Jan Borchardt – Building the Open Source Design Community

What’s out there in open source design.

An overview of what’s happening in open source design today by @Jancborchardt

Sharing the knowledge

Large open source projects have more resources and are sharing their expertise. Learn from them:

Sharing methods

Two strategies for getting usability work integrated in existing developer workflows:

  • Define a set of UX related tags you can use in the bug tracker. Best to keep it simple and start with one catch-all “Design” tag instead of breaking it out in too specific subtags
  • Build a design team. Create a channel for design related discussion. Existing channels on IRC are #Gnome-design, #drupal-usability #ux (Mozilla) #wikimedia-design, #owncloud-design, #opensourcedesign

The million dollar question pops up early: where to find designers for our open source projects?

Existing initiatives

Jan is also working with universities, introducing some open source projects to the students and having them work on it. A low barrier way to get new people involved.

Meet and collaborate

Get together, meet each other face to face and get the cross-project exchange started. Share experience and resources. Today is exciting, the first designer meetup at FOSDEM. Lets get busy!

Reading for fun, not profit

Terry Pratchett is a lot of fun.

Started reading fiction lateley. To relaand get the mind off of work things.

Just finished my second Terry Pratchett Discworld episode. Both "Guards, guards!" and "Going postal" come highly recommended. So much fun.


Printing editions

Hand made in Hilversum, NL.

There is very little creative in this part of the process.

Organize the working space. Materials ready, work the sequence

Two sides of the same tangled mess

Charles Handy got rhythm.
Jackson Pollocks Number 14: grey

The very senior management thinker Charles Handy resorts to abstract art in an attempt to convey the complexity of the world today. Number 14: Grey by Jackson Pollock (pictured above) in his case. No obvious dials or levers, no one center of control.

As an interaction designer it is my job to find those places in the chaos that when hooked up into a path, help people move through it effectively, getting something or other done. No definite solutions, but considered trade-offs.

In my print work I’m jamming along to the myriad of patterns and rhythms of the whole thing itself.

Shippable units

Exploring what the daily format might be.
Picture of pen on paper scribbles

So what’s with the daily blogging all of a sudden?

I took on the #yourturnchallenge, so thanks to @sethgodin and @winniekao for providing the initial prompt. I’d been journaling, free writing 750 words on and off. The #yourturnchallenge was a good trigger to practice finding the shippable units in those exercises.

It was interesting to see I settled on a process quickly:

  1. Mindmap around a general topic or theme. Use pen and paper.
  2. There’d quickly be a particular area where the key words would extend into scribbled sentences.
  3. Go with the flow, so focus on that part, extend and add more detail, creating a first very rough draft
  4. Move over to text editor on the computer. Re-entering the same sentences means editing them on the fly as well
  5. Reorder sentences for flow and structure.
  6. Decide on wether to use a supporting image. If yes, find the image and prepare it for upload.
  7. Settle on a title for the post. Don’t fret about that too much.
  8. Another round of edits happens when entering the post into the website.
  9. Hit “Publish”. Congratulations!

Starting with pen on paper gives room to explore, doodle your thoughts. A text editor is too linear for that. I use digital mind mapping tools as well, but the analogue version is quicker and dirtier, which are both good things at the very beginning. Rewriting at least twice allows for tighter wording and a more coherent structure.

nodal jazz

Poster design for my exhibition.

node |nəʊd| noun technical

  1. a point in a network or diagram at which lines or pathways intersect or branch. the intersections of two or more such arteries would clearly become major nodes of traffic and urban activity.
  2. a piece of equipment, such as a computer or peripheral, attached to a network. the company’s internal worldwide area network now has some 22,000 nodes. every node on the Internet.
  3. Mathematics a point at which a curve intersects itself.
  4. Astronomy either of the two points at which a planet’s orbit intersects the plane of the ecliptic or the celestial equator.
  5. Botany the part of a plant stem from which one or more leaves emerge, often forming a slight swelling. the stem is cut midway between nodes.
  6. Anatomy a lymph node or other structure consisting of a small mass of differentiated tissue. infection in these nodes may lead to backache.
  7. Physics & Mathematics a point at which the amplitude of vibration in a standing wave system is zero.
  8. a point at which a harmonic function has the value zero, especially a point of zero electron density in an orbital.
  9. a point of zero current or voltage.

nodal adjective

ORIGIN late Middle English (denoting a knotty swelling or a protuberance): from Latin nodus ‘knot’.

jazz |dʒaz| noun

a type of music of black American origin which emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, characterized by improvisation, syncopation, and usually a regular or forceful rhythm. Brass and woodwind instruments and piano are particularly associated with jazz, although guitar and occasionally violin are also used; styles include Dixieland, swing, bebop, and free jazz.

How to make design in open source happen

Two rough draft lists.

Designers that want to get involved in open source projects:

  • Don’t burst through the door and start yelling that you’re all doing it wrong. That might be true, but things were not made to suck on purpose.
  • Instead, ease in. Find out where the daily conversation happens. Join and start asking questions. “Why is this working like this?”
  • Usability tests are an ideal way to show which things need improvement.
  • Write a review of the software. Highlight what you think works well and what could be improved.
  • Have a user centred process. Stick to it. Show the work, take people along on the journey towards a solution.
  • Small teams get things done. Take in all the feedback, pick out the useful bits but stay true to your vision.
  • Have a vision.
  • Make sure you care. But not too much.

Open source projects that want to involve designers:

  • Not only code is gold.
  • Design is not the surface layer over a bunch of code. Allow people to dig in, have some patience with what may seem like silly questions.
  • Do you know who the software is for? And what those people want to achieve with it? The answers to these two questions are required foundations or effective design can not happen.
  • Ask for reviews from your users (or: which support questions keep popping up in your bug tracker?)
  • If every feature is important then nothing is important. Design is about making trade-offs, so prioritise. Making this thing easier to do will make those other things less obvious.
  • Interaction designers create the different paths through the software. Information architects organise and structure the necessary words, sentences and other content objects. User interface designers make things look consistent and create the right visual hierarchies. Usability specialists will show you what your users experience. What kind of design expertise would your project benefit from most?
  • Be prepared to write the code that implements somebody else’s ideas.

Yup, plotting my FOSDEM talk in the open :)

Influences and inspirations

Artists whose work resonates with me:


  • Dave McKean – Formative. Discovered his work while in art school. Early days of Photoshop: Mixed media, collage and great drawing combined. Signal to Noise, Mr. Punch, Pictures that Tick,…
  • Bill Sienkiewicz – One of the very best. Very expressive drawing, and painterly use of color, from sweet and subtle to super aggressive.
  • Ralph Steadman – Again, very expressive ink. The public library in Rotterdam had his I, Leonardo, which I kept lending.

Painting, etc.

  • Marcel Duchamp – Nude descending a staircase, for blending the multi-facetted perspectives of cubism with the dynamic sense of movement of futurism. And The Large Glass, a completely unique and complex piece.
  • Constant – New Babylon. “His utopian New Babylon project proposes an ideal worldwide city of the future in which rapid change is a key assumption and life is to be lived ‘vertically’. Designed to be flexible, its buildings will form a network of structures supported on pillars and extending all over Europe.”
  • Also: Peter Doig, Pierre Bonnard


  • Metal – Rush and Opeth for intricate epics, Mastodon, Slayer and Morbid Angel for unbridled energy
  • Electronic – Hugely impressed by Burial. Ken Ishii (Extra),
  • Jazz – Cannonball Adderley for eloquence and groove. Charles Mingus.
  • Hiphop – Dr. Octagon, Cannibal Ox, DJ Spinna…


  • William Burroughs – Naked Lunch, his work with Brion Gysin, textual collage, cut-up, sampling
  • Alan Watts – “The whole secret of life and of creative energy consists in flowing with gravity.”

No conclusions, yet.

Rolling the ink

A monotype drawing.


Van harte aanbevolen.

M'n therapeutische schoenen. Ik beoefen geen sport, maar maak regelmatig een fikse wandeling. Ik schat dat er al wel 1000 kilometer op zit. De omgeving is mooi hier. We wonen aan de rand van het dorp, één keer de grote weg oversteken en je bent op de hei en in het bos.

Ooit begonnen omdat de fysiotherapeut het me aanraadde. Sindsdien al menig rondje door de omgeving gemaakt. Stevig doorstappen. Eerst allerlei verschillende routes, kris-kras linksom en rechtsom, de omgeving in meer detail leren kennen. Inmiddels al een tijdje een vast rondje van ongeveer 5 kwartier, ruim 7 kilometer.

In het begin nog de route, afstand, tijd, snelheid en wat al niet meer bijgehouden met een app, maar ach. Voordeel van het vaste rondje is dat waar je heen gaat geen onbekende meer is en dat het toch wel die kleine 5 kwartier zal duren. Gewoon lopen en kijken dus.

Mooie van regelmatig gaan is de seizoenen aan het werk te zien. Van fris en fruitig jong groen naar stoffig warm en droog via zompig grauw naar soms wonderlijk wit berijpt. En weer opnieuw.

Met podcasts. Geen muziek maar gesproken woord. Podcasts, UX presentaties en wat al niet meer voor interessants er op YouTube te vinden is. Vidtomp3.com is een handige tool. Wat een genot om samen met Alan Watts door de omgeving te struinen en de boel te relativeren.

Want inderdaad, wandelen is niet alleen lichamelijk onderhoud. Minstens zo belangrijk is het geestelijk aspect. Het maakt je hoofd vrij. Je geeft je onderbewuste de tijd en ruimte om problemen op te lossen, ideeën uit te werken, puzzelstukjes in elkaar te passen.

Zoals dat meestal werkt: niet altijd evenveel zin om te gaan, altijd blij dat je geweest bent. Van harte aanbevolen.

Sorting the big ones

Not having an undo function available can be very refresing.
Large black and white prints on the table and the floor.

A relatively short session at the studio this evening. Sorting the big ones. Reviewing the large format pieces in preparation for the exhibition. Trying to get an idea of what’s all there takes up quite a bit of space.

Good thing I did tear up some pieces and threw them away. That always helps. Not having an undo function available can be very refreshing at times. That’s also why I draw with pen, not pencil, it forces direct decisiveness.

So first pass is going through the whole stack and removing the ones that don’t belong or just aren’t good enough. Throw some away, keep some in a separate stack “needs work”. Maybe something can be added to make them interesting still.

Next step is grouping alike pieces. Etchings with etchings, figurative ones over there, monoprinted packaging ones over there. Four or five groupings emerged. Interesting.

Then, sort the pieces within each stack, most interesting ones on top. Another couple prints get removed from the selection. Nice.

Finally, fold a sheet over each stack to keep the groupings intact. Stack everything again and back into the drawer they go.

Yep, shuffling papers around, basically.

I'll probably hang only a small number of these, but selecting, grouping and ordering them allows me to see the overall arc of how the work has evolved over time. Having that big picture view will help make the eventual selections.

Atelier Berchem 20150119

Monoprint over pen drawing

Calligraphic 2013001

Scribble towards the light.

Initial 1

A small monoprint

FOSDEM 2015 will have an open source design track

Lets make better things.

On January 31 and February 1 the 15th edition of the FOSDEM event will be held in Brussels, Belgium. FOSDEM (Free and Open Source Software Developers’ European Meeting) is the largest gathering of open source community members in Europe. More than 5000 people will come from all parts of the world to meet, share ideas and collaborate.

As the name says, the event is highly developer centric, so the main focus has always been on the technology and the code. But open source software has graphical user interfaces too! Buttons to click, sliders to drag, forms to fill out, boxes to check, screens to swipe and what have you.

Useful software attracts users. To keep them around and attract more users, the useful has to be made usable. Which means uncovering and prioritising user goals and needs and doing the work to find out how to best serve those. That’s where design comes in.

This year FOSDEM will have it’s first ever “devroom” dedicated to the topic of open source design. User experience architects, interaction designers, information architects, usability specialists and designer/coder unicorns will share experiences and discuss the good and bad of design in open source environments.

Open source software is a driving force behind all things online. As more aspects of business, culture, society, humanity as a whole move into the digital domain it becomes just as more important to ensure that people don’t get left behind because of the sheer complexity of it all. There’s a lot that the craft of design can contribute to ensure this.

I’ll deliver a short talk about how we started, grew and maintain a user experience design team within the Drupal project. Otherwise, the schedule is looking great. I’m looking forward to meet my open source designer colleagues.

See you there?

Experiments to nowhere in particular

Attachment to outcome is the biggest obstacle to creativity.
monotyping examples

“Attachment to outcome is the biggest obstacle to creativity. As soon as you become attached to a specific outcome, you feel compelled to control and manipulate what you’re doing. And in the process you shut yourself off to other possibilities.”

Gordon MacKenzie

As a counterpoint to the relatively slow process of etching, there’s another technique that encourages rapid and interactive printmaking. Mono typing. Put simply, any flat surface you can apply ink to that will fit under the press can be used to create a monoprint. Here's a quick video explaining the basic process.

As the name implies, you’ll get only one print this way. The materials wear out quickly and you’ll have remove the materials from the press to ink them again so you’ll likely not recreate the exact same composition the next time.

You can use packaging materials, textiles, leaves, or even bubble wrap for example. Monotyping is a great way to explore and experiment with different ways of creating image. It’s for playing around. Not attached to a specific outcome, but for discovering something new and unexpected.

After creating a series of monotype experiments, you can review them as a whole. What’s interesting and new? Which direction to explore further? Based on this selection you can continue with more monotypes or try to capture the essence of it in an etching. I’ve evolved my etching techniques and surprised myself this way a few times already. Which feels great.

Do you have a sand box to play around in? Where you are free to explore and discover and surprise yourself? Experiments don’t really fail, they merely give unexpected results, but that’s exactly what you’re aiming for. Keep that perspective and you’ve given yourself permission to discover something new.


Work the process, one step at a time

Etching is a slow and involved process. Last Thursday evening I made 17 prints from 3 plates.

  1. Polish the zinc plate
  2. File the bezel and round the corners
  3. Seal the front with ground, the back with packing tape
  4. Draw, scratch the image in the ground
  5. Etch the plate in the acid bath
  6. Remove the ground from the plate
  7. Tear printing paper to size (no cutting!)
  8. Soak the paper in water
  9. Ink the plate
  10. Wipe the ink away (leaving ink only in the etched grooves)
  11. Wash your hands!
  12. Take printing paper out of the water
  13. Remove excess water by putting the paper between dry newsprint sheets
  14. Set the right pressure for the printing press
  15. Put a newsprint paper sheet on the press’ table
  16. Lay the inked plate on the press table (inked side up!)
  17. Cover with the damp printing paper, another newsprint sheet and the felt cloth
  18. Turn the wheel, make the print
  19. Pull back felt and newsprint sheet
  20. The big reveal: take the print from the plate. Did it turn out well?
  21. Put it in the drying rack or discard

Go to step 9 and repeat.

Like it or not, each step is necessary and must be performed deliberately and in the right order to get results. It’s a ritual. The ritual enables concentration and getting into the flow.

When you feel you’re losing control over your work, or just don’t feel like it, even if there’s a deadline looming…

Go slower. List all the steps. Remove the like or dislike. Make it a ritual and concentration and flow can happen.

Each step is necessary and must be performed deliberately and in the right order to get results.

Go slower, you’ll finish sooner.

The one constant

Finally, a solo exhibition of my print work in March this year.

The one constant in my life is drawing. So much easier for me to sketch, diagram, draw what I mean then using words.

I apply this drawing skill to bring clarity and understanding to complex problems. I’m a digital architect, interaction designer, applying the craft of design to find answers to given problems. Visualising things brings clarity to complex issues and creates a shared understanding.

About five years ago, I started producing my own personal images using a very messy and analogue technique. Print making. Etchings and monoprints, specifically.

My drawing used to be figurative, cartoony even. It’s been surprising and exciting to find that I’m producing abstract works.

Print making is a very analogue and slow way of producing images. It allows for experimentation, play, discovery. And the biggest personal victory in this is being able to take the results seriously. There is no external, pre-defined problem that I’m asked to solve. These works are personal explorations of my inner domains. If applied design is about finding answers, then art is about posing interesting questions.

I’ve doing this for the last five years, without deliberately seeking much exposure. Snapshots are posted to Tumblr. A small selection is on my site. A couple of weeks ago, I finally set a specific date on showing my work. March 1st I’ll be showing a selection of my prints in a solo exhibition at the Grafisch Atelier Hilversum.

Still many interesting questions to ask and answer in selecting the work and presenting the work. I’m curious to find out what will be shown.

Boerderijdieren 1


Boerderijdieren 2