Open source software is nothing new in an age where even big tech giants are exploring and using it. More and more companies allow—if not outright encourage—employees to contribute to open source software on company hours. What's missing in open source, however, is high-quality, effective design. Fortunately, Albanian design agency Ura Design and its team—Elio Qoshi, Redon Skikuli, Giannis Konstantinidis, and Anxhelo Lushka—are trying to change this.
Ura Design started from the belief that many open source projects are full of capabilities and features, but their design can make it difficult for users to effectively use the software because of poor user experience, branding, or accessibility. Ura's goal is to help bring better design principles to open source projects at little to no cost.
"In open source, there are amazing projects that are poorly communicated with the outside world. By communication, we mean visual communications, branding, even marketing. That is nonexistent for many reasons. There is a connection between communicating your project well and also getting contributors or users on board," says Skikuli.
The Ura Design team helps open source projects improve their design so they can focus on great code.
How it works
Ura Design's four team members work with open source project owners to help them bring better design elements to their projects. The principles of ethical design are part of the project's goals and values.
Ura has done work for organizations including Mozilla, the Tor Project, Free Software Foundation Europe, and Glucosio. The team takes contract work with companies or communities with a budget, but they work for projects with less financial support at no cost; the free work is supported in part by donations to Ura's Patreon page.
"Since there are working hours involved, we are asking for people to make small contributions [through the Patreon page] to help us pay living costs, so we can work for small projects who apply for free or minimal design support from us. This is our way of supporting some open source initiatives that we think are worth it," says Skikuli. Right now, there are 22 backers to the project, which helps cover most infrastructure costs. One of the team's current goals is to expand into photography and release work into the public domain.
Designs for a few projects
Ura Design has already worked with many open source projects, including ones at Mozilla, the Tor Project, Glucosio, GalliumOS, and Open Labs Hackerspace. You can see the full list of past projects on Ura Design's website; here are three of the team's most notable ones:
Mozilla's localization team was looking to reward its community translators around the world. Specifically, Mozilla wanted to celebrate the relationships formed between mentors and mentees over the years by designing t-shirts that captured these relationships and how important they are for the community.
Qoshi had an existing relationship with Mozilla as a contributor and was asked to help design and capture this connection for the company. The final design focused on two lions, one big and one small, looking at each other. "It was nice for contributors who have been mentoring others to get recognized for their contributions," Qoshi said.
The Tor Project
The Tor Project was looking at rebranding its entire project with good design elements to improve its accessibility. Together with Tor's leadership, Ura Design helped lead the rebranding initiative, producing new graphical assets, logos, and corporate identity. You can already see the new branding featured across Tor's web presence, and Tor plans to roll out more changes over the next year.
The team's newest project is Logobridge. Ura Design releases several new logos, based on unused work or small samples, into the public domain each month. People are encouraged to use the designs in their projects, for icons, for placeholders, or anything they want. Anyone can download the source SVG files to use in vector imaging software, like Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape, and there are no restrictions on how the logos can be used. Most of the logos designed through Logobridge are supported by monthly subscribers to Ura Design.
Ura Design is still relatively new, but the team intends to continue working to impact open source projects. To learn more about Ura Design, you can visit its website or blog. Additionally, you can follow Ura on Facebook or Twitter for other news and updates from the team. If you want to support this work or learn more about what the organization is doing, you can visit the Patreon page. And if you're an open source project looking for design help? The Ura Design team encourages you to get in touch.