How the Open Source Movement Affects Web Designers
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.