The Libre Designer More Thoughts

27th January 2022 at 4:22pm
Word Count: 4488

The idea of using free/libre/open source approaches (or materials created and licensed in this manner) is novel, on one hand, and yet we already do it (and have hisotrically done it) more than we usually realize.

  • Put design processes out into the open.
  • Collaborative ways of designing.
  • Vernacular: towards the idea that maybe everyone can design
  • control over design tools and the ideas that those tools embody
  • freely licensed and usable images, texts, data, etc.

Contemporary design practice has a gap between the well understood practice of using open source web tools and various open file formats, and then the actual ways that we do design. Most design output doesn't easily fit in the OS software or CC/Free culture license spheres...; and doesn't always work in the forks/merge/repos model...

Designer as Author vs. Design as Instigator?

Design deals with projects that don't relaly lend themselves to shared responsiblity? either we make a thing and we're done with it, or its closely tied to a vision or specific period of time or need, maybe theyre just ephemeral, or maybe theyre just not that complex to begin with... They aren't really meant to be reusable tools, they are one off visual signs? but as design grows and increasingly is social and public, I think this needs to change...

Modularity and community: we need a community of people willing to work together. Designing community becomes more important than the nature of the tool itself?

Do we need a more modular design? how to pull apart pieces without the whole breaking apart?

How do you contribute to the design of a tangible printed piece?

It isn't about contributing to designs together, but it can be about allowing output to create and jumpstart other output. For a folder of design files to teach and inspire another.

There is another world of software and fonts — tools — one might use to make design output based on an alternative set of ideologies and needs than our “normal” design tools: The Adobe creative Suite (on a mac) for the most part (at least in my Graphic Design context).

I've been interested in F/LOS as a way to better integrate my sustainability beliefs into my design work. So, the course was a way for me to test some conceptual things as well.

new views on how the actual processes of designing could better match world views and beliefs. And how the software we use is just as important as clients, types of work, aesthetics, etc. if we see design as ideological or political act... Another was in showing how intentional collaboration, transparency, etc. might make designing more effecting… another that perhaps humanity had just been doing this all along and we chose to forget it and are struggling to figure out how to do it again… and another that perhaps — from a less abstract place — that just trying to make things with new tools is a good way to separate the "designing" from the "tool" …

To take this to a step closer to graphic design, there's two ideas I want to quickly analyze — for pragmatics, we can look at vernacular models, and wonder, well, what stallman is describing in terms of users having freedoms to use a thing however they want, share it, and modify it to their needs, that just sounds like how all things used to be made … I mean cape cod houses, shaker chairs, whatever. So, for me, I have been wondering why this got lost to visual designers, is it just capitalism? or is there something else we're missing? I don't have an answer for this yet.

And then, in terms of utopianism, if Stallman founded the free software foundation and the GNU operating system on such intentional, oppositional to main stream views, GNU is a "critical design" a la Dunne and Raby.

"Designers should develop parallel design activity that questions and challenges industrial agents."

Is this too good to be true? by just using GNU/Linux and installing the F/LOS design equivalents you're participating in a community challenging mainstream techno-modern-capitalism… Using F/LOS is just a critical design act!

This is a real connection between designing and sustainability and other socially conscious endeavors. My students liked it to. That a tool might reflect your ethics more authentically was valuable.

All Design is Ideological / Shouldn't our design tools be ideological too?

It also felt like a nice tie to 60s/70s counter-cultural design stuff like the whole earth catalog, Enzo Mari's Autoprogettazione, Papanek's Nomadic Furniture, Ken Isaacs living structures, Buckminster Fuller's dymaxion objects... etc. Those are projects and figures referenced by contemporary designers still, and those works were about trying to "open up" design using the freedoms stallman outlines, before stallman got to his free software! this was "free design" seemingly, and helped me at least validate that designers can do this (though, again, its easiest to find object and architecture designed things that have published plans, etc. where you build it yourself or 3D print it yourself, but not necessarily print graphics...)

Why have developers latched onto the open source movement, but designers have not? — Garth Braithwaite

Great, we've got this utopian position — all software should be free software, all designs should be free designs, it sounds great, but if this is all wonderful and great, why are there so few designers doing it?

The next time you go looking for F/LOS design and quickly find fonts, icons, templates, stock images and illustrations, and frameworks ask yourself: Is this all that F/LOS design means? Is that really all that’s possible? F/LOS offers up a pragmatic approach based on reviving how we as humans previously created socio-cultural artifacts; and a critical approach intentionally positioning itself in opposition to mainstream moderno-techno-capitalism. Those design “objects” that might help make more designs are the pragmatic side of things. The main outcome of our class it turns out is in trying to now populate the ideological side.

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” — Audrey Lorde

“… Capitalism must constantly ‘cool hunt’ and turn whatever is authentic and genuine into trends for consumption” — Micah White

“You probably heard that one before because it was never new and it never gets old and its a folk song...” — LLewyn Davis

What does design save by not diving more fully into free/libre/open source? What can we bring to design from F/LOS communities?

Type design is a place that seems to be doing pretty well open source wise… why type but not other graphic design places? Is it because we're accustomed to revival typefaces, but not revival layouts or logos? Is it because typefaces are more like tools and objects, and less purely formal, visual metaphors? What???

From a typographic stand point, libre fonts are superior pedagogically. Students can look at and legally experiment with the actual insides of a typeface. Useful for also learning some actual typographic design — can build onto, fork and build anew, or addsomething to an existing typeface w/out fear of retribution! Better experiential learnng enabled?

Open source is socialized means of production — which means you often have to help make your own shit. This isn't always what people want/can do? It is especially hard in regards to design: we are creators and problem solvers, but of often visual or physical things, not digital/code based things — especially not always of the actual tools of our design's productions (often working within a system — turn to printers for printing, typesetters/typographers for type, etc.)

We don't (I hope) all specify the same typefaces as right to use, we don't all use the same brand of pencil or notebook, we don't all read the same design books — so why do all use the same computers and computer software?

Obviously, on one hand, we have a pragmatic situation: these are the tools of industry, pretty much every design studios my students are going to get jobs working at will be running Adobe Creative Suite on macs. Why would I not want to help students learn to use these things in my classes? But then I run into an issue — I don't know that the computer software we use to do these things will be the computer software we always use to do these things... how closely is the "designing" I'm teaching linked to the "softwareing"? Can I teach a student all the same time and motion concepts without ever having them use After Effects?

Designing at its heart should be a set of skills, processes, patterns, ways of thinking, that are agnostic to discipline or tool. Obviously one needs some manner of experiential knowledge with a tool or medium or format in order successfully realize their vision, but in an abstract way. One of my favorite things about modernists like Massimo Vignelli is that thinking that their designing could be applied to anything — you need an identity? I can use my design knowledge to do that. You need a teacup? I can design that too. You need a suit? I can design a suit… a chair? wallpaper? table? business card? check check check check. That is agnostic to the tools of production. Have we tied the tools of production too closely to the designing?? what does open source change about that?

Why don't designers use open source? it's got bad UI? it's hard to find, install and actually use? The moderno-capitalist machine tells you that only Adobe CC can produce "professional" work? (or maybe something from AutoDesk)

Something interesting about us designers is that we all are using the same operating systems and softwares. In a field that values creativity and inventiveness, how can we be good at designing UI's, etc. when we all are looking at and fiddling with the same set of things as each other? One thing about a good interface is that goodness is often about familiarity. There is a certain amount of intuitiveness that you want to achieve, but in the end I like my Mac because I've been using macs for 30 years (a Mac SE from 1988 was my family's first comp I really remember using a lot). My colleagues that exclusively have used Windows or the few that are die hard linux afficianados feel the same for their chosen ecosystems — these things work as expected, those others don't, thus this is good and those are bad. I ran into this with my students too. I requested that they all try to use open source alternatives to Adobe products for the term. Most of them indulged me by at least installing inkscape, gimp, scribus, blender, etc. on their machines, but in the end claimed they were too hard to get to make the "finished" work they were trying to make... it was bad software and they couldn't make it work. I would argue that goodness and badness isn't really the issue — its learned behavior that's the issue. It's like knowing how to play a piano, and then being handed a guitar having never played one before — you can figure out the notes and maybe generally make something musical, but you wouldn't be able to say, play all the pieces of music you'd already learned for the piano with any skill... Anyway, the point is — by forcing yourself to try alternative tools you are actually making yourself a better designer. you see more things, you experience more, you might find that there are multiple ways of drawing vector paths (for example, Inkscape has 5 different kinds of vector path options when you select the pen tool compared to illustrator's one (Illustrator only draws good old beziers))

What's important about Free/Libre/Open source? to me its the ethics and the ideology. Even if you don't want to use the software or the fonts themselves (though you should, there are some magnificently robust F/LOS fonts [Fira, Noto, Gentium, …; and really, Inkscape is superior for pure vector drawing]) you can benefit from seeing designing from the point of view of an open source developer. Mainly, that while you might be the creative visionary, you owe it to the community that exists around your project to involve them in improving your work.

Adopting the idea that your creativity should result in outputs that others can benefit from and build upon is at odds with our contemporary capitalist culture.

GNU's origins are in ethical utopia. Users are the same as neighbors, fellow citizens. We must apply our do unto others beliefs to the access and reuse of and extension of the tools we make, not just our person to person interactions.

Pragmatic utopia: Imagine the world the way you wish it was, and then you actually sit down and try to build it that way.

Can I design the design that belongs to the time/space/world that I want to live in? if it doesn't exist already around you then you have to make the objects to help grow the future you want around those designs.

Open source software powers much of the web and the modern tech world. Open source hardware powers all manner of maker spaces, workshops and offices. How do we use these mechanisms to the benefit of Graphic Design? This article's goal is to present the root ideals of the free/libre/open source software movements, and then apply them to the making of graphic design. Part of the paper covers the use of open source design tools, analyzing their pros and cons when compared to typical “industry-standard” making methods.

Questions being answered: What does “Open Source” mean in a Graphic Design context? How do visual designers help to iterate & improve these tools without the ability to code? How do non-mainstream tools change how we make graphic design? How do our design processes evolve & maintain transparency the same way open source communities & projects do? What do accessibility, transparency, and “freedom” bring aesthetically to visual design solutions?

Nodebox is an interesting example of a toll that perhaps has one of the more intuitive interfaces I've used period. The normal rub against open source tools is taht the UI design is a nightmare. This is sort of a double strike against them from the point of view of a designer?

I've had a lot of experience with open source communities on the web — I was a Drupal user fairly early on, have tried all sorts of CSS frameworks, and contemporary javascript plugins — but had never really tried to use linux to run anything other than a server, nor gave any of the desktop tools a real go. Personally and pedagogically I was interested in giving some things a go.

Are we limited by our tools? Are we teaching students to use Adobe Creative Suite, or are we teaching them to be designers? How might alternative tools work better pedagogically in this goal?

Open source as utopia?

What's humourous about all of this is that Design was historically open source... Life/Humanity has always evolved and grown based on slowly and building on whatever came before without worry of credit or cost or whatever else... That we need something like open source now is slightly amusing — Wanting to carefully protect our intellectual or creative "properties" is a fairly new ideal. Perhaps its connected to the fairly modern idea of artist/designer as unique, special, individual creator/solver of problems?? Capitalism of course needs to be able to make money off these things... so that is part of the rub too. But, "Open Source" still works in capitalism (see RedHat, or Acquia as examples — selling support and other services, etc. built on top of an otherwise free tool (Redhat mainly sells support for its linux distributions, Acquia sells support and specialized hosting for large Drupal websites)).

Open Design is not about community sourced design decisions, there can still be a single originator of the design, someone with singular vision, etc. but it does imply that there is transparency. (look at Garth's thoughts for reference on this?)

To work on open source design means to publish creative work with an open license, giving the community a chance to reuse and rework your content in ways you may not have considered. It is also the act of contributing design work to existing open source projects. Both executions of open source design imply that the work is open to contributions and collaboration from outside designers.

Although open sourcing is great, not every design can be published under an open license. However, almost every project can be designed openly

As an added benefit to designing in the open, it is a short leap to open source design.

encourage all designers to become familiar with open source and make contributions to projects they care about.

This is not merely a nice idea, it is a clarion call to shed our insecurities, pride, and paralyzing perfectionism; to dedicate effort to helping worthy causes; and to raise the quality of design and design education on the web. A call to design open. — How do we improve this? How do we carry on the discussion?

Applying F/LOSS principles to art and design might help us improve visual literacy, just as F/LOSS improves computer literacy. Applying F/LOSS principles to art and design might help us better understand the knowledge present in the creative process.

F/LOSS encourages a mindset of bringing together disparate sources to make something new. This is why artists could potentially feel at home. There’s never a clean slate when you make a work of art or design. We are informed by our personal history, we are informed by all the other works we know.

does just showing content/process/files/etc. count as open design?

OSD is rooted in vernacular techniques. Sharing, iterating, copying whatever works best was what allowed communities to develop effective tools, clothing, shelter, objects, etc. A similar set of practices, more or less everywhere, allowed for forms to slowly iterate, progress, improve, disperse, but still to generate local flavor and specialization. Aesthetics, materials, decoration, forms are able to grow and evolve based on specific locations, but the general idea of iterative, open, designs was the way pretty much all cultures "designed" in the past. Successful techniques were discovered to address local environmental conditions in an economic, reliable, easily duplicable manner.

Interest in this vernacular approach began to surface within communities of computer scientists (this was also how scientific knowledge often is shared and grows) … this became (and is called variously) F/LOS: Free, Libre, Open Source...............

designers can choose to use open source tools like Scribus or Fontforge. Free to modify their tools, open source designers have the power to change the aesthetic mode of production. This is particularly important because, as Fredric Jameson writes in _Postmodernisn, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism_, because, “[a]esthetic production has become integrated into commodity production.” By using open source tools, designers can reclaim autonomy and authorship. [potential connection with Dunne/Raby, Mari, and the modernsim is bad conversation our class had]

Still, the boundaries that define open source design are difficult to articulate. For some designers, the OSD approach may entail the use of open source programs such as Sketch or Scribus. For others, it may mean designing a custom GitHub page for a worthy piece of open source software. Still for others it may mean sharing resources, process, and knowledge. However, most examples of open source design, such as Mozilla’s Photon Design, remain directly connected to the world of open source software. While the infrastructure of open source software has been intentionally developed,open source design is a practice still in its infancy, and lacks an effective platform to leverage the power of the community.

Participation in the open source community can cause radical shifts in design thinking, forcing dialogue into practice and problematizing tools often taken for granted. In the end, this may be the most significant advantage of open source design. As Enzo Mari writes in Autoprogettazione, building your own tools is the "best way to avoid being designed yourself." If everyone is given the opportunity to shape these tools, perhaps it is possible to design in a way which is responsive to the needs of the many, filling vital roles through user engagement. This not only guarantees greater inclusivity and accessibility, but represents a fundamental shift away from the capitalist mindset.

Am i really this much of a communist? In my thinking about sustainability, I've been moving towards the idea that my tools are incorrect. Adobe's creative suite is a creation of a modernist/capitalist system that is creating the sustainability issues. If this is the case, only another set of tools should be supported. Is that where the OS stuff comes in? That's where it started for me — fonts — open fonts seemed more sustainable and egalitarian. From there I've moved towards more intrinsically open tools. I've been trying to make the way I work more transparent as well.

A key issue in understanding — online in documents I found, with people I talked too, and in my students in the classroom — what that open design meant co-designing. I think this is not true. A design, to be good, needs strong initial vision and planning and theorizing. So, it would probably still start with an individual need or vision and spark of creative brilliance, but be amplifyied through the ideals expoused by Stallman, Raymond, et. al.: Openess, transparency, etc.

The success of the open-source community sharpens this question considerably, by providing hard evidence that it is often cheaper and more effective to recruit self-selected volunteers from the Internet than it is to manage buildings full of people who would rather be doing something else. Okay, so is this then also a way to run a design studio???

These aren't the standards. You can't conflate learning to use scribus with learning to work in a design studio.

Rudnick – designing is increasingly focused on solving problems of a client, not problems of an audience. Does leraning to use the right tools to get employed relate to this? focus on technical skills as they apply to a workspace as opposed to the more general ideas of designing period?

F/LOS tools are a struggle. Especially if you're already conditioned to how other tools work. Again, in presenting alternatives they point out the failings and successes of existing, more commonly used tools. Inkscape has more options when drawing with the pen tool for example – that can lead to some really radical outcomes that you can't just accidentally arrive at w/ something like Adobe Illustrator.

If the goal of us as academics is in increasing knowledge (I would also say that any field period is only useful if it is constantly producing knowledge and moving culture), then we are arbitrarily limiting the futures of visual design by collectively standardizing on a set of softwares/operating systems/formats.

A New toolbox

What are we teaching in our graphic design classes? Are we teaching students to use the Adobe Creative Suite – or are we teaching them designing?

How does the new toolbox solve whatever things I mention before???

One Cloud to Make them All

Adobe more or less has a monoply on the toolset of the visual designer. Worldwide most designers, studios, and educational programs rely on Adobe tools to output their visuals (more physical good related things might be reliant on all autodesk suites of things instead, but the point more or less stands).

Is there a pedagogical or ethical problem with that? Is it made worse by the fact that we can't get at any of the components under the hood? and I don't mean make or modify the software, I just mean even the basics of having file formats that aren't easily interchangeable or editable w/out their tools. Most of the libre design tools use some sort of open format, or at least text-editable format if you are mising the program. Scribus and Nodebox for example, their file formats are really both just special xml documents. Opening in a text editor means you can still pretty easily "read" the design even if you can't see it. This means that you can edit, improve, and reflow your file w/out even needing to have Scribus installed! If you can figure out the xml, you can make actual meaningful edits to your layout w/out the gui! Try that in Indesign.

Design should be a conduit to communicate your values … do the tools that you choose to use affect this?

Teaching is more difficult than learning because what teaching calls for is this: to let learn. The real teacher, in fact, lets nothing else be learned than learning. His conduct, therefore, often produces the impression that we learn nothing from him, if by 'learning' we now suddenly understand merely the procurement of useful information. – Martin Heidegger

Open source software powers much of the web and the modern tech world. Open source hardware powers all manner of maker spaces, workshops and offices. How do we use these mechanisms to the benefit of Graphic Design? This article's goal is to present the root ideals of the free/libre/open source software movements, and then apply them to the making of graphic design. Part of the paper covers the use of open source design tools, analyzing their pros and cons when compared to typical “industry-standard” making methods. This paper also presents how the research, discussions, interviews, experiments, and work/output of the course “Open Source Design” (running Jan-May 2018) changes the ways a designer envisions their practice and methods of making. The paper utilizes the author's own work and research, work and research from the FLOSS community, as well as content created by their students to support the arguments. The way one works with FLOSS tools and ideals creates different systems, processes, methodologies, and aesthetics. The works of the author and their students provide interesting visual and code-based examples to help answer and illustrate this. Questions being answered: What does “Open Source” mean in a Graphic Design context? How do visual designers help to iterate & improve these tools without the ability to code? How do non-mainstream tools change how we make graphic design? How do our design processes evolve & maintain transparency the same way open source communities & projects do? What do accessibility, transparency, and “freedom” bring aesthetically to visual design solutions?

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