This isn't an Open Design Manifesto

Open Design Meeting
Image by Fräulein Schiller via Flickr

Recently my good friend (and pioneer of the Open Design movement) Ronen Kardushin, published a Manifesto on Open Design. As Open Design is a dialogue in physical form, always in Beta, always changing - the same should be said of the underlying concepts, hence this response.

I would like to broaden the scope of the Ronen's Manifesto, beyond that of specific machines. As Open Design has at it's core a permission to modify, edit and reiterate, I'm sure Ronen will not object.

Ronen's version can be found here. The initial paragraphs I agree with, however where I stumble is the preconditions.

Open Design method consists of two preconditions:
1. An Open Design is CAD information published online under a Creative Commons license to be down-
loaded, produced, copied and modified.
2. An Open Design product is produced directly from file by CNC machines and without special tooling.
These preconditions infer that all technically conforming open designs and their derivatives are continu-
ously available for production, in any number, with no tooling investment, anywhere and by anyone."

Above everything for me, Open Design is about permission to duplicate, engage with and reiterate designs. Whilst tools enable this, so do processes. Aspects of Open Design practice in the future may also include skillsets, and physical literacy. Open Design is not new, it was here before, we just didn't need a name for it. This isn't yet a manifesto. Just the start of some thoughts. Feel free to discuss, challenge and re-iterate.

Ronen, I thank you for sparking the discussion.

I sent this to Ronin to get some feedback, and this is the response.

Hi Jay,

Yes! let's spark a dialogue!

I read your message three times before I understood what exactly is the difference between our stand on Open Design. I completely agree with what you write; there is this inherent creative energy when the design process is open: reiterations, improvements, unplanned outcomes, collaborations, discoveries. It's a fantastic way to learn by doing and empowers all its participants to create and acquire skills, artistic, technical and social, in a supportive, sharing environment. It also has a political aspect, a clear stand on the way products come into our lives, in contrast to normal consumption, and their authentic relation to their creators and users. But when I speak or write about Open Design, the "design" is like source code, it's the plan, the blueprint, the data itself. Your open design describes a process, mine focuses on the circumstances of information publication and use. The manifesto was written from an industrial designer's point of view and its intended readers are mainly industrial designers as well. It addresses what I perceive as a creative crisis or at least a relevance problem of industrial design (and education) in context of the internet revolution, or a "globally networked information society". Industrial design, as a discipline, never left home. Although it is intensely IT dependent and software based, a designer's creativity is regulated by producers, so when you compare this situation with other information based creative fields, I find it totally unacceptable. This is also why I make a point about CNC production. It allows repeatable production that is easily scalable up to mass production numbers without tooling investment. A product becomes a physical instance of its information, as quickly, cheaply, easily and freely as possible. Still, Open Design can't include all products and fabrication processes, but as an alternative it has many advantages for a designer.

One more thing: Open Design is new. I started my research for my MA on Open Design in 2002, and for three years I was intensely looking for anything that is similar. Nada. There were books and articles that described methods such as Open Source software, Mass customization, User innovation, collaborative development, CNC production etc., but no one has put together OS principals, CNC production  and internet publication. I was inspired by the works of experts such as Eric S. Raymond, Eric Von Hippel, Frank Piller and Design Prof.  Jochen Gross. I think that each one of them has good strong claims, but not the motivation that initially  pushed me to come up with Open Design: To free myself to do what I really love- to design.

Thanks for writing me, we can have more of this ( although I prefer a face to face talk).

I think as a statement of motivation, I love this quote - To free myself to do what I love. I think this is one of the core drivers of the Open Culture. To pursue our joys and our passions, above everything else. This is true freedom.

However the debate still rides, is Open Design a philosophy, a process, or a method of production and distribution? Should we even seek to define it, or does the opportunity lie in the uncertainty of interpretation?

Feel free to add your thoughts here.

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Open Design City on Fast Company: Recommended Reading

A couple of months ago we got a visit from a journalist from Fast Company.

We were on fire that day, and personally I found the experience an opportunity to gain a refreshed insight into the passions, motivations and thoughts of the other founders.

Sadly not present were fellow cofounders: Tonia Welter, Philip Steffan, and Axel Stab as it would've been a great to get their insights and thoughts on the process also.

I highly recommend reading the article, it captures elements of the spirit of ODC beautifully.

We were on revolutionary form that day, and I'd love to get the full transcripts from Jude. Interesting aspects worthy of further exploration and documentation include:

"It’s not so much about scientific development, because this work doesn’t require rocket science. It’s more about creating the social interactions that invent new things" - Christoph Fahle on how Open Design City creates a space for innovation

“At the very beginning, she kept repeating: This is impossible. How can I do this? But then we spent 15 minutes together, she saw how it’s actually fun and easy to make, and she and her friends totally enjoyed it. They spent a week cutting like crazy, building a jailhouse out of bricks, inventing a method to join the letters. All that was needed was this little start.” - Christopher Doering on our culture of enabling others to make.

“Industrial culture says: here’s a product with a certain use or value. But products don’t work that way; things can be used in so many ways. You cannot say: this is a lamp; its purpose is to fill a space with light. That’s totally limiting. It’s also a gift from your grandma; it’s a personalizing touch in your living room; it’s landfill; it’s made of materials that cost something." - Christopher Doering on the need for an emotional connection and understanding of what products actually mean to us.

"The best way to get attached to a product or object is to make it yourself.” - Ronen Kardushin on why open design offers an emotional connection.

"We’re sustained right now by this big system that’s more fragile than we might like to believe. Distributing this knowledge [of how to make products] within the community gives us resilience, lets us fend for ourselves better." - Myself on the social and cultural importance of Open Design City.

Finally some notes from the Author Jude Stewart, place Open Design City in the context of an aspect of the Emergent culture.

"It's a movement that has the potential to upend traditional modes of industrial design and manufacturing -- and even change how we consume products."

"It’s an intriguing Mobius-strip vision of the next decade: the detritus of an industrial revolution becomes raw material for medieval-style workshops, a movement made possible by the crowd-sourced Internet, a populace tired of living virtually, and machinery democratized in price by a consumer base eager to buy the new means of production. What’s old is, indeed, new again."

The article touches on many of the questions as to why Open Design City is relevant for business (innovation), community (knowledge, community, enabling resilience), and society (emotional connections, sustainability). Whilst there are a few amendments - (chiefly that we actually have 2 cnc machines rather than the zero cited), I thoroughly recommend it - click here for the full article

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