All Things Open interview with Garth Braithwaite

Open source is ugly: Improving UI and UX

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Garth Braithwaite is a designer turned engineer turned hybrid of the two. He has worked as an engineer and user experience designer on several award-winning sites, applications, and open source projects.

For four years, Garth has been working at Adobe on open source projects as a design and code contributor. These projects include Brackets, Topcoat, and Apache Flex. In addition to his work at Adobe, he also speaks at conferences about the power of design, improving designer/developer collaboration, and the benefits of open source. As part of this effort, Garth founded the Open Design Foundation.

In this interview, get a sneak peak of his All Things Open talk: Open source is ugly: Improving UI and UX.

Why is UX bad in so many open source projects?

There are a lot of reasons, but one of the largest contributing factors is the lack of professional designers contributing to open source projects. Contributing to the lack of designers, there is also a lack of collaborative and open source design workflows. Secondary to that, there are open source project owners who are unaware of the value of design or are unsure where to start with the design process.

How important is it for an open source project to have a good UI and UX?

Not all open source projects need more UX or UI then they currently have. Often times developers build open source projects that are aimed at other developers, so they are able to consider the needs of the end user without additional design assistance. The problem occurs when the open source project is being used by an outside demographic, including by developers of a lower experience level. In these cases, good user experience design contributions will help define the target audience—their needs, struggles, and experience—and the recommended solutions for assisting the users.

Good user interface and brand design can also help establish a consistent experience across the project and help attract new contributors.

Is it easy to attract designers to participate in open source projects?

No. Often times it is easier to find open source developers who also have design experience.

What should developers who can't attract designers do?

They shouldn't wait around. If they can hire a designer, great, but in the case of most open source projects where budget is small to non-existent, developers should look to improve their own design skills. Design is a process of identifying and solving problems, something with which developers are familiar. Developers have the ability to aquire at least basic design skills like any other skill: with practice, research, and community support.

Are there notable open source projects with good UI and UX?

There are some great ones out there—particularly ones that overlap somewhat with the design community, like Sass, Bower, Ember, and others. There is a great collection of open source projects with beautiful UI and UX at There are also more mainstream examples like Firefox, VLC, Popcorn Time, and others.

All Things Open
Speaker Interview

This article is part of the All Things Open Speaker Interview series. All Things Open is a conference exploring open source, open tech, and the open web in the enterprise.

About the author

Aleksandar Todorović
Aleksandar Todorović - I'm a part of the tech department for an awesome investigative journalism network called OCCRP. I'm really passionate about open source software, artificial intelligence and information security. My open source contributions are now merged with projects like reddit, elementary OS and the...