There’s a new buzz phrase in the air — open source design.” What is it? It’s a “remix” (to borrow a term from Figma) of the open source software movement’s commitment to sharing and collaborative validation and improvement of software source code.

What Are Examples Of Open Source Design?

You don’t need to look far to find companies embracing this idea by:

  • Making design systems public. Most design teams are establishing or maturing a design system — and once it’s in place, some choose to share theirs with the community. The most visible example is Google’s design system, called Material Design, which many other companies use as a foundation for their own design systems. But Google is not the only one  check out this entire repository of public design systems.
  • Making design processes public. Sometimes, what a company makes public is the ins and outs of its design process. Examples include Atlassian’s design language, GV’s (formerly known as Google Ventures) design sprint methodology, and Spotify’s Squad framework and data science/design research guidance.
  • Creating tools and plug-ins for others to use. Designers and developers have long been creating plug-ins to support their own design efforts and making them available for others to use, too. Examples include Starkwhich helps designers check the color contrast of their design assets for accessibility, and Mapsiclewhich helps Figma users create and edit custom maps.

Why All The Buzz?

There was a lot of talk about open source design — what it means, what the implications are, and more — at Figma’s recent user conference. (Check out our video recap of Figma’s event that we posted to my colleague Andrew Hogan’s blog.) And we predict that we’re going to hear about it more, because there’s a lot to it. Why? There are so many benefits to adopting this open source approach, some shared with the long-established open source software movement:

  • Creates efficiency in the design process. Designers don’t waste time solving problems someone else has already figured out.
  • Teaches other people best practices. Designers can learn from work others have done, like creating accessible user interface controls, color combinations, and other elements.
  • Helps design teams get better. Releasing work to the broader community helps designers get valuable feedback to improve their work.
  • Helps design teams attract talent. Making design processes public shows that the company is serious about design — and that’s important to applicants.

What Challenges Does Open Source Design Create?

Sharing work publicly brings challenges with it. It forces teams to address questions such as:

  • Who will maintain these public assets?
  • As the community offers feedback, how do we prioritize what to act on?
  • Will designers and companies that work on open source find a way to be compensated for their open source contributions?

Have Thoughts On Any Of This? Participate In Our Research!

What are other examples of open source design? Has your design team seen benefits from making your work available to others? Have you encountered challenges that you overcame or are working to overcome?

If you have thoughts on these questions and you’re willing to be interviewed, please reach out to me on LinkedIn. We’ll gladly share our findings with you when we publish them as a token of our appreciation for your input!