Menu Search
Jump to the content X X
Smashing Conf New York

We use ad-blockers as well, you know. We gotta keep those servers running though. Did you know that we publish useful books and run friendly conferences — crafted for pros like yourself? E.g. upcoming SmashingConf New York, dedicated to smart front-end techniques and design patterns.

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
SmashingConf New York

Hold on, Tiger! Thank you for reading the article. Did you know that we also publish printed books and run friendly conferences – crafted for pros like you? Like SmashingConf New York, on June 14–15, with smart design patterns and front-end techniques.

↑ Back to top Tweet itShare on Facebook

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

  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

    Vinod Chandran

    August 11, 2008 6:25 am

    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.

  21. 21

    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. ;)

  27. 27

    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.

  28. 28

    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.

  31. 31

    This article has a lot of potential to be something better than this. Something I would consider for another open source based article is to show exactly how an open source program (like the Gimp) can really benefit a graphics designer.

    Now I know the Gimp is powerful, but realistically its a tool rather than a solution for graphic designers. I use it for specific purposes that over time I’ve discovered by just having fun with it.

    You’re not going to sell someone on the idea of moving outside of their comfort zone until you begin to give them a reason to. Open source is fantastic, and deserves to be represented as such.

  32. 32

    This article is NOT up to SM standards. There is better content in the comments on this article. The character limit for your competition was obviously too low.

    As for open source: Unfortunately the design world is still a bit of an elite world. I highly doubt you’d get hired as a designer if you list GIMP and Inkscape instead of Adobe CS2 or CS3. If you are a Freelancer, it might be worth it. (Although I would only use it to make money to buy CS3…) I have no idea if GIMP can even open .PSD files, or that Inkscape can open .AI files. I’m already running into trouble with designers sending me their work as Freehand files, which I cannot open.

    @D: Silverlight is no competition for Flash (yet). Penetration of the plug-in is low. The install percentage of Flash is around 98% (As claimed by Adobe).

  33. 33

    opensource 4 openminded
    some comments to this article are maybe typical from readers, who just come to read some news, steal some inspirations and download some sourcefiles for their datanirvana…

    it’s a shame to read such comments here on sm, like: “poor workman, who blames his tools…” sorry. can’t agree!

    i agree, that this article has not the quantity and quality of the known smashing magazine articles, but who cares. it is just one of hundred…

    But the tenor of this article is the ideology of the opensource community and we should all be pleased, that there are still “some/a lot” people outthere, who share their knowledge. our daily workflow, wouldn’t be such comfortable for us without them. we all should keep in mind, that we “all” are part of a progress, now.

    how would you feel, if there wouldn’t be free fonts, freeware, free scripts and sourcefiles on the net anymore…
    how would you do interaction things without opensource (e.g. processing, nodebox, pure data, draw bot, …)?!

    So, you have the choice to buy a commercial tool or you are lucky to find an opensource tool, with nearly the same functions for free.
    But that’s the fact, you have the option!

    Please, do not misunderstand me. In case of desktop publishing are the adobe tools any penny worth. (owner of the master collection) But not erverybody is able to pay round about 3.500€ for software.

  34. 34

    Lame!, Borring!, where are those ALTERNATIVE Open Source Software?, put something really useful, not just ab “article-comment”

    ¿SM, what is this?

  35. 35

    @ Derek Mounce – I don’t claim to be a grammaticist, I’m just trying to make a point about proofreading and quality of writing playing a huge role in the reception and interpretation of any written publication.

    Also, if we are going to be picky about such things, check out the definition of “badly” or write a constructive comment that refutes my point.

  36. 36

    Joseph Maguire

    August 11, 2008 10:27 am

    realistically the killers of the design community are not and I repeat are not our tools ie our software costs, our computer costs, and our tools to cut things and take photos of things. Our costs are rising that is for sure. But do you know what is lowering? Our demand.

    Demand look at it like this some small company wants a logo in any city in america 20 years ago, they’d have to ask all of their friends for a designer… then if guy’s/gals work didn’t meet their expectations they’d look up books on designers, and or contact a talent scout or agency. Well Guess what people like that do today. They post up an ad on craigslist or something of the sort or try to get someone on a similar site to do it for 1/10th the rate someone should be doing the work for. And all the while we’re dealing with inflation. There is plenty of money for design here and elsewhere, it just isn’t being spent on it. Last week the head of aquent suggested that globalization is going to change design. Well I agree it’s going to lower is value. And it has. So unless the design community does something about that, than who cares how much adobe software costs I just wish it cost the same equivalent here as it does elsewhere.

  37. 37

    design is MORE than just knowing how to use a piece of software.

    design is MORE than just USING a piece of software

    design is MORE than just a piece of software.

    a DESIGNER knows this.

    maybe that’s why we have a ‘web wanderer’ writing an article for SM. I can’t believe this is one of the finalists? Is this is really one of the best ‘articles’ sent?

    @joseph (36) is correct. free software does NOTHING for DESIGNERS, if anything it hurts us. With free software anyone can call itself “designer’ and start churning out posters, and copy/paste websites and Color 101 best of class flyers, etc.

  38. 38

    so there were 200 entries and this was really one of the 10 best? uh oh…

  39. 39

    Printed design is tied up in the huge costs of printing. One failed run can ruin a small design company. I was warned whilst studying design that most companies fail in the UK after 5 years.

    Are you going to risk your business on software in the case of GIMP which seem to be developed from the point of what widget is fun for the developer to make rather than making well designed usable software. To be honest it goes two ways the OS community need to start talking to designers much more than designers need to talk to them, as it is not just the design software that needs a designers eye.

    Adobe does need competition, Quark is an active example of what happens to a company when it has little competition. However on the web and the home Adobe has just that. I use Adobe software, I use OS software, I use shareware and other companies apps. Everyone I know has a different setup to creating HTML and CSS. They need more professional competition, but I can’t see it coming from OS.

  40. 40

    Of all of this I would still have greatly preferred a list of comparable open source projects that could be used in lieu of a commercial application, specifically those sold by Adobe. In the case of Dreamweaver there are a number of free applications, though I prefer commercial alternatives such as a combination of MAMP Pro and Coda.

    One I would be most interested in finding an alternative for is Adobe’s Flash. Much of the application I do not use. I need only the ability to create basic symbols and use my scripts. Components and so forth are useless to me, as is the built-in documentation and HTML exporting abilities. Even the projector formats are of no use. No, a Flash alternative would be most welcome.

    @3lab: The quote mentioned about workmen and tools is actually a very famous quote and an extremely valid point. No matter what software a web designer uses if they have no skill the end result will still be poor. A skilled designer can make a good design in Paint and build it with Notepad, Photoshop simply makes the process easier.

    Also, only a few have actually damned open source. Those few are misguided, in my opinion. The net was founded on open source and it’s principles and it is from this that all the best things on the web spring forth into the world. If you re-read the comments you will see many are simply commenting on the quality of the writing, not on the content or root-message.

    @Jonathan: Your grammar was fine. People forget that the vast majority of grammar isn’t rules so much as vague guidelines. Most important is the improper use of words and tense, the rest is mostly subjective.


↑ Back to top