Questions about Open Source and Design

Today, I posed a question to some professional UI and UX designers:

How can an open source project without dedicated design experts collaborate with amateur, volunteer designers to produce a well-designed product?

They revealed that they’ve faced similar collaboration challenges, but knew of neither a specific process to solve the problem nor an organization that had overcome it in the past.

Have you solved this problem? Have you tried some process or technique and learned that it’s not able to solve the problem? Email me ( if you know of an open source project that’s succeeded at opening their design as well, and I’ll update back here with what I learn!

In no particular order, here are some of the problems that we were talking about:

  • Non-designers struggle to give constructive feedback on design. I can say “that’s ugly” or “that’s hard to use” more easily than I can say “here’s how you can make it better”.
  • Projects without designers in the main decision-making team can have a hard time evaluating the quality of a proposed design.
  • Non-designers struggle to articulate the objective design needs of their projects, so design remains a single monolithic problem rather than being decomposed into bite-sized, introductory issues the way code problems are.
  • Volunteer designers have a difficult time finding open source projects to get involved with.
  • Non-designers don’t know the difference between different types of design, and tend to bikeshed on superficial, obvious traits like colors when they should be focusing on more subtle parts of the user experience. We as non-designers are like clients who ask for a web site without knowing that there’s a difference between frontend development, back end development, database administration, and systems administration.
  • The tests which designers apply to their work are often almost impossible to automate. For instance, I gather that a lot of user interaction testing involves watching new users attempt to complete a task using a given design, and observing the challenges they encounter.

Again, if you know of an open source project that’s overcome any of these challenges, please email me at and tell me about it!