I’d go so far as to wager that “open source design” is an oxymoron. Design is far too personal, and too subjective, to be given over to the whims and outrageous fancies of anyone with eyeballs in their head.
Call me elitist in this one aspect, but with all due respect to code artistes, it’s quite clear whether a function computes or not; the same quantifiable measures simply do not exist for design and that critical lack of objective review means that design is a form of Art, and its execution should be treated as such.
This is pretty common in my experience: designers do “get their panties in a bunch” over things in a different way than software developers do, and a key problem is this notion of objectivity: that a software “design” can be validated objectively whereas a visual design is left up to the Gods, it’s a question of capital-A Art. Obviously he’s never been in the middle of software architecture flame wars! Same problem, different context, different criteria.
With regard to the WordPress 2.4 design in particular, I find WordPress.com to be EXTREMELY usable, if not pretty. You might call this the Google Design Philosophy — minimalist, plain, and functional. To validate the WP design using Chris’ criteria:
Be clear about the problem you’re solving. Nothing spells disaster for a design process more than fishtailing. If you don’t know what problems you’re trying to solve and you don’t have razor-sharp focus on it, chances are you’ll be open to whatever feedback you can get your hands on, grasping for some notion of what the hell you should be working on. This is not design, this is horseshoes and hand grenades.
To my way of thinking, the WordPress design has been done with a razor-sharp focus on the problem they’re trying to solve. WordPress is supposed to be used by bloggers, not necessarily designers. There is lots of room for disagreement here, I suppose. Look at the iPhone –it’s fairly minimalist (just icons, really), but it’s also very pretty AND very usable at the same time. Maybe that’s the sort of design sense that Chris is writing about.