When design is mentioned in open source, it’s often as a scarce resource, one yearned for or maybe hasn’t had an easy time. I think this might be problematic and needs changing. Designers can use open source projects as a growth opportunity and learn in a space that is accessible. I would go as far as saying it would benefit every designer from being in that space.
Designers need open source projects just as much as those projects need them. These projects have the growth opportunities many designers crave and need to develop their portfolios and prospects. They can provide ground for a budding new designer, a way to shift from one focused discipline of design to another.
Finding a junior role in design right now is not the easiest thing; it’s even more complicated if you live in a location that’s not a city or country that’s not where the most prominent companies are. Remote works, but that is often meaning a lot fewer junior roles – a problem in itself.
Open source projects allow a designer to often learn by doing, really fill their portfolio with meaningful examples and often without the hurdle of interviews that might not even be in their language. It likely even has onboarding in multiple languages or contributions days (even remote) if it’s a long-standing project. A newer designer can work alongside seasoned designers, growing in skills through observing and collaborating. That’s a powerful gift provided freely within open source projects.
A designer in open source gets on the ground practice in feedback processing. They are constantly the advocate for the user and learn to collaborate with other roles by doing. They are often also opening up to exploring far more areas than they might in their daily roles to see where they want to grow, even where they need to develop. Teamwork is a crucial part of any open source contribution, so that’s an essential skill taught, along with remote collaboration.
Should you want to, you can move into operational roles such as team rep or lead. You can even look to lead releases: something beneficial for any designer looking to explore that type of role as a career direction. The types of design being offered are also incredibly varied in these projects, from product, visual through to marketing and much more.
The time has come for us to change our perspective on open source and not focus on highlighting how much we need designers, but show what the designer can get from working in open source. Most projects are focused on inclusion efforts and trying to create better projects, so the time couldn’t be better to join. You also don’t just have to stick with the big ones you might have heard. You can move around projects, go where you want. Perhaps there is a tool or resource you use that could do with your help; that’s actually how many of the more significant open source projects evolved. Open source has grown me as a designer and it can grow you.