'open source' design - RFI

I am interested in current thinking and experience with open source industrial design and engineering.

OpenMoko CAD files available for download
Design complete, product shipping, now lets open source it. Why?

Consumer Created Designs
A discussion of rapid prototyping a custom design shell for existing product.

Mass customization by individuals for the individual is hacking, a styling exercise. It could be open source-like if multiple designs are collated, adopted, produced or made available in volume.

Years ago Flextronics CEO sold frog with epithet (paraphrased, don’t have quote) “design is a commodity, it can be bought anywhere.” Commodification generally cheapens, cheapening generally produces commodification. My example, mobile phones: 100’s millions every year, 90% essentially similar,… my numbers.

Open sourcing a design effort should produce stupendous creations, antithesis of commodification: law of numbers, underemployed genius, savant, luck. Example: designboom competitions | designboom , at time of writing the three most recent competitions:

SOUND INNOVATION 3487 participants
GREEN EARTH 3966 participants
CRYSTAL VISION 4074 participants

Phenomenal! Are industrial design competitions the only probable open source method? Could the one hour design competitions graduate into similar?

Consider the cost and secondary benefit: using example “SOUND INNOVATION”, a design fee could be $25k to $1million+, actual competition prize $10k total, $5k each in two categories. Thousands of design iterations usable perhaps for accessories or successive designs for the same $10k fee!

Is not extant open source a sustained distributed effort by the single discipline many for a conglomerate or consortium producing similar multivariate end products? Can a product development company, of multivariate disciplines but singular products, truly open source a design effort? It seems to have so many questions:

confidentiality, liability, intellectual property
product development driver or driving: which is it?

Please provide examples if you know of them.

Disclosure: I am being asked to MC and present at a seminar, I am considering this topic.

When I think of open-source for product design, I always think of do-it-yourself how-to’s in carpentry magazines. Or Martha Stuart crafting. Is it really a new idea?

The problem with developing products, is that unlike software, there are very expensive hard costs for tooling, raw-materials, manufacturing, packaging, warehousing and shipping. So does free design really make a difference?

The reality is that manufacturers who are willing to pay for all those things are getting a lot of their design for free via all of the products that came before them. Few products are truly new.

Did you check out redesignme.com? They’ve been advertising on core’s front page. It’s more like a game. Designers/consumers/regular Joes gets award points for submitting ideas.

I think open-source has been as over-used as “innovation” the last few years in all fields. Let’s take a look at where open-source works:

software: Code costs only programing time and the cost of hardware today. It can be distributed via torrent for free, essentially. Therefore, the only thing needed to create a nice piece of OS soft is a motivated programmer and time.

If we look at the big open source projects, Open Office and Mozilla, we see something else though. Open Office was heavily funded by Sun and Mozilla by Google. So these programs weren’t just created on the fly by geeks in basements, but programed by consultants sitting in offices too.

So, if we take this to design, it might be the equivalent of GM getting some sketches sent to them by a pimply teen and handing them over to 30 designers in-house to realize. Not quite the cheap option it seems as face value.

Another aspect is corporate structure. In the industrialized world, there are all kinds of tax credits that reduce our real cost to the enterprise. Moreover, as CG has stated elequoently elsewhere, design is at the small end of the product development budget. Consider the hard costs (tooling, assy line, packaging, etc), engineering, marketing, sales, logistics, transport…design is probably .1% of the dev. budget before the product hits a shelf. It’s just not worth trying to cut it out.

So, the only benefit we have is the possibility that it will bring the end-user into the process. But here again, that’s already part of good design. The literature on user-centered design is huge and growing. There is no real excuse for not doing this stuff.

I would tend to say at this point, open source is a net gain of zero to the process.

One last thing: competitions. Also consider the validity of the concepts received. Look up last year’s greener gadget winner in this forum. We ripped it apart due to basic ignorance of physics (although it would have been friggin’ elequoent in an alternate universe). I’ve never judged a comp., but from the entries I’ve seen, most are barely a launching pad for a development process, not a final design ready to cut steel.

re: competitions,

check this thread-


I think we’re all (yes me too) mixing up Open-Source and Crowd-Source.

Open-Source means that once a design is created (even by one person), it’s given away for anyone to use (under the GNU license for instance.)

Let’s talk about why a designer would want to do this:

Open source seems to be a lot about modification and collaboration, similar to crowd-sourcing I guess.

I have always liked the work done by Poonam Bir Kasturi in open source design



One of the initial conflicts Poonam faced was to come to terms with the decision to make Daily Dump an open-source idea, i.e., to allow other players to venture into it and not patent it. Her friends thought that she was impractical in doing so and she was told that it is a complete do-gooder scheme and not a viable business proposition. Poonam, however, decided to march on. “I have just leveraged my expertise and haven’t put a cost to it. Business analysts might think that my business model is all wrong, but I look at it as enabling several others to make money from my ideas,” says Poonam. She even helps her clones in setting up the business, locating the suppliers, and gives technical assistance related to composting. The first slot of material can be obtained for free from Daily Dump.

On asked whether an open-source idea actually translates to increased competition, she comments, “Do you know how many people we need in this business before the waste is going to disappear from the society? Even if there are five clones of Daily Dump in Bangalore, the problem is so enormous, it won’t suffice.” Daily Dump has clones in Hyderabad and Chennai and more are expected to start up in Delhi, Pune and Chandigarh. There are clones in Dubai, Israel and China who have taken assistance from Poonam in setting up their business as well. The model is being replicated even in Florida. “I love the fact that I am a woman living in a developing country, working with completely low tech ideas, addressing a real urban problem and enabling someone in Florida to make money. Just the thought of it is so exciting,” says Poonam.

Is it a profitable business? According to Poonam, an investment of Rs 50, 000 can ensure a business that makes profits, within three months. She adds, “Although my time is not paid for and I have to find another revenue source to compensate, everything else, including my team of service employees, potters, and experts, are paid for by the sales of the product. I can still say that it has been highly profitable for me. I have made a lot of friends and get a lot of fulfillment when I sleep, being involved with such a good cause.”

I’m not sure if Daily Dump is open-source or consulting…hmmm

her website is under construction but the entire concept was presented at a workshop in the summer and the designs for the terracotta dumps are open source and available for download permitting anyone with access to a potter (common in india) to get one made for themselves. I’ll dig around for a pdf that shows the ‘how to’ DIY etc

cg is right that people often talk about “open-source” when actually they mean “crowd sourced”. True open source means the code, text or whatever is available for anyone to modify or simply to use, without restriction. I don’t think I have ever seen an open source design competition, since the ipr is always owned by either the designer or the company sponsoring the competition.

The other thing about open source is that although it’s the design/invention which is most interesting to designers, the vast majority of work (I think I once read 95% but can’t remember where) is bug fixing and editing. Firefox releases far more security updates than new features, and existing entries are changed on Wikipedia far more often than new entries are written.

I think the interesting point though is in cg’s question: “Why would a designer want to do this?” If by ‘designer’ we mean ‘design professional’, then at first it seems there’s very little reason, because that designer would be giving away something they could otherwise charge for. But that’s the same for any profession: why would a musician or author give away their work for free? Usually it’s because they’re hoping it will lead to things they can charge for: concerts or recording contracts for the musician, speaking engagements or magazine articles for the author. If a designer thinks s/he will get more work by giving something away (or maybe just by contributing some of their time) then it could make sense. And then if the definition is widened so that ‘designer’ means ‘design student’, or ‘person who always wanted to be a designer but never went to college’, or just ‘person with a good idea’, then there may be a lot of reasons: publicity, practice, personal interest, or simply that there’s no other way the idea will see the light of day.

A good start point for this kind of thing is Democratizing Innovation by Eric von Hippel, you can download it here: Eric Von Hippel's Homepage. His argument seems to point to the idea that open source works best at the fringes where established industries aren’t interested, either because they don’t believe there’s a market, or because they don’t understand the potential.

I am considering Big Technology Co. (IBM, Siemens, GM, etc.) open sourcing a design and engineering effort. The designers could earn payment, licenses, spinoff product development, skills, networking, partnerships.

Alternately could an open source effort be used as new product market development. Consider a paint company, a sports equipment company; somehow entering an open source design effort requesting a line of accessories without specifiying actual product descriptions. Designs would be open, shared, modified and spur new submissions. At some point executive decision would be made which to produce; but even here could this be open sourced, the business case which to produce?

IP would be a partial non issue due to public disclosure, notwithstanding someone submitting already protected work, known or unknown.

I see big and medium companies with identical problems: how to innovate, too costly, what are best practices, we do things here no one else does (every company says this, never true). I’ve seen several companies with titled “Disruptive Development” groups, and got into debate that such a corporate department or group couldn’t be without itself being disruptive which runs contrary to creating a corporate group. Open sourcing a design effort could be hugely disruptive, to product outcomes and to the company.

Perhaps some blend of open source, competition and crowd source could be developed to succeed?

IP is never a non-issue, partial or otherwise. Public disclosure just introduces a whole bunch of different issues about how to monetize an idea.

I see a number of issues with the scenarios you propose. Firstly if the Big Technology Co. is serious about the open source design/engineering effort, it needs to open up some of its existing IP, whether that’s technology or design or production or a combination. If it doesn’t then those people outside the company are working in the dark and have no idea whether what they are doing is realistic. But once that existing IP is opened, it becomes free for anyone to exploit (I don’t just mean disclosure, I mean making something genuinely open source) including the Big Technology Co.'s direct competitors. These competitors wouldn’t need to make any effort in the project, but would be free to exploit the existing IP and any design or innovation that results. I’m not sure I understand why IBM or Siemens or GM would want to do that. And if they tried to prevent such an outcome then by definition the project would cease to be open source.

In the second scenario, I’d have to ask what the role of the paint company or the sports equipment company is, since they’re not apparently participating until a decision is made. And an “executive decision” is the antithesis of open source.

As someone who is generally an advocate of open source, I think you’re raising some interesting points, but it seems you’re trying to fit the open source model into a corporate business world. The problem is that open source shuns secrecy and property and profit - all the things that drive corporations. You say as much yourself when you write that it’s not possible to have a disruptive development group inside a corporate structure. A lot of companies are talking about open source development, but in the majority of cases it’s just co-opting something that’s fashionable. What they really want is consumers to do the work their R&D departments would normally do, for free, in order to sell that work back to consumers. To be honest I’m happier if open source projects continue to be about taking back power and autonomy from corporations. Open source has been shown to work as an alternative to profit-driven product development; I’m not sure it can work as a development process for a profit-driven organisation though.