Open design comes of age, first of a series by Massimo Menichinelli

Massimo Menichinelli (original source here):

With this post (and two following ones) I’m going to explain why I think that Open Design is going mainstream now (here I’m talking about Open Design on broad terms). With these posts I don’t want to say that it is now considered popular and no more controversial, but that it is not underground anymore: it is now finding its place inside the collective imagination.
Since I started researching Open and Collaborative Design practices in 2005, things have changed a lot: there are no more isolated projects but a whole ecosystem is emerging through the weaving of collaborative networks. And since the past year, few signs have been showing clearly that more and more institutional or famous organizations and people are interested in Open Design (or at least in bringing collaboration and crowdsourcing in the design process). If it’s not really mainstream yet, it’s not underground anymore for sure.

01. A novel: Makers

The first sign is clearly the publishing of Cory Doctorow‘s novel Makers: a science-fiction novel about the Maker subculture and the rise (and fall and rise again) of Open Designers through 3D Printing, User-generated Exhibitions and financial fights with big corporations like Walt Disney. And it is an important book also because it tries to show how Open Design could develop with possible business models and scenarios (trying to learn from the dot-com bubble of the ’90s).
You can download it in different formats here, or read it here below (and you can also read a great review by our friend Adam Arvidsson here).

02. IDEO and FrogDesign


Introduction to OpenIDEO / from IDEO on Vimeo.

OpenIDEO is a project launched in August 2010 by IDEO, one of the most famous design and innovation consultancies. OpenIDEO can be regarded as an hybrid between Crowdsourcing and Open Design, since they launch challenges to the online crowd, but later the process is collaborative. We must note however that the paradigm here is more Web 2.0 than Open Source: collaboration on OpenIDEO is only about voting, commenting and talking about the projects, in order to refine them and discard the less interesting, so that one winner will be chosen in the end. There is no actual collaborative design with an Open Source process.
All concepts generated are shareable, remix-able, and reusable in a similar way to Creative Commons (though this means they’re not using Creative Commons), since participants own the concepts but grant a non-exclusive license to the Challenge Host for possible publication. Beyond that, organizations that partner with OpenIDEO on challenges may choose to implement the top ideas.

All challenges posted will be for social good, meaning that they won’t be used for commercial projects. In time, IDEO may use the same platform as part of their client work for closed challenges (that won’t appear on OpenIDEO). It seems therefore that it is for social and non-commercial goals now, but at the same time it’s a research about using the same approach (that is, more Open Innovation that real Open Design) to the commercial side of IDEO.

Beside this, IDEO is already planning the launching of its design for social innovation division for the fall of 2011 (here’s an interesting interview about it). is seeking individuals for the 2012 fellowship class: residents will join senior designers from IDEO to form’s interdisciplinary design team for an 11-month period. In order to chose these residents, candidates are asked to fill an online application and also to participate in an OpenIDEO Challenge.

Even if the concept is not completely Open Design (there is no real collaboration like in Open Source and the licenses used are not completely clear or Open), it is a very important project that IDEO designed carefully. They especially paid attention to the problem of metrics: how do we measure collaboration, the work of every participant and the state of the community?
I will return on this issue in the future, since it’s critical for the development of Open Design and any open projects (and therefore of Open P2P Design, that enables them). For the moment, the approach of OpenIDEO is an interesting case:

The Design Quotient (DQ) is a measure of your contributions to OpenIDEO. It corresponds to how active you are in the inspiration, concepting, and evaluation phases of a challenge. It also measures your collaboration, increasing every time you comment or build on other people’s inspirations and concepts. When you take part in a challenge, you build up your DQ by accruing points.

A DQ can help to publicly identify your design expertise and strengths. Maybe you’re excellent at providing inspiration that shapes the conversation, or you’re great at building off of others’ ideas. Share it with your friends, colleagues, teachers, and even potential employers to give them some insight into what you’re best at.

02.02 frogMob

Another renowned design and innovation consultancy, Frog Design, has started being interested in bringing mass collaboration inside the design process developing frogMob, “an experimental method of guerilla research”. This is clearly not a case of Open Design, but of Crowdsourcing: there is no real collaboration, but only challenges offered to any internet surfer (i.e. the crowd) that can then help Frog Design in developing design research of existing solutions worldwide.

frogMob is an open, crowdsourced approach to research […] frogMob gives us the opportunity to rapidly identify patterns across markets and geographies, and ultimately glean inspiration from unexpected sources.

frogMob is not about real etnographic research, but it looks just for “small adaptations invented by real people”: it began as an internal experiment, and now it is publicly open to participants. It seems like a business version of a Wikipedia of product hacking done by users: they’re not yet co-designers, but this is one of the first steps in that direction.

Incentives are very basic: you participate because you’d like to play an active role in Frog Design’s design process, engaging in a dialogue with Frog Design’s research teams, and then you can get your submission featured on the online and print magazine design mind. Submissions are voluntary and unpaid, and participants own the rights to their content (see the term of use).

02.03 Thomas Sutton (Frog Design) talking about Open Innovation (and Design)

Frog Design Creative Director Thomas Sutton spoke on Open Innovation on the main stage at the Lift11 conference in Geneva, Switzerland (2011) with his talk Relinquishing Control: creating space for open innovation.
While Open Innovation is already a well known and accepted concept in many business sectors, it still needs to find a place in the Design field. In this talk Sutton explains how Design should become more about building connections with the whole network (because it’s not the best product that wins, but the product with the best system dynamics) and for creating a space for Open Innovation with the users.
Here again, it is interesting to note that the Creative Director at Frog Design talks about using Design for Open Innovation (and Open Design as well). Let’s hope that designers, as Sutton suggested, will leave behind their traditional idea of a role that:

Impose meaningful order on the world

and that instead uncover the meaning and order that already exist, facilitating the emergence of networks of distributed and collaborative creativity.

Watch live streaming video from liftconference at

(To be continued in the second and third parts)

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