Is Open Source Design a Thing?

Is Open Source Design a Thing?

The prowess and power of Open Source is undeniable. From servers, to the desktop, mobile, to the underpinnings of the so-called “Internet of Things”, Open Source spans sectors and continents, public and private. One profession, however, that has traditionally been dominated by closed, proprietary software solutions – and usually very expensive ones at that! – is the field of design. In this article, we’ll take a look at some free and open source options to pad, if not replace your existing design arsenal. Maybe you’re a designer just starting out and you are understandably on a budget. Maybe you’re more seasoned and simply want to adopt more of an “open” workflow. Read on and let’s see what the free and open source software world has to offer!

GRAPHICS

In the open source world, there are a few very formidable and viable alternatives to the mainstays offered by Adobe.

GIMP

The GIMP or GNU Image Manipulation Program is a very a powerful free and open source alternative to Adobe’s Photoshop. Developed and maintained by a sizeable core team, GIMP offers powerful photo editing tools for the design creative, such as filters, brushes, retouching. It can even handle .PSD files if you want to make use of UX/UI libraries for your design mock-ups. Finally, GIMP can also be used for digital art, logos and the like. GIMP is available as a free download for Linux, MacOS and Windows.

Inkscape

Inkscape, whose moniker, well represents their core values – “Draw Freely” – is an Open Source and free alternative to another Adobe product, Illustrator, a powerful but proprietary and expensive, vector program. Inkscape offers a plethora of design and drawing tools, easy to navigate color selection, filters and gradient tools and much, much more. Designers committed to open source solutions will also find good documentation online in the form of blog posts and forum posts. Like GIMP, Inkscape is free to download on Linux, MacOS and Windows.

Want to learn from some seasoned graphic and web designers making use of these open source tools? Check out these YouTubers:

  • Nick Saporito (Nick is an excellent resource for an introduction to the basic features of Inkscape you’ll use on a daily basis as a logo, web or graphic designer).
  • Irfan Prastinato (Irfan’s channel highlights modern logo creation through the power of Inkscape).
  • Cameron Bohnstedt (Cameron is a digital artist who really showcases the power of open source tools (GIMP Inkscape, Blender) in the hands of a seasoned pro. Inspirational and informative).

WEB DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT

When it comes to designing and prototyping full-fledged, feature rich, responsive websites there are several options – some of them open source – for the designer. These options have come such a long way in recent years, that they are, in my opinion, a reflection, if not the reality of what responsive web design needs to look like as the devices we create for change as rapidly as design trends do.

Bootstrap

In my opinion, Bootstrap has advanced and really pushed the responsive, even mobile-first design envelope forward, leaps and bounds. Originally crafted by Twitter developers Mark Otto and Jacob Thornton, Bootstrap is a framework that allows you to make sites that fit your client’s needs, fully open source and fully customizable. With Bootstrap you’ll get a rock solid base with Bootstrap 4.0, currently in alpha, promises many under-the-hood improvements to an already solid version 3.0, including the move from Less to Sass, an enhanced grid system, a reworking of JavaScript plugins, and much more.

Gravit

Another up and coming free and open source vector program garnering much well-deserved attention is Gravit. Running in your browser, Gravit is not only a viable alternative to Adobe Illustrator from a vector standpoint (though not as feature rich), but also holds promise as a full-fledged design environment. You can straightforwardly and simply design everything from logos, to print work to mobile apps and websites. I’ve relied upon Gravit for some of the work I’ve done recently, since it’s available to me in the my browser of choice, in addition to being powerful, simple, clean and intuitive.

Some Free, But Not Open Source, Solutions…

Webflow

Webflow is a powerful all-encompassing web design environment, running in the comfort of your browser. The wonder of Webflow is the ability to design without coding, essentially, and while you design, have the code generated for you behind the scenes, as it were. I find the interface of Webflow to be clean, crisp and easy to follow…intuitive. Admittedly, Webflow isn’t Open Source, but there is a free option that allows a designer two projects at a time as they design and develop their sites.

Froont

Another browser-based web design program is Froont. Similar to Webflow, Froont is very intuitive, cleanly designed and powerful. You can effectively and efficiently design an entire website that is fresh, unique and, most of all, responsive, working on all relevant devices. Finally, Froont, like Webflow allows the designer to export code as needed.

Both Webflow and Froont have free options in addition to paid plans, perfect for building out a site at a time, allowing you to also publish your work to the web, if you so choose.

Text Editors

There are several options for designers and developers who want an open source and free alternative to write and/or edit code.

Atom

Billed as a “hackable editor for the 21st Century”, Atom is a full-featured text editor with seemingly every built-in feature – like auto-complete and multi-pane views – needed to get the job done, but also completely hackable, allowing the user to customize to their liking. There’s also a package manager, in which users can download thousands of packages to customize Atom further and add unique levels of functionality.

CONCLUSION

In this day and age, designers need not feel captive to expensive, bloated, proprietary software. With several free and open source tools at their disposal, the budget and free and Open Source-conscience designer has more than enough options to create, beautiful and functional designs for their clients! Please share this article if you liked it, and hit me up in the comments below with your favorite Open Source design tools!

Sean LeRoy on Twitter
Sean LeRoy is a web-designer at Crash.Labs, a small and friendly design firm located on the eastside of Seattle. He's passionate about providing his clients with beautiful and functional designs that match business objectives, making use of the best tools Open Source has to offer! Sean lives on the eastside of Seattle with his wife and youngest daughter and enjoys family time, reading, music and Linux! You can reach Sean on Twitter @crashlabs or at seanleroy77@gmail.com.

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