Thursday, May 28, 2015

Open Design

I've been thrilled to watch what's happening at Next/Thing Co, not only because their latest project, the $9 computer, has been a huge Kickstarter "hit" (closing in on $1.8 million), but also because I'm a proud uncle - my nephew Thomas is an industrial designer who's part of the founding team. Perhaps the biggest long-term impact of Next/Thing is their commitment to openness - not just open source software, but open sourcing the hardware. All the schematics will be online, and their message is - buy it, hack it, mod it, build your own. They have truly taken the hacker ethic to heart and it's great to see the impact that they are making.

They've just released a video on the design of their handheld "Pocket C.H.I.P.", a $49 portable - take a look at the video to see what I'm talking about.

Designing PocketC.H.I.P. from next thing co on Vimeo.

I love this video, because it demystifies the process of design. It says to me not that design is easy (becoming a GOOD designer takes a lot of training and a lot of hard work) but that it's ACCESSIBLE - see, this is fun and interesting and if you want, you can do it too.

Let's contrast this to the most famous design-driven company, Apple. Apple is famous for its secret design studio, to which only the specially anointed are allow admittance. For example, here's how it's described in a recent New Yorker profile of Apple design guru Johnny Ive:
An invitation to visit Apple’s studio is rare, and is withheld even from most employees. Inside the door, a ten-foot-long internal vestibule, in stainless steel, serves as a visual air lock.
The Apple mythology is that these are special people performing an arcane and priestlike process that yields magnificent design. And no doubt, Apple has build some beautiful and amazing stuff. But Next/Thing Co presents a different vision, a sort of Protestant Reformation of the design church. Design for the people! How cool is that! I hope they continue to be successful and that from their work a 1000 new designers are born.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm. Not sure I like the image here: "a sort of Protestant Reformation of the design church..." since Protestantism is currently so associated with so many aggressively invasive, domineering, and self-righteous crusaders. I'd chose an image like "the Communist Manifesto" against the Capitalist Exploitation the sense that Marx and Engels were theoretical revolutionaries, more akin to Utopian Socialists than what we think of today as Communist ideology...
    Design for the people works as the slogan for THAT movement, but doesn't really fit with a Protestant Reformation which gave a few more rights to the burghers.