Nobody likes to work for nothing; the concept of free labor is foreign to everyone, not just designers alone. As a professional web designer, you of course put a lot of thought and effort into your work, and you deserve a well reward for it. That is your moneymaker, and you are well within right to apply it to its fullest.
There, now that we are on the same page, let us take a few minutes to consider open source web designing. Open source is to a web designer/developer what taking on a pro bono case is to a lawyer. Except that open source has more far-reaching effect (depending on how good you are) and it does not always have to be free.
There are companies that hire the open source contributors to manage their own projects within the company full-time, because said company heavily relies on aforesaid project for its operations. There are also companies which facilitate open source contribution part-time (like say, 1 day every week), and leave you to do your usual moneymaking schemes the rest of the time.
That was the unofficial first advantage, but now we will get down to the real gold behind open source contribution:
Building your portfolio
Like every other newbie in any career, a new designer faces the same cyclic problem: not enough experience to have a sufficiently impressive portfolio. This means that few people are willing to take such inexperienced designers on jobs and projects because of their scarce portfolio.
It is common to see new designers spending time on redesigns that they have not even received a request for, just so they can have something to populate their portfolios with. Some people do not mind unsolicited web design, but it is not everybody’s cup of tea, so why not commit your energies to open source contribution instead?
There is no limit to the number of projects needing a web designer’s skill. Create an awesome piece with huge potential for reuses over time – branding, information design, app design, documentation or website design – there is a lot you can do. You can get professionals to review your work and if they like, generate publicity for the project. You will be surprised how many doors you could open with just one project.
Give back to the community
Every day, doctors, teachers and lawyers have the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives by applying their professional skills. There are not so many opportunities for web designers to do the same, but an open source project could be just the thing. You’ve learnt a lot through readily accessible online resources, so why not play your part to teach someone else by covering some ground not well exhausted in the other resources?
That is not all you can do; you can get involved in open source task forces to solve a certain problem and get exposed to exciting skills and opportunities that could shape, or reshape, the direction of your career. Many a designer can trace back their career breaking moment to an open source project or taskforce.
Nothing to lose
The bottom-line is this: unlike unsolicited redesigns, open source projects cannot hurt, and they can help a great deal. It is a nothing-to-lose-but-everything-to-gain situation, so you might want to think about giving it a shot. Just start simple and see where it takes you!
Jack Dawson is an expert in web design and development. For more information and guidance on web design careers as well as to view and receive a review for design work, visit his site.