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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 Link

Nic Pretorius is a web wanderer.

Editor’s note Link

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.

Footnotes Link

  1. 1

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  1. 1

    What the hell is this?

  2. 2

    Mmm… Is that it?

  3. 3

    Confused by this article. This article does not meet the quality I have come to expect from SM.

  4. 4


    August 11, 2008 6:17 am

    im a little bit confused .. :S

  5. 5

    Interesting point of view, but I wonder how realistic it is. Apps like Photoshop and illustrator are rock solid at what they do. New apps usually lack features that your daily workflow needs and take time to learn. Open source is great, WordPress is the ultimate example of that, but how realistic are the chances of open source beating Adobe at image editing or vector editing? I’m skeptical to be honest.

  6. 6

    The problem with this post is that it doesn’t tell us why we should use open source. OK, I know why. I wrote my entire dissertation on it, but this just says, “Use it because you should.”

    Bonus points for not actually telling us the open source alternatives to Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Office. I know the ones for office (though I use iWorks) but I don’t know any good ones for Adobe.

  7. 7

    Some people don’t use Adobe for whatever reason, but most people that do use Adobe don’t complain about it. It would have to take some exceptional new software for me to throw away all my adobe experience for something different.

  8. 8

    Vitaly Friedman & Sven Lennartz

    August 11, 2008 6:23 am

    @all: yes, this is it. Please read about our guest author contest here:

  9. 9

    In principle, open source is the way to go. In practice however, designers are left with few options but to toe the line. Open source applications are still some way away (years?) before they become viable alternatives. Until the open source community comes up with applications that can match or better proprietary ones, it would only be wishful thinking to ask professionals to forgo tools that work in favor of tools that merely represent an ethic.

  10. 10

    I am not get you, exactly …..

  11. 11

    This is a very interesting perspective.

    Open source applications bring with them a level of evolution, where the application flourishes as new people and ideas are brought into the mix and share what they have created. Apps like WordPress, Processing etc. would not be where they are today if it wasn’t for independent creators adding innovation to the versatile foundation provided.

    An open-source Photoshop or Illustrator would be astounding as new ideas are applied by the global design and tech circuit. In theory, it would make both applications without limits.

  12. 12

    Aren’t we forgetting a big difference between MS and adobe.

    Microsoft achieved market dominance through illegal corporate practices, Adobe achieved market dominance through making good products…

  13. 13

    From a site defined by posts so long that you can barely process them all, this definitely feels very out of place.

  14. 14

    Radomir Dopieralski

    August 11, 2008 6:47 am

    Have you ever really tried to use any of those open source applications? I’m using almost solely Gimp, Inkscape and Vim in my work, and they became very convenient after some time to familiarize myself with them. Sure, they are not all-singing, all-dancing automated web page manufacturing programs, with thousands of ready effects, templates and such, but my work has to be original anyways, and I like working close to the fabric. Obviously, for people who like more automation and hand-holding it’s still a long time until they are useful (I’d estimate about eterity minus one day), you know, you can get your tools for free nowadays (people who made them can still use them, even when they give them away), but nobody will just give you rough products for free (after they are used in enough places, they become worthless).

    So yes, Open Source is a great source of useful tools and gadgets that you can use to make your work easier. I doubt it will ever be a source of ready-made, half-chewed, automated solutions that Adobe and Corel sell.

  15. 15

    Yes, @ 12. Adobe products are the best!

    And products like gimp are good for beginners but there will be the point where you will get the big wall and you have to get a better software for your work.

  16. 16

    Open source sucks, the money spend on Adobe is the best u will ever spend. As designer u almost make instant profit by just buying it because u know it will improve your workflow.

    Gimp vs photoshop… Its like choosing to drink your own piss (gimp) or nice cold relaxing beer (photoshop)…

  17. 17

    “how many young designers can afford Adobe anyway?” Come on… Your first decent project will cover all your software expenses… You’ve got to use the tools you prefer, not the cheapest one. We are talking about 2 000 EUR/USD softwares at most, not 20 000, and 2 000 is *nothing* for a professional designer.

  18. 18

    @Thibaut: Totally agree!!!

  19. 19

    “It¹s a poor workman who blames his tools.”

  20. 20

    I’m a big fan of Open Source, my entire business is based around Joomla … but you will pry my Photoshop and Illustrator from my cold, dead hands. I’m fine with OpenOffice and of course I only open Internet Explorer to check pages for clients, but there is no substitute for Photoshop and Illustrator for a professional.

    When there is one, I’m there.

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    I too feel that Adobe is dominating the market.But we have to keep in mind how they came to this far.Corel,GIMP and say a dozens who came and gone.None lacked the interface usability of Adobe.i can say that.I think only corel photo paint survived to some extend.But cant be called a competitor at all.But whatever i think ADOBE is the best.They must lead the industry into creating a benchmark in R&D

  22. 22

    “Come to think of it, how many young designers can afford Adobe anyway?”
    Good point, but I’d like to point out that Microsoft has provided us, students, with a set of web development and designer tools for free (Microsoft DreamSpark), maybe it’s time to move from Adobe & Flash and try out Microsoft & Silverlight?

    Althou’ GIMP is a good tool, as profesionals we need more, something like Photoshop/Illustrator…

  23. 23

    This was an absolutely painful article to read. I love the idea of guest posts, but maybe Smashing Magazine should do a little proofreading and editing on the posts before publishing. The point of the article is completely destroyed and eclipsed by the amazing amount of grammatical errors and badly formatted sentences it contains.

  24. 24

    Moderately written article with an excellent though behind it. There’s something to think about in the seemingly unsaid view of “all artists use Adobe” just like “you’re only a real artist if you use a Mac.” Indeed, both are generally excellent tools (I use both) but isn’t there something equally as attractive in using another “outsider” tool and knowing it so well that you can use it to all purposes? That step back and re-learn process is probably more than most people in the industry can afford (literally) to do, but is the thought itself that horrifying?

  25. 25

    @16 (V1), Succinct and to the point :)

  26. 26

    Jonathan, don’t you mean “…grammatical errors and *poorly* formatted sentences it contains?” If we’re to be picky about such things. ;)

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    It would be a win-win situation if there did exist some OS that could compete with Adobe. For some time now I’ve had the suspicion that with no real competitor they are resting on their laurels a bit.

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    I think I see where you are coming from, but your point about us needing competitors for Adobe I think I disagree with. Because I think Adobe is a company which prides itself on pushing technologies and capabilities, and although yeah some competition is always good, I think that IF* we did take away all of Adobe’s competitors it would still strive to bring us something new and exciting.

    There is a reason that Adobe is top, and a reason that Microsoft is top, that’s because they are innovators, and I think that that innovation is in them, regardless of how their competitors are moving forward.

  29. 29

    Vitaly Friedman & Sven Lennartz

    August 11, 2008 8:32 am

    @all: the article was edited. The next articles will be edited as well.

  30. 30

    This looks like a keyword paragraph. However, software that is carefully crafted, with usability in mind rather than “features” will always be better. Some softwares like CinePaint, Gimp might be bloated with features but they don’t feature a fast workflow. Even this small software named Artweaver has usability in mind, although it’s lacking some features. Let’s not mention the integration between Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, AfterEffects, etc I’d like to see if Gimp can embed Smart Clips from Inkscape, which is IMHO the better crafted OS software.


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