Sources and Methods Saturday, June 9th, 2018

Open Source Design

Kristian Bjørnard, Full Faculty, The Maryland Institute College of Art

What do the tools and ethos from Free/Libre/Open Source (FLOSS) communities bring to a visual designer's education and praxis?

Open source software powers much of the web and the modern tech world. Open source hardware powers all manner of maker spaces workshops and offices. The course “Open Source Design” asks the questions: What does “Open Source” mean in a Graphic Design context? How do we use the mechanisms of Free/Libre/Open Source to the benefit of Graphic Design? How do visual designers help to iterate & improve these tools without the ability to code? How do non-mainstream tools change how we make graphic design? How do our design processes evolve & maintain transparency the same way open source communities & projects do? Does the making of visual design change when the software and OS changes? How does graphic design function when reused, remixed, or changed beyond its initial visual intent? What do accessibility, transparency, and “freedom” bring aesthetically to graphic design solutions? Is the way you make now irrevocably changed because of these tools and ideas?

This article presents the ideals of the free/libre/open source software movements and applies them to a graphic design course and practice. The paper will do this using documentation from the Spring 2018 course, Open Source Design. To start: a short history and analysis of open source design tools and their pros and cons. The paper next explains how these ideas and tools became the central content of a new design studio course. The main feature of this studio is to make “accurate” design with these tools and ideals [here, accurate means that the form is correct for the content and context , not encrusted in external formalism—so, what does Open Source Design look like?]. The majority of the paper documents this “making.” Lastly, working with FLOSS tools and ideals creates different systems, processes, methodologies, and aesthetics, and works included provide visual and code-based examples to illustrate this as a form of conclusion.

The author’s own work and research, work and research from the FLOSS community(ies), as well as content created by students in the course “Open Source Design” will support contained arguments.