For the past two years, Pixelapse—backed by venture capital from Y Combinator and Designer Fund—has been evolving into what you might call a Dropbox for designers. Through a free or premium paid account, it will automatically sync Photoshop files (along with more than 40 other file types) with a team of your choosing online, allowing you to juggle complicated design projects more easily.
To date, the platform has attracted tens of thousands of users, and developed the technology to track and record every change you make on a project. But co-founder Min Ming Lo, formerly a UX designer at Google and project manager at Microsoft, has always had bigger plans for his platform—to drive a philosophy he’s calling Open Design, complete with its own adrenaline rush of a manifesto—in which designers would be willing to share, not just their polished work, but their inspiration, their process, and even their source files with the community.
It’s a lofty goal. Design, at the AAA level especially, is historically proprietary, with small teams of talent working in independent bubbles, secretly polishing new designs before revealing them to the world. There’s no better example than companies like Apple, which have relied on the shock-and-awe factor of new designs to actually drive their bottom line. But there probably is something lost to design on whole—and the health of the design industry—for all this secrecy. Imagine if you could see, not just the next iOS interface, but how Apple iterated to get there.
"If you look at the current sites, like Behance, they serve a community well as a means to show off a portfolio," Lo tells Co.Design. "So if I created something, I’d make sure i polished it really well, put it up there, and that’s that. People say, ‘Good job!’
"We wanted to create something where designers are free to share what they’re working on," he continues, "not as a showcase per se, but really looking at the context of what’s going on in a project, and how projects are actually designed."
Lo sees Pixelapse as a means for designers to peek inside these hidden worlds, as something more akin to what Github is for the coding community—a place where even highly corporate ideas are shared freely, sometimes even as flawed works in progress, sometimes as freely copyable bits of code—to drive a meaningful discourse that can elevate everyone’s products.
The thing holding back Open Design, Lo argues, is specifically that there hasn’t been a Github-level product for it yet. (And he's probably right—Github allows fairly unprecedented plug-n-play code, along with a streamlined interface to discuss it). So his team has chosen to open Pixelapse, allowing anyone to share his or her design process on unlimited public projects, freely. Those with existing private accounts—starting at $15/month, can choose to share none, parts, or all of their projects with others (rights can still be protected on these projects, or not, whatever the user prefers).
As of two weeks ago, Pixelapse users can share their projects with the community, and already, a major studio has taken part. The Yelp design team published a PSD of its website style guide—not a full x-ray into the pangs of their design process, but a notable first step to Lo all the same.
"First we want to encourage open projects. Then we want to encourage open editing [of those projects]," Lo says. "Then we can approach the [full-out] cross-collaboration process."
Lo admits that Pixelapse hasn’t reached 1:1 status with Github’s tools just yet. You can’t, for instance, click a few buttons to apply the spacing or typography in a Pixelapse project to a site, as you can quickly snag and apply snippets of code on Github. But it’s a good bar for Pixelapse to have raised for itself all the same. Because if there were a true Github for designers, design would be better off for it.