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Penpot: A New Era of Design Freedom

Today, we are excited to announce our Series A investment in Penpot, a rapidly growing open-source design and prototyping platform loved by designers and developers in more than 10,000 companies around the world. Design tools have historically been controlled by proprietary vendors, using closed standards that create silos between designers, developers, and product teams. Penpot is a fundamental change in approach - an open-source and community-owned platform that breaks down traditional silos, enabling designers and engineers to seamlessly collaborate and create great user experiences.

Penpot was co-founded by Pablo Ruiz-Múzquiz, a longstanding open-source creator and contributor who set out to make the design process accessible to all. We asked him to share his vision for “creation to code” in our founder Q&A:

Where did you grow up? When did you first get interested in computers?

I was born in Madrid, Spain and my father worked at Telefonica, the largest telecom provider in Spain. We were very lucky - he was asked to participate in an early “work from home” pilot using the Internet and set up a computer in my bedroom with a dial-up modem. This was back in 1994 and I was just 13 years old - he told me not to touch it and I obviously couldn’t resist. I hacked into his account and discovered the Internet at all hours - coding and collaborating on IRC channels and contributing to open-source software projects. One day my father came home and took the computer out of my room - as it turns out, the management at Telefonica had discovered that our house had consumed 100x more bandwidth than any other home in the pilot! In retrospect, this moment changed my life - I was banned from using a computer for a year but had discovered a new community on the Internet and fell in love with computer science.

Pablo’s GNU/Linux desktop (3x3 virtual grid Enlightenment window manager) in the early 2000s


When did you become passionate about open source?

I went to college to study physics - I was surprised to see that there were no online textbooks at the university level so I created the first ever open-source collection of textbooks called Alqua with two of my hacktivist friends (the manifesto can still be found here). There was no open-source license for textbooks back then; so, we came up with one. This was obviously not the “proper” way to share knowledge in a traditional school, and our school administrators tried to stop us from distributing freely what had previously only been accessible to those privileged enough to attend university. This didn’t seem fair - if the laws of thermodynamics applied to all, it felt like they should be shared with everyone. I saw that open source and open knowledge could free people from traditional hierarchies and allow everyone to collaborate across the world - this became a passion which ultimately led to the founding of Kaleidos and the creation of Penpot.

Pablo reviewing his notes on “Introduction to Quantum Physics” textbook by Alqua, still available online

What made you build Penpot and open source it?

In 2011, right in the middle of the economic crisis in Spain, a small group of us started Kaleidos Open Source, a consultancy firm for backend system development. We refused to accept the false dichotomy that one had to choose between pragmatic software and ethical software and hence, had a strong ethos of using or creating open source tools for all of our projects. In the very beginning, we outsourced all our design work to agencies because we were a team of nerdy, geeky, backend engineers who were somewhat fearful of the artistic, fashionably dressed designers wielding Macs and not PCs. We quickly realized that beautiful code - the Kaleidos motto - was not possible without beautiful design. We decided to hire a small team of designers and asked them to use open-source design software for every customer project. Soon enough, we learned that there were no good choices and were all embarrassed by the state of open-source design tools. So, we decided to build one ourselves - not just a great design tool that we all could be proud of, but also one that would be built together by designers and developers to allow us to work closely together. That’s how Penpot was born. And of course, we open sourced it from day one!

What is unique about Penpot? What challenge are you addressing?

Design tools are siloed and make designers feel disconnected from product development. On the flip side, most developers do not feel that they are equal participants in the design process either. In reality, we all want to build great software and the best practice is for designers and developers to collaborate closely to create a great user experience. So much gets lost in translation between designers and engineers - many designers struggle to turn their ideas into developer-friendly deliverables while developers stay away from proprietary tools and formats they can't hack into. Penpot addresses this challenge by giving designers total freedom and ownership of their work - so that they can be “pixel perfect” and not just perfect - while integrating directly into the agile development process that moves at the speed of DevOps and GitOps. Penpot makes creation to code a reality by bringing designers and developers together.

The Penpot platform: Beautiful products are not built in silos

What is the long-term vision for Penpot? How does it change the (design) world?

Penpot is starting a new era in design freedom - an era where we no longer have silos or proprietary standards that limit us all from creating and collaborating in our digital world. Our world is increasingly becoming driven by software, and building great user experience is what makes the power of computers accessible to everyone, not just those fortunate enough to understand technology. We want to empower any designer or developer to be a creator in our digital world - a world that I hope is beautiful to see, enjoyable to use, and inclusive to all. We are at the beginning of this movement and hope everyone will join us because, we don’t just want to stand a chance, we want to become inevitable!