Working at the first billion-dollar open source company has taught me that open is a better way to develop software. Why? Because in the technology industry, change is constant.
Think about how rapidly technology has evolved over the years. Fifteen years ago, everyone was excited about satellite radio, and ten years ago people didn’t carry large-screen phones in their pockets. And, although it seems like yesterday, two years ago the first smartwatch was released. Today, you can watch sports and movies on the go, stream music and switch between devices seamlessly. Would you want to trade your smartphone for a flip phone? Of course not—no one wants to be stuck with outdated technology when the the world has moved on. It’s the same with enterprise software. Red Hat embraces change and has created a proven open development model that allows for more rapid innovation while providing more secure, stable products and allowing users to preserve previous technology investments.
Open exchange, participation, rapid prototyping, meritocracy and community play a huge role in open source development; however, these values are not limited to software. They can be applied to organizations, decision-making, healthcare, culture, and the list goes on.
How do the benefits of open apply to design? What does it mean to design the open source way? How can designers shift their mindset from thinking exclusively to being inclusive? How do you work inclusively without design by committee?
Being open begins with trust and collaboration. You have to believe that the outcome is going to be better with others than going at it alone. Open design means there is no longer a big pitch reveal but rather sharing ideas early and often. Getting input from others doesn’t derail the project; instead it informs new avenues. Being receptive to feedback allows you to see new perspectives, challenge your ideas and fight or concede based on merit instead of opinion.
Being collaborative is more than just listening to feedback. Open design embraces mass participation, which, in turn, feeds new, innovative outcomes. Traditionally, designers want to own their creative ideas and art direction of a project. Moving from thinking about “my work” to recognizing “our work” is a shift in mindset. Working with other designers and contributors allows for faster generation of ideas; more succinct critiques; and easier, less cumbersome prototypes.
However, collaborating with other designers can be difficult if you don’t have a shared goal, governance and processes set in place, and the right tools and resources to get the project done. The creative brief is the project’s guiding light, but outlining design goals and clearly articulating what’s expected from contributing designers at each step is vital to the success of open design. Shared tools and resources enable others to design the open source way. This goes beyond standard design software to platforms where collaboration can happen at any given moment, prompting productive conversations with live feedback. Much like software development, providing the right tools to the right people allows for innovative solutions that still fit within the confines of the project. When creating designs for one brand, sharing design elements such as brushes, color swatches and textures allow others to be creative without being prescriptive on what the outcome should be.
Lastly, working the open source way inherently means the process is iterative. Working iteratively doesn’t mean abandoning the principles of design thinking but rather building in time to iterate in the early stages. Embracing the idea of “release early, release often” and working in an agile way means more iterations than a traditional design project; however, working in this manner allows for missteps or insights to be discovered early before the project is too far along to incorporate anything new.
At Red Hat, Open Studio is the place where we connect as designers. We have a shared goal to define what designing the open source way means to us.
Designing the open source way is:
Exchange ideas early and often. Don’t go at it alone.
Be receptive, not defensive.
Make it “our work” not “my work.”
Open the work to others, and let them remix it.