, or in participation?

Either way, I believe part of the cause is the inherent nature of the medium. When I commit new code to an open source project, the maintainer can easily see the diff, and in most big projects, there is automated testing and benchmarking so that the maintainer doesn't even have to do the full-regression testing themselves.

Furthermore, well-organized code libraries are divided into components...it's easier to chip away at these small units (whether they be files or function bodies) than it is to chip away at, say, a logo-image, that multiple people are working on.

Philosophically, code is more straightforward. While programmers may debate certain issues of style and design, if I were to take an existing code file and slash it in half, while increasing performance by 50% and not killing readability...and pass the automated test suite, there would be little debate about merging in my change.

However, how do you increase the "performance" of a visual design? There is no standard on aesthetically-performant, so cutting/adding 50% to a design means nothing on paper, and of course, there's not much in the way of regression/benchmark test suites for visual design. This is what makes visual design exciting from an artist's standpoint, and incredibly frustrating from a collaborative viewpoint.

And since many of the best open-source projects are collaborations...

I wonder if part of it is the mentality.

If a developer works on something for no money, it's open source. If a designer works on something for no money, it's free spec work.

Developer culture praises open source. Designer culture seems to be vehemently opposed to free spec work.

With code, there's a certain attitude of "I need this, so I'm going to make it, but I have no intention of ever productizing it so why not share it?" It's a massive "give a penny, take a penny" jar that enriches the entire software ecosystem.

The analogous situation for graphics design would be something like textures & Photoshop filters. Or icon packs. Or fonts. Which you can find lots of for free (sometimes even with useful licensing attached).

But who the heck is going to come do free graphics work for my new Flask extension when they don't even use Flask, or understand what it is, or have any motivation beyond "hey come do free work for me"?

On the other hand, you have cases like the current mpld3 logo update. The project's author asked for help with the logo on Twitter, and got 6+ solid responses back. People are glad to help if they have the skills to do so and if they're part of the project's community. Design vs. development is not relevant, only relevance is relevant.


I agree wholeheartedly. Graphic design work tends to be more specific to an individual project (except for the things you mentioned like icons etc) whereas developers often need to extend a framework and since the work is already done, why not give it back to the community.

Totally agree with this answer. There are tons of free design resources being shared by designers.

That seems a bit unfair. Are open-source participation and spec work really analogous? How often are programmers asked by a client to complete a project, so the client can decide afterwards whether to pay?

True - I am not saying with certainty that this is the reason, just wanted to start a discussion :)

One possibility is that designers can show their work even if it isn't open source. If you did the design for a public-facing website, you can show it, talk about it, make it part of your portfolio. A lot of the code is viewable in the browser anyway.

Backend coding on closed-source projects, on the other hand, is rarely visible, rarely credited, and under some circumstances, you can get into hot water legally by sharing that work.

So open source may provide a degree of professional exposure for coders that designers already get regardless of whether the project is os.

I think that many designers have made contributions to open source though not directly contributing to a projects codebase. The things that come to mind are icon sets, background images, gradient slices and fonts. The icon set used in Bootstrap serves as a perfect example.

> Glyphicons Halflings are normally not available for free, but their creator has made them available for Bootstrap free of cost.

This is a situation that the designer has specifically contributed the asset to the project. Though I believe the more common situation is for designers to have assets on their website available for use and discovery by anyone, rather than tied to a project.

Well, it's probably a good thing, as otherwise the project would end up with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_by_committee

For actual reasons why, I think the biggest reason is that designers don't have any actual power in open source software. They can _ask_ people to implement their changes, but can never do it themselves. And the people they ask care more about solving problems than appealing to the masses.

Designer/Developer ish guy here. Can you give me some examples of what this would fall under? Like...inkscape? Thats open source right? Do they want/need designers? Or how could I get involved in this? (My current closest thing to this is I randomly add icons to the noun-project. Conceptually I could make money off that but not really, so I view it more as public help...now you can get an easy to use tesseract icon if anyone ever wants it!)

Designers like sexy, developers like geeky, that's always been my reasoning behind it. It's a shame too because end users don't seem very interested to use a product if there isn't a sexy interface. I also think the money has to do with it, I can work for 3 months a year and have enough to live on, I'm not sure most designers can pull in money like that, can they?

Design doesn't "scratch an itch" in nearly the same way. Also, it's less reusable; many developers are allowed to work on their project as it's useful to their employer.

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