Week 9: Communities of Practice

17 November, 2021

In week 7’s journal entry, I shared the evolution of design tools and workflow, which I have experienced throughout my journey to a UX designer. After watching the presentation by Professor Heidi Ellis[1], I wanted to research some open-source projects related to UX designs.

There are now tools to help designers and other team members to collaborate quickly. However, I felt designers are often not actively engaged in platforms like GitHub for open-source projects.

Perhaps those platforms are traditionally known for sharing a piece of code for the community?

Perhaps UX designers are often visually driven (i.e., more focus on the UI design part in the UX spectrum), and front-end developers usually do the coding of the UI designs so that the designers lose some sense of ownership?

I wanted to use this week’s journal to explore different open-source projects relevant to UX designers and use my experience with the Socious as an example of what challenges designers might be facing when it comes to open-source contributions.

My first and biggest question – Where to start?

  • Simply signing up to GitHub did not land me to anything handy. I could only start a project or browse around for available projects.
  • I eventually found https://opensourcedesign.net and https://www.fossjobs.net, which are job board-like communities to hire designers for open-source projects. The form of the commission includes paid or gratis. However, the list of available projects seems to be limited. For over 200 million active repositories on GitHub[2], those two websites only represented a fraction of available UX/UI jobs.
  • Although not an open-source project, my contribution to the Socious app involves my commitment to follow through with the product roadmap to generate new ideas and the next steps for the overall project. How I got in touch with the founder was through LinkedIn. We chatted and shared our passion for creating a marketplace where we can connect people to different social impact projects. Since then, I have actively met with the founder and another designer and provided design solutions for continuous improvement.

That led to the second question – How to contribute?

  • Looking at opensourcedesign.net and FossJobs, you could see the different types of design support needed, from full-time UX manager to free-of-charge UX Design Lead or simple logo/assets design. These require different levels of commitment to the project.
  • For GitHub, you could easily browse around and contribute to some projects by providing visual assets. However, contributing “UX” requires total commitment to understanding the core problem the project is trying to solve and integrating deeply into the product development lifecycle.

Lastly, can it still be done?

  • During my research on the topic, I came across Mozilla Foundation and its contributors, Mozilla Corporation. The non-profit organizations built and maintained one of the most used browsers, Firefox.[3]
  • Firefox is an open-source browser that welcomes both technical and non-technical contributions. They have a detailed wiki[4] to help people get started. You can contribute to code, documentation, design, localization, and user support.
  • They also organize several specialists and funding programs like tech events for technical advocates and educators, fellowships for web activists, open-source researchers and scientists, Mozilla’s Open Source Support Awards to provide catalytic funding to open source technologists, and various student internships/events/boot camps to help grow the next generation open-source community.[5]
  • They organized the Mozilla Open Design Repo on GitHub[6] to make it easier for designers to contribute. It seems a good starting point for non-technical and designers to find open tickets and submit their contributions. Although still far from ideal for non-technical contribution.

In conclusion, UX designers don’t need to code to contribute to the open-source community. It’s more important to understand the technology you are crafting the experience for the users. However, the way of contributing still poses some barriers. For example, how do you share a design doc effectively on those platforms? How do you contribute or build on the existing products and get your solution built? I hope there will be a better way for designers to contribute one day.

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References:

[1] learn.falmouth.ac.uk. 2021. Week 9: Heidi Ellis on Open Source Communities. [online] Available at: <https://learn.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/240/pages/week-9-heidi-ellis-on-open-source-communities?module_item_id=9200> [Accessed 21 November 2021].

[2] GitHub. n.d. Build software better, together. [online] Available at: <https://github.com/about> [Accessed 22 November 2021].

[3] en.wikipedia.org. n.d. Firefox – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firefox> [Accessed 22 November 2021].

[4] wiki.mozilla.org. n.d. MozillaWiki. [online] Available at: <https://wiki.mozilla.org/Main_Page> [Accessed 22 November 2021].

[5] wiki.mozilla.org. n.d. Contribute – MozillaWiki. [online] Available at: <https://wiki.mozilla.org/Contribute> [Accessed 22 November 2021].

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