At Phase2, open source web development is a big part of our culture and our mindset. The idea of giving back to a community to support the greater good has a lot of potential, and it really energizes me as a designer. Last week the League of Movable Type, a community for Open Source Typography relaunched their website and with it came a lot of talk about giving things away for free, and it got me thinking about the potential of open source as a concept in mainstream society.
The site relaunched with a "Manifesto" rather than an "About" page. Right on! The manifesto goes on to explain how open source type can help raise the standard in the design world; a rising tide lifts all boats. It is a call to action, not only for type designers to give back to the design community, but for the acceptance of a methodology that has helped the development community progress to be adopted in the design world.
"It’s not always about the money, sometimes it’s also about making a contribution to society, and in this case, the design community. We want more people to look at it like that: like they have a responsibility to do something good for their peers."
While I didn't see any of the feedback around this topic online, I can only assume that there was a bit of nervous feedback that went the League's way based on a follow up blog post that they posted after the launch of the site.
This response to The League's Manifesto is not that surprising. My formal design education stems from print and advertising --industries that for decades have been all about the "secret sauce". There is an underlying fear of sharing information and tools, in that it helps your competition get a leg up on you and makes you a weaker designer. Unfortunately, this mentality can not be farther from the truth.
I sat in on a SXSW presentation a few years ago where Jason Fried talked about the success of popular chefs. He explained that many popular chefs are successful because they give their knowledge away on cooking shows and in recipe books. That sharing of knowledge only encourages people to eat at their restaurants. This analogy is why open source works for business and why I was delighted to stumble upon the sharing of cooking recipes as an example of the concept open source outside of the software industry in the wikipedia article on the subject.
Unfortunately, open source is confused sometimes with crowd sourcing or spec work in design industry, which gives it a negative connotation. Both practices are a hot topic for designers because it can have a negative impact on the understanding and respect of the craft while driving down rates for the entire industry. Crowd sourcing is where a client puts out an open request to the general public for a finished product and then chooses to pay only one participant a set price for their work. Spec work is similar in where a client requests free work from a designer or agency (or multiple designers) with the possibility, but no guarantee, of being hired. Both of these practices are not open source design. Going back to the concept of recipes, open source web design is the practice of sharing knowledge, practices, and elements of a design (the building blocks of an entire composition) to contribute to progress and quality within a specific community or practice.
While the design community does not always label their sharing of knowledge as " Open Source," there have been great strides taken in this area in the last few years. I am so excited to see what the League of Movable Type is doing in the area of Open Source Typography and it makes me hopeful that more practices will adopt the open source mentality. Can the open aource software and development community be sherpas for other communities who could benefit from the methodology? How can we start the movement?