When we first launched Open Design City in May, I set out to explain Open Design, but not to define (as our understanding of such a concept should likewise be open):
"Open Design is design for the commons. Products that people are free to make, adapt, modify and build upon. The barriers to entry and access should be minimal. Open design products by their nature should be delivered in beta, perceived not as complete but continuously evolving, in dialogue with the user and the world."
I did not however seek to elaborate as to why Open Design is important. This I shall attempt to do below.
The most important aspect of Open Design for me is Access. Call me an idealist, but i'm of the opinion that no individual or business should have the right to prevent any human being from accessing the means to sustain their existence. AKA their right to keep on living. This restriction is a byproduct of the existing intellectual property system as well as the economic system it protects.
Open Design grants people the right to Access the technologies that can help them to sustain themselves. It removes a reliance on a service provider, instead focusing on the redistribution of knowledge, skills and processes, empowering people to meet their own needs cheaply and effectively. Such behavior, I feel is critical not just from the perspective of survival, but also critical to an individual's sense of power and ownership. To take responsibility for improving ones own environment. In countries worst struck by tragedy, poverty, famine and plague, adding reliance on a benevolent outside body does not help develop a psychology of survival (an issue explored in considerable detail by Tori Hogan).
But Open Design also holds tremendous value for societies less concerned with daily survival (who should maybe be more concerned with such matters). Below I have listed some of these aspects (elaborating only where I feel it is necessary) , which will have differing appeals for different social groups:
Emotional connection - building your own product connects you to the process and generates an emotional relationship to objects, countering a disposable attitude to the material world.
Empowerment - The ability to shape the world around you is an empowering attitude, the permission inherent in Open Design allows you to directly engage with the production of your product and understand the implications of it's manufacture.
Accelerated Innovation - Many minds make light work
Autonomous Collaboration - Open Design creates the opportunity to collaborate without concensus, we don't have to agree on the best path or course, but can instead be driven by our own egos and passions. By sharing the outcomes we are able to learn and derive benefits from each others action and learning without limitation.
Community Resilience - We have passed peak oil, yet at present our society is reliant on centralised provision of resources, Open Design is only one aspect of a distributed resiliant culture, yet one which can assist with the infrastructural and technological components of "lifeboat communities".
Open Design is not a new concept. In reality it's closed design that is new, with Intellectual Property only becoming a part of our culture over the last 200 years. However the myth of the designer is something strong in our psyche (especially in religious thinkers). Open Design is more akin to an evolutionary model of creation, the designer a catalyst, a spark of lightning or environmental influence.
Open Design as a concept, expands out in front of me, and there is more that I have yet to go into, to explore and describe. I encourage you to do likewise (shortly I will post a request and article from our philosopher in residence Camille to further provoke you). But my brief experience with developing a continuous Open Space - Open Design City, and the practice of Open Design we have been adopting, convinces me that Open Design represents a profound opportunity to empower people to take ownership of the world, and responsibility for improving it themselves.