Femke Snelting: F/LOSS tools in graphic design

Femke Snelting is an artist and designer who works with the interdisciplinary and international graphic design collective Open Source Publishing based in Brussels. During her presentation Snelting addresses the possibilities and realities of design, illustration and typography using a range of F/LOSS (free/libre/open-source software) tools. While modifying and expanding their toolbox, OSP uses solely open software since 2006 to investigate its potential in a professional design environment.

Femke Snelting @ The Unbound Book conference photo cc by-sa Sebastiaan ter Burg

Femke Snelting is the second speaker during the first panel (Open Publishing Tools) on Day 1 of the Unbound Book Conference. She explains how while growing tired of being tied to Macs with Adobe software, the founding members of OSP decided to move away from the suite and explore the rich landscape of other softwares. Switching to Linux and F/LOSS tools freed them from proprietary software and changed their ways of thinking about their practice. Amongst other activities, they started throwing “print parties” (where participants designed a book) in order to spread awareness of other options within a wider public.

She mentiones the possibility of a dialogue between OSP and libre software developers as one of the main advantages of switching from proprietary to open: “If we depend on the software, we need to be able to make it better”. She follows this stance with a story of experiencing technical problems with rendering PDF files while using Scribus (open source program for professional page layout). The problems were addressed in an e-mail correspondence between OSP and Scribus and in result OSP members became active members of the Scribus community. Snelting asserts that such involvement would have never been possible, had OSP been using Adobe packages.

OSP actively develops fonts and Snelting mentions univers else which is notable for being reproduced from the original univers font through custom software developed by OSP (which generates fonts from scanned sources). Linking to this, Snelting also mentions a project based on scanning a book, generating a font from its typeface and producing a PDF (the project is still unnamed but will make its debut at Verbindingen/Jonctions 13 this Fall in Brussels).

Femke Snelting’s presentation proves that open source tools can be used as a viable publishing model. Open Source Publishing’s book Verbindingen/Jonctions 10: Tracks in electr(on)ic fields is a Fernand Baudin 2009 prize-winning publication which was designed and typeset using only F/LOSS software. Pierre Huyghebaert and Femke Snelting collaborated on it using ConTeXt, Gimp, Inkscape and Scribus.