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Designers Can Contribute to the Open Source Community


Young female designer busy on laptop in design studio
Zave Smith/Image Source/Getty Images

If you're a graphic designer who's been using open source software or tools, chances are that you've run across some projects that could use a little design help. (Personal disclaimer: As a graphic designer, I might be a bit biased in this regard.) But what can you do to help?

Well, to be honest, things are more clear cut for programmers, but that doesn't mean that you can't contribute back to the community ... you just might have to work a little harder to get involved.

Below are some ideas and sites that might come in handy for your search, but keep in mind that the best way to choose a project is to find one that speaks to you. Is there a program or an app that you use a lot? Is there one that sticks out in your memory as a UI disaster? Do you have nightmares about an old logo you ran across on an open source project? If so, it sounds like you might have found a worthwhile open source cause. If not, check out our suggestions below and let us know how you got involved. And if it turns out that you'd rather do something a little less technical, just see Non-Techies Can Contribute to the Open Source Community for ideas.

If You Don't Already Have a Project Picked Out

If you don't have a pet open source project that you're itching to get involved with, you'll need to do a little leg work to find something to work on.

The first step is to think about what topic would hold your interest over time, and then Google the topic. For example, are you interested in meteorology? Agriculture? 3D printing? Whatever it is, once you figure out what you're passionate about, it'll be easier to find a project to dedicate yourself to.

If things aren't coming together quite that easily, though, here are some great resources to keep handy. With a little searching, there's a good chance that you'll find something of interest.

  • SourceForge's Help Wanted Forum. This is a great listing tool for the projects on SourceForge, and since it lets you search by keyword, it's easy to quickly find some projects looking for design help.
  • SourceForge's Help Wanted Board. This listing isn't as extensive as the forum above, but all the projects listed here are, according to the website, "for non-commercial, project volunteer openings."
  • OpenHatch's Volunteer Opportunities. This site isn't quite as robust as SourceForge or GitHub, but there are a few hundred projects listed on the site. If you use the search tool on the Volunteers page, you might find a project or task of interest.
  • CodePlex's Join a Project Listing. CodePlex provides hosting for open source projects, and part of the site includes a help wanted list ... which, conveniently, has a graphics filter.
  • And if you're more interested in getting involved with a bigger open source project, there are a few that list design as an area in need of volunteers, including: Gimp, Gnome, Mozilla, and the Ubuntu Unity Project. These represent a small fraction of the projects out there, but they'll get you started.

If You Have an Open Source Project in Mind

If you already have an open source project nagging at you or there's one that you just love, you're in a good spot. Since members of an open source project are typically unpaid volunteers, you're going to discover that they have a lot of passion for whatever they're working on. Whether it's a new crowdfunding project or a desktop app that lets you create PDFs, project members have signed on because they believe in the end product, and if you're already obsessed with that end product's design, you'll fit right in.

So, if you find yourself in this position, getting involved is more straightforward.

  • Visit their website to see if they have design tasks listed in their advertised areas of need.
  • Contact the project lead if you don't see any design issues listed on the contribute page.
  • And if the above two options don't work out, just dive right into the project and become a member on GitHub or SourceForge or wherever it's being hosted. This will help you get acquainted with how that particular group works together, and it'll help you get established as part of the community.
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