Design and Independence


Nic Pretorius

Designers are independent. In work, mindset and lifestyle. Yet in this Web age aren’t we losing independence? For most designers the first tool to start designing from is the Adobe suite, a quite impressive set of tools that help us to make our work easier. But don’t we rely too much on Adobe? For years people have been watching how Microsoft dominated the market. We lament that its applications are bloated and criticize its efforts to wipe away competitors. But instead of taking a stand, we continue to buy its products and we continue to moan.

We always have options. And in the design process we have them too. At the moment we don’t really know to what level open source applications can compete with Adobe. But with support, with independent minds and strong community involvement, the open source movement can grow. Competition is a part of the progress and so is the choice. We need to maintain a competitive arena in design. And we need good open source alternatives for the tools we use. Independent start-ups are the lifeblood of the industry and the breath of fresh air we all need.

But apart from Microsoft, Adobe and the latest computer system to run these applications, you may have problems setting up a professional open source environment which would perfectly meet your needs. We need better open source applications for designers. And we need to work together to produce them and then use them. Just think for a second: how many young designers can afford Adobe anyway? Do we not need a platform that supports us while we support it? Doesn’t open source represent the true spirit of design?

About the author

Nic Pretorius is a web wanderer.

Editor’s note

This post is one of the finalists of our guest author contest1. Over three weeks selected top-10-lists and discussion articles will be published. To rate the articles we’ll analyze their popularity, users activity, quality of backlinks, traffic and further data.


  1. 1

↑ Back to top Tweet itShare on Facebook

Some contributors with just a single posting. To learn more look at our ebook.

  1. 1

    Please, explained better Rakesh, and which is the style of MS?

  2. 52

    Right Lilia, but one of the characteristics of the designer is not creativity, open-mindedness? then we should know to find ‘independently’, by itself, the instruments for his work? Gimp, bonomo, mutapic, etc., do not create different results in the hands of several supposed creators?

  3. 103

    regarding msg 41: the great designers, designers professionals, did not pontificate on ‘research’, ‘testing’? and now the possible errors and delays programmes less famed damage nuisance? Boh.

  4. 154

    I tried going down the open source route, I have installed Linux.

    Then went up and down the internet searching forums and open source websites for tools to replace my Mac at work or my PC at home, NO JOY!!!

    Never mind how awfull the fonts render on Linux, I think it has agreat potential, but it’s not reday yet.

  5. 205

    Stick a newbie in front of Photoshop and watch their eyes light up as they use it for an hour. Stick a newbie in front of Gimp and watch them break down in tears after 10 minutes of swearing at the monitor. No contest whatsoever, I wouldn’t even call Gimp an option.

  6. 256

    Honeslty.. this is confusing article

  7. 307

    @Tephlon: True, my point was that even these “big bullies” like Microsoft are not so “anti-opensource”. Silverlights open-source version, Moonlight, developed by Mono and Microsoft has it’s fingers in it, supporting it and they also support SUSE.

    Silverlight is no competition to Flash yet, because it’s still in beta. Silverlight 1 is basicly dead and I believe it’s much better to use Silverlight 2, but as I said it’s still in beta. When you compare the age of Flash and Silverlight, well it’s no wonder Silverlight hasn’t catched up yet.

    It has much better support for multimedia thou’ and all-and-all it’s faster (check bubblemark). Microsofts smart advertising choices will make Silverlight popular

  8. 358

    Actually Inkscape is a pretty good replacement for Corel Draw, I always hated that program, I’ve only used it because of the easy-to-work-with nodes. The nodes are the first thing why I don’t use Adobe Illustrator, they’re so small I need to be an inch from the monitor to click on them, or you’ll mess up and move the entire object instead of one control point. I don’t wanna negate, Illustrator IS the markets BEST vector editing software, but for me – to hard to work in. Corel is much easier but as I mentioned it, I hold a personal grudge against it (Years of working with it in design school).

    Try Inkscape, it’s interesting and worth trying, it has one click line curving, better gradient tool that Illustrator and BIG nodes and control handles!. If people continue active development (v 0.46 now) the software will be mega successful. I know I will use it.

    But I will never renounce Photoshop :) I just know my way in it, since I started with version 5 7 years ago.

  9. 409

    Great article, it makes a nice change from the usual SM articles :)

  10. 460

    I’m not used to read this kind of articles here. It could have been alright, if I read it somewhere else.
    It just does not fit to SM.

  11. 511

    Totally agree with this opinion.
    Independence not dead.

  12. 562

    ref61: can U explain your concept in more detail?

  13. 613

    Could you explain more?

  14. 664

    This would be good if it listed some open source alternatives. My guess is that there aren’t any open source design software good enough to use to a professional level.

  15. 715

    I agree with the thought of the article that Adobe isn’t affordable while all the open-source alternatives suck, if you wanna make something real. That’s why torrents were invented, e.g.

    Still, in most countries you’re in fact completely untraceable if you’re using an illegal copy. You may use it to learn the art and then start your own business and get e.g. EU funds to pay for the original, or.. buy some old PC and old, used & cheap PS (like 5.0) as your company workstation and actually design with your power-notebook with illegal CS3 on board at home, as many do. Life is life.

    But that whole independence point is kinda naive. I mean.. We all have free will, that makes us human, no matter whether you’re a designer or not. I could point you lots of web-designers working in make-it-quick-make-a-lot companies (amount before quality), that don’t put a single thought to their projects, using some non-standard-compliant templates, praying to the clock on the office wall for the another shitty day at work to end. Slaves-like, just like other assembly-line-workers. They don’t even select what projects they’re about to do. It’s orders.

    Being a designer is just another way to express your freedom, but you gotta feel it first. it doesn’t work the other way. Others might be musicians, sportsman, other professionals and put the same speech you gave to what they do.

  16. 766

    @Tephlon The Gimp does open PSD files, but unfortunately it doesn’t render Photoshop’s layer effects and type layers, so if another designer sends me a website design I will still have to use PS to open it.


    While I believe that in screen-based design open source software could be a great alternative, in the “offline” world it just doesn’t work that way.

    Or vice versa: There’s a marvellous cross platform open source alternative to InDesign and Quark, called Scribus, that works really well in a print workflow. But you cannot save your Scribus documents as accessible PDFs, which renders your documents unusable for accessible websites.

    The big advantage with OSS is that you can talk to the developers at any time and suggest the features you’re missing. Chances are they will implement them in one of the next releases. That rarely works with MS or Adobe software roadmaps.

  17. 817

    The big advantage with OSS is that you can talk to the developers at any time and suggest the features you’re missing.

    I forgot to say, “or add the missing features yourself, if you can”. ;)

  18. 868

    This post was terrible. I come to smashing for thoughtful and helpful posts not some to read som “what if” rant with no solid suggestions of alternatives. So Adobe software is expensive… but can anybody on this page say they haven’t used the software to at least earn their money back x 10.

  19. 919

    Good idea, bad execution. It’s true, this article lacks quantity, and it’s a shame really. Could’ve been so much better.

    And please, stop flaming “open source sucks”.

  20. 970

    I read the article again, but I do not understand yet what the problem until we analyse the reasons for which was written and not go to analyse the players involved. you need open source high level to have a free tool similar to photoshop or whatever? well, when developers and programmers are put under the directives of photographers, designers, sound designers, musicians, etc., will go ahead with the debate.

  21. 1021

    ERRATA CORRIGE: … until we don’t analyse the reasons…

  22. 1072

    I Think with this article can be “THE 10 OPEN-SOURCE DESIGN TOOLS ALTERNATIVE TO ADOBE APPS”, because how was writed, its like “A ARTICLE TO ADOBE GIVE ME A FREE ADOBE PACK LICENSE TO WRITE A COOL REVIEW”, not really a standard SM article… :(

  23. 1123

    I agree with the writer that there should be better alternatives to Adobe, but Joseph has a great point too.
    Most design students should just buy Paintshop Pro (7, 8, or 9, before it changed in v.10)
    but most design students just get Photoshop through other

    Here are free Photoshop alternatives:

    @Doug S
    Here’s a list of them at Osalt.

  24. 1174

    Ok…so here’s my opinion about this article.

    This was considered one of the best articles because it accomplishes what smashing mag wanted, it’s generated discussion. It’s a valid argument, and as a 16 year old student, whose 30 trial has just run out on the last computer in my household, I can understand first hand the argument for students who can’t afford the software. There are academic discounts, I plan to use them, and while $600USD is still a lot for a student working part time, it’s better than $2000USD.

    I’ve gone the open source route, and actually started with GIMP. Once I started seeing others use Photoshop, and looked into all the resources available when learning Photoshop, I was intrigued. Once I used Photoshop, I could appreciate why this was *THE* professional app when it comes to graphic designers, web designers, video professionals, basically EVERYONE!

    I think the author of this article is also using sneaking and under handed tactics to generate the discussion he now has. He purposely is linking M$ with Adobe, to clearly different companies. Everyone knows that the design community favors Macs, and he’s just asking for trouble by joining a Machead’s favourite app company with their least favourite. That’s just dirty play.

    If you ask me, Timespeak said it best:

    “It¹s a poor workman who blames his tools.”

    Nuff said.

  25. 1225

    I rated it bad

  26. 1276

    I wonder why anyone didn’t at least mention Paint .NET….

    I also would like to recommend Inkscape…its pretty cool for a open source vector graphics program

  27. 1327

    I’m too late for this… anyway

    Just because most web designers know how to code doesn’t mean ALL designers can code, and code Adobe-like applications at that! FYI Adobe DOES condone the spirit of ‘sharing’ within the design community — there are communities which thrive well through artists sharing free color palettes, brushes, vectors, and other plugins/presets that you can use with Adobe products.

    If Adobe wanted big-bad-brainwashing-level-dominance, they wouldn’t have allowed this sharing or user contribution. They would have just restricted (ie) brush making to themselves and sold each brush set for $20 each. — but then again if they were like that, their following would disappear quickly.


↑ Back to top