automattic v. designers, part 378194

Now they want professional icon designers to produce an icon set within two weeks. That’s not just designing the icons; that’s designing the icons, checking they look good in two sizes, ‘possibly’ throwing colour versions into the mix, submitting them to Automattic, making the changes Matt demands, re-submitting them to Automattic, making further tweaks, and so on until the deadline’s passed. The finished work will of course be GPL, meaning everyone and his dog can rip and redistribute them as they see fit without mentioning the designer’s name. And all the fanboys will hate them and complain about bloat and extra loading time.

It will be nice to have another set of GPL icons to use in blog design, but I am slightly worried that some idiot will offer to do it for nothing and will get the nod over those who are charging appropriately. Fast, cheap, good. You can only have two.

18 Comments »

  1. But that means they’ll get a mention on Matt’s blog. Surely that means something.

  2. Richard said

    Matt has a blog?
    🙂

  3. I doubt he has time to keep his own blog, what with the pressure of maintaining the Automattic company blog at ma.tt😉

  4. Richard said

    And most of the posts on ma.tt are only one sentence or less.

  5. Jane Wells said

    Sorry to disappoint, but the call for icon designers didn’t come from Matt as a something-for-nothing ploy. The original intention was to design hire someone, but I’d been hearing from a lot of designers who said they wished they could be part of the open source volunteer crew despite their lack of PHP prowess, and I’m the one who decided to open it up to the community. We’ll let the community have a vote on the selection as well. If it doesn’t pan out, we can hire someone, but I think with an open source project it makes more sense to have the icons designed by people who use the application and love it and want to give back to it, rather than someone who doesn’t necessarily “get it” and who’s just in it for a paycheck. And if my experiment fails, well, we can always hire someone or keep using Crystal Project icons for a little longer. It’s worth it to increase community involvement, I think.

    Saying “some idiot will offer to do it for nothing” is kind of disrespectful to the hard-working designers who have volunteered and want to do it to be a part of improving an application they use every day (not to mention the developers who contribute code ). Not everyone is driven by a profit motive. Isn’t that kind of the point of open source?

  6. @Jane Wells – hear, hear.

    This underscores for me one of the most strident dichotomies between developers and designers, which as a developer, is so hard for me to wrap my head around.

    Developers, by and large, tend to be more willing to give their services away for free, while designers maintain a more, “my time is worth something damn it, so pay me” mentality. Of course that is not universally true, but I have observed it enough times to make that generalization.

    Perhaps it is based upon the fact that engineers are primarily motivated to give to open source, or to give code regardless of license, because it solves a problem they have and they don’t want to solve it over and over again. Designers on the other hand have less incentive to solve usability or design problems because at the end of the day their job is to use the tool, not to extend it.

    Ok, i am losing my train of though even after a couple of sentences, but the point remains – designers and developers conceptualize their time and its value in a fundamentally different way. Perhaps that is why Brian open sourcing Revolution is actually considered to be news – because his doing so is not the norm?

  7. designers and developers conceptualize their time and its value in a fundamentally different way.

    I would say they conceptualize their skills and their value in a fundamentally different way. You will find plenty of amateur designers willing to produce open-source code without expecting to profit from it financially (over the years, taking hosting costs into account, I reckon I’ve made a net loss on designing templates) but they generally want some form of recognition even if it’s only in the form of vanity links. WP developers have never had any sympathy with their wish to be credited for their artistic endeavours either.

    I think this is probably because software development is more of a communal effort than designing a template or icon. Coders work in an environment where the individual is less important than the group; it doesn’t matter who solves the problem as long as it gets solved. Open source is a natural evolution of this model. Designers, however, are more likely to be coming from a Romantic perspective where everything is down to the individual. Getting paid or being credited is not so much an end in itself as confirmation that your work is valuable. Code either does what it’s supposed to or it doesn’t; you can quibble about the most efficient and elegant way of doing it, but if it works, it works. The success of an aesthetic work is far more nebulous. It’s like the difference between a mathematical proof and a poem.

    Saying “some idiot will offer to do it for nothing” is kind of disrespectful to the hard-working designers who have volunteered

    And I think it is kind of disrespectful to expect them to turn around high-quality work in that period of time without charging appropriately. It’s unreasonable and probably unrealistic. If the deadline was in a couple of months time, fine: people could work on it at their own pace. I don’t imagine the majority of developers would be ecstatic to be told ‘right, we’re doing a previously unannounced major release in two weeks’. If people are giving their time freely, you need to give them plenty of free time.

    We’ll let the community have a vote on the selection as well.

    Please tell me you’re not being serious. You want to commission people to produce icons that will never be used and tighten the deadline even further to fit the vote in? I know you really really want to showcase Polldaddy, but now is hardly the time to start pretending WP development is a democratic process.

    The idea is not bad — competitions are a good way for students and other beginners to get their work out there — but the timescale is completely screwed. My advice is to forget about 2.7 and target 2.8. By extending the deadline, you open up the field to people who may not have time right now but might in a couple of months time, you give everyone more space to work on their ideas and execution, and you end up with a wider, higher-quality selection to choose from.

  8. Kissing Bandit said

    @TGA: hear, hear.

    -KB

  9. Saying “some idiot will offer to do it for nothing” is kind of disrespectful to the hard-working designers who have volunteered and want to do it to be a part of improving an application they use every day

    Until they, of course, annoy Matt is some mysterious way and they get the boot with no notice or reason. I’m sure though that you don’t see it this way.

    Oh, and welcome Jane. I see we have yet another Automattic newbie over here. I’m sure we’ll never see you again.

  10. Oh lookie. They’re having a Charlotte WordCamp. So nice that they published about it.

  11. Matt A. said

    Sorry to go off topic, but am I the only one adoring the results of the CMD backend usability testing? The results that echo almost exactly what people told ma.tt before 2.5 was released?

    Other than the ugly burnt orange, I can’t think of anything that’s missing from the report.

  12. @Byrne Reese: Shame! I’ve spent countless hours giving away design work for the Movable Type community.

    I tend to think that the disconnect between developers and designers is this: while developers tend to tackle one problem at a time, designers have a broader mindset and consider the entire scope of the app/project/site. It’s this “big picture” view that makes designers (or at least *this* designer) more likely to expect repayment.

    The other thing to consider is this. In development, the solution is often a few snips of code. I think developers find it easier to pass along a snip of code than a designer does trying to pass on a graphical element (e.g. “here’s a sample gradient background, Joe”). More importantly, I think that you may just not be as well informed as to what designers are giving away. Check out deviantart.com; it’s chock full of good stuff, but it’s all bits and pieces—brushes, styles, textures—that might not be as useful to you as a developer.

  13. but am I the only one adoring the results of the CMD backend usability testing?

    I would still love to know how much of 2.5’s brokenness is Happy Cog’s fault and how much is Automattic’s, but I suppose there’s more incentive than ever to keep that information classified now. Nobody’s ever explained why the user testing was carried out after 2.5 rather than before, either.

    you may just not be as well informed as to what designers are giving away.

    Fond as I am of deviantart, in my experience the majority of things there are CC-licenced. They’re giving their work away, but they’re not giving it away to the extent that open source developers believe they should; they still want their credit, and they still want right of veto over their unpaid work being commercially exploited by others. I think this is fair enough, but Automattic continue to maintain that it’s wrong (probably because they’re among those looking to commercially exploit the unpaid work🙄 )

  14. I think it comes down to how designers and developers sell themselves, and the expectations put on them. Where a developer can talk about their skills, their contributions to a project, designers are expected to walk in with a portfolio of projects that they’ve designed from start to finish, on their own or as part of a team.

    I think it’s also important that while software is great at iterating and evolving, design projects are delivered as a fixed quantity, and expected to work perfectly from day 1. I think there’s room for an open source design paradigm, but I think that much of the artwork for OS projects is delivered using a closed process.

    To some extent, delivering it that way seems to work better for developers. They have one absolute standard to code against and solve, rather than having each revision in the design process necessitate many more code revisions.

  15. […] that seems to follow WordPress around.  I made one last attempt to deal with the goings on at wankpress, but it seems that my comment is hanging out in indefinite moderation, much like she complains […]

  16. bob said

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  17. Ray said

    Akismet’s spam checking isn’t very good, is it?😉

  18. Bob is My Hero said

    Well when the person in charge of that is jetsetting around the planet instead of taking care of what he’s supposed to be doing…

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