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Why do all design tools cost money?

November 8, 2017 at 12:01pm

Why do all design tools cost money?

November 8, 2017 at 12:01pm
I was thinking about the difference between the open source front-end community and the design community.
Almost all of the tools developers use are free. People build massive projects just to push the whole community forward, for free. Why is it that I'm constantly being bombarded with offers of subscriptions to design tools that often only improve my experience slightly/are different takes on the same fundamental thing.
There are exceptions to this (Craft, Figma) - But I feel like the intent of those companies in the end is to turn me into a paying customer. The intent from the open source community is just to move things forward.
Am I missing something? Is there an inherent difference in the nature of designers or is it how the community culture was set early on?
Should we try to change this, or is paying for services actually a good trend?
Just thinking out loud and wondering if anyone had any thoughts..

November 8, 2017 at 12:26pm
I'm also interested in this topic and would love to see what experienced people have to say about this subject.
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Hmmm—I think it's because both have a different skillset (mostly). Who develops dev software? Mostly devs. As a designer who's not got much dev experience, hopping into Atom or VS can be daunting. Even figuring out the packages thing is a little tough.
Alternatively, who develops design tools? Well, both designers and devs, and as devs don't use the software that much, I'd reckon there's less interest for devs to keep upgrading and pushing them. Like, look at how quickly Figma's been pushing out updates. I can't see that happening with an entirely open source project—takes a paid team to design, dev, and launch features at that kind of rate. And then you've got InVision with its new tool coming out in the future and all of its different features that probably took a lot of different brains to put together.
And most of these design tools are relatively intuitive. Figma especially, InVision yeah kinda sorta, Sketch is, well, at least less daunting then Photoshop, eh?
While dev tools can be open source, updated as needed or supplemented by packages by a community, design tools are a different ball game as they have to leverage designers needs, developers needs (for collaboration), the design of the software for ease of use, the development of the software, etc. And the marketing too! I'm surprised I don't see more marketing for Figma with all of what's being put out there for Sketch & InVision. Goodness knows, Sketch is probably feeling the push to update faster now too, what with Figma's recent updates and InVision coming in with a wrecking ball.
I think that's what we're paying for—fast paced development & growing features, ease of use, etc. That and Cloud support for the tools that use those.
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(TLDR; the dev community supports the dev community. The design community supports the design community, but that doesn't get design tools built and updated so quickly. *cough* GIMP *cough*)
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Yeah Zach I think you nailed a really important reason. There's an intrinsic connection between the work and the tooling of development. If I'm a dev and I'm trying to build a site for a client, I need to build a router to other pages, this can be easily abstracted and used by others so why not share it? This happens less often in design and things need to be built from scratch and vary a lot based on requirements. The build time itself is also shorter. Some elements that are re-used are device mocks and they are indeed given away by TeehanLax/Facebook.
Does it need to continue to be this way though? Could we ourselves, or our tools help to make our work more re-usable and shareable?
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Hmm. I'm not sure I have a good answer for that, haha. I feel like that may not be as helpful on the design side as the dev side?
Not sure how to best phrase this but I think it's like the argument that only using themes, templates, etc. as a designer won't grow your ability as a designer (designer might be providing a basic solution, but often using little to no creative problem solving in these cases).
I think a lot of the tools for helping people *do* design are free, reusable, shareable etc.—processes, lists, articles, communities, forums, feedback, etc. These things don't require paid developers for fast updates :) I think, where we can share our tools so that other people can more easily problem solve, we do. Where we rely on peeps from other disciplines that don't benefit from their work on our tools (dev work on our design tools at least), they need to be paid haha.
Maybe that's why there's a lot of gray area around graphic resources, like pre-designed 'cookie-cutters' of sorts. Is it sharing our tools and resources or is it (sanctioned) copying of another? And then you get into debates about whether it's legit or not. Just thinking about web design — if I only ever worked from templates, I'd never call myself a designer, only a semi-customer designer at most.
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Yep again you touched on a reason - while sharing things exactly as they are in development is seen as a good thing, copying the exact same design devalues it. You might share your icon set with me, but having an original icon set that reflects my brand is seen as more valuable.
But to take this outside of visual elements only (icons/mocks) - often times developers share ENTIRELY new ways to develop or think about development. e.g, functional programming, object oriented, etc. How can we start better codifying not only the artefacts but the thought systems, and iterating on them. "Design Thinking" was kind of an attempt of this, unfortunately is vague and thought of maybe negatively by designers as opposed to being built on and changed. There's an arrogance in the "this process is the process and it happens inside my mind and requires sparks of genius and inspiration. Not as much thinking happens in the open, people are afraid to show their process, and when they do they misrepresent it - and then again is often overlook in favour of visuals/end product.
Does there need to be a fundamental culture change before we can move forward and start making larger leaps rather than incremental improvements only along the craft axis?
I hear you about the "happens inside my mind and requires sparks of genius" processes :)
I think most designers would be willing to discuss their process & craft? There might be a few who'll pull the "a magician never reveals his/her secrets" bologna, but I'd think most would be down to share. It's like shop talk, eh?
What's your process like, Rob? :D

November 9, 2017 at 7:52am
I'm just going to say, that from the perspective as an independent product & visual designer, the following will happen:
1. I'll design logos, branding, and user flows and prototype the apps, handover the assets.
2. I get paid.
3. Developers in the contracting company will continue working on the app and add new features for another two-three months, getting paid the whole time.
So basically, designers need to find other sources of income if we're independant or seeking independence. And who better to design products for than a market we understand very deeply?
For me, these products save so much time and make my work so much better. I work remotely and they make my workflow more seamless and efficient than in my time in house. That's why I pay for them.
I could stop paying for the annual sketch licence. But I'm not going back to using photoshop. Takes too long.
I value being able to get other things done at the end of the day, like write or read stuff on spectrum.
I could stop paying for inVision, and go back to using drop box comments and making my own style guides, but InVision is really good at taking email chains out of my life and getting early feedback from end clients in an attractive way (benefits my clients, and makes me more valuable to them) and handing over assets to the devs and getting early feedback from them without interrupting their day or workflow.
When they have time, they can dip in and see what's happening and leave a comment. I'm not interrupted from any deep work I'm doing when that happens. We can all focus on moving work forward while getting important things improved.
Abstract or Kaktus - there was a project not very long ago where someone in the client company decided to recolor the logo on the homepage and the boss liked it (should have been a client firing moment, but we were close to the finish line - which made it more baffling, really) so I had to change all the logos and assets for mobile app and webapp. We'd already gone through a few variations earlier on and they were getting confused with all the shared folders in drop box, so having that single source of truth and being able to keep tabs on each change was something that would have benefitted me and the client, and is worth paying for. Because people forget how many times they've asked to change something and having that record there is really useful for invoicing time, as well.
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November 9, 2017 at 8:32pm
This could be related to my assumed generalization that as a developer I have the skills to develop my own tools but as a design i cannot develop my own tools...
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When nodejs came out and JavaScript-Devs could suddenly use it for building tooling in their "native tongue", the amount of Frontend-Dev-Tooling kinda exploded, even though all this transpiling, optimizing, splitting and bundling could have been done in other programming language much earlier. But it simply didn't happen (that much), because another person was required to implement it. So i think it's more specific than just devs helping devs, i think many open source projects start when sb tries to solve his very own problems.
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I don't think the reason that designers can't develop their own tools is the right one. We can design our own UI Kits / icon sets and still ask money for most of those. Even while those are less usable (due to custom designs for projects) then a development tool. Those kits are basically our skill we can re-use and give to others to use or learn from them.
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Yeah I think the tools that we do pay for are of course valuable and worth money, I'm just wondering why more of them aren't free I guess. I think you put it well Ron - the potential value of something like an icon kit is arguably much lower than a framework like styled-components, why is one free and one not. It could be simply that people aren't willing to pay for code and are willing to pay for design assets.
So I was thinking about this a bit more, and I think my own argument isn't that strong. As icon sets and UI Kits mainly get made by one person while those development tools are more open source where everyone can participate into improving it. Maybe this will change for designers if Abstract grows and we can make a Sketch library together for a icon set / UI Kit, but so far Abstract seems more like a closed system and not easily usable for open community projects.
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https://kactus.io/ lets you put designs out there on github for group collaboration
is anyone using Kactus? From what I can see, you need to have it installed to be able to download the file and edit it. https://github.com/atomicbutterfly/Zombie-stickers

November 16, 2017 at 6:33am
I think the amount of Sketch Plugins available is worth noting. These are free tools that can make a designers work easier, similar to what code libraries do for developers. While most plugins started as rather small utility commands, more and more plugins now offer user interfaces.
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The complexity of a full blown design app should be compared to development IDEs that are not necessarily free either. If we consider free fonts, icon libraries, color tools, photo libraries, type scale calculators, pattern generators, etc. I think that we have a lot of free tools and resources available and it’s actually not that bad.
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And as others have mentioned here before the main hurdle is the necessity of programming that might hold back a lot of designers in making their own tools and contributing to an ecosystem of open tools. On the other hand if you look at the world of type design, a lot of type designers also code because they have to in order to be efficient. If you need to work on a font family with thousands of glyphs, coding can help a lot with production but also with design itself. I think designers who understand code as a design tool itself are willing to share if the right ecosystem, file formats and surrounding environments evolve.
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Why a professional product should not cost money? ))
I'm a developer. The second I started earning money I felt like I should use tools that cost money so I can give back. Sure, a SublimeText license is ridiculously cheap compared to Adobe tools and even JetBrains IDEs don't come close but they're still decidedly not free. I eventually switched to VSCode because I liked it better. Microsoft is giving VSCode away for free, likely as part of their marketing strategy to boost their service business. If Microsoft started charging in 2018, I'd gladly pay.
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That said, "open source" is a big thing in development and that also affects tooling. From my experience, licensing is very different in design. There is plenty of "free vector art" which often comes with zero attribution for the original creators, on the other hand it's completely expected having to pay for royalty-free images or having to deal with complex licensing options (e.g. for fonts).
It's not just tooling cost that's different between design and development, it's the entire community aspect of open source. Because so much of what we do depends on the free labour of others, many of us feel compelled to give back. As an outsider it seems like designers are less likely to promote what work the work of others they're building on (if any). I guess part of the reason is that a library or framework contributes far less to a final product's identity than, say, a visual pattern library or artwork. It's hard to build on the work of others as a designer without coming off as "lazy".
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