Open Design

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= Open design is the application of Open Source methods to the creation of physical products, machines and systems.


By the Open Hardware Foundation:

"Open Design hardware is hardware in which enough detailed documentation is provided that a functionally compatible device could be created by a third party. It is not at all uncommon for the programmer's guides for a microcontroller to have complete instruction encoding formats, memory maps, block diagrams of the processor core, and other technical details that would make it possible to reproduce a compatible microcontroller. Open Design hardware allows you to see what was implemented and what it should do, but still keeps the finer details of how it was implemented closed." (

By designer Ronen Kadushin:

"The idea is to find a new logical method how design could be working, using open source software as a working model. His designs are two dimensional "cutout" represented as digital information. It relies on the internet's communication resources, to publish, distribute, and copy the designs under a CreativeCommons deed. Coupled with the flexibility of CNC production methods and their broad availability due to new enablers like, all technically conforming designs are continuously available for production, in any number, with no tooling investment, anywhere and by anyone." (


From the Wikipedia article at

"Open Design is a term that applies to the investigation and potential of open source and the collaborative nature of the internet to create physical objects. People apply their skills and time to projects for the common good, perhaps where funding or commercial interest is lacking.

The Open Design Movement is currently fairly nascent but holds great potential for the future in developing products and physical systems. There are certain barriers to overcome for open design when compared to software development where there are mature and widely used tools available and the duplication and distribution of code cost next to nothing. Creating, testing and modifying physical designs is not quite so straightforward because of the effort and time required to create the physical artifact."


What Is Open Design? BY LARS2I / Open Circularity Project:

(Version 1.0 Initially posted on April 2nd 2020)

OPEN means for us to leave options open for the future! Preserve and add potentials instead of closing them. Create and keep as many potential productive futures as you can. With design, through design & despite of design!

(The more of these 9 strategies you have activated in your design the more open it is.)

Open Design is/uses:

Open Standards

Ideally Open Design uses parts, tools and production techniques that follow open, wide spread, commonly available standards.

In the best case these parts, tools and techniques are versatile, durable and accessible almost everywhere on the globe for almost everyone.

Open Licensed

Open Design strives to provide legal certainty for everyone to use and work with the design in all possible ways.

Start with the use of Open Source compatible licenses for your design to allow everyone to „study, modify, distribute, make and sell the design or objects based on that design.“ Do not apply for patents, utility rights or design rights and communicate clearly that you don‘t intend to do so nor to make use of any unregistered design rights you might have either.

The premier class of Open Design manages even to avoid original ideas that are possible candidate for patents, utility rights or design rights. Boring is a safe way to Openness.

  • We acknowledge that for some people Open Design is synonymous with Open Source. Some designers use licenses that try to prohibit commercial use or remix of their work. We choose a different path because the exclusion of commercial use blocks a huge number of futures!


Open Design is simple: It is easy to understand and make.

Ideally Open Design does not require special skills, high level expert knowledge or extraordinary craftsmanship to understand and make it. The future of an object is shaped by those who hold it in their hands. Making sure that a lot of people can work with the design and the parts in it adds many different futures!


Open Design educates people instead of addressing them solely as consumers.

Open Design explains itself. The design might be self explanatory or come with explanations to enable productive work with the design itself and the production methods used for it.

When people learn new things their possibilities usually grow; education opens futures!

Be a communicator! When you design for the open you have to learn not just B2B communication but direct communication to all users.

Supportive documentation might include a bill of materials, assembly instructions, original design files and more. Good guidelines for which documents should be provided in what form can be found in the Open Source Hardware Definition and the DIN Spec for Open Source Hardware.

Urban Mining & Upcycling Friendly

Open Design enables and supports the use of old and used parts and materials.

If it is designed for ReUse and ReMix it might be good in ReUsing and ReMixing old things.

Open Design might allow you to include old and already used materials and parts in the design. This reduces the ecological footprint of your design (and design at all) and keeps the potentials of our environment to support many different futures.

Urban Mining and Upcycling friendliness add possibilities because the number of opportunities to source parts and materials increases. It is not just shops but also scrap yards and so on.


Open Design seeks to keep parts and materials reusable.

Open Design aims to chose parts that work in many different designs.

Reversability is key: Screws over glues. Clamps over screws. …

Pre-Use! Repurpose parts without undermining their ability to still fulfill their original purpose later on. Make no or as little harm as possible to parts and materials. Don‘t adapt your parts and materials to your design, adapt your design to the shape of parts and materials. This is called Pre-Use.

If you need to modify parts and materials go for modifications that add possibilities to them and not just taking them away. If you need to drill holes for example go for a unified grid that is common in your area to add a reusable part to an already existing family of parts.


Open Design prefers easily recyclable materials and construction methods that support recycling.

While still better than incineration or landfill recycling is mostly a dirty, energy intense, environmentally harmful, often complex process. But with some materials this is less bad than with others for example because there are effective infrastructures established for this recycling (paper is an example in some parts of the world.) Go for these materials!

Recycling keeps an open future as it keeps materials in the loop for future designs and reduces the pressure on the environment to provide us with new materials.

Support For The Biosphere

Open Design wants to maintain and nurture a productive biosphere.

The biosphere as it is today produces and provides resources and opportunities that make us healthy and fit to build desirable futures. Maintaining it maintains options. To achieve this Open Design minimizes toxic ingredients, energy consumption, land use and resources consumption.

Chose biodegradable materials. Biodegration is natures way of recycling!

Support the biosphere structurally; give nature a home and a place by your side.


Open Design is modular wherever possible.

„With 6 standard Lego bricks you can make 915,104,765 different combinations.“ This is the kind of futures and the kind of modularity Open Design is looking for. So Open Design looks for modularity that allows for multi-use and recombination of parts in many different ways.

Modularity is a meta principle in Open Design as all of the strategies above can be seen as forms of or support strategies of modularity: Open accessible standards are usually used and understood by many and therefore it is likely that there are more than just one way to use them. Simplicity, Educativeness and Open Licenses aim to include as many people as possible in the design process increasing the number of available creative options. Pre-Use and Recycling aim directly for multi(re)use of materials. Support for the Biosphere and Upcycling Friendliness raise the number of options to make something in the world you live in – and your design is usable even for the biosphere growing the number of „active participants“ even further.

„We need modularity induced network effects of reuse and reduction in order to create sustainable wealth and a future that works with and for the many and not just the few!“ –

Everything durable and supportive is constantly changing and adapting. Our bodies, our languages, our codes of law. Make Design open! –

And yes. With this Open Design is the opposite of „Star Design“ or „Author Design“ (Autorendesign) where this comes with highly sophisticated, special shapes, exclusive joining and complex material hybrids. Objects like that work against openness. They undermine many different futures. Have you ever tried to reuse the polycurved, uniquely shaped, multi material, multi glued legs of a design chair or table? It is hard or even impossible.

This is not design for our future. It is unsustainable. It is a dead end.

(This kind of Design became so popular in the 20st century. But it will not take us well through the 21st century).

„We need modularity induced network effects of reuse and reduction in order to create sustainable wealth and a future that works with and for the many and not just the few!“ (


What exactly is Open Design?

Aurelie Ghalim, in her study, Fabbing Practices:

"Researchers Kerstin Kalka, Christina Raasch and Cornelius Herstaat attempt to give the first statistical analysis of open design projects .

Draw on a comparison to open source software; they observe strong similarities between OSS and OD:

- We indicated that, in open design communities, tangible objects can be developed in very similar fashion to software; one could even say that people treat design as source code to a physical object and change the object via changing the source. This suggest the practical applicability of transferring the ‘Open Source model’ to different industries beyond software

However, they also observe that openness of software components is more important than openness of hardware components. Nonetheless, they also notice that the phenomenon of open design is rapidly evolving and a growing number of physical artefacts start being designed collaboratively via the Internet . We find more and more advocates of open design who wish “that the same principles of distributed creativity and free cooperation which free software development builds on will also come to define material production” .

Bas van Abel - co-founder of Waag Society’s Fab Lab and the Instructable Restaurant (an open source restaurant) – is a firmly believer in open design principles. He is at the head of Waag Society’s Open Design Lab and also co-editor of Open Design Now, the first book entirely dedicated to this field. Abel pleads to open source products in the same line of Free Software and Open source movement.

How to define open design? Some describe open design as “design whose creators allow it to be freely distributed and documented and condone modifications and derivations of it” or “CAD information published online under a CC license to be downloaded, produced, copied and modified. An Open Design is produced directly from file by CNC and without special tooling” . Others define open design as “a new economic model for design that distributes power among creative professionals and local manufacturers, rather concentrating it in centralized industrial brands” .

Open design is closely related to participatory design already introduced by some progressive designers during the 1970s. Users were asked to participate in the design process in order to improve the functionality a product. The term itself first appeared at the end of the last century with the founding of Open Design Foundation, a non-profit organization that seeks “to promote an alternative method for designing and developing technology, based on the free exchange of comprehensive design information” .

Some designer such as Tord Boontje already distributed the digital design of his chair in the early 1990s. At the end of 1990s, Reinoud Lambers launched the Open Design Circuits, a website at Delf University of Technology for the purpose of creating open source hardware and its community in the spirit of free software. The idea of open design is therefore, closely related to these initiatives launched in the last decade of the 20th century.

Among professionals, open design practices are approaches to openness. Some designers choose to engage with openness on only specific steps in their work and others such as Jens Dyvik are called “Open-Source designer” for publishing all design steps and inviting users to modify their creations.

Israeli industrial designer and design educator, Ronan Kadushin wrote the Open Design Manifesto stating that:

- A revolution in product development, production and distribution is imminent due to the Internet’s disruptive nature and the easy access to CNC machines. Open Design is a proposal to make this happen. It’s aim is to shift Industrial Design to become relevant in a globally networked information society Therefore, certain designers prefer to do open design due to ever-growing new technologies. They perceive their approach as a necessity in today’s designing process. However, open design is also part of a political agenda that advocates for more transparency in our products. This is the mission of Open Design Lab of Waag Society that aims to empower people to make and understand products and processes, for more transparency . In the same line of open data’s promises seeking greater transparency, the agenda of open design is to increase transparency in the production chain.

In asking the question, “Why should we be able to open up the products we own?” , Abel points out the necessity to move from closed systems to opened systems. Based on the Maker’s Bill of Rights , Abel developed a political statement against closed systems, which is summarized in one phrase: if you can’t open it, you don’t own it.

This idea to open source products pledges to reveal what Finnish designer Dan Hill called the “dark matter”:

- The notion of ‘dark matter’ – just like in the universe, in the civic sphere there is dark matter – points to the systems and processes that make things happen but that we cannot see and only know about because of the effect on how things are done […] The only way that dark matter can be perceived is by implication, through its effect on other things. With a product, service or artifact, the user is rarely aware of the organizational context that produced it, yet the outcome is directly affected by it

Abel argues that the invisible -the dark matter- represents the organizational context that produces a product. In our current economical system, invisible hands design our goods. It is the connection of these invisible hands that makes it possible to be surrounded by mass production design. Here, open design disrupts traditional design in making the invisible visible. Circuit bending and hacking practices are inscribed in the same line, willing to open up the black box and make the computer reappears itself.

According to Menichelli, not only economic but also design theories are gradually showing more interests in local dimensions as designers want to provide sustainable solutions, which is at the opposite of the mass production design and economies of scale . John Thackara, the founder and Director of The Doors of Perception who organizes events in which, grassroots innovators are connected to designers and technology innovators, even states: “Openness is more than a commercial and cultural issue. It’s a matter of survival”.

A matter of survival - Thackara and other advocates of open design invoke the need to make social design. Responsibility and sustainability are important features and the actual end users must be involved in the process:

=- As a purely creative exercise, open design promotes the unprecedented sharing of knowledge between the professional and amateur designer, breaking down unnecessary barriers. When carried out for the common good rather than for capital gain or profit, open design allows the sharing of creative skills between developed and undeveloped nations for humanitarian benefit, countering the ramifications of global product consumerism

Finally, open design blurs the distinction between professionals and amateurs. This trend that has been largely discussed in this thesis is also something taken into account by professional designers such as Paul Atkinson who explains how DIY activities act as a democratizing agency . In other words, non-professionals who dedicate their leisure time to create their own things can gain freedom from designers and professional helps. On the same line, designers themselves can gain freedom in practicing open source design, which implies a strong emphasis on ‘free’ access and sharing and ultimately, the need to opt for copyleft licences such as Creative Commons. Intellectual property rights - copyrights and patents - that highly privatize public knowledge and creativity, beneficiate only to the corporate world and to a few-best selling artists ."


  1. Open Design Foundation,, Accessed August 17, 2012.
  2. Kadushin, R, Open Design Manifesto. Presented at Mestakes and Manifestos (M&M), curated by Daniel Charny, Anti Design Festival, London, 18-21 September 2010.
  3. Open Design Lab, Waag Society,, Accessed August 17, 2012.
  4. Van Abel, B., "If you can't open it, you don't own it - Guimarães 2012, Open City Project", Watershed, July 2012,, Accessed August 17, 2012.
  5. The Maker’s Bill Of Rights, Makezine,, Accessed August 17, 2012.
  6. Massimo Menichelli, openp2pdesign.org_1.1. Design for Complexity, p. 13, 2008
  7. Atkinson, P (Ed.) Do-It-Yourself: Democracy and Design, Special Issue of the Journal of Design History, 19(1): 2006, p. 5.


  1. Global Village Construction Set
  2. Open Micromanufacturing and Nanomanufacturing Equipment
  3. Whirlwind Wheelchair
  4. Instructables
  5. Design Break
  6. Open Design
  7. Open Source Velomobile
  8. The OSCar] open source car project
  9. OSGV
  10. Ronja
  11. Design 21
  12. Anansi Spaceworks is applying the principles of open source to the colonisation of space.
  13. WikiHouse is an open source architecture and construction building system.

More Information

The Open Design FAQ is at

Open collaborative design page at

For related concepts, see Open Hardware, Open Source Hardware, Open Cores, Open P2P Communities, Open Peer to Peer Design.


The Open Design Foundation is at

Open Design organisations: ThinkCycle, DesignBreak, Open Design Alliance


Massimo Menichinelli's Italian Master's thesis is translated serially on the Open P2P Design blog.

Episodes of Collective Invention, by Peter B. Meyer, August 2003: An article on several historical examples of what could be called "open design.


The Open Design tag at Delicious, maintained by Sam Rose, at