Open Making*: a social, distributed experiment

Open Making* is enabled by technology but it’s not only about technology, and it does not refer only to the files of a project and the physical output or the manufacturing machines, but also to its processes and organizations: any design and manufacturing process based on open and easy participation, sharing of knowledge and information, reputation-based community governance patterns.

It’s not only about publishing a project, this is just a step in the design process. Open Making* is about the processes and organization generated by the developing, manufacturing, sharing of a design project under an open license. Open Making* processes and organizations must be designed also to include a system of all the actors that design, prototype, manufacture, market, distribute, give technical support and manage the life cycle of a project. Not everybody may want or has the resources to control everything, but the process should be open and transparent, and it should be available to be modified and tested in every step: somebody will do it and this is what will keep the projects sustainable.

Being Open alone is not enough for a project: there should always be a discussion why the project should be open, what is open and for whom we open it. Though open, Open Making* is also about designing the boundaries that enclose its projects: the boundaries of what’s open and not, the technical limitations, the specific targets and markets. Not everyone will participate and not always everything should or could be open: an Open Making* project means discussing with other people what should be Open, why and how. Open Making* is a form of Meta-Design: we design projects, processes and tools that generate collaborative processes that evolve continuously.

The democratization of Design was once intended as the design and manufacturing of cheap enough products (so that more people could afford them) in order to improve people’s life through the ability of designers. But Democracy is not about buying cheap enough products: a citizen is not a consumer, and not (only) a prosumer. Democracy is not consumerism, and it cannot be based on mass-production and mass-consumption any longer.

The democratization of Design means now that design processes should be organized in order to have a greater participation, from other designers and even from non-professional designers and common citizens. It is hard to recognize who is a designer, it’s not difficult to recognize who is a citizen. Citizens shall be able to use the design tools and processes to shape their space, life, relationships with a the positive difference to the people that are located in positions of proximity in one’s network. Ultimately, democratization not of Design products but of Design tools, processes and organizations.

The public Agorá (square or gathering place) was (and is) at the same time a political and commercial space, and Open Making* takes place in both spaces, focusing on how the design process is organized (the political space) and how the resources are used and distributed (the economical space). Participants will not be able to dismiss and not care about the economic and business models that are more sustainable for their projects, even if they are enabled and curated by commercial companies. Almost every finite resource is peaking now: oil, natural gas, coal, uranium. Renewable resources like wood are sometimes exploited more quickly than they can renew themselves, so that they are now reaching a peak as well. Now that with digital fabrication we can easily design and manufacture any complex shape and object, what will we design if the energetic and material resources needed are increasingly scarcer and more expensive? How many people will be able to manufacture their own projects and how many of them? The question is: which kind of economy and business models will Open Making* be based on, if the existing ones are not going to last for long? Every Open Making* project will then be part of a distributed social experiment about how to develop collaborative processes and manage increasingly scarce energetic and material resources. Business as usual makes intellectual and cultural goods artificially scarce in order to have a revenue, and considers energetic and material resources as infinite, in order not to worry about the future of our planet. Open Making* will have to overturn this, by sharing information and collaboratively discover how to use and renew the available resources. It’s not just a matter of technology or abstract economical theories: it is a matter of actually test them and share the results.
Open Making* should also coexist with the existing realities and it should not just clone projects just for the sake of openness, reinventing the wheel. Open Making* should use the tools of the future for designing the future, not open copies of an unsustainable past. And they will have to coexist and collaborate with existing companies, professionals and institutions (at least for a while) because resources and knowledge are not yet evenly distributed and fully accessible. But Open Making* will help business as usual to learn how to be more collaborative and sustainable, if it all the processes will be open and modifiable. Open Making* is the opportunity for designers of not being exploited but of having peer-to-peer conversations with companies and institutions.

Networks of interactions mapped during the development of the Open Design Definition on GitHub

Networks of interactions mapped during the development of the Open Design Definition on GitHub

Only something as complex as communities will be able to solve complex problems like the ones that our economy has brought since the Industrial Revolution. Since then, we have been using the land as a white piece of paper, just a space without local qualities to be exploited. It is now time to realize that every locality has its own complexity and richness that must be continuously renewed, and this complexity makes every Open Making* initiative different in every locality. Furthermore, it is time now to realize that we, as a designers and/or citizens, are not single agents but that we are part of bigger complex systems that are far more creative in solving problems.

Open Making* is not (only) about design then, but about building networks and communities. If you want to create a product on your own, then there’s DIY; if you want to modify an existing one, there’s hacking. If you want it for free or a cheap price, you can pirate it or buy from companies that manufacture similar or pirated and cheaper copies. For all of this, you don’t need a project to be Open, though these phenomena are part of the Open Making* ecosystem. What Open Making* does, including also them, is the ability of building communities and collaborative networks in order to find the best local solutions to develop collaborative processes and manage the existing scarce resources, building the new Economy of the future and its business models.

The boundaries that used to separate designers from users are now blurred, because knowledge is much more distributed and shared and technology more accessible, and this defines what should be open. Anyone can be at the same time a designer and a user, depending on the resources, motivations and knowledge locally available, and the quality of a project will be a bottom-up value emerging from the local context. The role of professional (or professionally trained) designers, thanks to their knowledge and expertise, will then be of facilitator of the distributed creativity and of the Open Making* processes and organizations.

Massimo Menichinelli – 2015 – CC-BY