Open Design – a map of contemporary Open Design structures and practices
autores: Heloisa Neves and Clice de Toledo Sanjar Mazzilli
The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the academic debate on new scenarios of creation, production and distribution of goods, through the model of Open Design, a phenomena based on co-creation, shared knowledge, distributed production and open licensing.
At the beginning, we discuss the concept of the term and its implications to the transition between the second and third industrial revolution. Thereafter, we analyse different maps for the Open Design model. Finally, we present the result of a series of interviews with professionals connected to Open Design.
The methodology for the interviews was based on inviting professionals that, during the time the research was conducted, were working in Fab Lab Barcelona, an important place for the contemporary Open Design discussion.
All the interviews sought to research how the model that we are calling Open Design, and how this structure is facilitating new processes to achieve alternative models.
We conclude that the current practice of Open Design has not yet realised the map drawn by its theory. There exist some problems like the inexistence of a really substantial way to negotiate and license the products, the difficulty of economically benefiting people involved and some specific problems with management and accessibility to local manufacturing laboratories. But, in another way, the research found some interesting qualities. The horizontal network between user/producer/professional is well established and it is possible to find accessible manufacturing facilities. Designers are recreating their way of working and innovating in the process of creation, production and distribution of goods. The map of the Open Design model, compared with the traditional one is different, mainly because the new system works with small, local structures of manufacturing, more fluid and open to discussing the process. This is aligned with the essence of open design: knowledge sharing.
KEYWORDS: open design, knowledge sharing, new production structures
About the Open Design concept and the transition between the second and third industrial revolutions
Although the term Open Design is a recent and still developing creation, the concept is old and has always manifested itself in projects where ideas, improvements or experimental findings about a production process or tools are regularly shared, allowing its free distribution and the expansion of knowledge, which in turn influences and develops other processes and models. Basically, Open Design is a phenomenon based on co-creation, knowledge sharing, distributed production and open licence.
For Peter Troxler in his paper “Libraries of the Peer Production Era” (Abel, Evers, Klaassen e Troxler, 2011, p.87), Open Design, beyond operating according to the principles of open source software applied to design, “conveys knowledge about its products transparently, communicating its nature within the products themselves, making production tools, methods and experience accessible to everybody as a common infrastructure.”
This common infrastructure for Open Design is a space that contains, besides concepts, tools that allow people to fabricate digital codes for design. These structures can be defined as digital fabrication laboratories, collaborative spaces and platforms for online sharing, distribution, design promotion and shared machine shops.
This revolution in the way we produce design (collaborative, distributed via digital means and manufactured in small factories) changed paradigms that were already consolidated in the area of industrial design. Instead of serial production with high numbers of standardised products, the Open Design process allows small-scale, personalised manufacturing which does not require a large number of copies to be made to be viable.
For the future, it is believed that the revolution will concern machines, which will be transferred from a strictly manufacturing to a residential or service environment. Possibly in the future we will have small factories in our cities, or even homes, that build almost anything by means of a digital file made available on the internet – according to Gershenfeld (2005, page 55): “In the past, art became separated from artisans and mass manufacturing turned individuals from creators into consumers. In the future, there will be universal self-producing molecular fabricators. In the present, personal fabrication has already arrived.”
For the moment, we are living in the transition between the second and third industrial revolutions. According to Rifkin (2011), we are between the second industrial revolution, marked by the vertically downward flow of authority, the importance of financial capital, the functioning of the market and relations based on private property and the third industrial revolution, marked by the subsequent collaborative age, a creative economy, interactivity between equals, social capital, participation in open spaces in the public domain and access to social networks.
The second revolution was driven mainly by the design of products for the masses through closed processes of creation, serial manufacturing, and at great distance from the user. In the third revolution the masses will enjoy the opportunity to design, manufacture and distribute products for themselves, aided by the advantages brought by the digital revolution. This transition brings with it new business models and a restructuring of entire production chains and even life itself. Rifkin (2011, p. 166) asks: “What if millions of people could make lots of articles – or even separate articles – in their own homes or businesses more cheaply and faster, and applying the same quality controls as the most technologically advanced factories in the world?” This question cannot be answered yet because open collaborative models do not yet have the same capabilities as existing factories. However, very efficient and successful models are emerging, at least showing us new ways.
An alternative map for creation, production and distribution of goods: new structures and practices
According to Paul Atkinson (2006), the transition from an era of vertical flow to a collaborative and open era has been possible due to the changing phase of the process: the possibility of using technologies that allow design through code, no longer by analogical processes. For exists, a product design no longer necessarily needs to be sent to a factory to be produced by expensive industrial machinery. The product’s existence as intangible digital code allows you to collaborate and share knowledge before it materially exists.
Figure 1 -Comparing models of manufacture by Paul Atkinson. In: ABEL, Bas van; EVERS, Lucas; KLASSEN, Roel e TROXLER Peter. Open Design Now: Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive. Amsterdam: BIS publishers, 2011, page 29.
This new model will surely bring new challenges to the designer requiring new attitudes with respect to their relationship to and ownership of the finished object, as well as in their relationship with the user. “Traditional models of authorship and liabilities do not sit well with open systems of design and production, and trying to maintain them will only lead to heartbreak and disappointment.” (Atkinson, 2011, page 30). The same author goes on to say that the relationship between the designer and the objects “they initiate will change, as they might never see or even be aware of the results of their endeavours, changed as they will be by users to suit their own needs.” Maybe the designer needs to start thinking about developing systems instead of developing finished products to put their name to. This is a positive point and could be seen as an opportunity for the designer to become far more closely involved with the process of production than before and more open to sharing and receiving knowledge. “These orchestral manoeuvres in design will change everything for everybody. (…) The innate ability of design to adapt to change will surely be its saviour.” (Atkinson, 2011, page 31)
Following this idea, an interesting research map about new production paradigm by Fabien Eychenne and Arthur Schmitt (2012) is trying to understand and answer if the innovation from digital revolution (share, copy and interact) is really changing the way of produce goods.
Figure 2 and 3 – New Production Paradigm by Fabien Eychenne and Arthur Schmitt. In: EYCHENNE, Fabien (2012). Refair: nouvelles pratiques, nouvelles fabriques. Retrieved January, 2013, from: http://www.reseaufing.org/pg/file/fabien/read/122362/territoires-dinnovation-premires-pistes
The yellow circles (first image) represent the classical model of production with traditional structures: closed object, company, R&D and production in big factories. Around the classical structures, we can observe new possibilities for production of goods, including new actors, new rules and changes to the process of design. This study is part of a project called “Refair: new practices, new factories” that is trying to explore some questions related to open innovation models and horizontal features of the internet applied to industrial production. Maybe, the next map of the production of goods can be completely redefined, showing a new model for the third industrial revolution. A model more connected with knowledge sharing, strong relationship between products and services, closer to the user and the co-creation.
For Peter Troxler (2011), it is no longer possible to view the world of manufacturing as a model with different actors. Production today, being opened, shared and customised, requires new models and new formats. Below, Troxler illustrates his claim through a mapping of the structures involved in contemporary production.
Figure 4 – ´Libraries´ of the peer production era by Peter Troxler. In: ABEL, Bas van; EVERS, Lucas; KLASSEN, Roel e TROXLER Peter. Open Design Now: Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive. Amsterdam: BIS publishers, 2011, page 92
For Troxler (2011) “the fabbing universe could be described on two dimensions, characterizing initiatives as more reproductive or more generative in their nature, and as more infrastructure-oriented or more-project oriented in their approach.” Besides this, it is difficult to define one of these new structures with only functions. The new open structures are more fluid and are more adaptive to the user. The Open Design model has more rhizomatic structures of existence and a non-linear time, which make a more complex model.
Fab Labs, for example, are a great example of a structure that offers the possibility to work on projects together with a huge community of makers and professionals, sharing knowledge and even manufacturing these ideas. As seen in the previous graphic, they are between infrastructure and projects but tending more to generative than reproductive processes. Other structures of manufacturing like Ponoko or Shapeways (sharing platforms) can be located between infrastructure and projects, but offering a reproductive process. Following this analysis, we could go on delineating the profile of the structures highlighted by Troxler in the graphic above, which are better detailed in the following table:
Table 1 – Based on Peter Troxler’s graphic, we amplified the table to explain each structure. Sources:
1. ABEL, Bas van; EVERS, Lucas; KLASSEN, Roel e TROXLER Peter. Open Design Now:
Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive. Amsterdam: BIS publishers, 2011, page 92.
2. PFEIFFER, Diane. Digital Tools, Distributed Making & Design. EUA: Virginia Polytechnic Institute
and State University, Master of Science in Architecture, 2009.
3. OPEN SOURCE HARDWARE ASSOCIATION. Definition. Retrieved September, 2012, from http://www.oshwa.org/definition/
For Natasha Carolan (2011), who also analyses similar structures for manufacturing in the digital economy, “digitisation and convergence in a digital consumer culture is redeﬁning organisation and practice.” She demonstrates this alteration in the following categories: personal, community, design, manufacturer, retail and manufacturer and service. This can be seen in the following graphic:
Figure 5 – Typology Summary by Natasha Carolan. In: CARONA, Natasha (2011, octuber). Manufacturing 2.0 – Manufacturing in the Digital Economy. SlideShare. Retrieved September, 2012, from http://www.slideshare.net/NatashaCarolan/manufacturing-20, page 16.
Interview study: discovering structure and practice patterns of the Open Design model
Seeking to map how professionals are working with the new structures of creation, production and distribution of product design, and how changes in the model of production of goods are changing concepts and current work practices, we conducted interviews with professionals involved.
The methodology for the interviews was based on inviting professionals that, during the time the research was conducted (autumn 2012), were working in Fab Lab Barcelona, a digital fabrication laboratory that belongs to the global Fab Lab network created by the Centre for Bits and Atoms of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The Fab Lab Barcelona is an important laboratory of the Fab Lab network and an important place for the contemporary Open Design discussion.
We spent five months at the laboratory and during this time interviewed all the professionals that were working there on projects using the Open Design concept. After this phase, and feeling the need to also check the opinion of other professionals, we decided to widen the scope of the interviews and apply the interview methodology to different labs and other professionals who are also working with the concept. This next step occurred in Fab Labs in other countries like the Netherlands and Finland and with independent professionals in France that are connected to the Open Design concept and engage in the current discourse.
This paper does not contain this latter part of the research but it will be added in the future, as ongoing research enables us to investigate with more complexity and focus and draw a more realistic map of the current situation. All the interviews (inside and outside Fab Labs) sought to research how people are understanding the model that we are calling Open Design, and how this structure is facilitating new processes to achieve alternative business models.
The primary material derived from these interviews is presented in this paper. For this part of the study to be presented we used a methodology of data collection based on creating patterns using cards with words key to Open Design. We asked each of the respondents to arrange the cards in the way that made most sense to them. The respondent could withdraw or introduce cards as seemed relevant. After creating the pattern, they had to explain their line of reasoning for creating the pattern of cards, and describe the connections between the structures and concepts contained.
The words selected for the cards were: digital fabrication, Thingiverse, 3D printer, Shapeways, Ponoko, Fab Lab, production, 100K Garage, factory, distribution, originality, DIY (do it yourself), free software, Tech Shop, knowledge, re-design, open source software, copy right, blueprint, local producer, author, prosumer, designer, amateur, co-creation, DIWO (do it with others), open hardware, creation, user, collaboration, copy left, proprietary software. The words were selected from web pages and literature of the topic, as selected by the focus of the research.
The profile of respondents is detailed in the following table:
Table 2 – Font: webpages of the respondents.
Respondents – Open Design Pattern
The business model of Open Design which sets its structures and practices is still in the initial phase of consolidation because we currently live in a “between” period, where new facts coexist with older models, which prevents the total visualization of the model. The structures are emerging, growing stronger and breaking physical and ideological boundaries. Some designers are investing in new ways of working, trying to reinvent their profession, in the own words of the respondents. However, some issues are still very obscure and difficult to resolve. Structures like Fab Labs, for example, which are very complex and have very diverse functions, are difficult to define or categorise by dividing into many sub-categories: access to machines, knowledge sharing, education etc. On the other hand, Tech Shops and 100K Garages, having more targeted functions and positions clearer to the user end up becoming more user-friendly. However, their disadvantage is not to be as focused on learning, sharing knowledge and innovation.
Structures like Shapeways, Thingiverse and Ponoko, were cataloged by our respondents as supporting structures open to the process of design, and one of the respondents dismissed these structures from their map.
Without a doubt, a very important word to open design, which appeared commonly during the interviews and their activities (see respondents’ maps) was: knowledge. This fact proves that the concern of the 1960s Fritz Machlup (Machlup, 1962) to include knowledge as an item of economic value made sense within a nascent digital revolution.
As for the cards containing conceptual terms (production, distribution, originality, DIY (do it yourself), knowledge, re-design, prosumer, designer, amateur, co-creation, DIWO (do it with others), creation, collaboration, it was noted that respondents found it easier to explain and connect them. This fact demonstrates that the concepts have been strengthened and are already strong due to influences from the open source software.
Below we present a summary (based on the cards dynamic) showing the main changes in Open Design process, when compared with traditional processes. Note that the changes occur at all stages, from the creation to the distribution of products. Note that the relationship between designers, users and structures changes considerably. If before we could detect a linear path for the production of goods, today this path becomes extremely rich and complex, due to procedures being open to users, the openness of information itself and especially the production structures in locations accessible to all.
We would like to end by restating that the current practice of Open Design in the researched structures has not yet reached the map drawn by its theory. There exist some problems like the inexistence of a really substantial way to negotiate and license the products, the difficulty of economically benefiting people involved and some specific problems with management and accessibility to local manufacturing laboratories. But, in another way, the research found some interesting qualities. The horizontal network between user/producer/professional is well established and it is possible to find accessible manufacturing facilities. In addition, designers have been using some very new structures, recreating their way of working and innovating in the process of creation, production and distribution of goods. The map of the Open Design model, compared with the traditional one is different, mainly because the new system works with small, local structures of manufacturing which are more fluid and open to discussing process and product with users and professionals. This is aligned with the essence of open design: knowledge sharing.
A point to be highlighted is the need to also discuss the regulatory framework for intellectual property. This research was not intended to study licences. However, we believe that it is important to end this article by reporting a concern that was noted in each interview and at the conferences related to this topic.
It is necessary to think of a process of intellectual property that stimulates collective production, which protects authors and producers who want to make their knowledge public, that strengthens a common production base, protects the collective documentation environment, and sustains the business model, preventing the misappropriation of free and public assets. Fundamentally, this new process needs to be written for design and not just adjusted.
We believe that open design constitutes a powerful alternative model for creation, production and distribution of products based on an important concept: the shared knowledge. However, to achieve absolute success it needs to connect and consolidate the existing structures more strongly and these connections need to be clear for users, professionals and enthusiasts.
ABEL, Bas van; EVERS, Lucas; KLASSEN, Roel e TROXLER Peter. Open Design Now: Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive. Amsterdam: BIS publishers, 2011.
CARONA, Natasha (2011, October). Manufacturing 2.0 – Manufacturing in the Digital Economy. SlideShare. Retrieved September, 2012, from http://www.slideshare.net/NatashaCarolan/manufacturing-20
EYCHENNE, Fabien and SCHMITT, Arthur. Refair: nouvelles pratiques, nouvelles fabriques. Retrieved January, 2013, from http://www.reseaufing.org/pg/file/fabien/read/122362/territoires-dinnovation-premires-pistes
GERSHENFELD, Neil. Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop. EUA: Basic Books, 2007.
GERSHENFELD, Neil. How to Make Almost Anything – The Digital Fabrication Revolution. EUA: Foreigner Affairs, Volume 91 • Number 6, November-December, 2012.
LAMA, José Perez de. Arquitectura FLOS: [Free / Libre Open Source Architecture] – Del DIY [Do It Yourself] al DIWO [Do It With Others]. Retrieved 2nd November 2012, from http://www.hackitectura.net/osfavelados/txts/2009_08_arquitectura_flos/20091230_arquitectura_flos_imgsv2.pdf
OPEN DESIGN NOW. Retrieved 2nd October 2012, from http://opendesignnow.org/
OPEN SOURCE HARDWARE ASSOCIATION. Definition. Retrieved September, 2012, from http://www.oshwa.org/definition/
MACHLUP, Fritz. The Production and Distribuction of Knowledge in the United States. EUA: Princeton University Press, 1962.
PFEIFFER, Diane. Digital Tools, Distributed Making & Design. EUA: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Master of Science in Architecture, 2009.
RIFKIN, Jeremy. The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World. EUA: St Martins Press, 2011.
ANDERSON, Chris. Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. London: Ramdom , 2012.