How the Open Source Movement Affects Web Designers

By / Jul 16, 2012 / Tips
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Back when computers were still fairly new it was difficult to find knowledgeable programmers. The Internet has changed this system where it’s now easier than ever to study on a unique design/dev topic. Software and web developers are working hand-in-hand by sharing code snippets and resources through various websites.

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This open source movement has grown rapidly and it’s not slowing down anytime soon. As more code is available online it’ll become easier for developers to launch full web applications within hours. This hierarchy is changing how we build websites for the better! In this article I want to share some ideas looking forward as to how web designers can start working within the open source movement and use it to their advantage.

Open Code Standards

Now that jQuery has been around for so long it’s become a staple for modern JavaScript development. There are specific rules and syntax regulations to follow, and these standards have been adopted from the open source movement. JavaScript is now much easier to understand and study within a couple days.

We’re already seeing this change with coding HTML5 and CSS3, too. Standards are much easier to work around and you can easily find examples for whatever you need. There are even free CSS3 gradient tools which generate the code for you! Talk about convenience – we really can automate much of the difficult tasks onto computers.

Learning and Sharing Knowledge

I was originally studying web design back in 2004 which was an in-between phase for designers. There were some great tutorials on the web, but they were mostly geared towards beginners. It was difficult to jump in and learn something like PHP/MySQL or Ruby on Rails.

open source coding standards community meetup

The Stack Overflow community has become my most precious resource for learning and fixing my errors. Intelligent programmers from all over the world go to answer questions and help other developers solve their issues. Whenever you run into a problem you should check SO threads in Google. I’ve found 99% of my answers by searching through the right websites.

But once you have studied in the field for some time it doesn’t hurt to give back knowledge. Your questions may provide a learning area for developers struggling with a similar problem. But alternatively you can visit these Q&A websites in the hopes of answering other questions. It will help your debugging skills and offers a valuable service to web designers around the world.

Less Wheels to Invent

The common phrase we all hear is “don’t reinvent the wheel”. This concept may be at the center core of the entire open source universe. When you can work with a plugin or CSS library which already has the code you need, why should you rewrite it from scratch? It’s a waste of time – plus this other developer has likely put careful attention into perfecting their code.

branding pencil and book for Stackoverflow.com

As we keep pushing forward there are less and less wheels we need to invent. There are more open source libraries for functionality I’ve never even used before. Mapping charts, graphs, math functions, HTML5-based video/audio, there are too many features to list. Yet working off these existing features will make your job a whole lot easier and less frustrating.

Linux penguin boy in the park

This concept is known as abstraction when programmers are building off another layer of code. jQuery is an abstraction of JavaScript, and the many jQuery plugins are a deeper abstraction of jQuery. Then you can use these plugins on your website and customize them for a specific layout style.

Resolving Solutions

The crisis of problem/solution is always afoot when you’re coding a new website. These problems can arise from browser bugs in HTML/CSS. Or you could be faced with more complex issues in JavaScript or backend programming languages.

But whatever your problem it’s a good chance that somebody can help you with the solution. Even if this person doesn’t tell you directly, but you read it on their blog article or forum post. We are all contributing solutions to the many various problems which crop up from day-to-day. Projects can be completed much quicker than ever before.

mobile computer laptop MacBook power chords

It would appear like an ideal situation, although this understanding can lead to laziness and deeper motivation problems. When you’re still new in web development it’s easier to ask for help and copy/paste the answer rather than figure out why it works. This is the wrong path to follow if you want to build your career as a web designer.

Never let the completion of a project hold precedence over your education. Once you build something properly for the first time you will likely remember that code if needed later. But even if you forget there will always be your first project’s source code which you can look over as a reminder.

Having these code snippets quickly accessible means you can push through complex projects in just a few days. Without these open source tools you could expect a week or more of development time trying to build a working solution.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that open source is the best future model for developers. Design trends aren’t inherently “owned” by any one person, and you can’t patent a generic idea like dropdown menus or accordion widgets. Developers who create these things and offer them for free have the knowledge that their code will be put to good use. And it’s because of this generosity that we have powerful CMS’ today such as WordPress and ExpressionEngine.

Ask yourself how you can help contribute to this powerful open source movement. Even graphics designers are becoming more comfortable publishing freebie PSD and AI files online. More people are studying web design each year and working to join forces with the developers who came before them. It’s a very exciting time to be alive and working on the Internet.

About the Author

Jake Rocheleau is a creative writer and UI designer. You can follow him on twitter @jakerocheleau or visit his personal website at JakeRocheleau.com.

14 Comments

  1. Mariya
    July 16, 2012

    Open source CMS made the web creation and maintenance task easy. We can easily create website and manage them with a little technical knowledge.

    Reply
  2. Matt
    July 16, 2012

    Open source has made it easier for me to become a skilled front end developer. The only issue is that it seems to be changing and evolving faster than I can keep up with. Is that a good thing?

    Reply
  3. Omar Kozarsky
    July 16, 2012

    Open Source (and the internet in general) has made it easier to build certain web apps and get the answers to coding questions in my opinion.

    Reply
  4. Abu Dhabi
    July 16, 2012

    I agree with Matt, without Open Source we would not be where we are today, with thanks for Open Source and to Google for their ingenuity we have successfully been one of the best digital media agencies in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. It is also very user friendly the current Open Source technologies and would be very reliable compared to starting making a CMS from scratch, in terms of bugs, security, ethics, etc.

    You can compare this to a shopping cart where all the bugs have been ironed out, well done all … oh and its free too :)

    Reply
  5. Phil D
    July 16, 2012

    I Couldn’t find any open source download links for Expression Engine.
    Only big *Buy Now* buttons.

    Reply
  6. Set Your Sites
    July 16, 2012

    I agree with Matt. I think open source is a wonderful thing and great for developers in all fields. But as Matt said it is impossible as an individual to provide services and keep up with the latest open source developments. Thanks for opening this line of discussion.

    Reply
  7. Mike DeLeon
    July 16, 2012

    Totally agree, Stack Overflow is a godsend. Anytime I’m hung up on a piece of code that is bugging out, or causing problems in general I can search the topic, 99% of the time someone has already had the same or a similar problem that’s been resolved. I love it!

    Reply
  8. John
    July 17, 2012

    open source is not always a good thing

    Reply
  9. Peter Marcum
    July 17, 2012

    Open source is some how good but it will be definitely going to affect basic web designers and learners. It will mold designers to used short cuts and yes, even i am completely agree with Matt.

    Reply
  10. Mike
    July 17, 2012

    We utilise Joomla for our opensource platform as a website design agency and the4 benefits of opensource really do outway proprietary. Even the Whitehouse official website is an opensource platform!

    Reply
  11. Anna Harris
    July 20, 2012

    In JavaScript we can easily understand and study within some days. Open source provide so many features which are mapping charts, graphs, math functions and HTML5-based video/audio etc. So I have same opinion in open source website development.

    Reply
  12. Chris – Designer
    July 23, 2012

    Open source is a good thing for clients too. We find with CMS webistes that bespoke software ties the client down to the developers but an open source solution gives the client more freedom to change supplier if they aren’t getting good service. We use open source for all our web solutions and explain clearly to our clients what we are using and the benefits and future options they have.

    Reply
  13. Mark – Photographer
    July 25, 2012

    Open Source has been a great thing for me. I’m a big fan of reusing snippets too. I haven’t done this for my site much but I do it all the time in my other job. Why reinvent when you can reuse a good idea?

    Reply
  14. Sarah
    July 27, 2012

    Chris, I have also found with clients that Open Source allows for a more efficient customer/provider relationship.

    Reply

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