Sharing Distributed Design Knowledge for Open Collaborative Design

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Essay: ThinkCycle at M.I.T. Sharing Distributed Design Knowledge for Open Collaborative Design. By Nitin Sawhney, Saul Griffith, Yael Maguire and Timothy Prestero.



"How does one go about designing better water filters for solving the clean water needs of 1.3 billion people, simplified intravenous (IV) treatment devices for cholera patients in refugee camps, low-cost prescription eye-wear for communities in Africa or active response kits and temporary shelters for disaster relief? Critical design challenges in the environment and under-privileged communities have generally not been well addressed by either existing market mechanisms, academia or government organizations. We feel that such initiatives require diverse domain expertise (from doctors, engineers and practitioners), motivated design teams (perhaps based in universities and industry), and field-experience from both entrepreneurial and non-governmental organizations (NGO) working in such areas. This class of “critical global challenges” requires a new approach towards collaborative design, one, which embraces multi-disciplinary teams and contributions from participants in different institutional settings.

In collaborative projects, the emerging design knowledge and process is rarely captured and shared among others. In the open source community, it has been argued that in many cases it is beneficial for the ongoing design to be exposed to public peer review and contributions from a wider community of experts. Ideally, such a process would lead to more rapid and innovative design iteration. Why is collaborative design around critical challenges not approached in this manner today? Is it because of inappropriate design tools or a lack of social awareness and political will on the part of organizations and institutions? We believe there is a genuine need both for designing novel collaborative tools and creating a culture of design innovation among institutions around such problem domains. ThinkCycle is a student-led initiative at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that seeks to raise awareness, develop design pedagogy and collaborative tools to address critical design challenges by working closely with universities and organizations worldwide." (