Defining Open Design

Massimo Menichinelli

by Massimo Menichinelli
Producer in Fablab activities
Aalto University Media Factory

On November 30th 2011, the Aalto University School of Economics hosted the first Open Knowledge Foundation meetup in Helsinki (you can read a report of that day here and watch see some videos here).

During that event we proposed to focus on Open Design, since it’s an emerging field that is finally booming and that needs a lot of reflection. We proposed to have another meetup in order to build the local presence of the Open Knowledge Foundation (the ultimate goal is to build the local chapter of the Open Knowledge Foundation in Finland) and to focus it this time only on Open Design. This second meetup took place in at Aalto Media Factory on January 28th 2012 in the morning, while in the afternoon we hosted a meetup of Alternative World Design Capital 2012 (for a report of that meetup, you can read this review).

You can have a look at all the pictures of the event here and here on Flickr. I also wrote a blog post about it on the Finnish Institute in London blog here.

For the meetup, I prepared a presentation that gave an overview of the history of Open Design, its current status and the situation regarding a formal definition of Open Design at the moment. Briefly speaking, there is no real Open Design definition, the Open Hardware definition is quite new and design itself is quite a tricky concept to define (since it can refer to a process, a representation of a project, the realization of a project). You can see more about this in the presentation below.

At the end of my presentation I proposed the audience to start discussing what an Open Design definition could imply and what are their ideas and needs for the process. The participants liked the idea of developing the definition, and here are some ideas, needs, and questions that were raised in the discussion:

  • why are current definitions not good enough?
  • how to balance altruism, mutuality, dependency?
  • open information of daily material use of citizens?
  • what about materials, products, services, processes, language, communication, data/content?
  • open as reciprocal sharing
  • political side of openness
  • the definition has to focus on enabling the benefits of open design
  • general benefits:
    • sharing
    • innovation diffusion
    • inclusivity
    • collaboration
    • efficiency
    • innovation
    • transparency
    • risk management
  • how to protect individual creativity?
  • what about commercial interests?
  • how to boost constructive group creativity without mutual destructive/prohibitive competition?
  • is open public?
  • does open also imply availability?
  • open means infinitive, never finished! Release vs. dev. version
  • what about a license? software has a definition and license…
  • what is the purpose of the definition? maybe it helps to create a license or it helps people to know what we talk about
  • open design can refers to a process, not a physical object
  • what about the 4 freedoms?

The second discussion we had was about ideas for projects to improve Open Design as a discipline and its presence in Finland. This is another thing that we had proposed during the first meetup, with the idea that having more events and projects could reinforce the local Open Design community and the attention towards Open Knowledge. Participants were so much interested in the Open Design definition that was very difficult to wrap up that discussion and shift to the project discussion! We did not have much time for both discussion as the ADC part of the day was about to start.

Here are some proposals for projects (I have grouped them into groups):

Tourist attractions:

  • Open Guggenheim: Openheim
  • Openness for dummies


  • short video clips presenting the Open Design agenda
  • video about Open Design from Kahn academy
  • Open Design and local media
  • Open Design awareness campaign

(as you can see, these proposals follow the development of an Open Design definition)

Local events:

  • a regular Open Design meetup
  • pop-up Open Design “restaurant day”
  • Open Knowledge Festival
  • Camp Pixelache

Apps / tools:

  • hackathon to produce apps, open data, services
  • open design / hardware documentation tools development
  • workshop to share and explain open design tools

Open Design for public projects:

  • define Open Design requirements for public projects
  • define a certificate for Open Design

Open Design in Finland:

  • a twitter hashtag for Open Design in Finland?
  • a shared mindmap for Open Design in Finland?
  • design the new services of the Helsinki library together (Open Source Service Design)
  • Open Design startups (also in collaboration with Slush

There was a really good feedback and interest in Open Design, especially in the Open Design definition. For this reason, we thought about further improving the process and making it really open, that’s why we set up an Open Design working group together with the Open Knowledge Foundation where we will develop together the collaborative writing of a formal Open Design Definition. Therefore I hope you will join the discussion by joining our mailing list and by introducing yourself there!

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