Open source design help needed!

Radiant CMS Prototype Project

I don’t know if this is even possible, but I wanted to put it out there to at least stimulate some discussion and perhaps even jolt some of you to action. I’m issuing a public call for designers interested in contributing to Radiant CMS. Effective immediately.

No, I’m not looking for resumes, portfolios, or recommendations. I’m looking for people who are good at what they do and get it done. Opinionated, kind-hearted folk who communicate well and can handle criticism. If that sounds like you, here’s how you can get involved…

Fork the Radiant prototype project on GitHub

Radiant CMS Prototype Project We’ve created a prototype project on GitHub for Radiant that makes it easy to jump in and contribute. To get started, fork the project on GitHub, clone it onto your local box and use Serve to get it running so that you can start making changes.

New to Git or GitHub? Check out the GitHub learning site and help system.

New to Serve? Read the introductory article and watch the screencast at the end. The great part about using Serve for the prototype is that it allows us to focus on just the HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Once we get things worked out in the prototype they can easily be ported over into the application.

Pick an issue

There are a number of issues related to the interface on the GitHub issue tracker, if you are looking for something simple start there. There’s not currently a lot of design related issues, but here’s the low hanging fruit:

There are also a number of unfinished things in the prototype that are just waiting for someone to polish them off.

Or, work on an extension

Radiant CMS Extension Registry Maybe you aren’t interested in working on one of the core features in Radiant, but you would like to work on a Radiant extension. If so this is great! There are over 190 Radiant extensions in the extension registry that add support for all kinds of things. Things ranging from “version” “control” to “asset” “management”. Most of the extensions have been written for 0.8 and below. We are just getting ready to release 0.9 and the lack of polish on some of the extensions is really starting to show. We need folks who are good at design that can help extension developers bring their extensions up to snuff.

To work on an extension, you can either pull the HTML from the extension into your fork of the Radiant prototype and work on it there, or work on the extension inside of an existing Radiant project. The second option takes a bit of know how, but getting an extension developer to give you a hand with the setup process shouldn’t be too difficult. I’ll talk a little more about getting help at the end of this article.

Or, make something new

To date almost all of the work on the Radiant interface has been done by myself and a couple of the of the Radiant developers. I am very interested in hearing other designers ideas about how the interface could be improved and made more user friendly. In particular, I feel like we have a ways to go before we are competitive with products like Wordpress on the UI level. Right now the interface works pretty well for power users, but we need to do a better job reaching out to first time users. More inline help in the interface is important, but we also need to build a real help system. I’m visualizing something that would open in a separate window.

Radiant CMS Prototype Project I’m also interested in any thoughts people have on asset management. I’m a big fan of the approach that page attachments takes, but I also see room for the way papperclipped has implemented the Mephisto-style asset bucket approach. Ultimately, I want something that is a bit of a combination of the two. And I want it to work well even if you don’t have support for image thumbnailing installed on your server. This means having alternate views without thumbnails. I would love for someone to take a stab at merging all of these concepts on the UI level. It needs to be slick in every way.

If you are feeling adventurous, you are also welcome to work on something completely new. Redesign an aspect of the interface or even the whole product. Fresh ideas are important if Radiant is going to continue moving forward. Who knows. You might just find yourself at the center of the next major release.

Or, work on the marketing side

Radiant CMS Extension Registry I’ve got some ideas for updating the Radiant site itself to be more competitive with with other sites. If you are interested in helping here, contact me directly. The original design for the site is a couple of years old now and it could use an serious update.

Not ready to work in the prototype?

Maybe jumping right into the HTML is not your thing. I hear ya. I often like to work out my ideas in a graphics editor like Fireworks or Photoshop before getting too far. If that is your thing, check out the Radiant mockups project on GitHub. You’ll find the original source images for much of the Radiant interface in there. You heard me right, the original source images! They are in Fireworks PNG format, which means that if you open them in Fireworks you will be able to edit them in all of their vector goodness.

If you are savvy enough, fork the mockups project on GitHub and add your new mockups to the fork. GitHub is a great way to share your work and it will make it easier for people to view and use what you are working on.

If working with Git and GitHub is too complicated for you, you can still download the original source images. On GitHub, browse over to the Radiant mockups project, then open the page for the graphic that you want to use, and click “raw” (in the gray bar underneath the filename) to download the image in its original format.

Getting your changes approved

OK, so we’ve covered a lot of the technical challenges on contributing to the design effort on Radiant, but I’d like to address one of the most important aspects this whole process: getting your changes approved and merged into core.

This is a tricky one to answer.

On the one hand Radiant can desperately use the help of other designers. On the other, there is no question that Radiant has benefited from the opinionated and sometimes heavy handed oversight of one designer (namely me). I don’t plan on relinquishing my role of “Lead Designer” on the project any time soon, but it’s also becoming clear that I can’t do everything that needs to be done.

So here are some tips for working with me to get your changes approved:

  1. E-mail the developer list. Before you get too far on a feature, send an e-mail to the Radiant Developers list and look for feedback from either Sean Cribbs or me. (Sean is the lead developer of Radiant.)
  2. Blog about what you are doing. Help us understand your reasons for wanting to change the Radiant interface. Outline the changes you have made or what you would like to do. And don’t forget to tell us about your article on the developer mailing list.
  3. Post screenshots. I am a very visual person. Posting screenshots will give me a much better idea of what you are working on. Who knows, I may even give you a return volley of screenshots for how I would suggest that a given feature should be implemented.
  4. Work with the existing design. If your design departs from the current look and feel it will be very hard for me to sign off on what you have done, no matter how awesome the feature is. I don’t want to discourage people from seeking to address problems with the current look or feel, but significant departures greatly increase the chances that your changes will not be approved.
  5. Persevere. If I don’t like what you have done on the first or second pass, keep at it. Find a way to work with me. I know I’m an ornery fellow, but find a way to work with me. I’ll do my best to do the same on my end.

Also, don’t forget that even if your changes are not merged into core, someone else within the Radiant community may like what you are doing enough to make an extension out of it. There are plenty of extensions that are extremely valuable that will never be part of the core distribution. This is part of Radiant’s appeal. It is not the CMS that does everything out of the box. It is the simple CMS with a solid core.

A word on open source design

Open source projects have a reputation for being poorly designed, but I don’t believe it has to be this way. Developers have been working on the problem of “collaboration with anyone” for a long while now and have proven that it can work. As designers I think we are behind the curve a little, but I see no reason why we can’t make it work as well. All it will take is a little commitment, humility from everyone involved, and a lot of hard work.

So what about you? Do you think this can work for Radiant? Are you willing to give it a try?

© 2013 John W. Long