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Máirín, Artist & Designer

Máirín Duffy, an interaction designer and graphic artist from Boston,uses Fedora exclusively for all of her design work. Websites, GUI mockups, T-shirts, posters, usability tests - she uses Fedora to do it all. Got a creative itch? Máirín recommends a ton of apps in Fedora for you!

Máirín Duffy

Where are you from?

I was born in Queens, New York and grew up and went to school in upstate New York. I live in Boston, Massachusetts now.

What is your profession?

I'm an interaction designer and I work at Red Hat. As an interaction designer, I create UI designs, charts, mockups, diagrams, and graphics to help build usable and elegant software.

What's your IRC nick?

Mizmo. I hear there's a bass fishing tackle company that goes by "Mizmo" - but that's not why I'm Mizmo! While my name is Máirín (Irish spelling for 'Maureen'), many of my friends call me "Mo," and the "Miz" is for "Miss," so Mizmo is really just "Miss Mo."

When did you first start using Fedora?

Well, I first started using Red Hat 5.0 when I was in high school. When I got to college, I brought a Red Hat Linux desktop with me, but the campus Linux Users' Group convinced me Debian was the way to go. So I used Debian until my first year at grad school, when I tried Fedora Core 3 (I wanted to try the latest GNOME release and Debian's was just too old.) I've been a Fedora user ever since. So, probably since 2004-ish.

How did you first get into interaction design?

I grew up playing adventure games on an IBM XT PC. They were created by a game company called Sierra On-Line. They were EGA (16-color) with text parser input so you typed out what you wanted the characters to do and dialogue would be thrown back at you. My whole family enjoyed these games so much. They had such an effect on me - I actually learned how to read playing them - that I decided at an early age that I wanted to be a video game artist for Sierra when I grew up. Around the time I was in high school though, Sierra had changed a lot, it had gotten bought out by a much larger company and they stopped putting out great games. Whoops. But I was determined to study computer science and electronic art anyway, so I did so and learned a lot about Linux as well and decided that Linux would be a whole lot cooler if it was easier to use. So that became my new passion - making software easier to use.

Many designers use Macs. Do you? How about the Adobe Creative Suite - do you use that?

Nope, I haven't used one since 2006. Fedora (and at times, Red Hat Enterprise Linux) has been my primary desktop for some years now. I don't use any of Adobe's design tools either. I use a number of free & open source design applications to get my job done.

What applications in Fedora do you use to create your designs? What does each app do?

Let me give you a rundown!

  • Inkscape - this is the single most important piece of software to me. It's the killer app that enabled me to drop OS X and proprietary design software completely. It's a vector graphics program (kind of like Adobe Illustrator, but better) and I use it for everything from UI mockups, to logo & icon design, to diagrams.
  • Gimp - Gimp is a really fully-featured image-processing program - it's similar to Adobe Photoshop. I use it for photo-editing, but I also use it for slicing up UI screens - I use the slices in Inkscape to modify UI designs - and I use it for some digital painting too.
  • MyPaint - MyPaint is a relative newcomer to the free software graphics scene, but it is a really nice application. It's a digital sketching/painting program that comes fully-stocked with a ton of great brushes that in many cases have a very similar feel to natural drawing implements. I like using it for sketching out concepts that I then fully flesh out in vectors via Inkscape.
  • Scribus - Scribus is a page layout program that is very handy for creating print-ready artwork.
  • Xournal - Xournal is a great tool for taking notes and for annotating PDF documents. I use it to take notes when I'm 'in the field' conducting user research.
  • PDF Mod - Another great tool for manipulating PDF files. It helps you stitch together separate PDFs into one visually, or you can even reorder an existing multi-page PDF file.

There's a ton more, but that should be a good set to start with! :)

If my friends and/or co-workers don't use Fedora for their design work, will I still be able to collaborate with them?

Absolutely. I collaborate with designers that use the Adobe tools on OS X often. The free software creative tools in Fedora all support open standards in file formats, and as far as I'm aware all of the major proprietary tools designers use can open these formats - PNG, SVG, PDF, etc.

The one file format that can be problematic is Flash files. The free software world does not yet have an editor that can open up Flash source files. For once, though, I'm with Apple in hoping Flash becomes less relevant as HTML5 and javascript-based frameworks become more and more prevalent.

Do you have any tips for enthusiastic future designers in using Fedora to create awesome interface designs?

I guess my best tip would be 'keep an open mind.' Pretty much everything you do using a Mac or Windows using proprietary apps is possible in Fedora. Sometimes things might work a bit differently than you are accustomed to (I'm looking at you, Gimp!) but all the functionality you need is there, and you'll find that the communities around these design applications are really large and rich and there's tons of tutorials, videos, and assets like brushes and palettes available for these applications.

My second tip is - try out the the Fedora Design Suite. This is a special edition of Fedora that has many great free & open source creative apps pre-installed for you to discover!

There's a great annual conference called Libre Graphics Meeting where the users of these free creative tools and the developers that create them get together for a few days and talk about the interesting things they're accomplishing using the apps, and the future roadmaps for the apps. It's a really energizing event and that community is a great place to find out about new apps coming out and hidden treasures in the feature set of the apps. You'll want to at least check out the materials from that conference (there are full videos of many of the sessions from the last one available online), if not take a trip and see and learn for yourself!

My final tip is to never keep a question or trouble you're having with the software to yourself. Please speak up! The Fedora community is an extremely welcoming and friendly community, and you'll find lots of folks willing to help. We have design team that uses Fedora to design assets for the Fedora project itself, and we are always trading tips and tricks and ideas on that team. You are more than welcome to ask us for help and to hang out with us!

Where do you get openly-licensed assets to use in your design work?

Here's the three links to libraries of openly-licensed assets that I use quite often:

  • Open Clip Art Library - a vast library of SVG-format, public-domain artwork. The quality varies widely but there's a ton of great treasures in there.
  • CompFight - CompFight is a search engine that queries Flickr for Creative Commons licensed photography.
  • >Open Font Library - a sister site to Open Clip Art Library, the OFL has a ton of openly-licensed fonts. I also have an ongoing blog series where I highlight particular openly-licensed fonts I like to use.

Can you tell us about a hidden treasure in Fedora you'd like to share?

Ooh, I have a great one in mind. So, my laptop is actually a tablet as well. Sometimes when I'm taking notes in tablet mode it's too inconvenient to flip it over into keyboard/laptop mode. So there's this app called CellWriter that does text recognition, so I can write in the CellWriter pane and it automatically converts my scribbling into real text. It's a very nice tool that many Linux users seem to be unaware of!

Thanks, Mo!

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