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Open Source Web Design

Open Source Web Design

Since a recent thread on Ebay-sold design firms stirred up a heated debate, I thought I’d continue the theme. You can now get your web design ‘free’ through Open Source Web Design.

I am a fan of the open source software movement and other like-minded efforts such as creative commons and iStockPhoto.

One of the detriments to the open source software movement is a complete lack of quality experience design (one of the few times I’ll use that term ;o). Most open source apps pale in comparison to their commercial competition in terms of ease-of-use, installation, GUI, user experience, visual appeal, etc. So it’s nice to see some visual design enter the ‘open source’ crowd. (And we all know there are enough bad, ugly web sites in the world that could probably benefit from a few of these designs.) I don’t think you’ll see any of these in the next CA annual, but it’s a start…

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PUBLISHED ON Jul.22.2003 BY darrel
Bob’s comment is:

I'm not terribly impressed with either the quality or the concept behind this site.

As far as the designs go, there were a few decent ones, but overall, I'd say C-. That's just my opinion, your mileage may vary.

As far as standards are concerned, I would give the majority of the sites and F-. Admittedly, there are a few designs that adhere to stadards, and that is a good thing, but why would you present to the world a site that encourages poor coding practices?

As far as this being "open source", I must shake my head and laugh ruefully. The term "Open Source Web Design" is redundant redundant. All web designs are open source by their very nature, which leads to one of the largest problems out there in this industry: piracy. So this site encourages piracy direct copying of anti-standards, haphazardly designed websites. and has at least one design that is blatantly lifted from the previous version of the Microsoft site.

This isn't open source. This is the kind of crap that gives true open source a bad name.

On Jul.22.2003 at 03:59 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

All excellent points, Bob.

On Jul.22.2003 at 04:01 PM
Arturo’s comment is:

I agree with you Bob on the low quality of the design but... Mmmm the Microsoft site and this "template" are not so "original" they are so plain there must be a few thousands like them ;)

On Jul.22.2003 at 06:19 PM
KM’s comment is:

So it's nice to see some visual design enter the 'open source' crowd.

I have yet to see it...

On Jul.22.2003 at 08:21 PM
Armin’s comment is:

I am traveling until August 1st, so I will say this knowing that I won't have to answer any rebbutals to my comment:

This "open source" stuff only enhances the mediocrity of design on the web. And yes, that is Graphic Design Darrel. It is visually crappy design available for all to grab and put more shitty looking sites than necessary.

On Jul.22.2003 at 08:37 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

I don't disagree Armin.

It seems the post was taken with a bit too much seriousness. Sorry, all. ;o)

On Jul.22.2003 at 09:32 PM
Tarsh Fletcher’s comment is:

It does help those with little to no web experience can publish writing, imagery, etc, without having to learn and html, and or css. On the other hand it could provide inexperienced users with inspiration, or insight into web design.

On Jul.22.2003 at 10:51 PM
Nathan’s comment is:

Long time lurker, first time poster...

From what I see, this is not really design. These are some generic templates that someone though looked cool, but do nothing to entice or to enhance the brand of what they are to represent. You should know what you are designing for before you start the design, not the other way around.

Still, it's nice to see developers take more of a concern in aesthetics. It's a step in the right direction.

On Jul.22.2003 at 11:00 PM
Brent’s comment is:

From what I see, this is not really design.

That's really the whole point. The educated clients and designers are the ones who make that distinction and the rest get lost somewhere along the way. This open source web idea isn't any different than print shop or the ebay logos. I'm sure well-paid accountants are just as mad at TurboTax.

On Jul.23.2003 at 08:41 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Out of curiosity, Brent, are you saying this kind of concept is a bad thing, or simply something that inevitably pisses off those of 'higher standards' within the industry?

On Jul.23.2003 at 09:30 AM
Brent’s comment is:

I don't think it's something that's good or bad necessarily, it just is. Every industry with a 'higher standards' distinction is going to have something like this, hence my TurboTax reference. Basically, I don't think it affects those of us who recognize the difference, but yes, does piss off those who are doing logos for $50 and compete with out-of-the box design packages and the like. If anything it would make me work harder to push the distinction were I in their shoes.

On Jul.23.2003 at 10:21 AM
eddie’s comment is:

What screen fonts are you defaluting to? I usually see san-serif fonts on websites.

On Jul.23.2003 at 10:55 AM
monkeyinabox’s comment is:

Cookie cutter templates are cookie cutter templates, but I guess for someone who knows nothing about creating a website, these don't look to bad for free. There's A LOT of sites out there for businesses that don't have ANY standards and look like they were designed 10 years ago. After seeing those kinda sites, these "Open Source" pages don't look so bad.

On Jul.23.2003 at 11:06 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Nicely put, Brent. I agree.

On Jul.23.2003 at 11:34 AM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

The internet is about instant publishing and accessing information efficiently. Most people interested in using the internet for these means do not really care about the aesthetics of their website just like they could care less about the wood paneling on the outside of their mini-van. They want a quick and easy way to sell something or voice their opinion. Granted the designs posted on this website are not the best in any means, but that's not the point. It's about getting people to harness the internet. Experience design is another matter, that should be taken more seriously - I'd rather have an ugly site that is easy to navigate then a beautiful site that is a playground. Well, maybe not. You get the idea.

That piracy site is crazy Bob, the audacity of some people. Let's not get started on that, every time I bring up copyright or intellectual property infringement issues I get yelled at.

This is the kind of crap that gives true open source a bad name.

I'm sure well-paid accountants are just as mad at TurboTax.

I agree. There will always be the "hobbiest" in every profession. The same goes for that ebay logo designer. It gives graphic design a bad name too. But not to be hypocritical, I'd rather have a poor logo representing a homeless shelter then a cool logo representing the latest food/cigarette company. Well, maybe not. You get the idea.

It's about what end result matters to you in the end.

On Jul.23.2003 at 02:52 PM
may’s comment is:

No these templates aren't going to win any AIGA awards...but what they might do is facilitate the movement of ideas and make certain kinds of content more accessible. (i.e. content on sites like Slashdot which is influential among the tech set and on the radar of people who track emerging technologies, but ignored by the majority of designers until some of those ideas are re-packaged in a more palatable form). Developers and people who innovate in the technical realm often don't have the expertise or resources to invest in design. Templates that are simple and unobtrusive help them get their ideas across. That's good if you care about ideas.

On Jul.23.2003 at 03:29 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

There will always be the "hobbiest" in every profession.

Do note that 'open-source' (or 'free', etc.) does not necessarily mean 'made by hobbiests'. I don't think open-source software gives the software industry a bad name. I don't think iStockPhoto.com gives the photography industry a bad name. And I don't think logos on eBay give our industry a bad name.

I do not think the templates on the Open Source Web Design site are good, mind you. But I do like the overall concept of open source design.

Going back to the more tangible discussion of something like Open Source Software, why isn't there a greater focus on aesthetics, GUI, and usability? Much of the software out there is great software. For example, I've used Apache and I've used IIS. I (and many others) would say that the free, open source Apache is as good, if not better than the commercial, Microsoft IIS. However, if you've ever had to set up Apache vs. IIS, you truly appreciate the value that good usability/interface/aesthetic design can add to a product (IIS is has a nice GUI. Apache has none.)

OK, I really have no idea where this discussion is going anymore. So you're all on your own... ;o)

On Jul.23.2003 at 03:52 PM
Arikawa’s comment is:

Curiously, most of the designs that I saw looked like the author was trying to mimic the "lack of visual appeal" common to open source software and documentation.

Do you think they were confused by the site's premise? Was it instead for them Designs for Open Source [Software]?

On Jul.23.2003 at 04:40 PM
may’s comment is:

Going back to the more tangible discussion of something like Open Source Software, why isn't there a greater focus on aesthetics, GUI, and usability?

Because the people creating open source software are programmers working for free. Also, at the start of any product lifecycle, it's hard enough just getting whatever you're making to work. Once a product "works" and other competing products enter into the fray, companies invest in design to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

On Jul.23.2003 at 08:06 PM
Nathan’s comment is:

My perception may be wrong in this matter, however from originally coming from a developer/computing science background myself and working with developers daily, I see the open source community primarily as a group of developers with little or no knowledge of visual design. In my experience, developers love playing with technology and seeing what they can do with it. Instead of collecting requirements for the UI, then basing the features and architecture off of those requirements, the UI and usability of the application comes afterwards if at all.

Also, many developers that I work with define a good user interface as having powerful command line tools, and have trouble understanding why people would want to do it another way.

This is why I am not surprised with the quality of the designs, but why I am glad to see attention given to the visual side. Hopefully what will eventually follow is a realisation by the open source community that the visual and information designs should come well before coding starts.

On Jul.23.2003 at 11:23 PM
Bob’s comment is:

I think most everyone here is really selling open source short on UI. There are several really intuitive, beautiful GUI's available for linux, and besides that, a Command Line User Interface (CLUI) is really and truly a powerful thing. Of course, it requires a learning curve, but what doesn't?

May's comment about just getting the damn thing to work hit the nail right on the head. Now that Linux has stabilized (to a certain degree), designers can concentrate on finishing the rough edges. Cars didn't start out as Porsche 911's, they started out as clunky, unintuitive horse-less buggies. There is a path that needs to be followed, and design is almost always at the end of that path with respect to emerging technology.

On Jul.24.2003 at 09:07 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

There. Fixed May's open tag. (Get's slap on wrist ;o)

Let me clear up one thing: The open source web design site doesn't really have anything to do with the open source software movement. It's just what they named their free-template site.

Bob, yes, there are some very good GUI's out there in the open source world (and, tangentally, in some really elegant freeware/donationware apps as well).

As for design being at the end of the path, well, that's the whole problem. It should be part of the entire path, after all, all aspects of the project are designed. Slapping a pretty GUI on an already completed app is simply a kludge.

On Jul.24.2003 at 09:18 AM
Bob’s comment is:

Darrell: I agree totally. Perhaps I should have said that unfortunately, design is almost always at the end of the path.

On the other hand...

One of the really great things that has kind of popped in recent history is the separation of content from design in websites with XHTML and CSS. By separating design and content (on the web -- in the real world, your mileage may vary), you simplify the process a hundredfold. By basing websites on a template system, not only is it easier to develop and maintin, but the design of the code does not inhibit the visual design.

The best example of total separation between content and design that I know of is the CSS Zen Garden. Totally divergent designs that are all based on the same document. A kludge? You decide :)

On Jul.24.2003 at 10:57 AM
may’s comment is:

Sorry about the open tag!

As for design being integrated at the beginning of a product lifecycle, I think it's hard unless there's already the infrastructure in place for developing a product. i.e. a company. An emerging technology comes out of experimentation and is often a matter of serendiptiy. As Nathan pointed out "developers love playing with technology and seeing what they can do with it" just as designers will often play with design techniques "just to see" what happens and writers will write without regard for the final typeface that their book will be set in or the cover that will sell it. Maybe it's unfortunate but that is the price of specialization. I think though, this will change with a new generation of computer scientists and designers.

On Jul.24.2003 at 11:27 AM
Arikawa’s comment is:

For an open source software, Mozilla has done a good job of opening up the UI design to the public.

There are a bunch of "themes" available for Firebird and Mozilla (not Camino though), ostensibly created by UI designers, that customize the window chrome and toolbars.

A few are quite nice.

On Jul.24.2003 at 12:01 PM
Nathan’s comment is:

Bob: I absolutely agree with how things are progressing with the use of CSS, particularly positional CSS, to separate interface from content. I have been using CSS for some time and am getting into positional CSS now. It really does allow one person to go in and define the units of information and another person to go in and define the interface without stepping on one another's feet. Zen Garden is definitely a superb example of this. Go into the source code and take a look at how little HTML is actually in there, and how the structure actually reflects the structure of the content and not the interface.

Another point: When I was interviewed for my current job, one of my interviewers mentioned how rare and valuable it was to find developers who had visual and interface design skills. I don't think this combination will become any less valuable, but hopefully will become less rare.

May: I like your point about needing project structure to incorporate the design aspect right from the beginning. The serendipity technique does not make for a good project plan. As an open source project, Mozilla from what I can see is quite organized and has a good core of people who can impose the process, but this is not the rule.

Finally, I understand that open source web design does not equal open source development. I also know that as soon as you label something "open source" that it is going to attract people from a particular community, and will share many characteristics with other "open source" projects.

On Jul.24.2003 at 01:15 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

One of the really great things that has kind of popped in recent history is the separation of content from design in websites with XHTML and CSS.

To nitpick, it is a separation of information content and visual presentation. I think it's important to realize that design permeates the entire process: writing, visual layout, interface, usability, back end programming, etc.

On Jul.24.2003 at 03:08 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Interesting parallels between this and the ebay logos discussion.

I'm sure you folks know about these well-known resources for building CSS pages (not exactly templates), but they may be helpful for some readers:

Eric Meyer's glish.com

Blue Robot

the noodle incident

On Jul.24.2003 at 04:28 PM
Arikawa’s comment is:

Small attribution typo Sam, glish is actually maintained by Eric Costello.

But Eric Meyer's css/edge is a mighty fine resource, too.

On Jul.24.2003 at 05:17 PM
Aby Rao’s comment is:

Personal opnion:The designs on this website is not up to the mark, CSS Zen garden is the way to go.

On Feb.04.2005 at 12:16 PM