Open Design Competition

On September 23rd, 2014 the Detroit Design Festival will be sponsoring the first Detroit Open Design Competition.  The focus of the competition will be to highlight Detroit design and designers and to introduce and further the goals of Open Design as a extension of the Open Source movement.  All submitted designs must be released into the public domain.  The competition will have two phases, one "internal" to the participating Makerspaces and then a final judging at the Detroit Design Festival after the designs have been built and displayed.  

As it is currently envisioned, each Makerspace will have one or more "fellows" who will be chosen by the Makerspace to build their designs to be shown and judged at the 2014 DDF.  The Fellows will first submit their designs to the Makerspace and the Makerspace will make the first cut by only choosing those designs that they think 1) respresents their Makerspace and 2) can feasibly be built at their Makerspace.  The Makerspace will supply the tools, space, and mentoring for the designs to be built.  We envision giving each participating Makerspace a grant that they will divide up among their fellows to pay for materials.  It will be up to the Makerspace to determine how many fellows they can have based on the amount of money that we can fundraise for the materials.

I am posting this information to the I3Detroit Forums to hopefully both inform the I3Detroit community about the upcoming competition and to also invite input into the design and the format of the competition itself.  After all, an "Open Design" competition should itself be designed by the community!


  • So to start off the discussion, here are the proposed criteria.  No one is expected to score 100% in all categories and there will be an award for the highest in each category: 

    1) Aesthetics - Is it pretty?  Does looking at it inspire awe and wonder?
    2) Practicality/Marketability - Does it fulfill a need in the world? 
    3) Sustainability - To what degree does it give back more to the world then it consumes?  
    4) Open Sourceyness - Does it (and the maker) follow open source guidelines?  Does it build on and extend other open source projects?  Was it built using open source community resources and input?  How much does it depend on off-the-shelf mass produced materials?  How good was the build documented?
    5) Replicability - How easy would it be for someone else to build?  Are there instructions for others to build it?  How good are these instructions?  
    6) Humanity - What is the potential impact on furthering the Human race?
    7) Innovation - How new and cool is it?
    8) Detroit-ness - How much does it reflect the spirit and history of Detroit?  

    These are not (yet) written in stone and I would love to hear your input.

    -- Brad
  • Hello Brad,

    I will post my individual comments here.  If you take this discussion to another venue, I will repeat them there.

    Right now my number one issue is I don't understand what your contest is looking for in an entry.

    Coming from Detroit I am used to car based design competitions, like  Michelin's

    Which are usually a pretty picture illustrating some concept, without any engineering or manufacturing.

    You want the entry to be a working first unit, so that throws most of what I see for most Design Contests out the door.

    Sometimes design contests are where the pretty picture is essentially the product, like a Logo or artful packaging of an existing product.  But I thought at the meeting you said No Art.

    Also at the meeting, I believe you said No Processes.  So not something from Instructables like

    So I am really having trouble figuring out what you condider a qualified entry would be.

    Can you list a few examples?

  • Sure.  I am coming more from a ShopBot/furniture perspective, but I didn't want to limit it to that.  Here are some examples that I have come up with

    The Michelin designs would be fine - but only if you actually built the car!

    It should be a three dimensional "thing" that can be displayed - so not software or a process.  Art is fine, but if it should be something that people will want to make for themselves (i.e. should not depend on the artistic skill of the person making it from your design).  It would score lower on the "practicality" category if it has no practical uses, though.  That doesn't mean it would not qualify for the competition, it would just have less of a chance of winning.  

    However, I am also open to discussion on the categories.  The goal is really to get more "stuff" in the public domain to get people out making things instead of buying them pre-made and hopefully also contributing to the design in an open-source manner.  
  • Further examples would be and  Again, I apologize for the ShopBot centricity.  
  • OK.  I understand better what you consider a valid entry. 

    Furniture is OK.
    Lamps are OK.
    Dinnerware is OK.
    Wikihouse and Shelter20 are OK, but seem very large and ambitious to build and ship to the competition.
    Architecture generally wouldn't be ok, because it couldn't be built. Same with Cars.  No one in the Michelin competition could get anywhere close to building their entry.
    A painting doesn't seem to fit, neither would jewelry or fashion.
    A toy would fit.

    OK.  I think I understand the criteria for the "Design" part of your Open Design Competition.

    I want to discuess the "Open" part.

    Ever since you presented  this at our meeting I have struggled with the concept of "Openness" when discussing a physical product.  I am from the Computer Industry, but I am not an Engineer, so I am very familiar with the concept of Open Source as applied to software.  I know the 10 point definition given by the Open Source Initiative.

    When I think Open Source products, like OpenOffice, or i3's CRM project, there seem to be 3 fundamental aspects.

    - The sophisticated end user can have the source code for free, to allow maintenance of the design or customization of design.
    - The simple end user can ignore maintenance or customization and can make a "copy" of a master product easily and treat the Open Source product just like any competing Closed Source (i.e. commercial) product of similar design.
    - The design of the product was a group/community activity.

    I know the history of Open Source goes back to such things as Unix and the Gnu initiative.

    But when applying the concept of Open Source to physical products rather than software, I have a problem conceptualizing applicability.

    Fundamental in Software is the concept that the creation of the "Design" i.e. the source code is essentially 100% of the creation process.  In software the "build" or manufacturing of the 1st unit is highly automated and fairly trivial, with the ability and tools to "build" the software reasonably available to the more sophisticated endusers.  In addition, the ability to manufacture the Nth unit (i.e. to copy) is a very trivial task with all endusers having the tools.

    So taking OpenOffice as an example, having the source code is 99.999% of the difficulty in building the product.   And a sophistacated user who knows how to program can take the source code and maintain it themselves, or customize it.

    And a simple end user can make a "copy" of a build that a more sophisticated end user has made, and use it without being able to write code, just as they could with Microsoft Office.

    And because OpenOffice has many modular, incremental features, it is easy for a community of designers to work independently with Designer A working on the SpellCheck, and Designer B adding Fonts.  It doesn't matter who gets done first usually. The modules are independent of sequencing of completion. Common, standardized interfaces and protocols allow this.

    When you take these criteria over the world of physical, manufactured items things break down.

    When I build a chair, the design is not 99.999% of the process.  In fact, it may be the small part of the effort to make the 1st chair.  It may not be a highly automated process and therefore the possession of the design is not of major benefit to the sophisticated end user, nor does it make modification easier  It is very easy for the sophisticated end user to recreate the design from a sample product, which is extremely not the case for Open Office.

    The simple end user usually does NOT have the tools or expertise to trivially "copy" the chair.  Therefore a master is of no use to him.

    And it is difficult for a chair to be a community design, because the design tends not to be modular, or independent of sequence of the design of components.

    So how does a chair become Open Source?

    First, it must be able to made in a highly automated manner.  Thus the digital files of the design/automation files allow the original design to be refined or customized and the automation files become nuch more useful in producing a custom product than just the product itself.  This is why your examples tend to be ShopBot creations.  They actually have automation files which are edittable.  Thus an Open Source ShopBot chair is more valuable to the sophisticated end user than a stickbuilt chair. However in physical product land it is very common that the building tools of the manufacturer are too costly to be owned by even a sophisticated end user.  If the chair was built using Fanuc welding robots, the G-code files are probably not useful to most chair owners.

    Second, with a chair, the simple end user NEVER has the tools for a simple copy from a master.

    And Third, a chair is not modular so that a community of designers cannot design the chair incrementally and independently over time.

    So a physical item, like a shopbot chair, or Shelter2.0, can just barely hit the first criteria, missing the second and most of the third.   A non-shopbot chair, even with great directions, wouldn't even qualify for the first.

    So most of the items in Instructables are not Open Source, in any historical meaning of the word.  However almost all of the items in Thingverse qualify at least under the first criteria of Open Source.  However most items in Thingverse are purely decorative, with no functionality.

    So it seems that to qualify as a physical product which is Open Source, an entry must at a minumum be manufactured in a highly automated, and edittable manner.

    i.e. 3d Printing, ShopBot, CNC machines, Laser Cutters, WaterJet Cutters, StarTrek Replicator, Jacquard Loom, or some other digital manufacturing method.

    If that is an implied criteria why not say it explicitly.  And if it isn't, why would any product with a non-automated design be Open Source at all?
  • You have made some very good points.  It is my firm belief that - at least for the industrialized world, that the means of automated production will continue to drop in price and that the accessibility to these tools will be further realized through sharing at Makerspaces such as I3Detroit.  In addition, for people who do not want to learn the tools or take the time to build things themselves will have access to micro-enterprises such as 100,000 Garages.( FabHub ( and similar cooperatives.

    Thus the "open" part of the open design will be the digital designs themselves.  Particularly as design software becomes easier to use and the integration between the software and the tools gets better (i.e. creating G code directly from the 3D design tools.) Both the increased access and the integration are goals of the software companies that I have spoken to.  With access to the designs, people will be able to either directly hyper-customize the products that they want - either themselves or with help from local micro-enterprises.  Production then will be increasing a push-button experience as the tools improve.  

    Some of the designs are modular in that the components that they are made up of can be reused.  The system that makes up WikiHouse, for example, could be modified and reused to make a garden house, dog house, doll house, etc.  Another good example of that would be sketch chair, where the same basic design concepts can be used to make a plethora of chairs or even (a project that I am working on) a bed.  

    One project that I could imagine would be a "WikiKitchen" with parametric and modular cabinetry.  

    I agree that we should explicitly say that the designs should be for use with digital fabrication tools.  However, there will probably still be  need for basic finishing work using traditional tools.  
  • Things are starting to crystalize.

    It does seem that most anything that is fabbed using automation still needs manual finishing, at least at the localized manufacturing level.  Maybe excepting big CNC Mills and 3d printers.  Certainly sheet cutters will need it, like those chairs.

    I may have used the wrong word when I say modular.  What I meant is more that features in software are many times orthogonal.  A word processor can be useful without a spell checker and additional fonts, but they enhance the functionality and can be added later and in any order, which makes a community build easy.

    Wikihouse isn't orthogonal.  You can't let one guy in Nebraska design the roof and another in Texas design the doors and another in Iowa design the walls and you in Michigan design the walls.  It isn't a house until you have all 4, and where you COULD standardize the interfaces between the 4, an API isn't any easier than a full design.  A house needs to be designed as a single unit to be useful. There are a few downstream add-ons that can be done, but the 80% of the solution and the minimal useful build is a single blob called a house.

    So the Open Design is for a digital fab/build (with probable manual assem/finish).  The competition is for something that the fellow can code, and the Makerspace has the equipment to fab  I am starting to get it.

  • Brad,

    1)  This forum is not really used by the general i3membership.  Do you want me to paste a summary of this over on our private email list and gather responses and send them to you?  Or do you want to post on the Public i3 Google Group and get responses from people not members?  Or what?

  • Yes, I think that would probably be best.  You know better than I the best way to get feedback.  

    Another question to ask would be what creative commons license should we use?  We would like to have things as open as possible and would prefer attribution only, but would people be willing to accept that?  Would ALL designs submitted become public domain or only those that win a prize?  

  • This looks like a great resource.  I have not yet read it, but initially it looks like it might help us define what we mean by Open Design better
  • OK.  With the explicit definition of Open Design being an automated re-manufacturing process available to most of the end-users, here goes.

    1) Aesthetics - Is it pretty?  Does looking at it inspire awe and wonder?
    - Sounds good.
    2) Practicality/Marketability - Does it fulfill a need in the world?
    - Bad definition.  The term Marketability means will it sell, either locally, or nationally or globally.  It does NOT mean "fill a need", it means "fill a desire".  No one needs perfume, or jewelry, or Ferrari.  Marketability sounds like a good criteria.  Filling a need sounds like a moral judgement.

    3) Sustainability - To what degree does it give back more to the world then it consumes? 
    - This is a confusing definition.  Sustainability usually means manufactured using renewable resources.  This definition implies some moral judging.  Is a water purifier which runs on gasoline sustainable?  Is a solar powered Ferrari not?

    4) Open Sourceyness - Does it (and the maker) follow open source guidelines?  Does it build on and extend other open source projects?  Was it built using open source community resources and input?  How much does it depend on off-the-shelf mass produced materials?  How good was the build documented?
    - This seems a reasonable criteria, but since the requirement for entry is to be Open Source Design, how would a design qualify for the competition without scoring high here?

    5) Replicability - How easy would it be for someone else to build?  Are there instructions for others to build it?  How good are these instructions? 
    - Again, this conflicts with my understand (through our discussion) of Open Source Design.  Without the ability to easily/cheaply re-manufacture by most endusers, it isn't OSD.  Without digital files which contain all the info for re-manufacturing how did the entry qualify?
    6) Humanity - What is the potential impact on furthering the Human race?
    - This is a good criteria.  Perhaps the other moral judgement components of 2 and 3 could be stripped off and concentrated here.
    7) Innovation - How new and cool is it?
    - A reasonable criteria.
    8) Detroit-ness - How much does it reflect the spirit and history of Detroit? 
    - I don't know if any of the entrants will be able to score well here.  I can't think of anything that would score high here.  If this is just a lack of my imagination, then this is fine.  If there isn't a spectrum of scores likely in the participants then this is a bad judging criteria.

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