Ask DN: GitHub for Designers?

over 6 years ago from , Brown University

What if we build a version-control system for designers that encourages open-source design?

It would be a great resource for the community, help instill good practices within design students, and potentially serve as a great mark of a designer's contribution to the community and as a portfolio of projects (just as GitHub serves as a coding-portfolio for programmers).


  • Allan GrinshteinAllan Grinshtein, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    Hey, that's a pretty good idea.

    50 points
    • Athyuttam Reddy, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

      Would love to see LayerVault think about this, actually.

      3 points
      • Allan GrinshteinAllan Grinshtein, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

        I apologize. It's late on Saturday night and I'm not being nice. Let me give you a real answer.

        A 'GitHub' for designers is a loaded statement — they are much more than simple git repo hosting. LayerVault covers some of those bases (for designers). It may be what you're looking for. We launched the ability to open source design in August of 2013.

        I sometimes think most users of Designer News have no idea what LayerVault does. We are clearly doing a poor job in this department. On one hand, this thread is evidence that our "church and state" policy on LV/DN is working. On the other: wtf.

        19 points
        • Athyuttam Reddy, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

          I'm sorry if I came across as not knowing much about LayerVault. I've definitely signed up and tried it too, except given my very informal current workflow (I'm just a student learning design), I don't use it on a day to day basis.

          LayerVault certainly does a good job of version-control, and I see this more as a possible extension to the core product to build a sort of community. It really just is a wild idea I wanted to hear thoughts on though.

          1 point
        • Joe BarberJoe Barber, over 6 years ago

          I think the key word here is encourages.

          While LV has the ability to make open source projects, there’s no good way to find them. LV hasn’t evolved into the designer version of github because it’s not built to be that. LV is like a walled garden. I can go to github.com, without being logged in, and search for repos, people, functions, etc to find an open source solution to a problem. I can’t even search for a project (or person) on LV if I am logged in.

          Just compare the copy on the Layer Vault home page to the copy on Github’s - GH is focused on free, open source collaboration, and the option for private repos is like an afterthought. “Need private repositories? Upgraded plans start at $7/mo.” Whereas the LV homepage doesn’t even mention that they have the option for open source projects, and their call to action is “try it free” which implies to me that it won’t always be free for me to use.

          When I first saw that LV was allowing public work, I thought for sure we would start seeing things like “free psd” files on dribbble linking back to LV projects. But it’s never really happened.

          Note: I’m not trying to slam LV here. I really like LV, and find myself wishing my work would use it all the time. I’m just trying to point out the difference between allowing open source projects and encouraging them.

          17 points
        • Andrew RitchieAndrew Ritchie, 6 years ago (edited 6 years ago )

          Maybe the OP feels the way he does because the coding community tends to use Github in a way that combines the services of both Layervault and Dribble. That is to say, Github is the standard for both version control and showing your work. If you go to Github's homepage and you are not logged in there is a search button in the top left and and an explore link in the main nav on the top right.

          Layervault's homepage highlights what it can do as version control for design but does not give you the impression it is trying to provide the social features that Github provides.

          1 point
    • Josh ClementJosh Clement, over 6 years ago

      also - what if there was another site for designers, where they could submit and vote on fresh design related links?

      9 points
    • Justin EdmundJustin Edmund, over 6 years ago


      2 points
  • Wells RileyWells Riley, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )


    8 points
    • , over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

      "Design" isn't always a tangible thing. Very little of the crucial work we do as designers isn't the actual deliverables themselves, it's the thinking behind them.

      Thank you so much for this, Wells. I had overlooked this entirely. You're right, code and design are inherently different.

      I came across the idea while working with the Atom.io logo redesign file you posted on Twitter. I'm just getting started with Sketch, so looking at how you'd constructed the logo helped me get some direction into the Sketch workflow.

      I often do this with projects on GitHub too. Looking at projects, forking them and playing around with them helps me learn the language or framework well. So if all the free PSDs, icon or UI kits that designers post on Dribbble and personal blogs were to come together at a place similar to GitHub, that would be a great resource for the community. UI kits like the ones made by teehan+lax definitely qualify as reducing the amount of work for other designers, wouldn't you agree? In addition, the primary use of course would be a robust version control system for the designers / design teams using the service.

      It really is just a wild idea I wanted to discuss, though. Thank you for your thoughts!

      2 points
    • Garth BraithwaiteGarth Braithwaite, over 6 years ago

      This is a discussion we are having on Open Source Design.

      0 points
  • Tobias BernardTobias Bernard, over 6 years ago

    While Layervault provides a similar workflow to git/Github, the fundamental difference is that Github does not supply the client application and it does not control the protocol, which means users are not locked in to one hosting provider (for example, one could use Bitbucket, or a self-hosted git server instead of Github). LV users, on the other hand, are completely dependent on LV for both client and server.

    Before we can have a "Github for designers", we first need "Git for designers". By that I mean a general purpose open source version control system with support for the most important design file formats, visual diffs, binary files (e.g. raster images) etc. Like git, it would have to have fully independent local repositories and a flexible system that allows users to push to and pull from different remotes. Once we have this "Git for designers", people can use it to build services around it (think Layervault but with data portability and an open ecostystem of clients and servers).

    6 points
    • Tim GauthierTim Gauthier, over 6 years ago

      doesn't git in some ways already DO this for psd, etc.

      i think that you nail the head on the hammer here though. Design isn't tangible all the time, its about thought processes and approaches to problem solving, its the invisible stuff that makes us important, not the outcome. It is knowing how to take different ays and approaches to problems to solve them. Programming is "this is the best way, and we can prove it with numbers", design is far more opinion, and solving "this specific set of numbers" instead.

      That said, Github IS github for web designers, we should get out of photoshop and start actually building things. We are not architects, we are engineers AND the contractor. At the very least we need to be knee deep in the job site. When a designer can actually get into the javascript and build the front end (or html, or python, or whatever you decide) then you have so much more control in the experience. I love the approach of "I do the view, and let the engineer make the model and controller work" this way they know how the interaction is expected to happen, and then can build the backend to properly and efficiently support it. They then can give feedback on improvements you can do to the front end (a more logical, or straightforward, or efficient direct). The designer then can be better at building for the "machine" so to speak that they are working with.

      Think of how industrial designers, often know how the machines and manufacturing processes work so that they can design and build around these limitations. We need to stop building websites that are impossible, and expect people to make them work, and start building websites that take advantage of the limits of the web to be excellent experiences!

      whoops, bit of a /tangent

      2 points
    • Ryan LeFevreRyan LeFevre, over 6 years ago

      SVN works great for version control of binary files. The problem is that the learning curve is incredibly steep, especially for someone who may not be very familiar with the command line. There are GUIs available, but they still assume you understand how SVN actually works, which is not trivial.

      The visual diff tools would simply have to be applications written on top of the underlying version control software. This is where knowledge of the design file formats would come into play. To a version control system, bytes are bytes.

      2 points
  • Daniel EdenDaniel Eden, over 6 years ago

    What about GitHub doesn’t make it designer-friendly?

    2 points
    • , over 6 years ago

      I think Git (and therefore GitHub)'s primary use-case is to compare changes in code and revert to previous versions in case of an issue. As such, comparing changes in design files (due to their format) isn't very easy using Git.

      0 points
      • Daniel EdenDaniel Eden, over 6 years ago

        Ok, but what are you classifying as design files? Many designers—myself included—work in HTML and CSS, and GitHub has image diffs, 3D diffs, and other design-friendly features.

        2 points
    • Ryan Hicks, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

      Hah was that a serious question?

      "GitHub is the best place to share code..." https://github.com/about

      -1 points
  • Jan CantorJan Cantor, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    Hmm. I've had similar thoughts in the aspect of git. I love the fact that version control for designers is no longer just a mere idea. What if version control is extended with the ability to merge files? I understand that code is not the same as Photoshop nor as Sketch files. But if you think again, aren't these files essentially made out of calculated codes in the first place? Maybe it's just my delusional talk on this late Saturday night.

    2 points
  • Garth BraithwaiteGarth Braithwaite, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    GitHub is a great resource for design. There might be some learning involved, but git is a great skill to have for anyone involved in web development.

    We have tried looking for designer friendly solutions for the Open Source Design project, but haven't found anything better suited to open source than GitHub. We use the issues for discussions (moodboarding, content strategy, information architecture, etc), and we've used LayerVault for design collaboration, but it lacks two main features:

    1. Public commenting. Right now you have to add people to the project just to let them comment on a design
    2. The size runs out far too quickly for any real collaboration to happen. Perhaps it is too expensive to do for free, but that is really what has allowed open source development to take off so well on GitHub.
    1 point
  • Nick MNick M, over 6 years ago

    Interesting post. I looked at Allan's post and laughed out loud, because this is something that LayerVault is in the space to do, but apparently hasn't gotten across yet.

    I think it's very important to break this post up into parts and address them individually.

    LayerVault as a service is fantastic at opening up the design process to members of a given project, and allows for easy sharing, milestones, and feedback. It does it in a way that has truly never been done, and is something to be applauded.

    Github provides a place for social coding. It's in their credo, and the core thing about what they do. They provide visibility into code like LayerVault does for designs, however that is centered around the whole idea of discoverability from page one.

    Building Open Source is a process that requires input from people interested in the project. It's not something solely focused on code. Anything can be open sourced. There are open source taco recipes (no joke). Open source government movements. Design can be open sourced, as well.

    From where I sit, i don't think the two models of operation between LayerVault and Github are wholly incompatible, however LayerVault has a bit of a ways to go to bring about the true social aspect of open source. Right now, it's focused on providing value to paying customers - and there is nothing wrong with that. To meet the need of a real open source community, they will need to surface features centered on searchability, discovery, and deeper issue tracking. They're under no obligation to do so, but it'd be cool if they decided to do so.

    Lastly, if you guys are interested, there IS an Open Source Design movement going on - I've contributed a tiny tiny bit to it, and I think it's a great start.

    Check it out here: http://opensourcedesign.is/ or get involved here: https://github.com/opensourcedesignis/opensourcedesignis.github.io

    1 point